If you could have a new life, what would it be like?
An airport waiting area seems an unlikely place to discover the secret of a new life – but that’s what happened to Vivienne, my wife, the other day. Kind of. We were waiting for a delayed plane on our way home from Sri Lanka, where we’d been to attend the opening of a new health centre as representatives of this church. Vivienne picked up a women’s magazine and started browsing through. She’d probably like me to point out that she never reads these magazines – she looked at it for research purposes.
But she told me about an article in there that described the advice given by some lifestyle guru to a woman who was dissatisfied with her life. She was a single woman, a nurse, and a city-dweller. The adviser asked this young woman what her fantasy life would be, and the answer was that this woman’s dream life was to be able to live in the countryside, be married, have two children, and continue with her nursing. That was the new life she wanted. And this lifestyle adviser apparently told her what she could do to make this fantasy life of hers a reality.
What she had to do was this. Every morning when she woke, and every night before she went to sleep, she was told to visualise herself living this new life that she dreamed about. Apparently these were the times of day when her life-energy was at its strongest, and consistently visualising what she wanted in this way could make it happen for her. It sounds to me like a recipe for an empty life now, and increasing disillusionment in the future. I wonder if that lifestyle guru is insured against being sued by dissatisfied customers who can’t understand why their fantasy life hasn’t materialised.
Let me just speak personally for a moment. Someone asked me a while back what my dream life would be. I said that in fact I was living it. I can’t think of anything better than being here with you this evening – can you imagine that! But it’s true. Of course I know that my life is massively imperfect. And there’s loads I’d like to change about myself. But please restrain yourselves from giving me your own suggestions on that. I’ve got plenty of ideas to be going on with, thank you. So don’t get me wrong – I’m not at all saying my life is perfect. In fact I often find it a big struggle. But - and this is a big but - I know God has called me to this life – and there’s no better place to be than where God wants you. I also know that the future – the eternal future – will be wonderful beyond words. Unless Jesus returns first, death, painful as it may be, will be a transition into a fantastic eternal life. And that’s not fantasy. That’s for real.
How do I know? Well this evening I want to point you to someone who really can give you a new life. He’s proved it. And by that I don’t just mean he’s proved it to me in my own experience. I mean he’s proved it in an objective way that you can examine and test for yourself. His name, of course, is Jesus. The place to meet him is in the pages of the Bible – where are to be found the eyewitness accounts of his earthly life and death, his resurrection and ascension to the throne of God.
So I want us to meet Jesus. Earlier on we heard being read a bit from the Gospel of John. I’d like us to take a second look at those words, so please find them again. That’s John 12.20-26. Do get a look at that. You might need to share. We came back from Sri Lanka with several films full of snapshots of our few days there. Well here’s what is rather like a short verbal-format video clip of an incident in the life of Jesus, with the sound-track preserved as well.
Now what I’m hoping and praying is that this evening you’ll see three things clearly from this account. The first is this: If you want to meet Jesus, you can. The second is this: Jesus alone can give you a new life that will never fade. Then the third is this: If you want this new life that Jesus gives, you’ve got to get serious with him. You’ve got to give up your fantasies, get real with him, start relying on him, and start doing what he says. What do I mean by those three things? And on what grounds do I dare say such things? Let me explain
First, IF YOU WANT TO MEET JESUS, YOU CAN
Take a look at the first paragraph of this section – that’s John 12.20-22. Let me read that:
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request, ‘Sir’, they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
What’s going on here? Well this is happening in Jerusalem. In fact it’s getting close to the time when Jesus was crucified – his suffering, his ‘passion’ will soon begin – but only Jesus understands that. To everyone else, the big deal is that it’s the feast of the Passover. That might not mean much to you, but I suppose the nearest equivalent now would be Christmas. This was Jerusalem’s big annual religious festival – though the religious bit was often distorted or neglected. Like Christmas. Only without Fenwick’s windows and the two-week bumper edition of the Radio Times, and with hotter weather. But people came from everywhere. Do you know the population of this church increases fourfold at Christmas Carol Service time. Well, Jerusalem had the same kind of thing. Everyone came ‘to worship at the Feast’ – even if they weren’t regular attenders.
