Friday, 22 May 2009

A Timely Reminder

On Sunday morning, I'm due to preach at Memorial Community Church, Plaistow. I'll be co-leading a UCCF Summer Team in July which will be working alongside the church, and on Sunday Abi and I will be introducing ourselves and the project (expect more blogging about that when I come back). It's a while since I've preached to a church, and I'm really looking forward to it (although my sermon is quite a long way from prepared).

So this was a really timely reminder. John Piper has probably done most to shape my thinking over the short time I've been preaching. His book The Supremacy of God in Preaching literally changed the way I think about the task forever. If you've never heard John describe what he means by preaching, then you should listen to this. And this sentence stuck out in particular, a really timely reminder as I stand before MCC on Sunday and dare to preach God's Word for them:

I standing vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking to people who this week could go over the edge whether they are ready to or not. I will be called to account for what I said there.

That's what I mean by preaching.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Eurovison is back!

It's nearly 3pm on Sunday afternoon, and I'm still buzzing from last night's Eurovision! I've always been a huge Eurovision fan, particularly since I've started getting to know people from some of the countries involved. It has to be said, the last few years have been a bit disappointing - the dodgy voting went from being amusing to annoying to insulting. In fact, the British entries followed a very similar pattern... But this year, I was left with the distinct feeling that Eurovision is back!

Last night wasn't about politics for once. Sure, the Balkans were all nice to each other, and Russia's neighbours were friendly in their voting. But last night was definitely about the music. Apparently we have Sir Terry to thank for inspiring a rule change, but either way it restored a bit of credibility to proceedings, and a bit of excitement to the voting.

OK, so we didn't win. But compared to last year's heart-breaking 14 point bottom spot, it felt like a win. Jade did us proud, and it was great to see national treasure Lord Andrew on stage (even though I had to explain who he was to some french guy). It didn't really matter, because europop was the real winner! I loved Norway's entry, and it rightly deserved to win (imho)!

I love Eurovision. I love that we're able to get 42 countries together for a night and have fun together. I love that I could watch the whole thing with a loud of random Europeans in Mojo's. And I love that for one night we can all celebrate cheesypop in such a Eurotastic way!

In case you missed it, here are my personal top 3...

Number 3: Germany

Number 2: United Kingdom (obv)

And number 1, the rightful winner, NORWAY!

Monday, 11 May 2009

Think Fresh 09 - Audio Now Available!

Think Fresh 09 was a training day for CU leaders in the South East to help them prepare for Freshers Week this September. We had a really good day getting practical tips for Freshers week, hearing from God's Word and worshipping Him together.

The three main talks were recorded, and are now available online:

Go To The Top
- Colossians 1v15-23, given by Dave Anthony
Doing a Great Freshers Week - by Michael Ots
Live Your Lives in Him - Colossians 2v6-15, given by me

Our aim was to be as prepared as we can be for Freshers week, but also to love Jesus more as we think about sharing the good news about him on our campuses. We hope these talks will help you to do that!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

"Live Your Lives in Him"

Here's the text of a talk on Colossians 2v6-15, which I gave today out our Think Fresh training day. There are quite a few references to a talk Dave Anthony gave in the morning, but if you read Colossians 1v15-23, you should be able to follow it.
(I'm taking a slight risk putting the talk on here - last time I mentioned circumcision it generated more discussion than I expected...)
We recorded the three main sessions, so hopefully the audio will follow at some point. [Update: Now they are!]

Earlier Dave explained that great passage from chapter 1 of Colossians. We got an awesome view of who Jesus is, and what he’s done. We saw that Jesus is Lord over all creation for all eternity. But we also saw that He’s the saviour of creation to. He made peace between us and God, taking away our sin and dealing with the offense we caused Him, so that we can be reconciled and welcomed back into God’s family. It’s mind-blowing stuff!

As he moves on in his letter to the Colossians, Paul takes things on from there. He takes the amazing, world-transforming, heart-stirring truth about Jesus and tells the Colossians that that will change everything about how they live. It’s even more important because of those false teachers we were hearing about earlier.

Back in chapter 1v9-12, Paul told the Colossians how he prays for them – just flick back and skim your eyes over it. He prays that knowing God better would lead them to live the right kind of life. And he says that will show itself in three things – growth, strength and joyful thanks, if they really grasping the good news about Jesus. Which is why he then goes straight into the passage we looked at earlier, which is all about Jesus.

