Friday, September 23, 2005

Freshers Week at University of Surrey

Spoke at Surrey University Christian Union Freshers meeting last night: God's Good News about Jesus: Grace for God's Sake

I wonder why you're here? Some might be here because you'd call yourself a Christian and you want to partner with the Christian Union in your time at Surrey. Welcome!

Maybe friends or family strongly recommended you come here in your first week? Welcome!

Maybe you picked up a flyer and thought you'd come. Welcome!
Whoever and whyever. Welcome!

At the same time, did you ever think that it's a bit strange to be here? I say that of myself – as someone working full time with University Christian Unions.... we're a bit of a minority.... we're flying the face of popular opinion and popular choice of places to be tonight....

Professor Johnjoe McFadden of Surrey Uni wrote recently in The Guardian how terrible it would be if God were allowed back into scientific thinking.... God invented science, and yet the scientific community... and one of your lecturers wants nothing to do with him. We fly in the face of education by being here.

And in the face of culture.... Last year one freshers guide made two recommendations for all new freshers.

1.Sleep with as many people as you can before Christmas
2.Avoid evangelical Christians and especially when they offer free food.

Sorry no food tonight... but somethings going on! Our Culture says – you'll be strange if you're anywhere near the Christians. Let me say again – welcome!

We meet to hear God speak in his written word. We'll look at a short section of a letter God inspired about 2000 years ago – written to a community in Rome. The coming weeks will consider more of the same. And this is what we'll find. GOD'S GOOD NEWS ABOUT JESUS: GRACE, FOR GOD'S SAKE.

We come to hear God speak in his written word. We come expecting our lives to change.

God's Good News about Jesus
Good news is a rarity today. News comes in bitesize chunks that we rarely remember. Most of what we hear is bad news. This news is different. Content-packed and Unforgettable.

God's good news about Jesus. Not my news or my Jesus, nor yours. The Jesus. The one at the centre of the vision of the Christian Union. Living for Jesus. Speaking for Jesus.

Good news about Jesus. Jesus who lived a short life in the backwaters of a great empire... and yet considered to be one of the most enigmatic figures in history... the man at the centre of history even.... His teaching seems unavoidable... written into the fabric of our society even today.
People have adopted him for their politics and ideologies. But The Bible paints the authentic picture. The Jesus. We see him at the centre of the current fiction bestseller, The Da Vinci code, but Dan Brown has missed the evidence. He's missed the real content of God's Good News about Jesus.

v2 – Jesus of the Bible.
Jesus whose coming was predicted in advance... and recorded in the whole Bible. Jesus who was expected and then delivered on the promises. No, as Dan Brown wants to suggest a fantasy Jesus for weak peoples wish-fulfilment.

v3 – Jesus, the King
The Jesus who was of royal blood. God's rightful king.
v4 – Jesus, God's Son
Jesus who died, killed as a common criminal.... and came back from the dead... announced by God, and witnessed by man, to be God's son!
Not a Jesus who went off and married Mary Magdalene as Dan Brown suggests... but one who rose from the dead to offer eternal life.

v4 – Jesus Christ our Lord
Put simply – Jesus the ruler of everything. Jesus the revealer of God's anger, God's justice and God's love. Jesus who made it clear that he, not us, rules this world.

This isn't soundbite news. This isn't stuff to forget in an instant. This is the most important of all news. For the rest of our time, two things to consider. Grace, for God's sake.
Grace.... for God's sake.
C.S. Lewis called it the thing that makes Christian faith distinctive from everything else. Bono recently said the same. “Every other religion is about karma, Jesus is about grace”

Grace. A free gift. The gift of having God write PERFECT over your life... even when that is nothing like the reality of the situation. Words wrought in the greatest sacrifice ever made.... Jesus death as a substitute in our place... dying our death, and rising to give us his life.

In a world of performance and reward this is subversive news. This letter to the community in Rome will soon outline the deep darkness of the human heart. Revealing that without exception the human race deserves to be obliterated by God.
I live in nice, leafy, Royal Berkshire where bad stuff doesn't happen... but we've had to deal with the murder of two local teenagers in the last two weeks. The human heart is darker than we dare admit....

I wonder how would you describe your standing with God....
Perhaps you think about what you've done well... your A-level grades... your family background... your church attendance... of simply that in all honesty you think you're on the good side of good, if there really is a line between bad and good at all. Maybe you live your life plate-spinning – and as far as you're concerned you spin your plates pretty well... certainly better than most. You live to impress God...

