St Barnabas, 2nd June 2013
Reading – Matthew 7:13-23
Many years ago I was in a garden centre looking at all the plants on sale, and I came across a small little pot of some herb called “sweet woodruff”. I had vaguely heard of the plant, and I sort of remembered it was useful for something in the Middle Ages, and it was only a pound, so I decided to buy it. OK, the plant label said “spread indefinite”, but I needed a bit of ground cover, and this sweet little plant couldn’t really do any harm, could it!? Today, if you visit my bungalow, you will find that the whole garden is covered in the wretched plant, and as fast as I dig it out, more of it grows.
When we first arrived at the vicarage we decided that we needed to buy a greenhouse. We saw this publicity for an easy to assemble plastic affair, and we thought this was just the thing. So all the bits and pieces arrived, and we began to unwrap it. Only when we saw all the instructions and realised they were enough to fill a whole CD did we realise this “easy to assemble” claim might not be quite what it seemed. Certainly once we finally put it together DW and I decided we were never, ever going to take it apart again.
This morning we are coming to the baptism of baby Wyatt. In a moment I will invite parents and godparents to stand around the font and I will ask them this question: Do you turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour? Now in one sense the answer is dead easy: I turn to Christ. It’s really not too difficult to say these words, is it? Do you turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour? I turn to Christ. But if these words are going to make an actual difference to the way baby Wyatt is brought up, if they are going to shape and mould the values and attitudes he is going to learn, then we all need to spend just a little time making sure we ourselves have understood the question.
Because the first and most important thing we need to realise is that Jesus Christ really is Lord and Saviour. Unlike the claims about our greenhouse, the claims that the Christian faith make about Jesus are in fact true. And you just don’t have to take that from me. The evidence that Jesus died and rose again from the dead is overwhelming.
You have the historical evidence. The more that people dig up first century Palestine the more people discover that the world of that time really is as described in the Bible. You go today to Bethlehem or Jerusalem or Nazareth, and you almost literally enter the world of the four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
You have the literary evidence. Within a generation of Jesus’ death these four remarkable accounts of His life were being written down and passed from town to town. What’s fascinating is that no-one stood up and said it didn’t really happen like that. In fact even writers who were hostile to Christians agreed there was a person called Jesus who did wonderful deeds and who changed lives.
And you have the evidence of ordinary men and women whose lives were changed forever. Nothing else explains how a small group of frightened, uneducated people formed a movement who would go on to take over the Roman Empire. There were plenty of false Messiahs who attracted followers for a short time but when they died or were exposed as a fraud their followers melted away. But the followers of Jesus were so convinced this man died and rose again they risked arrest and prison and even death itself.
So when I ask the question Do you turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour? I am actually asking a question which all of us need to consider carefully. Because behind this question lies several key truths we need to ponder and take on board.
First of all, because Jesus died and rose again, He is in a very real and personal way alive. The question is not whether you believe someone lived 2000 years ago and provides us with a good example today. The question is whether you turn to this Jesus as the Messiah who lives with us now by His Holy Spirit and who wants a relationship with you. And once you understand that, this changes everything. Prayer is not just about saying a few religious words. It’s about having a conversation with the maker of Heaven and Earth and discovering what He wants for your life. Reading the Bible is not just about taking in information about the God is who is there. It’s about learning what God wants for your life.
I could go on, but there’s more. Because, secondly, Jesus died and rose again, He is the one who, whether we accept it or not, has authority over our lives. That’s why we talk about Jesus as Lord. We saying, in effect, He is the boss. He rules over our lives not only in church but at home or at school or at work or wherever we happen to be. Why? Because He is the most powerful man who has ever lived or will ever live. He is a real-life superhero who took on the powers of sin and death and evil and won. We need to listen to a man like that.
And thirdly, because Jesus died and rose again, He is, if we accept Him, Saviour. Now because Jesus loves us so much, He does not barge His way into our lives. We can if we so choose politely shut the door and He will go away. But think for a moment what you are missing: forgiveness of sins, peace with God and with others, life eternal, hope, the gift of the Holy Spirit and so much more. You may find it scary to accept Jesus is alive, and scarier still to say that He is Lord, but if you do, you will find you will have a new and wonderful relationship with God that will never, never end.
Jesus is the Christ, and Lord and Saviour. And really it is the best thing any of us can ever do to say I turn to Christ. Because we were all made to live as God’s children and thanks to Jesus it is possible once again to live like that. We are no longer cut off from our Father’s love. We can know He is there for us in every season of life. We can look forward to the future knowing that all things are in His hands. And if today you’re here and you have never thought what it means to turn to Christ, then let me urge you to consider your response this morning. Turning to Christ is the best move any of us can make.