The first couple of verses are like a plug socket, where he connects the truths we heard about earlier directly into the lives of the Colossians. Just like in his prayer, he makes the connection between who Jesus is and who they are. And he spends the rest of the letter unfolding the implications of that.

So that’s what we’re going to do now. We’re going to take the good news about Jesus which we heard earlier, and which we’ve been talking about all day, and hopefully try to really take hold of it so that it changes us. Don’t we want to be gripped by who Jesus is, so that it changes us? And don’t we want to be sharing the gospel in Freshers week, not because Motsy told us to, but because we’re gripped by the truth of the gospel in a real way? We want to know this truth, in our heads and in our hearts too…

Let me sketch you a map of where we’re going. Paul makes a very simple point –Live Your Lives in Him. We’ve already heard why that makes sense, but here Paul explains what he means by it, and he warns them about the alternative. Then he gives three MASSIVE reasons why they should stick with Jesus. So, if you like headings, there you go. The first big one is Live your lives in him, then three reasons why (I’ll tell you what they are when we get there).

Live Your Lives in Him (v6-8)

“Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,” Paul says. He’s doing two things in that sentence. “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,” means everything we saw in chapter 1. So he’s scooping up all those amazing truths about who Jesus is, and then he says, “continue to live your lives in him.” Keep going the same way. Remember the way you started off, the things you believed? Well live your lives in the same way. There isn’t one set of things which gets you in and another which keeps you going. They’re one and the same.

Do you ever get a bit bored when you have an evangelistic talk at CU? Do you think “I’ve heard this. Yeah, the cross is great, but this is a bit simple for me. It’s lovely that the non-Christians can hear it, but I’ve moved beyond the basics”? Do you ever think like that?

If you do, then listen to what Paul is saying because you’re in danger. The truth which you accept when you become a Christian is what you need to hold onto as you live as a Christian.

We can slip into thinking that the gospel is just for non-Christians. It’s what you have to accept to get you in, but you need something more sophisticated once you’re in. The truth is that the gospel isn’t just the door you have to walk through to get in – it should shape everything about how you live your life once you’re inside. It’s the foundations you stand on. It’s the roof over your head. It’s what the walls are made out of. It’s the windows you look through. It’s the food in your fridge and the bed you sleep on. Get the idea? Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him.

But what does that look like? What does it mean to live your life in Jesus? It turns out it’s the three things he prayed for earlier - growth, strength and joyful thanks. This is what a life lived in the light of the good news about Jesus will look like…

1) Be “rooted and built up in him…” – the roots of a plant are basically its life-support system (I’ve got an allotment, so I know about these things). It’s how a plant gets the water and other stuff it needs to survive. In the same way, we need to be connected to Jesus if we’ve going to continue living in him. And (to mix the metaphor slightly, but it’s what Paul says so you can’t argue) it’s only in Jesus that we can be built up together, like bricks in a wall. Without him, the whole project will be a disaster.

2) Be “strengthened in the faith as you were taught” – this is what will happen if we’re rooted and built up in Jesus – we’ll be strengthened or established in our faith. “As you were taught is crucial for the Colossians here. Don’t listen to the other lot – hold on to the truth you got from us.

3) Be “overflowing with thankfulness” – it’s impossible to continue living in Jesus, to receive the benefits and blessings of being one of his people, and not be grateful. If you’re not grateful for what Jesus has done for you, then be worried. All the grace we’ve been shown should surely make us overflow with gratitude?!

The Alternative
There’s an obvious alternative to living your life in Jesus, isn’t there. The alternative is to live your life in something else. Try to find something else to make the centre of your life. And that’s what Paul warns against in verse 8.

The Colossians had other ideas to choose from. We heard this morning about the false teachers who were trying to lead the Colossians astray. We don’t really know exactly what they were teaching. But, from what Paul says here, there are 2 things we can be sure of: It was “hollow and deceptive”, and it wasn’t about Jesus. It was BAD NEWS.

The truth is, anything we try to base our lives on which isn’t Jesus is a “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world.”

