n.b. sermon audio not available for this sermon
Sometimes the title of a story, gives so much away, doesn’t it?
Take the film, “Alien versus Terminator”. That tells you pretty much everything you need to know doesn’t it?
Here’s another great sounding film title: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Says it all doesn’t it?
And does anyone fancy a trip to see: Rabid Grannies? A horror comedy classic in which two kindly little old ladies turn into flesh-eating demons
One time I overheard some teenagers talking about films. And one of them said rather too loudly, “So that film ‘Snakes on a Plane’ – what’s it all about then?”Well – what do you think its about?
The titles at the beginning of Mark’s gospel gives a lot away as well, don’t they? If you take a look at Mark 1:1 on your sheet, let me read it to you. The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And those 12 words tell you everything that the rest of the book is on about and will challenge us about.
Well today I want just to look at that one verse, because Mark’s is telling us three things through it. And here’s the first.
1) Jesus is Good News
That’s what the word “gospel” means in verse 1.It means good news.
Now I don’t know what you think of when I say “good news.” Usually when people say “I’ve got some good news for you” it’s a way of distracting you from the bad news isn’t it?
You know the sort of thing: Good News, the committee voted to send you a get-well soon card. Bad News: it only passed on a vote of 5-4 with 3 abstentions.
But Mark only has good news. Jesus is good news for us and for the world.
And the reason he’s such good news is that he’s here to rescue us.
The guy who helped lead me to Christ is a mad keen mountain walker. Keen because he throws himself up Scottish mountains at every opportunity he gets, and mad, because sometimes he goes alone.
One time he went alone, it nearly ended in tragedy. He fell from a high cliff, broke his leg. And spent the best part of a day in agony wondering whether anyone would rescue him or not.
You can imagine his relief to be carried from the mountain by his rescuers. It was good news for him when his rescuer came.
Well Jesus is good news because he’s our rescuer. Not that we’ve fallen from a mountain. In fact, our plight is far far worse than that. Our problem isn’t physical – its spiritual – we live in God’s world, we’re his creations, and we ignore him, or worse. Effectively we’ve turned our back on the source of all life and goodness, and that has a consequence far far worse than a broken leg.
The consequence the Bible describes for rejecting God is eternal separation from him, and from all goodness.
You know I take no delight in talking about Hell, but Jesus talks about Hell more than anyone else in the whole of the Bible. So we have to talk about it.
However you want to categorise Hell, it isn’t a great place to hang out with old buddies and booze and carouse for eternity. It’s a place where there will be no goodness or joy. The party where the wine flows freely forever will be in the new creation. That’s where all that is good will be found.
Just take a moment to ponder what it would mean to be somewhere where all of the good we take for granted in life is withdrawn, a place where everything is bad, all of the time, where we are bad, all of the time, where people are bad all of the time. That’s Hell. And its what we choose for ourselves when we turn our backs on our creator.
That’s why Jesus talks about it so much – he’d do anything to spare us it. Even lay down his own life and take the Hell we deserve, onto himself. That’s what happened on the cross. That’s the rescue and the good news we’re talking about.
Through Jesus we can be spared the most awful fate imaginable. And that’s good news. Its good news that should stir our hearts to rejoice, and its good news that should challenge us about our friends and families and neighbours.
You know in a month or we’re starting our Journeys course. Its a short course to introduce people to the good news of Jesus. Its a great little course – it requires no knowledge – and it demonstrates better than any course I’ve seen – the difference the good news of JEsus Christ makes to the lives of ordinary people in some often quite extraordinary circumstances. Please be praying for opportunities to invite people to it. And I’ll tell you more about the course at the meet the Unwins sessions.
So there’s our first thought: Jesus is good news.
Let’s look at the 2nd claim Mark is making about Jesus, that:
2) Jesus is God’s way of taking responsibility for sin.
You probably didn’t get that immediately from looking at v1 did you? Let me explain – I’m thinking particularly of the title Mark gives Jesus there at the end of the verse: “Son of God.”
