Student Carol Service 1999 - 1 Timothy 1:15
I wonder if you have heard the story of the English Lady who wanted to buy a house in a remote village in Switzerland? So she went to see one particular house, but on returning home she realised that she had not seen a toilet in the new house. So she wrote to the estate agent asking about the location of the WC. The estate agent did not know much English, and the only thing he could think of that was a WC was the Wayside Chapel. This was the reply that he sent to the English Lady: My Dear Madam, I take great pleasure in informing you that the WC is situated nine miles from the house in the centre of a beautiful grove of Pine trees, surrounded by lovely grounds. It is capable of holding 229 people and is open on Sundays and Thursdays only. As there are a great number of people expected during the summer months, it is an unfortunate situation, especially if you are in the habit of going regularly. It may interest you to know that my daughter was married in the WC last summer and it was there that she met her husband. I can still remember the rush that there was for seats. There were three people to every seat usually occupied by one. You will be glad to hear that a good number of people bring their lunch and make a day of it. I would especially recommend your Ladyship to go on Thursdays when there is an organ accompaniment. The acoustics are excellent and even the most delicate sounds can be heard everywhere. Sadly my wife is rather fragile and cannot attend regularly. It is almost a year since she last went, and naturally it pains her very much that she is unable to go more often. I look forward to seeing you there myself in the future, Yours sincerely, J Klinsmann and Partners.
Confusion and misunderstandings are common place aren't they. And perhaps the biggest confusion at this time in the year is about Christmas. Just what is Christmas all about? If you were to take a poll in Princes Quay on Saturday youll be given a number of different answers- its about presents, or family times, or eating lots and suspending that diet, its about Santa Claus, and reindeers, its about James Bond repeats and the Queens Speech. Well we need clarity don't we, and theres no better time to think about the meaning of Christmas than a carol service and theres no better place to turn than the Bible, because its there that God tells us what Christmas is all about. Were going to use a verse from a letter of Paul. Paul was one of the earliest followers of Jesus and hes writing to a friend and telling him how he Paul became a Christian. And in the middle of this letter he writes this sentence that youll find on your sheets. "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners." It doesnt sound like Christmas does it? I mean there are no reindeer, no mention of B&Q sales. But Pauls words capture the very heart of what Christmas is about according to God. Because its actually about a rescue mission. A rescuer has come into the world to rescue people in terrible danger. So were going to ask Paul three questions. And as we go through them well discover just how extraordinary the rescuer is and what a brilliant rescue he has achieved. In fact well see its the best gift of all.
So lets ask Paul our first question.
1) Who has come?
And the answer Paul gives is "Christ Jesus came into the world.." Now we live in a society in which names don't mean very much. But behind every name there is a meaning. Did you know for instance that Claire means bright, Helen means pleasant, Nigel means champion, and Nathan means gift. Some obviously fit better than others! I read recently that a tribe in New Guinea north of Australia, called their children the most ridiculous things without knowing what they meant. They just thought it was cool. For example one man was called tinned fish and another second gear! But in Jesus day names meant alot more. And Jesus Christ is a name loaded with significance. In fact, Christ is not so much a name as a job description. Its his title, not his surname. Thats why Paul puts Christ before Jesus here. He is Jesus the Christ. Today you might have Bill the plumber, or Elizabeth the Queen. Jesus is the Christ. Now what does that mean?
Christ actually means anointed one, and the only people anointed were kings or priests. Now for centuries, the Jewish prophets had said that one day someone would come who would right all the wrongs and be the King to beat all kings. He would be the one who would bring peace to the land. He would be the one who would rule over the whole world. He would be the anointed one par excellence! And even more amazing is that God had said through those prophets that he himself would come in person. The anointed one would be God himself. So this Christ, this anointed promised king, would be God in person. And the brilliant news of Christmas is that Jesus is that figure. He is that Christ, that anointed King that everyone had been hoping for. He is in fact God in the flesh.
You may remember that Joan Osborne song of a few years ago, "What if God were one of us, just a stranger on a bus, trying to make his way home". Well the brilliant news is that God did become a man. But hes far more than just a stranger on a bus. The King of the universe has become a man and spent thirty years or so among us. That King is Jesus Christ. Sometimes I get into conversations with people and they say, "Well Id believe in God if only Id see him." And I reply "Well you could have seen him if youd been around at the time." Yes Jesus Christ is the King of Kings and hes come into this world of ours. You remember that reading from Johns gospel. "In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God." That word is Jesus Christ, hes God in the flesh. So Paul who has come? Jesus Christ has come into the world. And who is he. Hes the King of Kings, God in the flesh.
Now let me ask you, what do you make of Jesus? Do you think of Jesus as a little baby in a manger, harmless and cute. Well thats only half the story. Because that baby is the King of kings and not only does he have a claim on the whole world, but he has a claim on your life and mine. You might think of Jesus as a nice teacher or a moral man. But Jesus claims and actions just don't fit any of those usual profiles. No, Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. And he backed up those claims with extraordinary credentials. He showed his power over nature by calming storms with one word. He raised the dead in full view of sceptical witnesses, he fed thousands with a boys packed lunch. Now if you think of Jesus as simply a guy with a Kevin Keegan perm, a cute smile and Clarks sandals, youve got the wrong man. He claims far more than that. And if thats your view than I suggest youve not examined the evidence properly. Because the driving force of the gospel writers is that Jesus was God in the flesh, the King of Kings. So what do you make of Jesus? Have you bothered to check him out? Well please don't patronise him with this moral teacher rubbish. It just doesnt wash. Hes the Christ, the King come to earth. Now if hes that King then why has he come to earth. I mean the Queen doesnt just pop into Hull for nothing. She comes with a reason. And so does Jesus.