It’s kind of like an Easter egg – you know the huge ones in massive boxes? When I was young and na├»ve, I always expected to break them open and for loads of sweets and chocolates to fall out. But they were always hollow and deceptive – just a thin chocolate shell and a couple of Kit Kats. On the outside it looks great, but when you crack it open, there’s nothing there. That’s how Paul sees these other choices the Colossians had (sort of). Hollow and deceptive. And the reason they’re hollow is because they aren’t based on Jesus – they’re based on human attempts to be clever and ‘elemental spiritual forces’ trying to deceive us. Instead of the Lord and Saviour of the entire Universe we saw in chapter 1, they’re based on imposters. So ‘hollow and deceptive’ is all they can ever be.

But it’s not just the Colossians who had other choices. Think about your friends or family who aren’t Christians - their lives are based on hollow and deceptive philosophies. Maybe it’s the philosophy which says, “be successful, make lots of money and live a comfortable life surrounded by cool stuff.” Or maybe the attitude which says, “you’re nothing if you’re a nobody. Be famous.” Maybe your friends are committed to the idea that no-one can say what’s true or false or right or wrong, and it’s unthinkable to claim to know one way or another. Or perhaps it’s just the idea that life has no meaning, so just make sure you have fun while you’re here. I’m sure you can think of a hundred more…

And if we take our eyes off Jesus, we’ll start to see their appeal too. After all, we want to fit into the culture around us, don’t we? So we pile stuff up. We make sure everyone knows how great we are. We get involved in relationships which aren’t honouring to God. And of course we make sure we’re not offending people by claiming to have any answers. Before you know it, you’ve been taken captive.

“Don’t do it!” Paul says. Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him!

3 Reasons to Stick with Jesus…
So Paul’s been explaining that we need to stick with Jesus and continue living our lives in him, and we need to beware of these hollow and deceptive philosophies which could lead us astray. To help make his point and, I think, to help the Colossians to actually do this, he reminds them of three reasons to stick with Jesus. Three realities that come with knowing Jesus. Here they are:

1) The fullness we have in Christ
2) The new life we have in Christ
3) The freedom we have in Christ

The fullness we have in Christ
We heard this this morning, didn’t we? “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (1v19). There’s a deliberate link here. This is the Jesus we’ve received as Lord. “In Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness.” Paul doesn’t say exactly what he means by fullness. But you can imagine it being what the false teachers were offering. “Follow us and you’ll have fullness.” I’m sure you know the kinds of things, because people say the same now. “7 steps to fullness.” “Worship like this and you’ll experience fullness.” “If you have this experience, you’ll experience fullness.” Always something new to experience, some new level to reach.

Think about your non-Christian friends again – where are they trying to find fullness? Exam success? Their prowess on the football field? Is it drink or drugs or sex? Maybe in a relationship, expecting someone else to make them full? Now think about yourself – where are you trying to find fullness? Is it in the same place?

We’re full in Christ! We don’t need to look somewhere else for fullness, because we already have it if we’re in Christ. He’s the one in whom all the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form. The God who created the entire universe, including you, making himself known to us and making peace with us by his blood. And we can have a real, personal relationship with him - a relationship which brings us new-life and freedom (which we’ll think about in a second). Where else are we going to go?! Anyone else you could go to, any other authorities or powers, are all subject to him. As Dave said earlier – we’ve gone straight to the top!

And this is what we’re calling our friends into when we tell them about Jesus and invite them to follow him. Sometimes we can think that the invitation doesn’t really match up with what we have to back it up. We can think it’s like inviting our friends round for dinner and serving boring gruel. But the gospel is the 18 course banquet – it’s fullness! We’re calling them from black and white into full colour!

Where else are you going to go? Continue to live your life in him.

The new life we have in Christ

The next reality Paul moves on to is the new life we have in Christ. And it can only come from being united with Christ.

“In him you were also circumcised with circumcision not performed by human hands.” I’m a bit nervous, because I got into trouble last time I mentioned circumcision in a talk – long story. I’m guessing you know what it is... For Jewish men, circumcision was a mark of being a member of God’s people. But now things have changed (praise the Lord) – we undergo a different kind of circumcision performed on them – this one wasn’t done by human hands. And instead of removing a piece of skin, Jesus removes our sinful nature. But the cost of the operation was huge…

If we’ve trusted Jesus, as the Colossians had, then we died with him. Or, rather, our old, sinful self died with him, and baptism symbolises that. The good news is that we were raised with Christ too! But we’re raised to live a new kind of life, a different kind of life. His death becomes ours, and his new life becomes ours too. It’s a new life which will go on into eternity, but it starts now, as soon as you’re a Christian. So, if you’re a Christian, you’re old, sinful self is dead and buried, and you’re living this new life.

