On Sunday March 8th 2015, London Road had a special service called Jesus for Beginners, Doubters and the Curious. It was a chance to have a think about who Jesus was and is and what that means for us.
We are all beginners. God is big. His plans stretch across all of time and space. None of us can grasp the full extent of what God's like or what he's up to.
We should all be doubters. We should always be learning from each other and our experiences. We should always be testing what we believe against the evidence we have.
And we’re all curious. We all want to know where are lives are going and if there is more to the world than what we can touch and see.
Jesus for Beginners, Doubters and the Curious
The church as a whole has been telling people about Jesus for 2000 years so you’d think we’d have got good at it by now and be pretty much done. Sadly, sometimes we’re not that great at making things clear. For instance, at London Road, we have a sign at the front of the church stating that Jesus is the be-all and end-all of everything we’re about. Unfortunately, it’s abbreviated... and in Greek:
There it is - on the Communion table! A IHS Ω
IHS is short for Jesus - alpha and omega are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. Jesus - the beginning and the end of everything. Obviously...
Jesus for Beginners, Doubters and the Curious is an attempt to be a little more direct at sharing some good news:
All throughout history, God has been working to fix our broken relationships. He’s been working to make friends with us and help us to be friends with each other. He’s had a plan all along and that plan is and was all about his son. His son who is also God and who was there at the very beginning of all things. God’s son who became a person in Jesus of Nazareth.
Jesus showed us God in a way we can understand. He gave us an example of who we can be. He even overcame the power of death. That’s a lot of good news.
The Good News of a Saviour
Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind;
to set free the oppressed
and announce that the time has come
when the Lord will save his people.”
Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him, as he said to them, “This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.”
We could all do with some good news. It feels like the news recently has been particularly disastrous but maybe that’s the way things always are.Luke 4:16-20 (from the Good News Bible).
The people of Jesus’ day certainly needed some good news. He lived in first century Palestine - a country that been taken over and divided up by the Romans. It was a place of dodgy leaders and dodgy taxes and a place where ordinary people struggled to get by. There were wars and disasters and all kinds of trouble. One time, when Jesus said something people didn’t like, he got accused of being an immigrant.
Is this starting to sound familiar?
Jesus grew up in a land like ours, that was desperate for good news. There was a great hope that God would send his people a saviour - a leader who would drive out the Romans and create a new kingdom with God at the centre, a kingdom that would be a great beacon of God’s power and might. The world would marvel at how much God loved and provided for his people.
The words written long before by the prophet Isaiah were central to this dream. The saviour would arrive and he would say: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because the Lord has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.’
The expectation was that the saviour would put everything right. He would steam in, yell ‘Freedom!’ and then charge at the Romans making them run away in terror. Then a carpenter turns up, quotes Isaiah, sits down and calmly says, ‘Today these words have come true. Today there is justice, freedom and healing.’
The people listening were confused. They wanted some proof, perhaps some flashy miracle, or maybe some thunder and lightning, but Jesus didn’t give them any of that. A show of power right then might have got them all too excited. Jesus needed them to realise that it wasn’t the Romans he’d come to save them from.
Here's a drama to explain:
A Drama about Good News
At the start of the drama, the Narrator is standing at the back of the stage and Daniel is sitting near the front looking scruffy and with a begging sign. The other characters come on when it’s their turn to speak and stand in a line along the front.
NARRATOR: Once there was a woman who was used to receiving a certain amount of respect in life. She and her husband lived very comfortably. They had no children but worked hard to keep themselves in the manner to which they had become accustomed.
MARGARET: Yes, it is a nice house, isn't it? You should have seen it when we moved in, though, and it's murder to heat during the winter. The bills just keep pouring in and my husband is retiring soon. It's not as if the neighbourhood is like it used to be, either. There are all sorts of people moving in and I'm afraid to go out at night. It’s not right. I want security.
NARRATOR: Time passed and the woman carefully invested her money, installed burglar alarms in her house and picked friends whom she knew would not make a fuss. Her world closed in around her, safe and secure, sucking the life from her. And when she died, though she had everything, she had nothing left to lose... (A sheet is put over Margaret.)
Elsewhere, a young man was busy checking how many followers he had on Twitter. It had gone up by three since lunch time.
MATTHEW: This is rubbish. People pay more attention to Andy Murray’s dog than they do to me, despite the fact I’m funnier... and better looking. It’s not fair. I want to be rich. I want to be famous. I want to get out of this dead-end town and see something exciting.
