You would not believe the weather here at the moment. Actually, it is probably much the same as it was this time last year - except that this is the first very heavy rain we have had for some time. You tend to forget what it can be like over the dry season so when the rainy season starts it is something of a shock. At least it is not hot, well, not by Hong Kong standards at least.
My leg is still sore so I am still feeling sorry for myself, but the good news is that I managed to finish my sermon ahead of time! St Peter says, in the build up to the reading for the day, that it would not be right for him to 'neglect the Word of God to wait on tables'. He wouldn't survive long as a Vicar then: not with that sort of attitude!
Anyway, here is the next in the Series of Radio talks!
4. While We were still Sinners
Over the past few weeks, I have been focusing on the bad news of the Christian message. The bad news is that we have become separated from the One who made us, have become obsessed with alternative gods who are not gods at all, and in the process have picked up a deadly infection, which we are powerless to cure by anything we, ourselves, can do. We are lost, alone, and helpless. What is more we face death, not just physical death, but spiritual death. We are staring into a dark and frightening eternity. We need saving.
It is against this background that the Bible introduces Jesus. There are so many different views of Jesus: a prophet, a teacher, a moral example, a good man. And Christians would want to assert that there is truth in all of them. Jesus did challenge those in power and in the name of God denounced those who did wrong and who exploited the poor. He did teach and his teaching has inspired people of all ages to reach beyond themselves and to do what they can to help others and to improve the world for all people. He was a moral example: he did not simply tell people what they should do, he demonstrated it in his own life and actions. People were drawn to him because he was genuine. He was a good man, who people wanted to know, and simply by him being himself, he inspired people to want to change.
And yet those who knew him best, those whom he chose, and those to whom he entrusted his message, were convinced that although he was a prophet, a teacher, a moral example, and a good man, this wasn’t all there was to him and, indeed, they were convinced that these weren’t the most important things about him. Jesus, they believed, revealed the person and character of God, but, even more than this, he was God’s way of showing us his love and of rescuing us.
What has been described as the golden verse of the Bible says this:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16) It continues:
‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.’
Saved, rescued, healed. They are all different ways of saying that God, out of love for us, decided that he had to intervene personally to help us. We were powerless to help ourselves and there was no other way. It is not gentle Jesus, meek and mild, placating the wrath of an angry and vengeful God. (Although if God isn’t angry at what we are doing to ourselves, each other, and the world in which we live, he must be a pretty peculiar sort of God. Aren’t you angry when you see evil at work?) But no, it was God’s idea, and it was Jesus who was willing to put it into practice. God did not do this when we were being nice to him, he did this when we were rebelling against him and rejecting him - as we continue to do to this day. St Paul puts it this way:
‘For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’ (Romans 5:6-8)
Jesus life and death were no accident of history. Each Easter we think again of the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ death and the people involved in it. All the Gospel writers are convinced that though he was the victim, he was also the one in charge. They are certain that death was an option he submitted to because this was the way that God had decided he would save you and me from our sin and its consequences. The crucifixion is not an event that Christians pass over to get to the happier news of the resurrection, the crucifixion is central to what we believe about God and ourselves.
In the first talk in this short series, I quoted a verse from St Paul:
‘For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools …’
Unfortunately, if predictably, our reaction to God’s new act of creation, as he seeks to rescue us from our sin, has not been any different to our reaction to the first. St Paul puts it this way:
‘For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ (1 Corinthians 1:18)
The message of the Cross, that is, of Christ dying for us, to many sounds like foolishness, but for those of us who have put their trust in it, and are even now experiencing the healing it brings, it is the power of God.