Is this how you think of your life as a Christian? Do you feel like you’re living a new life, or is it just more of the same? Does the fact you’ve been buried and raised with Jesus have any effect on your life?

This new life means we have new choices. We might still feel the influence of our sinful nature lingering around, but ultimately it’s dead. So we don’t just have to what it says - we can choose to live God’s way instead. Romans 8 is all about this: “You, however, are not controlled by the sinful nature but are in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you” (v9). Later on in chapter 3, Paul talks more about this – what it looks like to put off the sinful nature, and what to replace it with. He says it’s like taking off old, tatty clothes, and putting on new ones. They can choose to put on things like “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” But we can only take off our old clothes because Jesus has undone the buttons. Or, to go back to circumcision, he’s cut it off...

So if you’re a Christian, you have this new life. Are you living as though you do? Or are you clinging on to your minging old clothes? Are you clinging to attitudes or habits or maybe even relationships which are comfortable, but which don’t really fit with the new life we have in Christ? Do you do things or say things to fit in with other people at point where your new life in Christ should really be making you stand out? Or will the only thing which marks you out in Freshers week be a CU hoody?

This is never going to come from man-made philosophies. Jesus is the only one who can bring us this new life. So continue to live your life in him.

The freedom we have in Christ
I think the last two build up to this one. The third reality which should keep us living our lives in Jesus is the freedom we have in him.

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” We were cut off from God and as powerless to change things as dead bodies are. But in the middle of that hopeless, sorry mess, God reached in and made us alive with Christ.
Here’s the crux of what he means by that: “He forgave us all our sins.” Jesus death paid for our rejection of God completely. And it happened in two ways, which you can see in those last couple of verses…

First, he cancelled the “the charge of our legal indebtedness” or “the record of debt” which stood against us and condemned us. His death legally took care of our sin. Imagine your sin written down. In big capital letters: ENEMY OF GOD. That would be enough. But, underneath, every rebellious, sinful act or word or thought you’ve ever had. That’s the written charge which stood against you.

But God has taken it and nailed it to the cross. But not just yours – mine, and Nay’s, and Dave’s and Motsy’s and every Christian who has ever or will ever put their trust in Jesus. And as Jesus died, he paid the price we should have paid. He made peace with God, and the charge was cancelled. It was completely dealt with, and so the written record of our wrongs has been taken away. There’s no more legal case to be brought against us. We’re completely free, but only through Jesus’ death.

And there’s a second way Jesus dealt with sin. As he died, he disarmed the powers and authorities. He took the weapons out of the hands of the devil. Because our sin is dealt with, the devil can’t hold it over us. While our debt was unpaid, he could wave it in our face. God can’t love you, you’re not worth it. Someone like you doesn’t need God, you’re better off without him. But Jesus has disarmed the devil and all his helpers, so he can’t do it any more.

Do you feel guilty?

Guilt can paralyse Christians. We all mess up, we all fail, and we all fall short. And those mistakes can make us feel useless – useless to God and useless to other people. The enthusiasm and the edge me might have had fizzles away, and if we aren’t careful we just fade into being mediocre.

But we shouldn’t ever get to that point, because it’s not real. If you feel guilty, if this is you, then know that you have nothing to feel guilty about. Yeah, we have things to be sorry about, and we should never make light of sin. But it was all nailed to the cross and paid for by Jesus.
Don’t let guilt paralyse you and take you out of the running. When Satan tempts you to despair about your sin, remember Jesus and remember that he’s waving an empty gun in your face. He’s been disarmed!

We’re free! Because of Jesus we’re legally free, and we’re free from the taunts of the powers and authorities who would hold this over us. But it’s only because of Jesus! Despite what the world might say, you won’t find this freedom anywhere else. So continue living your life in him.

So there are three reasons, three realities which should keep us living our lives in him. In Christ we have fullness, we have new life and we have freedom. But it all goes back to who Jesus is, and what he’s done. He is the only one who can make these things a reality for us, and so going anywhere is ridiculous. And so “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue living your lives in him!”

