Here is an introduction to the theme we have been exploring recently on Sunday morning
THE GOOD NEWS FROM MARK
We need the Holy Spirit to help us get the message of Jesus, but a little imagination helps! Not adding to the Bible, but to the impression of the words, like good news. In the first line of his book, Mark meant a great mass event, like a military parade, the tour of a triumphant sports team, the grand arrival of the emperor. The Beginning, the Good News, the Messiah, the Son of God! In a few phrases Mark proclaims a powerful message. It is not just his first line but also a celebration, don’t miss it!
When Mark uses the word beginning, he means much more than the obvious. He is saying this is the source of knowing Jesus. He echoes the first words of the Bible like John does, to show the message about Jesus comes from the source, the origin of everything. Yet he also means this is the basic message, this is the foundation, this is what you need to know about Jesus, this is where to start.
Without the Jesus of the Gospel story we have nothing. There is very good reason to trust what has been kept so we have it in our hands today. And certainly without the message of Jesus in the Gospels, we have no faith, no reality, no sure source of the truth of God. This is how we measure and compare anything else, and question what source we rely upon, for our own faith in Jesus. Tradition? Church? Family? Sentiment? Preacher? Experience?
There is nothing more important than who Jesus is and what he has done. This is not just the answer to the Sunday School question which is always Jesus or God. This is not just the obvious or the familiar or the predictable. The most important question of all is, do I have an understanding of Jesus for myself? Not just a hand me down or what someone else said or what you have always heard.
How would you answer the questions who is Jesus, what did he do, and why does it matter, in a straightforward way? We are encouraged to be ready to give a reason for what we believe, to reply when asked about the hope we have. Others should know you are a Christian believer. Your own testimony is important, how you have found his presence and help and answers to prayer. It is also important above all, that your faith and testimony and mine rest on the truth about Jesus.
Some think that the Christian message is about love, but it is about Jesus and his love. There are many kinds of spirituality and other versions of Jesus, but the truth is in the Gospels alone. We did not set out to be distinct from other ways, but the way Jesus spoke about himself leaves us no alternative. There is no mistaking the clear message of Jesus about himself in the Gospels, and he stands unique.
There is nothing more important than who Jesus is and what he has done, nothing in your life, nothing in the world.
BACK TO THE BEGINNING
A line from the song of a tv theme tune, got stuck in my mind and made me think. 'Back to the beginning.'
What are the most important things in my faith? If everything but the essentials was removed, what are these?
What if you had to start all over again? What would you need, if you had to go back to the beginning?
Luke 4 v 1-4 shows the message about Jesus rests on the truth of what happened, carefully kept and passed on.
These things are about the truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, which are the same for us all, the basis of our faith.
People say they believe in God because of what they see in creation, but is this a direct personal relationship?
The figure of Jesus appears in history books of his time, but nothing which could lead to personal faith in him.
The basis of the possibility of knowing Jesus personally, is the Gospels in the Bible, whatever your experience.
There is very good reason to regard them as reliable records, and if we do not, we cannot know Jesus at all.
In the Gospels we have a record of what Jesus said and did, his teachings, miracles, and how he spoke of himself.
How Jesus spoke of himself is the hub around which all else turns, this is the heart of the truth about him.
If what Jesus said about himself is true, he is real and we can know him, otherwise the message cannot be true.
Jesus has said too much about himself for us to put that aside, or decide the truth of his message, or only part of it, for ourselves.
We can only know Jesus for ourselves, whoever we are, on the basis of what he has said and done.
C. S. Lewis is well known for emphasizing this core of our faith, that Jesus was either who he said, or mad or worse.
Of course what Jesus said about his purpose, is focused above all on his death on the cross and resurrection.
He repeatedly insisted that his death and rising again was his most important work, as in Luke 9v23, 24 v 25-27.
So for each one of us the basis of our faith, the only foundation for our own experience, is what Jesus said and did.
The things upon which I depend as you do are the story, the words, the cross and the rising of Jesus.
We have turned to Luke to see these fundamental things, which are the same for the other Gospels.
John wrote his Gospel in a different style and pattern, but the basis is the same, what Jesus said and did, as he says in John 20v31.
Think of the pattern in John of how Jesus spoke about himself as God, repeated bold statements beginning ‘I am’.
Think of the pattern of miraculous signs, not just for the power they show, but also the truth of the person they reveal.
