I still havenít found what Iím looking for (Student Welcome Service) - Isaiah 55:1-8
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
Alfie should be having the time of his life. He is single, he is English, he is living in New York and each day he tries to fill the hours with as much pleasure as he can. Being an Englishman in Manhattan gives him a certain appeal, and being a limo driver gives him plenty of opportunity to develop sexual relationships with various women Ė all with absolutely no commitment on his part. He is a walking example of the no-strings attached, pleasure-cruising lifestyle being followed by millions of people today. Alfie is looking for satisfaction. And he is currently behaving in a way that he thinks will give him what he wants. So he should be having the time of his life. But, as the film ends, he begins to question the whole point of his existence. It is a brave thing to do! He finally takes a rest from all his busyness and contemplates what he has achieved.
Itís what we are going to do tonight. And to help us get started I want to show you the actual clip where Alfie faces up to the emptiness of his life. So make yourself comfortable, sit back and listen to what our young pleasure seeker has to say for himself.
SHOW MOVIE CLIP FROM ALFIE
"So, whatís the answer? Thatís what I keep asking myself. Whatís it all about?"
Until the age of 21, Jason Robinson was very much like Alfie. He is currently the captain of Sale Rugby Union Club, but when he was 21, Jason Robinson was the most exciting Rugby League player in the country. And from a certain perspective he had it all: wealth, fame, the flash car and a magnificent house. But listen to how he felt during this time of his life.
"Even when I was going out clubbing and drinking, it didnít satisfy the hunger inside me. Everyone has that hunger and, to be honest with you, I think itís because they donít have Christ. You can try and satisfy the hunger with relationships or material things but theyíre only a quick fix. Okay, you can buy a nice car, but then you immediately want a better one; it doesnít seem to matter how much money people have, they always want more. The same with relationships, you always think the grass is greener on the other side, and it may be greener but it still needs mowing. At 21 I had it all; success, money, fast car, nice house but I had nothing, absolutely nothing. Iíd come home from training and feel empty; I knew people were looking at me in my BMW convertible and thinking ĎJason Robinsonís doing well.í Well, we can all put on a good show but inside I was lonely. I wanted what Vaíaiga had; a loving family around him and utter contentment.í"
Vaíaiga Tuigamala was Robinsonís team mate at Wigan Warriors. But more importantly for Robinson, he was also a committed Christian. Listen to how Robinson describes him: "A lot of people talk about being Christians but donít actually live it. Vaíaiga walked the walk. I used to watch him in the dressing room and thought Ďwhat is it about this guyí He didnít go out drinking, he wasnít looking round the car park to see if anyone had a better car, he didnít sleep around...Yet he turned up for training every morning smiling from ear to ear, he was at peace with himself and just looked such a happy man. I didnít have to ask him the secret of this happiness. I knew it was his relationship with God.í
So, whatís the answer? Whatís it all about? We are told in verse 1. This is what our Creator says to us tonight: "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost."
It was the actress Jessica Lang who once said, "The main thing I sensed back in my childhood was this inescapable yearning that I could never satisfy. Even now at times I experience an inescapable loneliness and isolation." She speaks for many. And yet here in this wonderful chapter of the book of Isaiah, God tells us the solution to our satisfaction problem. It is very simple. He tells us that if we want to enjoy a life full of meaning and purpose and joy then we need to restore our broken relationship with him.
Now itís true that many people today do not equate God with enjoyment. They often picture him as a giant kill-joy in the sky, who basically spends all his time searching for any fun in the world and then tries to stop it. As if heaven is fitted with a Pleasure Control Tower which raises the alarm if human beings seem to be having too much excitement. Noel Edmonds, the presenter of "Deal or no deal?", once described the church as the most boring experience on offer. And many people would agree with him.
But listen again to how God describes a relationship with himself. Verse 1. It is like a thirsty person gulping down a refreshing glass of water. You can hear the sigh of satisfaction canít you? "Ah, thatís just what I needed."
And so what a joy to read that such a relationship is offered to everyone. God does not say, "Come to me if you have always considered yourself a good person." Or, "Come to me if Santa Claus has always put an orange in your Christmas stocking." No, God says to everyone, "I am here for you. Iím not dull. Iím not boring and Iím not irrelevant. In fact, until you have a personal relationship with me you cannot even talk about joy. Because only when you are connected with me will you truly experience it."
So let us hear the Word of God tonight. Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters and find satisfaction for your souls.
And when you come, God says, "Leave your religious wallets at home." Did you see that at the end of verse 1? God says, "Come to me as you are, without money and without cost." Our creator is not for sale. We cannot buy his favour with our puny offerings of self-righteousness. We cannot enter his presence with our coupons of good deeds. We simply need to come as we are and God promises to welcome us home.
