I'm a child of the 80s. Those who know me well will tell you that pop music, especially 80s pop music is one of my passions! In the 80s there was this frankly rather oddly named group called the 'Fine Young Cannibals'. One of my favourite songs of theirs is called 'I'm not satisfied!' The lead singer sings: "No, no, no I'm not satisfied. Can't there be more to life? I can't see reasons why I'm not satisfied!" It was a song that musically and lyrically got under my skin. If you're a bit older than me, you may be more familiar with the Rolling Stones than the Fine Young Cannibals. One of their greatest hits is of course "I can't get no satisfaction". Mick Jagger sings "I try and I try and I try and I try, but I can't get no satisfaction". But maybe you're younger, well the rapper Drake has a track called "Never satisfied" (not a very edifying track!) but in it, he raps "Time after time after time… Money's all I get and there's still money on my mind, but I ain't never satisfied… Yeah, I ain't never satisfied" However old we are, isn't it interesting how popular culture taps into this need we have, this desire, to want satisfaction? And yet, as all those lyrics indicate, we find it so hard to find satisfaction. Recently, I've been spending some time wondering why that is. And I think I've come up with a few reasons why, more often than not, we're not satisfied.
Firstly, I think we're not satisfied because things don't go as planned. You know, whether that's a relationship, a career, a family; whether it's the purchase of a house that has problems, a film that fails to live up to the hype, a sports team that doesn't win. So often we expect things to be perfect, we plan for the best and then we are dissatisfied when reality hits. A friend betrays us, the job really isn't that good, the home needs to be repaired and the football team get relegated (despite winning 5-1 on the last game of the season!). That's one reason.
Secondly, I think we're not satisfied because things sometimes things do go as we planned, but then the satisfaction doesn't tend to last - which in itself is deeply unsatisfying isn't it?! As West Ham fan, I was really satisfied by this week's result of our last match at Upton Park before we move to the Olympic Stadium next season, but when I woke up on Wednesday morning, Tuesday night's euphoria was gone and I was dissatisfied that our total points tally this season isn't enough for European football next year. Now, some may find that trivial, and in many ways it is – but these things, and others, do affect us even when they go as planned. We do have a great job, but it becomes mundane. We do like where we live, but we end up dreaming of somewhere bigger/smaller, quieter/more going on. We do have enough money, but like Rockefeller once famously said, we think we need just that little bit more.
And then I find myself being nagged by deeper dissatisfactions. I look around me at the state of the world and I'm not satisfied by what I see. I'm not satisfied about abuse, about corruption, about exploitation. I'm not satisfied about wars and natural disasters and famine. I'm not satisfied about disease and sickness and death. I'm so not satisfied about death. Why does it all have to end with death? That is not good! And then my sights come closer to home and I look at myself. I look at the way I behave, the way I think, the things I can say – and they are not the things that I want to think or say or do all the time, and it's so unsatisfying to recognise that. Does any of this make sense?
Well, off the back of all that, what we want to do tonight, is to tell you about Jesus. Because honestly, when it comes to satisfaction, Jesus is a man who not only taught about getting the right perspective on it, but through his life, death and resurrection – he actually provides satisfaction – and he provides the kind of satisfaction that lasts…eternally! And so we want to tell you about Jesus because we believe he has the answers. And the best way to find out about Jesus is through the Bible. Now it's important for you to know from the outset that Christians take this book very seriously because they believe that it is the word of God. We believe that God inspired lots and lots of different human authors to write down his words over hundreds of years, so that people would have a reliable and trustworthy record of how God has been at work in human history. As such, we treat this book as the very words of God. So it's a great place to go for answers. The reading we had earlier is from one of four books in the Bible that tell us directly about Jesus' life. Matthew was one of Jesus' disciples and therefore an eyewitness to much of what Jesus said and did. In the particular account we had read he tells his readers of the time when Jesus foretold his death. Matthew 16.21:
"From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."
Why would Jesus say that he must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be killed and then rise again? Well the answer to that question is that quite simply Jesus saw these events as the main reason for his life. He had a mission to complete. That mission was to get to Jerusalem and die and come back to life again. And the writers who record his life back up that fact, because for the most part they spend a disproportionate amount of time writing about the events of the last week of his life. He lived for 33 years, but the last week of his life gets far and away the most attention! So if this was Jesus' mission, it must have been pretty important. What would his death and resurrection mean? Well we get a hint of the answer in this passage of the Bible. These are the words that were on the flyer for this evening's service and they are Jesus' words – he says (v26):
"What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?"