NARRATOR: And so he left. He travelled all around but he was never happy. Wherever he was, there was always somewhere else which seemed more fun. He knew that if only he had a better job, better friends, a better life, then things would be... better. He was forever chasing after a glimpse of all that he dreamed about and, in so doing, turned blind to everything that he already had. (Matthew covers his eyes.)
Not far away, there was a woman who felt like she’d been waiting for a very long time. Her need was simple.
ELAINE: I want to be loved.
NARRATOR: Soon she met a man and there was a whirlwind romance. They laughed and danced and they were married within a month. Everything went wonderfully and they were happy together... Then the man became obsessive and jealous and mean. Her love was beaten down and trodden under foot. (Elaine cowers.)
Life is often difficult, full of uncertainty and trouble. We all have our fears and guilt and regrets. (The Narrator goes over to Daniel who's still sitting begging.) Some of us are so forgotten that we don’t even have a voice. We all need some good news. Jesus’ words speak as clearly to us as to those in that synagogue at Nazareth so long ago.
‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ Jesus said, ‘because the Lord has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
(The Narrator lifts Daniel to his feet.)
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
(The Narrator pulls the sheet off Margaret.)
and recovery of sight to the blind;
(The Narrator uncovers Matthew’s eyes.)
to set free the oppressed
(The Narrator and Elaine hug.)
and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people.”
God with us, full of love and power
God became a person in Jesus but he didn’t just show up and put everything right with a rumble of thunder and a flash of lightning. We really wouldn’t have got to know God or ourselves any better that way.
God became a person in Jesus to show us himself. He also showed us who we can be. Jesus was God but he was also a person - the best person possible. He didn’t drive out the Romans but he did turn the world upside down.
He brought good news for the poor and oppressed. He hung around with outcasts. He treated women as people. He respected those from other places and backgrounds. He cried with the heartbroken and was angry with the arrogant and those who didn't treat others fairly. He was a beacon of God’s love and forgiveness. It was a revolution... A revolution of renewed purpose, healed relationships and people who have been made whole.
Good news is created one life at a time.
Of course, Jesus had to give some evidence of who he was. He didn’t just talk about love and help people see things differently, he literally brought sight to the blind. He healed the sick, walked on water and came back from the dead. One time he even calmed a storm:
Some of Jesus’ followers had been with him a while by then. They’d seen him make a paralysed man walk, they’d seen him free people whose minds had been plagued by demons and they’d seen him bring the dead back to life but it was this miracle that made them pause. Many of them had been fishermen who’d given up their nets in order to follow Jesus. They knew the sea. They knew there was no fighting it. And yet with a few words Jesus had brought calm to a raging storm. ‘Who is this?’ they asked themselves.
Even following Jesus around all the time, it took his friends a while to realise the good news that God was right there with them.
God is still right here with us.
Peace be with you. Now go and tell everyone about it!
God became a person in Jesus. God became part of our world to answer the difficult questions and show himself to us in a way we can understand. He brought healing and comfort and change. Now he is with God the Father in heaven but the spirit of God is everywhere. God is right here with us. Just as Jesus calmed the storm upon the Sea of Galilee, God can draw close to us and say, ‘Peace, be still’, and calm the turmoil in our own lives.
Everything Jesus did, he did to bridge the gaps between us and God, between us and each other. Everything he did, he did to bring us all closer together.
Eventually that led to death on a cross, as he took all our pain and punishment upon himself.
But that was a beginning rather than an end.
Three days after his death, God returned Jesus to life. Jesus started popping up all over the place. He found his friends wherever they were and showed them he was alive. He said, “Peace be with you. I’m alive. Go and tell everyone.”
And they did. Jesus’ followers went all around telling people about everything Jesus had said and done. They told about his compassion and his miracles and his stories. And they shared his love with each other and everyone they met.
We’re still trying to do the same today. We don’t always get it right or do it well. But we’re giving it a go.
And we all have a part to play spreading the good news. Take one of Jesus’ early miracles an example - it has an unlikely hero who does a little and God turns it into a lot:
We all have a part to play in God’s work.
God cares for each and every one of us. He has shown us himself through his son who became human in Jesus of Nazareth. Through Jesus, God has shown us how to live and God has shown us he understands what we’re going through because he has been one of us.
There is love and hope and forgiveness.
And that truly is good news. Now, go and tell everyone.