You see, when Mark calls Jesus “Son of God” he means that the man Jesus is God.
Hands up how many of you are in the same line of work as your parents? Almost none. Its very different to how things were in Jesus’ day. In Jesus son followed father followed grandfather and so on.
So in Jesus day, to be described as “the son of a carpenter” meant you were a carpenter. Because you learned your Dad’s trade.
So when Mark calls Jesus “Son of God” its more than a family title, its actually a description of what Jesus is. He’s God in the flesh. Come into the world.
But why is that such a big deal?
Friday was Carol’s birthday. And in among all we’ve been doing to get ready for this weeken, I managed to grab a couple of hours to make her a birthday cake – its my special carrot cake recipe with marscapone cheese frosting.
Now I could have gone about getting Carol a birthday cake differently couldn’t I? I could have bought one at Asda, stuck a few candles on it, popped it on the table, and hey presto- an instant birthday cake. But it wouldn’t have been the same would it?
You see when do something kind for someone, the thing that makes it kind isn’t just the end product, its the fact we involve ourselves in it. Personal involvement demonstrates love.
You know, when God looks at St James’ – when he looks at a Bob or a Caroline or a Barry – he looks at us with love. Deep, intense, passionate self-giving love. A love that says each and every one of us is valuable and special to him. A love that says, I want to go and sort out Bob or Caroline or Barry’s mess of a life. In person.
That’s why “Son of God” is such a big deal. Its God stepping into the disgusting mess we’ve made of his world and our lives, to do something about it.
Silly example. I used to be really into a computer game called Sim City. Its a town-planning game – you get a piece of land – zone it – and build roads and so on – and people move in and start living on it. And if you do it well, pretty soon you’re managing a city.
Well God coming into the world to rescue us is like me saying, “I love these little people in my Sim City so much that I’m going to go and live there. I’m going to go in person and fix their problems.”
Put it like that, and it sounds absurd doesn’t it? The creator, the ruler, the one who sets the stars in place in the sky, coming into creation to rescue what he’s made. And its all motivated by love. He does it because each and every one of us is special to him. Each and every one of us is valuable to him. With no exceptions.
I’m new here – you might have noticed. And I don’t know most of you from Adam. So I don’t know your stories yet. SO I don’t know if today is a good day or a bad day for you. Maybe its a bad day at the end of a week of bad days. Maybe you feel alone, isolated, unloved.
Well no matter what else goes wrong, I want you all to know this: God loves you with a passion that makes Romeo and Juliet look like a naff sitcom. And he’s shown that love, not by flowers or by baking a cake, but by giving up everything he had for your sake. Power. Glory. Status. Perfection. Even life itself.
There’s no greater proof of love than that. God stepping into the mess of our lives to take responsibility for our sin.
So my question for you, is do you feel loved by God?
You see we can know about God’s love in our heads – but do we feel it in our hearts?
We’re in the Church of England here – so we don’t really do emotion and feeling do we? We’re more about order and regulations. But God coming into the world is the most disordering and irregular thing ever.
Please – as we work our way through Mark in the coming months – do everything you can to get a fresh glimpse of God’s love for you. Watch Jesus as we read about him – watch how he cares and loves for people. People just like you and I. People with problems. People in pain and in despair. And he loves them and he dies for them. And he loves you, and he died for you.
And that’s my second thought.
Here’s my third,
3) Jesus is God’s challenge to us to respond.
How did v1 go, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ”? Let’s finish by pondering the meaning of “Jesus Christ.”
You know at the end of my interview here last year, I jumped in my little Ford Fiesta hire-car, And headed home. And as I turned onto the M1, I was overtaken by a blue Ford Focus with “Molehunter Mick” written on the back. Its such an evocative name.
[mime: glasses, black leather gloves, short spikey black hair] Moleskin jumper? He’s like a character escaped from CBeebies.
I had to see if he was really like that. Did he live up to his name.
So I accelerated to overtake him. And after a good few minutes of effort my car finally drew level with Molehunter Mick, and with baited breath I turned to gaze upon a bald bearded man in a suit. It was a massive disappointment.
