Jesus and You
23/09/2007 at 6.30pm
Jesmond Parish Church
A sermon preached by Jonathan Pryke
I hope you won’t mind me being personal by saying that I’m going to talk this evening about ‘Jesus and You’ – because what we make of Jesus is the key to how we live. If you’re just starting as a student, then how to live is an issue that you can’t avoid. Your life in the coming weeks and months will show clearly what you’ve decided about how to live. Your life will also show what you make of Jesus. But this is not just an issue for students, of course. None of us can avoid it.
My views on this are not of interest, but the Bible is God’s word, so that’s what we need to pay attention to when we’re figuring out what place Jesus has in our lives. So as we look at Luke 9.18-27 I want to ask three questions. First, who do you think Jesus is? Secondly, in what direction are you going to take your life? And thirdly, who are you going to live for?
First, WHO DO YOU THINK JESUS IS?
Take a look at that this passage – from Luke 9.18 – headed ‘Peter’s confession of Christ’. What’s going on here? We’re picking up this account of the life and death of Jesus at a turning point. After thirty years of obscurity, Jesus went public with his message, and backed it up with an astounding series of healings and miracles. He gathered a group of followers around him who saw and heard it all.
At this point Jesus has obviously decided that they’ve seen and heard enough to be able to make up their minds about him once and for all. So he draws them into a discussion which is going to end with them well and truly on the spot. Listen again to what happens.
Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”John the Baptist had identified Jesus as so much greater than him that even tying his shoelaces would be too great an honour. John had been summarily executed for daring to criticise King Herod. Some people thought Jesus was John back from the dead. Others were expecting the appearance of a prophet who would be the forerunner of the Messiah, and they thought Jesus was that prophet.
There were two other theories going around, which perhaps understandably the disciples omit to mention: some thought Jesus was off his rocker; others that he was Satanic. What they don’t seem to have been saying was that Jesus was ‘just a carpenter from Nazareth’. What Jesus said and what he did was too shockingly extraordinary for any ordinary explanation of him.
So what have you heard people say about Jesus? That he was a fine moral teacher but no more? Those who think that surely can’t have read what Jesus actually said about himself. Or do they say that he was a just a good man? Or that he was God and man? Or is it that many you know don’t even seem to think about him? ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ That’s Jesus’s question to this generation as well.
But then Jesus turned his attention to his followers. Verse 20:
‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’They can’t hide behind other peoples’ views now. V` 20:
Peter answered, ‘The Christ of God.’What does that mean? The Christ is God’s King. He is the prophesied Messiah – the King promised and sent by God to overthrow the enemies of God’s people and bring God’s people into an everlasting kingdom of peace and security.
Peter has been watching Jesus’ every move and listening to his every word for a couple of years. And he’s begun to realise just whose company he’s been keeping. He hasn’t got the whole picture. That’s why Jesus tells them not to go blabbing about him all over the place. There’s more they need to take on board first.
So then Jesus gives them his own perspective on what he’s about (from v21):
Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”This isn’t the kind of Messiah that Peter, for one, was expecting. Jesus agrees that he’s the Messiah – the Saviour and King of God’s people. But how’s he going to bring in his Kingdom? He’s going to do it by dying at the hands of his enemies. Why?
Many people die courageous but futile deaths. Their death seems like a terrible waste. The death of Jesus was not going to be futile. Jesus said later that he would die ‘to give his life as a ransom for many’. In other words, his death would be the price that had to be paid so that we could escape eternal death and hell and find forgiveness and eternal life. Here’s what God said through the prophet Isaiah. Speaking in anticipation of the death of Jesus, he said:
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.The truth is we all rebel against God. Some openly reject him. In our society, many rebel by simply ignoring him, which if anything is even worse. We maintain a socially acceptable public face on the outside. But inside is what Isaiah calls iniquity. ‘Evil’ is the word Jesus uses for what’s in our hearts. We deserve to be condemned at the Day of Judgement.
Because God loves us, he doesn’t want us to get what we deserve. But justice must be done. So he has come to us himself in the person of his Son, Jesus. And the debt that we owe to God, Jesus, the Son of God, paid on the cross. It’s as if all of our sin was loaded onto his shoulders and the full weight of God’s justice fell on him. We deserve death. He died in our place. So when we trust him and follow him, we go free. Our unpayable debt is cancelled. We’re forgiven. That’s why Jesus died.
But Jesus said that he wouldn’t stay dead. He would be raised from death to live for ever. He would defeat death itself. And that would be God’s proof that Jesus really was the Saviour and Lord of the world.
That’s who Jesus said that he was.
