One life - What's it all about?

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If you're here through an invitation, thanks for coming. This is one of a run of events to help people give Christianity a look. And we've called it: 'One life – what's it all about?' And I wonder what you'd say to that – 'What's the point of life? What are we here for?' A while back, some of us questionnaired people in the city centre and asked them that question. And one guy said, 'Well, we're here to carry on the human race, aren't we?' Which is a fairly biological answer. Another pretty world-weary looking guy said, 'Well I sometimes wake up and feel I'm only here to pay the bills.' And then we bumped into this group of giggling teenage girls who said, 'It's all about enjoying yourself and having fun.' Which made you think, 'They obviously still have someone paying the bills for them… and maybe that was your Dad I just questionnaired back there!' What surprised me was how many people said, 'I have no idea.' So what is it all about – if anything?

Well, what I want us to do is to hear Jesus' answer. It's the answer he gave to someone with totally the wrong idea of what it's all about. And it comes from Luke's Gospel – which is one of the four accounts in the Bible of Jesus' life, death and resurrection from the dead. So let me run past you the beginning of it again, from Luke 12.13:

"Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.""

So he's come into shared money and he wants his half. And maybe up till then his life hadn't really come to anything. But now he's thinking, 'If only I can get that money… life will finally begin.' And one way to work out what you think life is all about is to ask yourself, 'What's my 'If only…?' 'If only… [you fill in the blank]… life will finally begin.' Maybe you'd say, 'If only… I could find someone to settle down with and have a family...'? Or, 'If only… I could fulfil my dream to be this, or do that...'? What's your 'If only…?' Or to those of you who are my age and up maybe I should say, 'What was it – and how has it panned out?' Well, here's what Jesus said to this bloke. And it's the Bible verse that proves conclusively that Jesus was a Geordie. Verses 14-15:

"But [Jesus] said to him, "Man [maybe he even said, 'Haway, man!'], who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of one's possessions.""

The average National Lottery millionaire has bought two new homes, six new cars (average price £46,000) and goes on holiday in the Caribbean. Jesus says, 'That's not what life's all about.' And then he tells one of his parables, which are like mirrors that he holds up to us and says, 'Do you see yourself in this?' So, verses 16-19:

"And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.'"

And in our culture, the guy in this parable has arrived, hasn't he? Because he's got the three big 'l's – lolly, leisure and luxury. And if you can find love along the way as well, you've got everything that life is about, haven't you? Well, 'No', says Jesus. Because here's the punchline. Verses 20-21:

"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you [in other words, you're going to die and face me], and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God." [In other words, who lives how he wants and doesn't give his Maker a thought.]

Before you get offended, let me say that, in the Bible, that word 'fool' doesn't mean 'stupid' or 'unintelligent' – God isn't insulting him. In the Bible, the 'fool' is the person who's totally misjudged things. I used to love that TV program 'Game For A Laugh', where they set people up using hidden cameras and then Jeremy Beadle, the presenter, would appear from nowhere with a microphone. My favourite was the art exhibition, where they went to this primary school and got the kids to create a whole load of 'modern art'. Some of them just splatted this canvas, Jackson Pollock style. Two others had a canvas on the playground and they painted up their BMX bike wheels – one red, one green – and criss-crossed it till it was covered. Then the program cuts to this top London gallery which ITV had hired for this exhibition of little known 'Modern Masters', and they'd invited all the top critics. Up on the walls were the kids' pictures, including the BMX one, all framed and titled 'Strawberries.' And there was the critic from The Times saying, 'It's so realistic. You can almost smell the fruit.' And… out pops Jeremy Beadle with his microphone, and it was brilliant TV – you could see this man's career flashing before his eyes, as he realised he'd totally misjudged things.