So letís ask the obvious question: Why donít we see this happening? If a relationship with our Creator is exactly what we need then why do we not witness thousands of people rushing into the arms of God? Well, of course, there are many reasons but surely one of the most pertinent explanations for why we donít see a mass turning to God in the Western world is mentioned in verse 2. "Why spend money on what is not bread and your labour on what does not satisfy?" God cannot believe the stupidity of human beings. On the one hand he is offering everything we need and ever wanted Ė a long-term satisfying relationship with himself. And, on the other hand, are a whole supermarket of alternatives choices which promise so much but which deliver so little.
I call it the cake or death conundrum. If someone offered me a choice between cake or death then unless I had completely lost my mind the answer is obvious. Isnít it? "Hmm, cake or death?" And yet what do we witness in this country day after day? Millions of people who have chosen the death option! Instead of coming to God to enjoy spiritual life in all its fullness they fill their lives with all sorts of alternative pursuits that leave them empty and wanting more.
A few years ago the chocolate manufacturer Cadbury, carried out an in-depth survey to identify what really makes British people happy. It revealed that the average adult in Britain spends two thousand and fifty pounds a year on increasingly complex methods to boost their happiness levels. This adds up to a staggering 96 billion pounds spent by the nation every 365 days. One of the contributors to the report said this: "Some of the simplest routes to happiness include proven mood enhancers like chocolate (Well, thatís a surprise given that Cadburyís was sponsoring the report!) as well as time off work and close relationships with friends and family. But people are still in search of something more".
Some years previously the journalist Bernard Levin wrote these words: "Countries like ours are full of people who have all the material comforts they desire, together with such non-material blessings as a happy family, and yet lead lives of quiet, and at times, noisy desperation, understanding nothing but the fact that there is a hole inside them and that however much food and drink they pour into it, however, many motor cars and television sets they stuff with it, however many well-balanced children and loyal friends they parade around the edges of it...it aches."
So, whatís the answer? God tells us in verse 2. He says, "Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul might live." It makes perfect sense, doesnít it? If we have been designed to enjoy a personal relationship with our Creator then life will not be successful until we know him. We may try and fill our diaries with many appointments, our homes with many gadgets, and our contact book with many relationships, but if we have been designed to need God, only he can provide what our hearts desire.
The Christian philosopher Blaise Pascal argued that within each one of us there is a "god-shaped gap." That is, at our deepest level we were made for a personal relationship with our Maker and only this relationship will truly satisfy.
So me ask you a personal question: Are you someone who needs this relationship with God? Step off the treadmill for just a moment and think about your life. What have you achieved so far? What have you spent your energy on? And what have been the results? Do you still feel the ache? Short-term pleasure? Yes. But long-term satisfaction, peace of mind and contentment? Who are you kidding? And what about the future? What ambitions do you have for the years to come? What plans do you have to find what your heart is looking for?
God says to us, "Why spend money on what is not bread? Why eat at McDonalds when you can enjoy the richest of fare? Why spend your labour on what does not satisfy? Wake up and smell the coffee! You will be no different from anyone else. You will not buck the trend of satisfaction if you try and fill your life with other things. So come to me and your soul will live."
One of the most distressing features of many relationships in the 21st Century is how short-lived they are. Fewer and fewer people are promising to be with each other until death us do part. Instead, they seem, increasingly, to be involved in relationships for what they can get out of them and are quite prepared to walk away from them when the relationship no longer provides what they need. But listen to the kind of relationship God is speaking about in verse 3. This is what he promises to all those who will follow him: "I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David."
God is not offering people a cohabitation arrangement. We could say that our Creator is a good old-fashioned traditionalist. He is not afraid to make a promise and when he does make one he will definitely keep it. So we are to believe him when he talks about an everlasting relationship in verse 3. Now here is something even better than marriage. During the marriage ceremony the bride and groom can only promise to be faithfully committed to each other until death separates them. Built into the very marriage service itself is a recognition that every single human being faces an inevitable end. None of the two parties making the promises has power over death. But, of course, this is not true when we are talking about God. Our Creator does have power over death. And so, therefore, what he offers to everyone who returns to him is a personal relationship that begins now and which will continue into eternity.
And this will be a relationship marked by deep commitment. Did you see the rather usual reference at the end of verse 3? God promises that the same faithful love he showed to a man called David will also be shown to people like you and me. Now whatís all that about? Well, let me tell you about David.