And then the question comes round to you and to me. Who do you say that Jesus is? Your answer to that is the key to the rest of your life. So that leads us on to a second big question:
Secondly, IN WHAT DIRECTION ARE YOU GOING TO TAKE YOUR LIFE?
If you think Jesus can be safely ignored, then you’ll head off through life in a certain direction. And you’ll be held accountable for that decision and for the direction that you take yourself down. If you do think that Jesus can safely be ignored, then I would say to you: Please think again. Because the conclusion that Jesus can safely be ignored simply cannot bear the weight of the facts. See for yourself. Take a closer look at him.
One great way to do that is to come along to a Christianity Explored group. Christianity Explored is for those who are either just starting to follow Jesus, or who haven’t yet made up their minds, but who want to know more. That may well be you. It’s informal. Any questions you have will be welcomed. It gives you an opportunity to look at what the Bible says about Jesus in more depth. There are short talks on video, and an opportunity to discuss or just to listen. It runs for a few weeks, and there’s a new student group starting at the end of October, so if you’re a student this is the ideal time to give it a try. Details are in Student Term Card, and you can use the form there to sign up.
But what if you already know Jesus can’t be ignored? Are you clear in your own mind that Jesus is the Son of God who died and rose again? Because if we believe that, then we’ve got to be quite clear about the implications for the way we live our lives. We can’t believe in Jesus and then live our lives as if we didn’t.
Look at verse 23:
Then he said to them all…Now who is ‘them all’? Who is Jesus speaking to here? We’ve seen that there are two categories of people around Jesus. There’s the crowds who hang around Jesus because he’s so attractive, so charismatic. They want to get a piece of him. But they’ve got him safely at arm’s length. Then there’s the disciples. Where Jesus goes, they go. What Jesus says, they do. At least, that’s what they’re committed to. They muck up, of course. But their lives are not their own any more. They belong to Jesus. What he says, goes.
So what Jesus does now is effectively to say to the disciples, ‘Do you realise what your letting yourself in for? You can’t play at being a Christian. Be consistent. Give me everything. You won’t regret it.’
And it’s as if Jesus says to those in the crowd, ‘I will not be your plaything. I will not be the mascot hanging from your rear view mirror. Give me everything. You won’t regret it.’
So Jesus talks to them all – and look at what he says (verse 23):
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?Do you see the two radically different options that Jesus lays out there – two different ways that you can go with your life? You can live for yourself and go in the direction you want. Or you can live for Jesus and go in the direction he wants.
Which is it to be? Sometimes people come to major turning points in their lives. If you’re just starting at University or College, for instance, then you are at a very definite turning point. The direction that you set for yourself now will mark your life. How we respond to Jesus is the biggest turning point of all. It shapes our entire future. It shapes our eternity.
That second question about the direction of your life, then, inevitably leads to the third big question – an intensely personal question. So:
Thirdly, WHO ARE YOU GOING TO LIVE FOR?
You can live for yourself by pleasing yourself, by promoting your own interests, by accumulating your own wealth.
Or you can live for Jesus. You can live to please him, to promote his glory, and to give the whole of your life to him as a way of saying ‘thank you’.
Will it be you, or will it be Jesus? Take a look at the rest of what Jesus says here. From verse 25 again:
What good is if for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man [that’s Jesus] will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”What are the implications of what Jesus is saying? Here are three. First, living for yourself is easy. Secondly, living for Jesus is hard. And thirdly, living for Jesus is abundant life.
So first, living for yourself is easy.
It’s the opposite of denying yourself and taking up your cross daily. We don’t have to be taught how to go with the flow, take the path of least resistance, make things comfortable for ourselves and indulge our own self-centred desires. It comes naturally to us.
What is more, living for yourself has an immediate pay-back. If you go with the flow, you avoid all the effort of having to struggle against the flow. If you take the path of least resistance, then you don’t find yourself in situations of potential conflict – with all the resulting hardship. If you just do what you want, then your desires are gratified, and it feels good.
It doesn’t always work, of course. Sometimes our plans to give ourselves a good time immediately backfire in some unforeseen way. And the gratification can be frustratingly short-term, so the need to seek further gratification comes round again frustratingly quickly. But Jesus doesn’t deny that self-centred living can have an immediate pay-back of sorts. If things really go your way, you might even gain the whole world. Everything you ever imagined getting in your wildest dreams might come your way.
But there’s a downside. And it’s this. Living for ourselves has catastrophic long-term consequences, for others and for us. A self-centred lifestyle can end up being deeply miserable. Just think about the people you know, or maybe look at your own life. The guilt and shame and damaged and broken relationships and general mess of our lives can generally be traced back directly to some defiance of God’s will. The gratification wears off and the pain remains.