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Matthew 4v12-23

This is a long post, but here's the text of the talk I gave at RUCU on Thursday. The passage was Matthew 4v12-23, part of a series looking at the encounters Jesus has with different people...

OK, we’re looking at this passage from Matthew 4. It’s part of a series this term looking at some of the encounters Jesus has with people, and how he interacts with them. Here, we’ve got the beginning of Jesus ministry – this is where he goes public with his message.

We’ve got two soundbites from Jesus. I have mixed feelings about soundbites. Apparently we live in a “soundbite generation” – we like to have news or politics or philosophy or whatever boiled down to a sentence or two. I bet you can think of loads off the top of your head. “I have a dream.” “We don’t do God.” “To boldly go where no-one has gone before.”

Soundbites don’t usually go well for me. As many of you know, I have a talent for saying things which get quoted badly. Apparently Surrey CU are compiling a list of incriminating quotes to give to Nay (my boss) if I step out of line…

But here we’ve got two great soundbites which capture some really important aspects of why Jesus came and what he had to say. There’s a general one, and then one to his followers.
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
“Follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.”
We’re going to look at this passage in two chunks around each of these soundbites. If you like headings, the first section is “Repent,” the second is “Follow.”

Soundbite #1: REPENT

At the start of this passage we’re told that John the Baptist is in prison, and Jesus takes this as his cue to begin his public teaching ministry. But the first thing he does is move house!

Some of you will think this is a really boring details. Personally I developed a bit of an obsession with property programmes like “To Buy or Not to Buy” over the Easter holidays. But either way, this is one of the most important changes of address of all time!

If you look back over chapter 2, this isn’t the first time Jesus has moved house. Every time he does it’s significant, because it fulfils a promise God made about him. Now Jesus moves house to Capernaum, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

This move fulfils another of God’s promises, and this one is MASSIVE! Matthew quotes a chunk of Isaiah chapter 9 (it’s a traditional Christmas passage). This is a huge promise through Isaiah, written 700 years earlier, that God would send someone who would bring joy, freedom and peace. That someone would be Wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. God himself stepping in to sort things out. And Matthew is declaring Jesus to be the great light – the Messiah has come! The wonderful counsellor is here. The wait is over, God’s promised one has arrived! It’s massive.

Jesus begins to preach. We’re given an overview of his message here. Not the whole thing – like I said, it’s a soundbite. (The next bit of preaching we get covers 3 chapters). But this is a summary; it’s the essential heartbeat of Jesus’ message.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Again, if we’d read Matthew from the beginning, it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve heard this. Look at 3v2 - John was preaching the same thing. So is there any difference?
We need to look again at these Old Testament bits Matthew adds.
He called John, “one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’”
But when he talks about Jesus, he says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”

John the Baptist was the messenger, the one sent ahead. He was saying repent and get ready because someone is coming – the wait is almost over.
But Jesus was the one they were waiting for! He is the light that has dawned.
So he’s saying: ‘Repent because I’m here, no more waiting, the kingdom of heaven is here!’

OK, now I think we need to tease out what repent actually means. It’s not a word we use very often, even amongst Christians. So what does it mean?

The way the Bible uses it, repent means turn back to God. So John the Baptist was calling people to turn back to God because God was about to do what he’d been promising all along.
Now Jesus is calling people to turn back to God, because God’s doing it.

So that’s what it means, but what does it look like? How does it work out in real life.
I think it’s really important that we see there are two parts to repentance, and both parts are critical.

Let me explain what I mean. To do that, we’re going to have to depart slightly from Matthew, but we’ll end up back here…

To understand properly how we turn back to God, we need to think a bit about how we’ve turned away from God. We need to think about the situation we’re in to begin with. Look with me at Jeremiah 2v13 (keep a finger in Matthew 4 though, because we’re coming back).

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God’s people had turned away from Him. But as if that wasn’t bad enough, they turned to other things to fill the gap. It was like ignoring a stream of fresh, life-giving water which never runs out, in favour of a leaky hole in the ground which never holds enough water. It’s ridiculous, isn’t it?