About 3000 years ago, David was appointed as Godís King over his chosen people. His chosen people were the nation of Israel and under Davidís leadership the people enjoyed an extended period of peace and prosperity. Now we need to understand that God was utterly committed to David. In fact, he was so committed to his chosen King that he made a promise that Davidís Kingdom would last forever. But, unfortunately, for many years the promise of God seemed like empty words. Although Godís people continued to enjoy prosperity under the leadership of Davidís Son, the future Kings of Israel led the nation into one disastrous situation after another. In fact, it got so bad that for many years the nation didnít even have a King. So how could they continue to trust the word of God? Where was this everlasting Kingdom he promised so many years ago?
By the time of Jesus Christ the situation was desperate. At the beginning of the first century, Israel was ruled by a murderous puppet-King of the Romans and, indeed, the Roman Empire had the power to impose its will whenever and wherever it wanted. So, in those days, if you were a Jew, you would not have expected to witness a Davidic Kingdom. It would have seemed completely impossible. But then Jesus Christ was born. Listen to the first words of Jesus recorded in Markís Gospel. "After John [the Baptist] was put into prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news."" Now do you see what Jesus is claiming? After all those years without a King on the throne, Jesus is claiming to the one they have all been waiting for. He is claiming to be Godís chosen King, the man descended from David, who has been sent into the world to gather together a group of people who would follow him as their leader.
And this is what he promises in return. Jesus says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." Or what about this promise from Jesus? We find it in John 6, where Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty."
So hereís the deal. If we want a personal relationship with God we need to become committed followers of Jesus Christ. A vague belief in God is not good enough. We must come to Jesus and give him control of our life. But here is the guarantee. When we become Christians we begin to experience the deep commitment of the God of David. We are looked after by a God who will never let us down. Now this does not mean we never have any problems. Life is tough for many Christians! But even in the pain we have the assurance that God will never leave us or forsake us.
His faithful love promised to David can now be enjoyed by the followers of Christ.
Now on its own this would be a fantastic reason to consider becoming a Christian. What a privilege to be offered a satisfying relationship with the God who made us. But in verses 4 and 5 we are given a second reason why someone should become Christian. Listen to what God says about David. "See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples." But now listen to what God says about the people who follow Jesus Christ. Verse 5: "Surely you will summon many nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendour." Or in other words, as Christians we are to have a drawing effect on the people who watch how we behave.
Do you remember what Jason Robinson said about Tuigamala? "I used to watch him in the dressing room and thought Ďwhat is it about this guyí He didnít go out drinking, he wasnít looking round the car park to see if anyone had a better car, he didnít sleep around...Yet he turned up for training every morning smiling from ear to ear, he was at peace with himself and just looked such a happy man. I didnít have to ask him the secret of this happiness. I knew it was his relationship with God." Now this is our task as Christians. We may not all have the vocabulary to speak to large crowds about what Jesus means to us but we do have a significant responsibility to live distinctive lives in a non-Christian world so that people are attracted to the Saviour. So the Christian life is not meaningless. Unlike the empty triviality of a life without God, a life with God has a significant purpose. Every day we have the privilege of promoting the goodness of our King by reflecting his wonderful rule in our lives. We have an opportunity to make our message attractive before we even open our mouths.
And we are to pray that as our friends and family and work colleagues watch us day by day they start asking questions about why we live so distinctively among them. And when they do we are to speak of Christ.
Now just suppose that someone decides to become a Christian because of our witness. Or perhaps there is even someone here tonight in this very situation. For whatever reason you have decided you would like to begin a relationship with God. But you donít know how. So letís end by answering the really important question: How do we reconnect with our Creator? Have a look at verses 6 and 7. "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."
The first step is to seek the Lord while he may be found. Life is short! We have no idea when we will meet our Maker. We are in a queue but who knows when our number will appear on the big screen. It can happen any time so we must seek the Lord while he may be found.
But let me also say at this point that we need to seek the Lord where he may be found. The temptation for human beings is to search for God in all the wrong places. Some people go to mountain tops; some people go to ancient church buildings and sit in the silence; some people go to modern church buildings and listen to the guitars. But do they find God? Well, not unless they take the Word of God with them - either in written form or in memorised form. You see, if we want to find God we must look for him in the right place. And where has God revealed himself? Where has he told us clearly who he is? In the written pages of the Bible.
God is not playing hide-and-seek with us. He is not concealed in a closet somewhere waiting to be discovered. He has told us everything we need to know about him and every time we read his Word we have personal encounter with him.