And it only gets worse. Because the truth is we really are accountable to God. Jesus will be our judge one day. And if we’ve chosen a life with ourselves at the centre, a life without God, then that’s what he will give us. And that will be eternal death. We will forfeit our very selves. We will lose our lives. If we disown Christ now, he will disown us then.
It is one of the big ironies in all this is that if we do try to cling on to things against the will of God, we lose them anyway in the end. A woman died alone at the age of 71. The coroner's report was tragic: 'Cause of death: malnutrition.' Before she died she used to beg food from her neighbours. What clothes she had came from the Salvation Army. She was apparently a penniless, pitiful, forgotten widow. But not so. Those investigating her death discovered a huge stash of stocks and shares and cash. She was a millionaire, but she died of starvation because she would not part with anything. Not even to feed herself.
So living for yourself is easy. It comes naturally. At times, it has an immediate (if short-term) payback. But it’s catastrophic.
Secondly, though, we have to face the fact that living for Jesus is hard.
It means abandoning sinful selfishness. ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily…’ That doesn’t just mean that every now and then you have to think about delaying the purchase of that designer garment for another few weeks. Denying yourself means renouncing yourself, disowning yourself, displacing yourself from the number one spot in your life. If you’re going to follow Jesus, then you will cease to be the centre of your existence. He will be.
And one result of that will be that you’ll need to be publicly and openly identified as belonging to Jesus and also to this strange and diverse collection of people that he loves and that makes up his church. We won’t be able to keep quiet about our faith in Christ. In some parts of the world the price of that is high. Jesus isn’t exaggerating when he speaks of losing our lives for him. Many Christians literally lose their lives because they refuse to make their faith in Jesus a merely private matter, which it can never really be without denying it altogether. In this country at the moment the worst we have to face is misinformation, lies, anti-Christian propaganda and hostility. But if we’re ashamed of Jesus, one day he will be ashamed of us.
So living for Jesus as Lord will mean following Jesus’ voice wherever he leads. We can’t put up any ‘keep off’ signs in our lives. We will do what he says. We will go where he says. And that can be hard.
There is unimaginable glory in being in a follower of Jesus. We always have the power of his Spirit helping us. But too many people talk about discipleship as if it was all glory and no sacrifice. And the danger then is that we raise expectations in others and even in ourselves that are just plain wrong. Being a Christian is a hard road. There are real, and daily, sacrifices to be made. We mustn’t kid ourselves, and we mustn’t kid others. But then, when the going is hard, remember what Jesus says: ‘whoever loses his life for me will save it’.
Towards the end of the 19th Century, C.T.Studd gave up a privileged family background, a small fortune, and his position as a star England test cricketer to preach the gospel in China. The motto he gave to the mission organisation he founded was this:
If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice can be too great for me to make for him.Living for Jesus is hard. There are real sacrifices to be made.
But, thirdly and finally, living for Jesus is abundant life. Should we do it? Well, do we really have any choice in the matter? After all, Jesus is our Saviour and our rightful Lord. How can we not live for him? And when we do, we find true and lasting joy and peace and hope.
One Premiership footballer said:
Sometimes I would play a big Premiership game – my dream come true – but still I would come home feeling a bit empty… I found myself thinking there had to be more to life then what I was experiencing. A friend took me to church and through getting to know Jesus Christ I gained a peace that money cannot buy and fame cannot replace.We don’t just take up our cross, we follow Jesus. And that means sticking close to him. In other words, he’s always right there. And nothing can tear him away from us. That’s security.
What is more, we find ourselves swept up in the power of Christ’s expanding kingdom. Whatever precisely Jesus meant when he said that some of them there would not taste death before they saw the kingdom of God – whether he meant the resurrection, or the ascension, or Pentecost, or the fall of Jerusalem, or the impact of the gospel more widely, or some combination of those events – what is clear is that we live in the age of the demonstration of the power of God’s kingdom. God’s plans are taking shape. Jesus is in control. His power is at work in the lives of his followers, as he uses them to further his purposes. We are part of the church which is the lightning conductor for God’s power through the gospel. That’s excitement – whatever the hardships.
So if we live for Jesus, we have the presence of Jesus, and the power of Jesus at work in our lives. But that’s not all. We also have the promise of Jesus. We have everything to look forward to. Jesus will save our lives. Eternal life lies ahead of us. And when we come before Jesus to give account, he will not be ashamed of us, because he will recognise that we belong to him. That’s hope.
If we live for Jesus, life isn’t easy. But it’s full of the presence and power and promise of Jesus. It’s full of security and excitement and hope. It is abundant life.
Who do you think Jesus is? In what direction are you going to take your life? Who are you going to live for?
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