And some of these people were, it says, ‘Greeks’. Really that just means non-Jews from the Graeco-Roman world – which was pretty much all the world they knew. In other words these Greeks knew they didn’t really belong there. They were away from home and off their territory. But something had drawn them along. Somehow they wanted to be there. Do you feel like that as you sit there this evening? You see all of the regulars singing away – I hope they weren’t just mumbling around you – and you feel slightly out of place but nonetheless you want to be here, because you think maybe there’s something in this that you want to get to the bottom of.
You see, these Greeks weren’t content with what they had in their own culture and their own lives. They thought there must be more to life than they had experienced. There was an emptiness in them. And that made them curious. I know I’m speculating about these Greeks, but I don’t see what else would have made them do what they were doing. In a word, they wanted a new life. Maybe they thought that all the wrappings of this religion and this festival would give it to them.
But while they’d been in Jerusalem, they’d heard about Jesus. Maybe they’d heard about what Jesus had done for his good friend Lazarus. There was a lot of talk about it. Not surprising, either. Because Lazarus had been dead. Had been. Jesus had brought him back to life – and that was after days in a tomb. It was all over the media. You’ll see what I mean if you just flick back a page to verse 17. I’ll read it:
Now the crowd that was with him [that’s Jesus] when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. Many people, because they had heard that he had given this miraculous sign, went out to meet him.
So here are these Greeks – these outsiders who don’t quite feel at home – and this is what they do (verse 21):
They came to Philip [he was in the inner circle of the friends and followers of Jesus] … with a request. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we would like to see Jesus.’ Philip went to Andrew [another of the inner circle]; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus [that these Greeks wanted to see him.]
Now let me ask you: are you saying the same? You might not even quite know who to ask, but are you saying to yourself, ‘I want to see Jesus. Just who is this man who has the power to raise the dead, who it is claimed rose from the dead himself 2000 years ago and is living and can still be known today?’ Are you wanting to get closer to him – to see him for yourself, to meet him, to talk with him, to hear what he has to say?
If that is what you’re thinking, even if only to yourself in the privacy of your own mind, let me say this: you can meet Jesus, and it’s easier for you than it was for those Greeks. Jesus is no longer restricted, as he was during his earthly life, to one person at a time, one place at a time. You can meet him now through the pages of the Bible – not a physical encounter, of course, but a spiritual encounter just as real – even more real, if anything. We now have the advantage over them of unlimited direct access. You can meet him.
Of course, the other side of that coin is that if you choose not to meet Jesus, then that’s precisely why it won’t happen – because of your choice. And if we walk away from Jesus, and want nothing to do with him, then in the end he will close the door on us – for all eternity. If we don’t take the opportunity now, the time will come when we won’t be able to meet Jesus. But now, like those Greeks, we can.
If you want to meet Jesus, you can. That’s the first thing I’m hoping and praying you’ll see clearly. Then the second thing is simply this:
Secondly, JESUS ALONE CAN GIVE YOU A NEW LIFE THAT WILL NEVER FADE
I want you to see what Jesus says about himself here, in response to the request for an audience from the Greeks. It‘s there in verses 23-24, which say this:
Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.
Let me unwrap that, because there’s a lot packed into a small space there. Jesus is saying at least four things about himself. Each of them is an absolutely massive claim. A long time ago I came to the conclusion that every word Jesus says is to be believed. To my mind (along with countless others) everything points to his trustworthiness. Everything points to Jesus being exactly who he says he is. Even back then, some people were saying that he was mad, or evil, or just a teacher or a prophet. But none of that adds up. You’ll have to make up your own mind about that, and whether you’re going to take Jesus at his word. However, this is what he says about himself.
First, everything that happens to him is under the direct control of God. When he says, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…’ that’s the truth that lies behind that little phrase. This is God’s timing. Even his crucifixion is ultimately under God’s control.