Well this guy in the parable had totally misjudged life. And Jesus says he made two mistakes – which anyone here can make, as well (and you might be making them right now). Mistake number one was:

1. He lived as if there was no God

So he never stopped to think, 'Is there actually someone out there who's given me everything good I have?' He just put it down to luck, or to himself (to being smart or working hard). And he never stopped to think, 'Is conscience actually my sense that I'm accountable to that someone for how I live?' He just assumed he could decide for himself how to use his money and abilities and time, how to use sex – and all the rest of life. And that's what our culture tells us to do, isn't it? Like that atheist bus campaign a few years back, with the big ads saying,

"There's probably no God.
Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

But actually, we can know God is really there – because 2,000 years ago he sent his Son to be here, on this planet, in the person of Jesus. So there's no doubt that Jesus claimed to be God – God's Son become human. But obviously you don't believe someone just because they make a claim. I don't know if you've heard of the French painter, Gustave Dore. He was once travelling through Europe and lost his passport. So he said at the next border, 'Look, I haven't got my passport, but I'm Gustave Dore, the painter' – expecting them to say, 'Ah, Monsieur Dore, of course!' and wave him through. But the official said to him, 'Sir, we hear all sorts of claims like that.' And Dore said, 'But I am Gustave Dore.' At which the official, with great presence of mind, passed him paper and pencil and said, 'Then prove it.' And after a lightning sketch with trademark signature they let him in. (So, leaky European border control is really nothing new.) Likewise, Jesus didn't just claim to be God – he gave evidence to prove it, as well. You may be familiar with this, but let me just run some of the evidence past you. So, for example, one time Jesus was crossing the Sea of Galilee with his disciples and this storm hit, and threatened to sink them. Jesus got up and said, "Peace! Be still!" And back in chapter 8, Luke says,

"…the storm ceased, and all was calm. [And the disciples] … asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water and they obey him.'" (Luke 8.24-25, NIV)

Then there are the healings – like the paralysed people he made walk again and the blind people he made see again. And then there are the people he even brought back from death. Like the sick, twelve year old girl whose father sent for Jesus to come and heal her, but then came out to tell him it was too late. And Luke says:

"When [Jesus] came to the house… he said, '…she is not dead, but asleep.' [And] he took her by the hand and said, 'My child, get up.' Her spirit returned and at once she stood up." (Luke 8.51-54)

So, instant response: it was easier for Jesus to bring her back from the dead than it is for me to get my kids up for school in the morning! And finally there's his own resurrection: three o'clock on Good Friday afternoon, Jesus had just died on the cross. First thing Easter Sunday, his tomb is empty, and people are seeing him alive again, bodily risen from the dead. What do you make of all that? What I make of it is that we can know God is really there – because he's been here, in Jesus.

I wonder if you've begun to realise that? Because if so, the next thing you need to realise is how utterly offensive it is to God that we've lived in his world as if he wasn't there. That's what we've all done. The Bible says: consciously or subconsciously, we've all said to God, 'I don't want you telling me what life's all about and how to live – I want to live it my own way.' And I still remember when it dawned on me that I'd done that. I was listening to a talk like this, before I was a Christian. And even though people would have said I was a decent bloke, I suddenly realised that I really had lived my whole life so far without giving God a single thought, and that everything I'd ever done against my conscience, I'd actually done against him. And I remember thinking, 'If this is true (and I was becoming more sure that it was), I'm in big trouble.' I wonder if you've begun to realise that? Because if so, the next thing you need to realise is that the whole reason God sent his Son into the world was to get us out of that trouble and back into relationship with him, through his death on the cross.

I don't know whether you ever watch 'A Question of Sport'. My favourite round is 'What happened next?' – where they play a clip, freeze the action, and you have to guess what happened next. And I remember a football one where this striker was clean through the defence, into the penalty area. It was one-on-one, the keeper was running out at him, it looked like he had to score… Freeze the frame – 'What happened next?' So they made the usual wild guesses, like, 'Floodlights suddenly fail in power cut… Striker's contact lens falls out, and he misses… Guide dog breaks loose onto the pitch and steals the ball…' What actually happened was this. The goalie dived at him and brought him down – but in the process, broke his own arm. So a penalty was given against him. But because of his arm, the substitute goalie came on, to face the penalty for him.

And that's a picture of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Because living as if God wasn't there – and everything we do wrong as a result – deserves a penalty: it deserves God's judgement and rejection at the end of our lives. That may sound hard, but we wouldn't want it any other way, would we? If there is a God, surely we want him to be a moral God who'll deal with all the wrong that's gone on in his world. And that's what he says he will do. But the heart of the Christian message is that God doesn't want it to come to judgment and rejection for any of us. So the Bible says that, in his love, he sent his Son to be our substitute – and that when Jesus died on the cross, he was facing the penalty we deserve – of being rejected by his Father – so that we could be forgiven and never have to face that penalty ourselves. So thanks to Jesus, we can know God is really there. And we can know he wants us back in relationship with him – and that, thanks to the cross, he can forgive us whoever we are, whatever we've done, however long we've been keeping God at arm's length. So for this guy in the parable, that was mistake number one: he lived as if there was no God. And his other mistake, mistake number two, was that:

2. He lived as if there was no judgment

Let me run the punchline of the parable past you one last time. Verses 20-21:

"But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God."