Of course you may be wondering where the catch is in all this. Can it really be that simple to know and love God? Is faith really all I need? Well, the good news of Jesus Christ is good news precisely because it is so simple. We don’t have to spend our lives striving to be good, or to earn God’s favour, because actually none of us are good enough. All we have to do is to come to God through faith in Jesus Christ and we will be saved and accepted. As the gospel writer John says in the most famous verse in the Bible: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
There is no catch. But at the same time we have to be aware there are consequences if we decide to turn to Christ. Just as indeed that little plant label warned me all those years ago what would happen if I planted that innocent-looking sweet woodruff. Because, as I hope you can see from all I’ve said so far, turning to Christ is far more than saying the right words or even believing the right things. It’s about making a choice that will shape your whole life. For once you realise Jesus is alive, that He is your Lord, that He is your Saviour, then you need to respond to His call to take up your cross and follow Him.
And what does that mean in practice? Let me briefly share three points that come out of today’s reading:
First of all, Jesus calls us to be brave, to stand out from the crowd. And that’s not always easy. I still remember what it was like growing up as the only Christian in my class at school. It just wasn’t cool to talk about going to church on Sundays. It was awkward when others expected you to join in stuff they considered just harmless fun.
And it doesn’t necessarily get any easier when you are grown up, when you start your first job as the office junior or your flatmate throws a wild party. We have to keep close to Jesus, reading His word, getting into the habit of praying day by day, and heeding His instruction to enter by the narrow gate. (Matthew 7:13). Following Jesus is always the right option, but it will rarely, if ever, be the fashionable one.
That, by the way, is one reason why it is so important we are there for each other as a church, to encourage, support and help one another day by day. No one single person can thrive as a Christian if they are trying to go it alone. We have to belong to each other as the body of Christ if we really are going to be effective followers of Jesus.
Secondly, Jesus calls us to be sincere. It seems from this reading there were people in Jesus’ day going round as impressive, big-name religious teachers who drew great crowds and enjoyed much popularity. Outwardly they seemed respectable and trustworthy. But Jesus called them false prophets and ferocious wolves. Why? Because the evidence of their lives did not stack up with the message they were preaching.
When we turn to Christ, we need to allow His Holy Spirit to touch and change our hearts. Because in the end the type of person we are on the inside will eventually come out. We can perhaps try to hide who we are by coming to church each Sunday and saying the right things, or by taking up some kind of religious role, but we cannot fool God or even in the long run other people.
As Jesus says here in verse 18: A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. And He isn’t talking here primarily about trees. He’s talking about us. Now if we have the Holy Spirit working in us we will know Jesus’ power to change us for good. But if we are following Jesus in name only, the truth will out. Let’s be clear – the Christian faith is about having a real experience of Jesus which has a real impact on how we live. The idea that somehow you can keep what you believe private and separate from how you behave is one that not only runs counter to all that Jesus teaches, but also if you read the gospels is an attitude he condemns in the strongest possible terms.
Jesus calls us to be brave. Jesus calls us to be sincere. And Jesus calls us to be obedient. Verse 21: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Now there are verses in the Bible which are difficult to understand. There are verses in the Bible where we can argue what Jesus means. But this verse is not one of them. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
On the surface that may sound a little scary, even a little heavy. But the point is, faith in Jesus is all about a relationship. So we don’t have to go round guessing what our Heavenly Father wants us to do, or worrying every time we put a step wrong. We have all need to know about Jesus in His word, the Bible. We can find out what it means to follow and obey Jesus simply by reading the Bible and praying, both on our own and with other people. And when we turn to Jesus we find He teaches us much more of His love and grace and mercy than we can ever possibly imagine. We worship a generous God who delights in our desire to do His will.
Now I realise I have covered a lot of ground this morning, but I hope you can see by now just how important it is for all of us to think about the question: Do you turn to Christ as Lord and Saviour? Because the claims that the Christian faith make about Jesus are true. Jesus is alive. Jesus has authority, even over death itself. And if we let Him, Jesus can be our Saviour. There really is no catch. But please be aware, the answer you give has to be more than a matter of words. Jesus calls us to be brave, to be sincere, to be obedient in every area of our lives. That’s what it means to follow Him. That’s what it means to call Him Lord and Saviour. So let me in a moment of silence invite you to consider your response, and may Almighty God give you the courage to answer I turn to Christ.