So if you are a student here tonight and you are currently seeking a church to join in Hull then let me give you some advice. Your top priority over the next few weeks is to find a Bible teaching church. And I donít mean a church which simply reads from the Bible and then tells you lots of interesting stories about other things. I mean a church that will teach you the Bible. Now, of course, if it is your desire to stop following Christ in 10 years time then by all means put music or image or building at the top of your priority list. But if you want to stay committed to Jesus Christ and, indeed, if you want to grow up as a Christian then you must seek out a Bible teaching church as your top priority. And if you want to know where you can find one of these churches please ask me at the end.
How does someone become a Christian? They must seek the Lord while he may be found.
Secondly, they must call on him while he is near. Any human relationship begins when we speak to another person. And the same is true with God. Becoming a Christian is not a mystical experience. We need to speak to God. We need to call on the Lord while he is near. And this means we need to approach with humility and ask him for his forgiveness. We must recognise our past behaviour for what it is and then we must call out to God for mercy.
Thirdly, we must give him control. Have a look at verse 7. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon." When someone becomes a Christian there is a turning away from the old life and a turning towards the God who will now be in control of our decisions. Feeling sorry for the past does not make us a Christian. Words need to be followed by actions. Now this does not mean we, first of all, clean ourselves up and then seek the favour of God. No! We come to God as we are and then he changes us.
But we must get this clear: To become a Christian we need hand over control. There is a conscious decision to allow God to tell us what to do in every area of our life. Now please donít misunderstand me. Christians still use their brains. We still make choices. But instead of deciding what we think is best we allow the teaching of Jesus to tell us what to do.
So how does someone become a Christian? They must seek the Lord while he may be found. They must call on him while he is near. And they must give him control while there is still time. But if they do the consequences are amazing. Listen again to what God promises in verse 7. "Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."
"A free pardon? Oh, come on, be realistic," you say. "Surely God will not just forget about our past behaviour? What is all this nonsense about free pardons and complete forgiveness? How can this possibly be the case?" Well, God tells us in verse 8. "ĎFor my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,í declares the LORD."
So what does God do with the sins of those who follow Jesus? We are given the assurance that if we follow Christ ours sins will be forgiven. Which, of course, is great news, but what about the judgement they deserve? What about the penalty for our wickedness? Who will pay for that?
The answer is truly incredible! Do you remember what Jesus said as he hung on the cross? It was the focus of our second bible reading. As the darkness of Godís judgement surrounded him he raised his voice and cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" The reason? Because this was the only way his followers could be freely pardoned.
Our wickedness cannot simply be swept under the carpet. It must be paid for. And so 2000 years ago the King we are invited to follow paid the full penalty for every sin of his people.
Now Iím very aware that many people in this building have already become Christians. Many of us sitting here tonight currently enjoy a personal relationship with Jesus as our King and friend. But Iím sure there are some people here who have not yet given him control of their life. Now perhaps you are someone who needs more information. Well, thatís fine. We run a course at St Johns called Christianity Explored and we also run a Student Christianity Explored on the campus. If you come on one of these course you wonít be asked to read out loud, sing or pray but you will be given an opportunity to ask any question you want and also to find out more about this person called Jesus. So why not come along? Why not give it a go for at least a week? Youíll find all the information you need about the St Johns course on the cards at the end of the pews and if you want more information about the Student Christianity Explored then please speak to either myself or Nathan at the end of the service. Now if you want to come along to any of these courses then please fill out your contact details on the piece of paper you were handed when you came in and put it in one of the clearly marked boxes at the end of the service.
But maybe there are one or two individuals who want to become Christians straight away. You certainly donít know everything but you have now reached the point in your life when you know enough to become a follower of Jesus. Perhaps you have never made a personal commitment to him in the past but tonight you want to begin that satisfying relationship with the God who made you. Well, if thatís you I want to finish by saying a prayer that you can say to become a Christian. The words are on the big screen behind me.
Iíll read them through once so that you understand what Iím asking you to say and then Iíll invite you to pray them through with me. The prayer is simple.
"Dear God, I know Iím not worthy to be accepted by you. I donít deserve your gift of eternal life. Iím guilty of rebelling against you and ignoring you. I need your forgiveness. Thank you for sending Jesus to die for me so I can be forgiven. Thank you for raising him from the dead to give me new life. Please forgive me and change me, so that I can live with Jesus as my King. Amen."
Now if you would like to become a Christian then let me invite you to pray this prayer with me. As I read it through again, simply repeat it silently as you speak to God in heaven. Letís bow our heads as we pray.
If you have just prayed that prayer then do come and speak to me at the end. I have a short booklet I would like to give you which will help you work out what to do next. Itís completely free but if you want one you need to come and ask.
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