2) Why has he come?
So lets ask Paul our second question- why has he come? Well Paul tells us- he came to save sinners. Now again there is as much confusion about saving and sinning as there is about Christmas. Sin is seen either as eating a creme doughnut, or something a Tory MP does behind closed doors which is then revealed to a tabloid newspaper. But when the Bible tells us that we are sinners it is saying something profoundly alarming about our status before God. Sin is a rejection of God, turning our back on Him and saying Im happy running my life my way. You may not ever say that outright, but the way we live our lives shows it. We may even believe in God, but our lives bear no relation to him. He has no part with us at all. We keep him at arms length. Christmas and Easter are about all we can handle. But as far as God running our lives goes, its a big No, No. And that is what the Bible calls sin. And all of us are guilty of it.
Now this attitude is very damaging. I set myself up as god, even though I may not admit it. But when I try to do Gods job my way, theres bound to be trouble. We don't relate to each other properly, we don't relate to ourselves properly, we don't relate to the world properly. Now you may think "well so what, OK Im not perfect, but Im happy. Ive not murdered anyone, Im all right." The problem is, sin matters to God. Hes the affronted one, because hes the boss. And he holds us rightfully accountable. Hes the just judge, and one day well have to face him to give an account of our lives. And hes not a God who can simply turn a blind eye to the world. Just imagine if Pol Pot got to heaven and said to God "Hi God, still got that old luxury apartment ready for me then? And God says, Yeah sure come in. Its all yours!" How unjust! And its the same with our sin. Were not homicidal maniacs, but were just as guilty as charged. And the punishment is death- not just physical, but spiritual- to be permanently separated from God for ever.
Well hang on you say, I thought Christmas was good news. Whats all this stuff about sin. Well unless we see what a dire situation were in, then we wont appreciate what God has done for us! What does Paul say? Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. He came to save people like you and me! He came to get us out of that dire situation. And how did he do it? Well he did it on a cross. That baby in the manger was heading right from day one for the cross. It was on that cross that Jesus hung taking the punishment that you and I deserve for our rebellion against God. Jesus took the punishment we deserve so that we could be right with God again.
A few years ago, a man performed a parachute jump out of a plane. But as soon as he leapt out, he knew there was a problem. He tugged at the rip cord and nothing happened. He was hurtling towards the ground with no working parachute, facing certain death. However, strapped to the mans back was an instructor. This instructor was jumping with the man because he was a novice- it was his first jump. And realising that they were in trouble the instructor managed to swivel himself under the tummy of the novice so that he would hit the ground first. So when they did eventually hit the ground, the instructor bore the brunt of the impact. He was killed instantly but the novice escaped death. That instructor gave his life so that the novice could live.
And to a far greater extent that is what Jesus has done. He died in our place on the cross to take the punishment that we deserve for our rebellion against God. Do you see now why the Christian faith is a rescue religion? You too can be saved from an eternity separated from God. Hes gone to extraordinary lengths to rescue you. And thats why Christmas is a celebration- because its when we remember that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And that leaves us with just one final question for Paul.
3) How should I respond?
And Paul tells us- "this is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance." Now he says two things here. First he says that the saying is trustworthy. Now its the easiest thing in the world at Christmas time to lump Jesus with Santa Claus. Many of us think that because Santa Claus is one of those nice Christmas stories, so is the story about Jesus. Both are taken to be myth. But Jesus and Santa Claus are very different. Im sorry to burst the bubble but Santa does not come down the chimney at Christmas. But Jesus is historical, and his life and words are historical. They can be checked out and tested. And if you dont believe it do some investigating. What weve heard tonight is trustworthy, and Paul gives it his stamp of authority. But secondly Paul says it deserves full acceptance. This good news is that the King has come in person to save us- thats the best Christmas gift of all. Christmas is about a rescue mission- there is no better news. And its something that deserves to be received with joy. There is the offer of friendship with God and forgiveness on the table. Well do you want to receive that gift? Do you want to know it for yourself? Well it is possible. You could do it tonight. Like any gift it needs to be accepted. Its a simple matter of saying sorry, thankyou and please. Sorry that Ive ignored God and tried to live my life my way without any reference to him. Thankyou that Jesus came into this world to save a sinful rebel like me, and please to ask God to forgive and give me a fresh start with him.
Well Im going to pray a prayer which says those things. If you want to receive that rescue and start again with God then why not pray this prayer in your hearts. Heres what Im going to say so you know whats coming.
Lord Jesus I recognise that you are God and have the right to control my life. I have rebelled against you, sinning in thought, word and deed, sometimes consciously sometimes unconsciously. Im sorry for the way I have lived and ask you to forgive me. As best I can I want to turn away from rebellion and obey you. Thankyou Lord Jesus for dying n the cross for me. Please come into my life and take complete control.
If youd like to then please echo the prayer as I pray it now.
Well, if youve prayed that prayer then tonight is a great night for you. Youve received the best gift of all! But please tell someone- don't keep it to yourself. Tell the person you came with, tell me. Id love to give you a booklet which will explain more about this great gift. Or there are some at the back for you to take. Or maybe youre still not sure where you stand and have loads of questions. Well do talk to someone, maybe one of the student team or me, or Melvin, or grab one of these booklets. But whatever you do this Christmas, don't simply go home and ignore the best gift of all. Its just too important for that.
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