It should be the easiest game of “Would You Rather” ever! But throughout the Bible, that’s what people do. People who’d known God’s goodness to them in real, undeniable ways. But at every opportunity, they turned away from him and put their trust in other things instead. Sometimes it was idols made of wood or metal. Sometimes they ran off to the governments of other countries and trusted them for help (which they never did). Time and again, God’s people turned away from him and turned towards idols – they worshipped and trusted other stuff.

It’s easy to think they were stupid for worshipping lumps of wood. But think about how your own life compares. You don’t have to think for very long to realise that this is exactly what we do too.

We’re designed to worship; we’re designed to worship God, the God who made everything and sustains everything, including us. When we reject and ignore God, we don’t just worship nothing. We do what we’re designed to do - we worship. We put something else in God’s place.

And this applies to people who aren’t Christians, but even worse it applies to people who are, people who should know better. We say God is number 1, but we so easily push him out of the way and put other things in his place.

They may well be things which are good on their own. But they will always be rubbish compared to him, and they will never satisfy us. They will always be like a leaky hole in the ground. The thing with a leaky cistern is that you go to it to be refreshed and to have your thirst quenched, but when you get there you just find dust. So you have to fill it with water before you can drink – you end up slaving away to fill it up. And that’s what happens with these stupid things we put in God’s place – we end up slaves to them.

There’s an easy way to found out what your God-replacement might be. What is it which makes your life worth living? Or what couldn’t you possibly live without? If I could take it away, life wouldn’t be worth living. It could be all kinds of things. Success. Money. Sex. Friends. Possessions. Anything which becomes more important than God.

So there are two parts to our rejection of God, our sin. Turning away from God but also the things we put in his place. So there have to be two parts to repentance, because it has to tackle both of these. It’s turning away from the things we’ve been worshipping, and turning to God.

If we just turn to God, then it’s impossible to worship God fully because we’re still giving other stuff top spot in our hearts. And God won’t just sit happily next to your boyfriend or your iPhone or your degree certificate. We need to stop worshipping ridiculous God-replacements.
But if we just concentrate on just turning away from stuff, then repentance becomes just a list of stuff you can’t do – who would want to do that? Repentance is about turning to the awesome God who made us and loves us!
We need both.

This is the heart of Jesus’ message for the world. “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near. The wait is over, the gates are wide open, so come on in. But leave your idols at the door!”

There’s one really obvious application from this. There’s one really obvious way we need to put this to work in our lives. Here it is:
“Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Do as he says!

Maybe you need to repent for the first time, if you’re here and you aren’t a Christian, or you aren’t sure. You need to turn around. You need to turn around from your life without God, worshipping other things that will never satisfy you, and turn back to the God who made you, and who loves you.

But you might be thinking, ‘how can God possibly accept me after I’ve ignored him.’ And you should. It means you’ve realised how serious the situation is – we’ve destroyed our relationship with God by ignoring him. The great news is Jesus has made it possible. Jesus didn’t just come bringing a message and dishing out demands. He can say this because he also brought the means for it to happen. He died to pay for our rejection of God, and for our detestable worship of stupid things. And so when we turn back to God, he will accept us with open arms, because Jesus has paid for the offence we’ve caused him. So turn around.

But as I said earlier, this is not just for people who aren’t Christians. Repentance isn’t just a one-off, once in a lifetime thing. It’s amazing how we can turn over our lives to God, but then so easily turn back to worshipping stupid replacement gods. Believe me, I know.
So repentance has to be an ongoing thing. We need to be constantly turning away from stupid imitations and back to God. And the great news is that there is always more grace. There is always more forgiveness, because of what Jesus has done. So repent.

And, of course, if what we’ve seen is true – that the kingdom of heaven has come near, that Jesus is the one God sent to sort everything out, if we have turned away from the God who made us, and if Jesus has made it possible to turn back, then we need to tell other people. We can’t keep this to ourselves!

But remember we’re calling people to repent because the kingdom of God has come near. An eternity with the almighty creator of the universe, who made us and loves us, is on offer. So yes, we call people to turn from their old ways, but it’s because we’re calling them to a new way which is infinitely better. Make sure you get the balance right!

Second soundbite: FOLLOW ME
Cut to Jesus out for a stroll by the lake. He meets a couple of fishermen, Andrew and Simon, about their business. Verse 19 records one sentence of their conversation: “Come, follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people.” Again, I’m pretty sure this isn’t his entire sales pitch, but it’s the gist of what he said. And they immediately accept. They don’t say, ‘OK, just let me finish this.’ They drop the nets and go with him. Later on he meets two more, James and John. He makes the same offer and he gets the same response – they leave their dad with the boat, and off they go.