Take one example, in John chapter 6, which tells of when Jesus says ‘I am the Bread of Life’, after he fed thousands from a picnic.
Notice the story of the reaction of controversy and division, which the succession of Jesus’ real personal claims provoke.
The full importance of what Jesus said is, there is no other conclusion than he saw himself as the Son of God.
Think too in this, of how he spoke about his relationship with the Father, and see the vivid reaction to this, as in John 10v30.
It is only in the Gospels that the full message of Jesus is unfolded, who he is, and why he came into the world.
This message focuses fully on him, and above all on his death and resurrection, seen in the light of the Bible.
These things are the basis of our faith, your faith, my faith, the same for any and every person who knows Jesus.
We may come by many routes, early or later in life, there may be gaps or a lifetime, but the basis is the same.
It is because Jesus said these things about himself, we cannot trust him on any other basis, it is not open to us.
It is because the Son of God died in our place, and he rose from the dead as he promised, that we can trust him.
We trust in Jesus Christ on the firm foundation of the message about him in the Gospels, so we can know him for ourselves.
‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.’ 1 Peter 3v15.
Authentic Christianity in Ephesians
Some people dismiss the Bible as just a very old book. Some would like to know more about it but find it daunting. One thing is sure, you cannot discover Authentic Christianity without it.
Of course the Bible is ancient and complex, but it is not difficult to start to understand it. It is very helpful to keep the simplest overall shape of the Bible in mind. It has many books inside it, and they are divided into before and after Jesus. Then among the books about Jesus, there are ones with the story of Jesus and ones about the people of Jesus.
If you start with the books about Jesus, you discover he is the figure at the heart of the Bible. Everything leads up to his coming into the world, and then shows why he came into the world. Jesus himself also shows us by his own attitude, that we should accept the Bible as the Word of God.
So we have recently opened the letter to the Ephesians. A book about the people of Jesus, because it is a letter to a group of the first churches of Jesus Christ. Many of these were written by Paul, who had an experience of grace and light which turned him to Jesus, as you may know.
It became his great passion and mission to spread the message of Jesus, and God called him to lead the people of Jesus. So in Ephesians we have like the other letters, some of the most important things to understand in knowing Jesus. Here is
One day on holiday in North Wales, Wendy and I stood staring together into a great waterfall. After a few moments she pointed to a tiny bird somehow sitting still in the torrent. It was perched on a little point of rock surrounded by the powerful cascade.
It is a memory to us of the strength of our foundation in the faithfulness of God. We have trusted in him through the years as we have served him. We have thought of our faith resting on the rock beneath us.
I have sometimes thought of our circumstances as like the tumultuous river, though only sometimes. But I have come to see this memory differently now. We do rest on the Lord our Rock, but we also stand in the heart of the tremendous outpouring of his grace.
The course of his grace is what determines our lives and the whole human story. And his love and power and goodness are the life and foundation of our faith. This is the message of the chapter I would like to open in Ephesians chapter 1
Imagine a great waterfall. See the roaring, tumbling river fall over itself, almost too powerful for its channel, but relentlessly pouring. As you imagine the great stream, picture the whole of it turning to gold.
The plumes of white and the glassy water, all turning to dazzling colours of gold. Imagine more than bright sunlight, a miraculous scene of driving, dancing liquid gold.
This is a picture of the passage we have just read from Paul. It is a picture of the outpouring of the grace of God in the story of our faith and this world.
Of course all the writing of Paul and his testimony have the hallmark of grace in Christ. There is the bright seam of the gold of the grace of God in the Lord Jesus, running through all he teaches.
Yet here he perhaps more than anywhere in all his witness, he gives vent to overwhelming wonder and awe. He calls to us still out of the passion awakened in him, by what he has seen in Jesus, of the grace of God.
The grace of God in Jesus is the foundation and the life of our faith, and our union with him. The Christian faith and witness to the grace of God is unique in the world, and all human history.
The outpouring of the grace of God is the source and purpose of the life of the church in every place and time. In this letter to a circle of churches two thousand years ago Paul identifies what makes the church.
He speaks of the church many times especially in his message of this letter. The living grace of God in Jesus is the hallmark of the church. It is the hallmark of our faith.
The grace of God is our gold. The grace of God in Jesus is the way we know we have what is genuine and real. We know it from his Word by his Spirit, his grace is truth and it is life. The course of this grace continues through history and has reached us here today. This grace is how we tell