Molehunter Mick didn’t really live up to his name. But Jesus Christ does.
Jesus means “God saves”, and Christ means “Messiah” or “King”. This is a king God sends to rule over us, and to rescue us. We’ve thought about rescue already, but let’s think about the RULE bit.
Now I’ve not read enough of the history of this place to know if we’ve ever had a royal visitor, but if the queen walked in right now, what would we do?
Well I guess Geoff would be thankful he got the floor polished. The band would eventually strike up God Save Our Gracious Queen. And I’d start panicking about whether one of my kids would throw something at her. They do that – we once had Tom Wright, the current Bishop of Durham for tea, and my kids started throwing things at him.
So if the queen walked in here right now, what would we do? Well we’d bow and scrape I guess. Her presence demands a response. And so does King Jesus.
You see, by calling Jesus, the Christ, Mark is telling us that Jesus is our rightful ruler. After all he made the world. He holds it together by his Word, and one day he’ll return to put it to rights. So of course he’s our rightful ruler. And by rights we should bow before him in obedience and loyalty.
You see, when we become Christians, one of the things we do is promise to be Jesus’ loyal servants. That’s basically what we mean when we say “Jesus is Lord.”
But if you’re anything like me, you find it hard to be loyal. You see loyalty isn’t just about turning up here on a Sunday. It’s a 24-7 thing. All of my life belongs to King Jesus. All of your life belongs to King Jesus. And all of our lives are meant to be lived loyally. Lovingly. Focussed on Jesus.
It’s a loyalty to Jesus that is lived out in our work, in our play. Its lived out online and in Sainsburys. Its lived out in our giving and our serving. Its lived out in the way we treat God’s gifts of marriage and sex. Its a 24-7 thing. All of life, all for Jesus. Calling him our Lord is meaningless otherwise.
I don’t know if you saw the Lord of the Rings films. In the second film, there’s a king called Theoden. And he has a chief advisor who praises him to his face, but privately disobeys and undermines him at every turn. His name is Wormtongue.
Publicly loyal, but privately contemptuous. Is that how we are with our king? Loyal on a Sunday morning, but what about Monday? Tuesday? Wednesday?
So as we finish, let’s challenge ourselves: to live for our king. To obey our king. To love our king. To give ourselves to him wholeheartedly in love – just as he gave himself for us wholeheartedly – in love.
That’s what it’ll take to see growth in this place – a group of Christians completely sold out to Jesus – sharing their faith and living together and loving each other – in full view of a world that mocks, but secretly looks on in envy. You know a faithful, loving, outward focussed Christian community is a beautiful, wonderful and inviting thing.
The early church grew not because it had fantastic buildings, or a great band, or comfy seats, or a polished floor, though those are all very nice things. It grew because the people gave themselves wholly to Jesus’ service, and to loving one another.
Yesterday I stood in front of you and committed myself to doing that. You also stood and committed yourselves to doing that. Let’s be people who keep our promises! Because if we do, God will use us as his ambassadors to build an outpost of his kingdom here in New Barnet. A lifeboat station that will change the face of New Barnet far more than even the might of Tesco or Asda can. A place where people can come and meet Jesus and experience real change. A place where people are seen to live life as it was meant to be lived. A place that reaches out to the darkest saddest parts of our community, and offers hope.
Our king invites us to join him in building that vision. And it all starts with us saying sorry for our Wormtongue moments.
If God’s challenged you about something today – make a note on your noticesheet to remind yourself to act: trusting that your rescuer king Jesus has already made it possible for you to be forgiven and have a fresh start in life.
Or maybe you’ve never really understood that Jesus was your king before. Well I’d love to talk to you more about that afterwards and invite you to come and journey with Jesus through life. I promise you won’t regret it.
The Beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Jesus is the good news of rescue.
Jesus is the one who out of love takes responsibility for our sin giving us a fresh start and a new beginning in life.
And he’s the one who challenges to respond.
Would you bow your heads with me as I pray to him now?