Jesus calls these guys to follow him - to go where he goes, to do what he does. But, in particular, he promises them that they’ll still be fishing. Only this time, they won’t be fishing for fish, they’ll be fishing for people. A lot about the process will be the same – they’ll go out to where the people are, and bring them in. Only this time they won’t be trapping people in a net and hauling them in. They’ll be proclaiming Jesus’ message about the kingdom of heaven being open and drawing them in. Instead of a trap, it’s a rescue!

In the last section we heard a summary of Jesus’ message to the world – Repent. Here, we’ve got Jesus’ call to those who would follow him – it’s a bit more personal, and a bit more specific. But the two commands, ‘repent’ and ‘follow me’ are linked (we’ll see how in a second).

On the face of it, this seems really simple. But what I want to do, just to finish, is to open up this one sentence a bit. And I want us to see three things about what it meant for these fishermen to follow Jesus, and what it will mean for us to follow Jesus. So here they are:

1) The call to follow Jesus is for everyone.

Jesus is putting together his crack team of followers who are going to go with him on his critical mission, calling people to repentance. Imagine you were putting this group together – who’d be in your J-Team? Surely you’d have the top people you could find. You’d have a few really clever people on their. Maybe some academics, or a few entrepreneurs. Maybe you’d want a few politicians or some celebrities as crowd pullers.

But that isn’t the logic Jesus used. These fishermen were ordinary blokes, they had ordinary jobs. They weren’t rich, they weren’t powerful, they weren’t well educated. And the rest of the group who join later aren’t much different – collaborators, doubters, rebels, even a traitor.

But this little group of followers is a mixed bag because the kingdom of heaven is a mixed bag. The call to follow Jesus is for everyone. But that isn’t because there are no standards. This is for everyone because it doesn’t depend on anything you or I have done. I said earlier that Jesus makes it possible for us to turn back to God, by paying for the offense we’ve caused Him. Because it’s about him, and not about you, then it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you’ve done. It doesn’t depend on your status or your upbringing. It doesn’t depend on your wealth, or your exam results. It depends totally on Jesus, who died to bring us back to God. So the call to follow Jesus is open to everyone, including you, right now.

2) The call to follow Jesus is a call to sacrifice.

When Jesus calls these guys to follow him, they leave their nets behind and go. But these guys weren’t out fishing for fun. This was their livelihood – it kept a roof over their heads and food on the table.

Following Jesus may well involve giving stuff up. Maybe it will involve putting off buying that new TV or car because Jesus wants you to follow him in how you use your money? Maybe it will mean breaking off a relationship which you know isn’t honouring to God, because following Jesus is more important? Maybe it will mean passing up a well paid job to serve God, maybe overseas?

Jesus calls us to follow him – to do what he does and go where he goes. And what did he do, where did he go? He went to the cross, to his death. He gave up not just his comfort, but his life for those who’ll trust him.

This won’t be an easy ride. It wasn’t for his original followers, and it won’t be for us. But they dropped their nets because they realised it was worth it – and they barely knew him at this point. Any sacrifice we have to make pales into insignificance compared to what he’s done for us. It’s completely worth it.

3) The call to follow Jesus is a call to speak for Jesus.

Jesus wasn’t just calling the fishermen to follow him so they could keep the kingdom of heaven to themselves and have a cosy life. He called them so they would call others. It was part of the deal right from the start – follow me, and I will send you out to fish for people. That was the whole point of them following him around – they got to know him and understand him and his message, so they could go out and preach it – while he was around, but also long after he returned to heaven.

The fact we’re sitting here in HUMSS JCR is part of the fruit of that. Someone told someone who told someone over and over for two thousand years, and now here we are.

And that’s what the CU is here for. The CU is a group of people who’ve responded to the “follow me” bit, and now we’re being sent out to fish for people. So this has another fairly simple outworking, and it’s the point I want to leave you with. Tell people! Tell people that the light has dawned. Tell people that the kingdom of heaven has come near. Tell them that they need to turn around and go back to the God who loves them. And, most importantly, tell them about the one who made it all possible. TELL THEM ABOUT JESUS!