Secondly, Jesus is himself supremely powerful. He calls himself ‘the Son of Man.’ That’s a little phrase that probably doesn’t mean much to you, as it didn’t to many of Jesus’ hearers. But it’s loaded with significance, because of a prophecy from hundreds of years before this, that’s in the Bible. God gave Daniel (of the Lion’s Den fame) a vision. In this vision, Daniel saw ‘one like a son of man’ going to God and being given ‘authority, glory and sovereign power’ at the right hand of God and over all the nations of the world. He is given an eternal, indestructible kingdom. ‘That,’ says Jesus, ‘is me.’ Jesus is supremely powerful.
Thirdly, his coming death will bring him glory. It’s clear from the context here that when Jesus says, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…’ he’s referring to the crucifixion that he knows he’s about to undergo. And that cross will be his glory.
He’s going to be glorified directly through the achievement of the cross, because the cross opens the way to forgiveness for all believers. It is the great work that Jesus came to do. And he will be glorified through the sequel to the cross, because he ascends to heaven to the place of eternal glory at the side of God the Father. And he will be glorified as we look to him. As we look at the cross, we will see the glory of Jesus. The coming death of Jesus will bring him glory.
Fourthly, his death will bring life to many. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he says, ‘unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ Jesus is the grain of wheat that dies. And this seed is almost unbelievably fruitful. The life that he gives up becomes the source of eternal life for millions – billions of people who believe in him.
At the cross, Jesus undergoes the judgement we deserve so that we don’t have to. His death wipes out our debt to God. It opens the fountain of forgiveness. His one death produces the seed of new life, eternal life, that he’s wanting to plant in your life today. He alone can give you a new life that can never fade. And you can find that new life by meeting Jesus.
That’s what church is for. That’s what we’re here for this evening – to meet Jesus in the pages of the Bible. I don’t know what comes to your mind when you think of church. Stained glass. Hymns. Dawn French in a dog collar. Echoey ancient columned stone spaces. Weddings. Carol services. The occasional funeral. Maybe even raucous live bands and everyone dancing around and shouting ‘alleluia’ – our experiences of church can be very different. But all of that is just the wrapping at best.
When I buy a Kit Kat (which I do rather too often) I don’t buy it for the red foil wrapper, useful as it is for preventing your fingers from getting too sticky. It’s those tasty chocolate wafer fingers I’m after. Don’t confuse the church wrapper with what it’s really all about. Church is about meeting Jesus in the pages of the Bible – a real, living encounter with a man who is also God.
Eat a Kit Kat and it satisfies you. I can vouch for that. And the satisfaction last a good ninety seconds. Get to know Jesus in the pages of the Bible – really get to know him – a real living relationship with the ruler of all things – and you find that what you’ve got is a new life. Not a materialistic, self-indulgent fantasy life. But an utterly new perspective on your present existence, and a sure and certain hope of a glorious eternal life beyond death – more glorious than we can imagine.
So where have we got to? First, if you want to meet Jesus, you can. Secondly, Jesus alone can give you a new life that will never fade.
Thirdly, IF YOU WANT THIS NEW LIFE THAT JESUS GIVES, YOU’VE GOT TO GET SERIOUS WITH HIM
You’ve got to give up your fantasies, get real with him, start relying on him, and start doing what he says.
Jesus spells it out in verses 25-26:
The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
That means for a start that to find this new life we must give up our old life. If we don’t, we’ll lose it anyway. If you love your life as it is, you’ll lose it. It’s very dangerous for us when we’re too comfortable with the way things are. That’s why God often throws a spanner into the works of our lives. If we think we can do fine without him, then we’re riding for a fall.
What Jesus is saying is that we have to get to the point where we’re ready for a complete change of government in our lives. Discontent and dissatisfaction with the way things are in our lives is a good thing if it causes us to reach out to Jesus by faith and say to him, ‘Lord Jesus, you take over. I hate the mess I’m making of my life. Please forgive me. My way’s no good. Show me how to do it your way.’ When we do that, that’s the beginning of a new life for us. That’s what Jesus promises. We have a new start, a new Lord and guide, a new basis for living, a new purpose, a new power at work within us, and a new hope for eternity. We receive what Jesus promises to those who rely on him – a new life.