Perhaps you're a bit more honest than that. You know something of the depths of your heart. You know that this week, even today, you've not even met your own standards.
Maybe you think you've totally blown it. Too bad to be a Christian could be your confession... Too bad for anything.

Whoever you are... Grace says welcome.. and it says don't live in either of those places.

To the good guys, God says - “who are you kidding”. See you pride. Its vile to God. In fact in 3v19 God says explicitly – SHUT UP. He says stop telling me how good you think you are. Silence. We're accountable to God. And he says – we're more guilty that we'd ever dare to imagine.
To the bad guys, God says – no, don't sink into the mire of your guilt. That too is pride. Humbly abandon yourself to God's grace. Receive mercy – which is all about what you don't deserve.

Come be free from performance, free from condemnation. Come encounter God's grace. Come – obey by faith.

Not by being good but simply by believing that this is true. Accept God's verdict. Accept God's grace.

Have faith. Some try to say, as Dan Brown does in The Da Vinci Code, that faith is all about believing what isn't true. Not so. Believing what isn't true isn't faith, its naivety. And believing what you know isn't true isn't “strong faith” it's delusion.

Jesus looks for us to carefully consider what he is saying. To carefully consider an offer of free infinite credit from God. As a gift.

And if you're really getting this then you should find yourself asking - “if this is free” can we go on rebelling against God? Martyn Lloyd Jones observed that true preaching of God's good news about Jesus should always raise this charge. There is no better test...

If you're a Christian here tonight let me challenge you: go and get accused of preaching lawlessness – of preaching true free grace to your friends. Grace that doesn't require rule keeping. Grace alone!

Will you receive this grace for yourself? Will you quit boasting? Will you believe that God's grace is enough for even you?

Grace.... for God's sake.

It's tempting for us to think that this is a reversal of Copernican thinking. It's tempting for us to think that this puts us firmly at the centre of the universe all over again. In fact its quite the opposite.

Our rebellion against God, the thing that got us in this mess in the first place, was all about putting us central instead of God. Grace reverses the order. Grace says God is the “blazing centre of everything” (John Piper). And that that is why grace is offered.

There's a terrible song that suggests that when Jesus died he thought of me above all. Actually that's blasphemy. Above all Jesus was concerned for God's reputation.

When we look at the world we think that something is wrong because people suffer. Suffering is big. But there was a bigger problem: God's reputation. And it was seriously in doubt before Jesus died on a cross.
God would have been just to obliterate us. And yet every day for generation after generation he has put up with the disdain and disrespect of his name by humanity.
God's reputation would be best upheld by him wiping us out. That would prove our rebellion is wrong.

Later in this letter we see that God has patiently held back his anger... Waiting for the opportune moment to demonstrate beyond doubt that he is just.

Jesus' death is that demonstration. God's anger poured out on Jesus. A declaration that humanity will one day be punished by God. And the offer of an alternative. Of grace. Grace – that Jesus' death could be counted in our place.

God will ensure his reputation is upheld. “He is the most God-centred person in the Universe”. Either we get punished, or Jesus. Grace is on offer. God has acted to uphold his reputation – now he offers grace to generation after generation of hard-hearted rebels....

Someone might object that that sounds very egotistical... isn't God self-centred? Isn't that wrong? It might be... except that God is the most wonderful and glorious person in the universe. And drawing attention to things that are beautiful isn't wrong. God is utterly God-centred because God is ultimately glorious. It'd be wrong if he didn't seek praise.

God gracious invites us to a life of magnifying God. Not microscopic magnification – God is not tiny needing to be seen. No, telescopic magnification – God is huge – but you might not have noticed... or rather we choose to ignore the blazing centre of the universe. Its good news. God wont let his reputation be scorned forever. He has acted decisively in Jesus death... now he offers grace.
We can't claim we don't need it.
We can't claim we're too bad for it.
We can't claim God isn't worth it. So:

Fly in the face of education and culture...
>> Consider this Jesus. Being here presents you with more time and opportunity to consider Jesus than you'll ever have again. A safe environment to ask questions to encounter grace. It's been said (David Prior) that “we never move on from the cross of Christ, only into a more profound understanding of it” I'd be happy to chat with you tonight about how.

Fly in the face of education and culture...
>> Make Jesus famous. Be part of the Christian Union. Live for Jesus. Speak for Jesus. Let's show a world who ignores our God that he is infinitely valuable. And let's be accused of preaching lawlessness by really preaching God's good news about God's grace for God's sake!