Twice he mentions this word 'soul'. So it must be important. And what I want to propose to you tonight is that there is, for each and every one of us, a problem with our souls. If you like, you could say we have a 'hole in our soul'! Allow me to explain. The word soul here is a word that describes the deep down emotions, the deep down thoughts and intentions – the basis of who we are. In other words, it's a word about our true and unique identities. And if there is a hole in our soul, there is a gap with our identity. There is something missing deep inside. Something that should mean we are satisfied is not there. And so when Jesus is asking this question, he is asking. 'What good is it to gain everything, and yet still have this gaping hole in the very core of your being?', 'What good is it to have everything the world has to offer, and yet still be unsatisfied?' It's an interesting question because in many ways it's an unanswerable question… and that's the point! None of us can actually gain the whole world – and those that have come close find themselves wanting more.
Apparently Alexander the Great wept for another world to conquer! Here was a man who gained land, wealth, fame, power and yet it didn't quite satisfy! Of course there is temporary satisfaction in achieving and gaining things – but he knew that lasting satisfaction was something altogether more elusive, like a bar of soap in your wet hands, that just keeps slipping out; or the sand – you know you grab a handful of sand and the more you try and hold it tight, the more it just slips through your fingers. Alexander the Great is said to have envied the peasant in his cottage. He thought the shepherd on the plain had more happiness than he did sat in his palace surrounded by his silver and gold. Then there's a chap in the Bible – a king who lived 1,000 years before Jesus - who had everything! His name was Solomon and he had it all – wealth, power, fame and bucketfuls of pleasure. As King he had over 1,000 wives. There was nothing that he hadn't done or tried in the pursuit of filling the hole in his soul. Well, God also gave him an extraordinary dose of wisdom. What was his reflection on all his strivings for pleasure and satisfaction? Vapour – it's all like vapour – there one minute, gone the next; frustratingly difficult to understand. God, on the other hand, he said endures forever!
Now friends, you and I may not have the riches and fame of Alexander the Great or King Solomon, or Jay-Z, Tom Cruise or Prince William for that matter, but we still want more too don't we? The world creates and feeds dissatisfaction in us – from razors, to holidays, to the clothes we wear, to the cars we drive and the houses we live in. We always tend to want that little bit more. I look left and right and I think the grass is greener over there. And whilst our sights might not be as grand as gaining the whole world, we are concerned with making the best of what's around us and taking care of our bodies in the here and now. But these bodies will only last a lifetime. Our souls, the things we pay very little attention to in these lifetimes, will last forever. This is what Jesus is getting at in verse 23 of the passage that we read. He corrects one of his disciples, Peter, and says to him:
"…you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."
In other words, you need an eternal Godly perspective, not a temporary human one! And Jesus wants you and me to hear those words too. He is urging you to set your mind on the eternal, not the temporary – on the things of God, not on the things of man. And in effect he is saying to you tonight, my friend, my son, my daughter – that hole in your soul needs sorting out, and it needs sorting out in this life. See it from my perspective. Set your mind on my things.
So what is God's perspective? Well to understand that we need to go back to the beginning - and in the beginning God tells us that he made the world good. Try not to get hung up on the fact of when the world was made and how. The Bible isn't interested in answering those questions. It's not into the when and how of creation – but it very much is into the why and who! Who? God. Why? Love. God made the world out of his love. So God made it good, he was in charge of the world and he made us to rule the world under him in relationship with him. The problem is, the Bible teaches, that humans rejected that order – we thought we could do better if we were in charge and so we rebelled and we disobeyed him. The Bible word for that is sin. And sadly it has a deadly serious consequence. Because God is good and pure and holy and just, he cannot and will not be near to sin. So he could not be near to his beloved creation and we were sent out from his presence, where we once had the satisfaction of being with our Creator and feeling complete, we now have the dissatisfaction of being apart from him, with this gaping hole in our soul. And so we try and replace God and we fill that hole with all sorts of other things (power, influence, money, possessions, sex, drugs, people) – but none of it satisfies because we were designed to be satisfied by God. But wonderfully God is also a God of grace and he hasn't given up on us.
So what's the solution? In one word: Jesus! Because of his never-giving-up-on-us love, God sent his Son Jesus into the world. Jesus was the one man who lived a life of complete obedience to our heavenly Father. He was perfect. And because of that God allowed him to pay the price that all of our disobedience deserves. He allowed him to die – and here's the incredible thing - God allowed him to die instead of us! Jesus died a death so that all who believe and trust in him will never die, but will have that hole in their soul satisfied eternally. This is what verse 25 is all about. Jesus says:
"whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."
If you try and save your own life by filling that soul hole with all the wrong stuff, you'll lose out eternally. When I say wrong stuff, it's not wrong in and of itself, used wisely and in the right context: money isn't wrong, sex isn't wrong, careers, entertainment or power aren't wrong – but if we are using those things to fill our souls, if we are using them as a basis of our identity, then Jesus says we won't find eternal life. "Well that's all very well" you may say, "but what I want to know is what that satisfaction actually looks like?" Well, I think I'd answer like this: Jesus will satisfy that hole in your soul with four things: truth, meaning, forgiveness and life. If you remember nothing else from your time with us tonight I pray that you go away wanting the satisfaction that comes from the truth, meaning, forgiveness and life that Jesus offers. Let me briefly explain why:
- Firstly, Jesus can satisfy you with truth. Ultimately, truth cannot be subjective. And in a world of competing claims to truth – which contradict each other – only one claim can be true. It is simply not good enough to follow the nonsense that says all religions lead to God. Especially when they disagree about who God is and how many gods there are! Jesus himself said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14.6). Only Jesus can satisfy you with truth. And the wonderful thing about truth is that it doesn't rely on emotion. And so even if I feel down, knowing the truth does indeed bring satisfaction.