So when we’ve found this new life, what’s it going to look like? What will it involve?
It will be eternal. Eternal life begins the day we begin trusting Jesus: ‘the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.’ Death becomes the gateway to an eternity with our global family and our glorious Lord. However bad things get now – and they do get very bad at times – we know that the future will be good. There is always a blazing light at the end of the tunnel. What’s this new life like? It’s eternal.
Then it will be a life of serving Jesus. ‘Whoever serves me must follow me…’ says Jesus. Pleasing Jesus becomes our supreme goal and our supreme satisfaction. And the wonderful thing is that Jesus knows what’s best, and he wants what’s best, so when we serve him we do what’s best and we get what’s best.
This new life is eternal. It’ll be a life of serving Jesus. And also it’ll be a life of following Jesus. ‘Whoever serves me must follow me…’ That means that the character of Jesus becomes our pattern for living. Something of the suffering of Jesus becomes our expectation. And others who are following Jesus here and all over the world become our new family.
New life with Jesus is eternal. It’s a life of serving him and following him. So it’s a life of being with Jesus always: ‘where I am, my servant also will be,’ Jesus promises. We’ll go where he takes us, but we’ll never be alone. He is always present with us by his Spirit. Only long years of experience can make us realise just how wonderfully true that is. When you get to rock bottom, you realise that Jesus is the rock beneath your feet, and he’ll never abandon you, never let you go.
New life with Jesus is eternal. It’s a life of serving him, following him, being with him. And most startling of all, it’s a life of receiving honour from God. ‘My Father will honour the one who serves me. ‘That’s what Jesus promises. Such honour is utterly undeserved. But that’s the nature of God’s generosity. He treats us as if we do deserve honour. We become members of the royal family of God.
Do you want to see Jesus? We can’t see Jesus on our own terms. Only on Jesus’ terms. If you want this new life, then you’ve got to get serious with him. You’ve got to give up your fantasies, get real with Jesus, be honest with him, ask for forgiveness, hand over control of your life to him, ask for his help, start relying on him, and start doing what he says. Will you go to him and meet with him in that way?
Now maybe you think that’s all too much to handle at the moment. Perhaps you don’t understand it. Or you’re not sure it’s true. Or you want to take a closer look at the Bible for yourself before you make any decisions based on what it says. Or you just have more questions about Jesus that you want to find answers to before you can think of taking things any further. If that’s you, then I would like to say this: please investigate.
Maybe you do feel ready to believe in Jesus and trust your life to him. If so, then just tell him. Talk to him in the silence of your own heart. He promises to hear, and he promises to accept you back in to God’s family. Talk to him – and start your new life. If you do that today, it’ll help you if you tell someone what you’ve done. Tell a friend who’s a Christian. Tell me after the service, if you’d like to, so I can pray for you.
A great way to find out more about Jesus is to come along to one of our informal short courses called ‘Christianity Explored’. The blue leaflet about it is in the pews. Whether you are still unsure, or you think you’re ready to make a start on living a new life as a Christian, I think you’d find this helpful. It’s an opportunity to meet up with others who also have questions. There are short video talks by a guy called Rico Tice explaining more about Jesus using Mark’s Gospel. And there’s opportunity to talk together in informal small groups about issues that are raised, and whatever questions you might have.
You can let us know you’d like to come by filling in the form that’s at the back of the leaflet. If you do that at the end of the service today, then you can either give the form to one of the staff wearing a badge, or put it in one of the boxes on the way out. We can then get in touch with you and give you more information in due course. In the mean time, you can make a start with one of these little blue booklets from the back, which is Mark’s account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, from the Bible. This is what we look more closely at in Christianity Explored. It’s short. It’s easy to read. Do please take one – they’re free - and begin to read it through. That’s the best way to get to know Jesus better.