To which our culture would say, 'You don't have a soul. You're just a biological machine, and there's nothing about you that'll last beyond death.' So, for example, Stephen Hawking, the atheistic scientist, said in an interview in The Guardian,

"The brain [is just] a computer which will stop working when its components fail. And there's no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that's a fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark."

But actually we can know there's life beyond death – because Jesus rose from the dead. And that's not a fairy story or wishful thinking. Like I said earlier, at three o'clock on Good Friday afternoon, Jesus had just died on the cross. Then first thing Easter Sunday, his tomb was empty, and people were seeing him alive again, bodily risen from the dead. And that means there will be life after death for every one of us – and you can't opt out of that reality simply by choosing to believe that death is the end of you.

It also means that, right now, Jesus is back in heaven, alive and well, and that we'll all meet him as our Judge. And Jesus said that, on that day, there will be just two groups of people. On the one hand, there will be those who realised they were in the wrong with God – living as if he wasn't there – and who asked his forgiveness and started life over again with God in his rightful place. They'll be welcomed into heaven – Jesus will recognise them as family. But on the other hand, there will be those who just carried on living as if God wasn't there – who kept saying, 'I don't want you telling me what life's all about and how to live – I want to live it my own way.' And Jesus said that, with no pleasure at all, he'll have to turn people like that away from his kingdom of heaven, because you can't be part of a kingdom if you won't accept the king. But, like I've said, he doesn't want it to come to that for any of us. And that's why he died on the cross for you and your forgiveness. And that's why he's calling you tonight, through this part of his Word, to respond to him. So I wonder: where do you stand with God right now?

Imagine I were to draw a line of where people stand. At one end would be those who can say, 'I've been forgiven, and started life over again with God in his rightful place.' And if that's you, you know what life's really all about. You know it's about friendship with God, which starts now and lasts through death forever. But at the other end would be those who'd say, 'I'm not sure where I stand. I'm not even sure it's true.' And if that's you, can I encourage you for all I'm worth to keep coming along, so you can find out more and get to the point where you are sure. You're always welcome to any of our Sunday services. But probably the best thing for you would be to try our Christianity Explored course – which is for anyone wanting to think more about all this. There's a red card about it inside your service sheet. It starts the week after next. Why not come to the first one, to see what it's like and whether it would be good for you?

But going back to my line, you may be right in the middle: you know this is all true and you know that tonight, and maybe over the past weeks and months, God has been calling you to respond to him. And I want to say: wouldn't today be a great day to do that? So I'm going to end with a prayer which would be a way of responding to God properly for the first time. And before I lead us in prayer, I'll just read through it, so that you can think whether you'd want to make it your own prayer. I'll say:

Father God,
I'm sorry I've lived in your world as if you weren't there.
Thank you for giving your Son to die for me, so I can be forgiven.
Please forgive me, and help me to live for you from now on.

Now you may be further back, and not ready to pray like that. Or you may be further on, and don't need to begin relationship with God all over again. But if you want to respond to him like that, you could echo the prayer in your mind to him, as I lead us now. Let's bow our heads to pray.

Father God,
I'm sorry I've lived in your world as if you weren't there.
Thank you for giving your Son to die for me, so I can be forgiven.
Please forgive me, and help me to live for you from now on.

I'm into injury time, but let me say two quick things if you've just prayed that prayer. One is: tell another Christian you've done that, because it will help you underline that you really have done it. And they can suggest what will help you get going as a Christian, from here. And feel free to come and talk to me, or one of the other church staff, if you'd like. And the other thing to say is: please pick up a copy of this 'Why Jesus?' booklet from the literature racks. It's about the step of becoming a Christian. And whether you've just done that, or you're still thinking about it, you'd find it a really helpful thing to take away and read.

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