- Secondly, Jesus can satisfy you with meaning and purpose. Scientists spend billions every year trying to work out how the earth began and where life came from. I think most people would like to know the answer to that question, don't you? But there are really only two answers you can give: either we're here by chance; or we were created by someone or something. If we are the products of chance - then there really is no meaning to life. There is no worth, no value, no purpose. But if we're made by someone, if we are created and we are someone's workmanship, then we matter enormously. We matter to our Creator and we don't have to look for our identity in other things, or prove our worth in other ways. The satisfaction that Jesus gives means it doesn't matter what grades we get, how much money we earn, how popular we are. What matters is that we were made by God for a relationship with him and through his sacrificial death on our behalf, Jesus has opened up the way for us to have a relationship with our creator once again! That's lasting satisfaction. Jesus promised "I am the bread of life" (John 6.35). Only Jesus can satisfy our hunger for meaning and purpose.
- Thirdly, Jesus can satisfy you with forgiveness. Because deep down, as I said earlier, our biggest problem isn't being dissatisfied with the world around us, it's being dissatisfied with the world within here. And friends you need to know this. For all those things you've done that you are not proud of, for all those things that you have done that you have managed to hide and keep secret, for all the hurt and pain that you have caused, for your greed and selfishness… Jesus offers complete forgiveness. He has paid the price; he has taken the punishment that all those things rightly deserve. And, friends, it doesn't matter how big or unforgivable you think that sin may be, Jesus promised "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11.28).
- And finally, Jesus can satisfy you with eternal life. That deep dissatisfaction we have about death being the end disappears if you believe in him and put your trust in him. He came back to life, as a demonstration of the way that all who believe and trust in him will one day come back to life and be reunited in relationship with their creator once again. Lasting satisfaction. Jesus promised "I came that you [they] may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10.10). Eternal life is a satisfaction that begins now and carries on into eternity.
Four things: truth, meaning, forgiveness and life. Maybe you are sitting there tonight and some of what I have said has hit home. If so, that is God at work. He is gently nudging you by the power of his Holy Spirit to respond. So how do you access this satisfaction? Well here's the mind blowing thing. In one sense, you actually don't do anything. You can't earn this satisfaction. You can't achieve it. The good news about Jesus is that he fixes the hole in your soul by grace. It's a gift that you simply receive. And in this text, Jesus tells you how to receive it (v24):
"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
My friends, being born into a Christian family doesn't make you a Christian; going to church doesn't make you a Christian; simply believing in God doesn't make you a Christian – no, even the devil believes in God. What makes you a Christian is receiving the gift of eternal life by: denying yourself, saying sorry for putting yourself first; taking up your cross, which is another way of saying that you want, with God's help, to live your life differently, and that you will embrace God's will for your life however tough it gets; and by following Jesus, loving and obeying him, not following yourself! One day, Jesus will come again. After his resurrection he returned to heaven to be with God the Father. But he has promised to come again - that is what verse 27 is about:
"For the Son of Man [Jesus] is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done."
So the Bible teaches that we have free will in how we respond to Jesus. But that choice has to be made in this life. When he comes again it will be judgement day, and it will be too late. The hole in your soul needs addressing now. We don't know when Jesus is coming back. Now is the time to seek his forgiveness. Maybe you are here tonight and you know that God has been speaking to you and you are ready to ask for his forgiveness. If so, I want to give you an opportunity to allow God to fill that soul hole in your life right now. And the best way I can do that is to pray a prayer and invite you to pray it with me in the quiet of your own hearts.
Heavenly Father, I want to be a Christian and follow Jesus. I realize my sins have separated me from you. Please forgive me. Please help me to deny myself and put you first in my life. Please satisfy me with truth, with meaning, with forgiveness and with eternal life. Please come into my life and help me live for you however tough it gets. Thank you Lord, Amen.
If you have prayed that prayer, please do let me know – I'd love to be praying for you by name this week. Whether you prayed that prayer or not, you may well like to pick up a copy of this booklet: Why Jesus? It's a brief, but highly helpful, read on why we should bother with Jesus. If you would like the chance to discuss God, Jesus and the Bible a bit more, or if you still have lots of unanswered questions, then can I also recommend a series of evenings we run called Christianity Explored. They are a great way of discovering more and asking any question you like, in an atmosphere that is designed to be as non-threatening as possible.