A few years ago, Larry Walters, a 33-year old American truck driver, reached the point in life he’d had enough of sitting around waiting for something to happen, so this is what he did: He rigged together 42 six-foot weather balloons, tied them to an aluminium garden chair and took to the skies for the ride of his life! Walters filled the balloons with helium, strapped on a parachute, grabbed his camera and a pellet-gun and took off. He was airborne for all of 45 minutes, took some fantastic photos and climbed to at least 16,000 feet before eventually the cold got to him, and so he shot some of the balloons with his pellet gun and came safely back down to earth. He didn’t have any equipment with him to calculate his altitude but it was known for certain that he climbed to at least 16,000 feet. How? Because astonished pilots from both Delta and Trans World Airlines independently reported seeing a flying garden chair… with a man in it, waving to them!
Walters became a bit of an overnight celebrity. When asked why he did it, he said, “It was something I just had to do. I’d been sat around thinking about it for so long and I finally decided the time had come!
Maybe that’s the reason you’re here this evening; you’ve responded to an invitation and have come to the Alpha Supper because you have questions about life, about God or about the Christian faith. Maybe you’ve been pondering these things for years and you are looking for answers. Maybe the time has come where you want to explore the Christian faith in earnest and see if it really is true. Whatever your reason for being here, can I just say you are very welcome and we are glad you are here.
I have to say that for much of my life I have not been a Christian. I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. Neither of my parents or family were Christians, but my Grandmother was. She faithfully prayed for me for years, until she died in 1992. I became a Christian a year later (27 years ago). She never saw me come to faith. Well, actually, I believe she did… just not from this side of heaven!
In the past I used to think that Christianity was boring and that going to church was a dull experience. I felt sympathy with John Stott – named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people: John Stott once wrote, “When I attend some services, I think I have come to a funeral by mistake. Everybody is dressed in black. Nobody smiles or talks. The hymns or songs are played at the pace of a snail or tortoise, and the whole atmosphere is [sombre and uninspiring].” Citation I hasten to add that John Stott endorsed Christianity as a joyful religion and said that every service should be a celebration of joy. – But joyful or not, in the past it also seemed to me that Christianity was untrue: All this talk of forgiveness and of heaven and hell; how can we even know for sure that God exists? And further, it also seemed to me that Christianity was irrelevant. How can something that happened 2000 years ago and 2000 miles away in the Middle East possible have any relevance to my life now, today, here in the UK?
The truth is I was totally ignorant about the Christian faith and I had never really given much thought to things like heaven and hell, sin and death, or Jesus dying on the cross for me. If I’m honest, my only concern was to satisfy my own personal ambitions and desires in life! Over the years, however, I began to feel discontented with life, as though there was always something missing. I tried my hand at many things to try and fill the void, especially in the areas of business and acquiring wealth and I enjoyed some successes, but nothing ever really satisfied for long. Things changed dramatically for me in 1993, when my wife and I attended a course, very much like this one, to explore the claims of the Christian faith. We have never looked back.
Now, if someone asks what difference has becoming a Christian made to me personally, I usually respond by saying three things all beginning with the letter ‘P’: Peace, Purpose and Personal relationship. Let me expand on that:
Peace: It’s not that being a Christian means that you never worry or that you are no longer concerned with the things of this world. Problems do not automatically evaporate overnight and life does not suddenly become a bed of roses… but overall there is a wonderful and deep sense of abiding peace; knowing that we are reconciled to God and that He is in control. The Bible explains it like this: ‘The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’ Citation As a Christian I have discovered this to be true and I have come to know a ‘peace’ that I never knew before.
Purpose: Christians know what direction we are heading in; we know where we are going and where our ultimate destination is. ‘But what about my life now… what is my purpose; my reason for living?’ I don’t mind telling you, before I became a Christian I searched for years looking for an answer to that question: ‘What is the meaning of life, and more specifically, what is my purpose in life; why am I here?’ The Bible teaches that God created us to be in relationship with him.
In the ‘Westminster Confession of Faith’ (one of the greatest of all the creeds of the Christian Church and first published in 1646), question one of the Shorter Catechism reads: ‘What is the chief end of man?’ [What is the chief end… the main purpose or reason for our being?] And the answer: ‘Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him for ever.’ This is the relationship we were born for. We were created to bring glory to God and to enjoy being in relationship with him forever. That is the purpose of mankind, the purpose for each and every one of us.
And how exactly are we to glorify God? The Bible teaches that we have been wonderfully made, Citation each of us unique with our own individual personality and with our own particular gifts and talents. Our talents are our potential. They are God’s gift to us, and what we do with our talents is our gift back to God. Benjamin Franklin wrote: “Hide not your talents; they for use were made: What’s the use of a sundial hidden in the shade!” We are called to use whatever we have, however great or small, to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That’s our purpose in life… but if we try to live life without God we are choosing to abandon that purpose! God wants us to know him and to know His purpose for our lives, which leads me to our third ‘P’:
Personal relationship: A Christian is someone who enjoys a person relationship with the risen Christ, a person who knows God personally. Christianity – that is, true Christianity – is not about rules, robes, rituals or reverends. Christianity is not about religion, it’s about a relationship; it’s not about intellectual head knowledge, it’s about heart knowledge; it’s not about religious rule keeping or doing things a certain way, it’s about our love for Christ expressed in our willing obedience to follow Him.
‘Christianity is far from boring, it is not untrue and it is not irrelevant. On the contrary, it is exciting, true and relevant.’
The fact is, I have never met an atheist (or an agnostic) who can say, ‘Do you know what, atheism has really changed my life… you should have seen my life before I became an atheist! But every Christian can say that!
Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6). ‘If he was right, and I believe he was, then there can be nothing more important in this life than our response to him.’ Citation
1. Jesus said, “I am the way;”
Jesus provides direction for a lost world; He is the way.
A philosopher once voiced this opinion about the life of man. “Man is Nothing; but fat enough for seven bars of soap, iron enough for one medium sized nail, sugar enough to fill seven cups of tea, lime enough to whitewash one chicken coop, phosphorous enough to tip 2200 matches, magnesium enough for one dose of salts, potash enough to explode one toy crane, and sulphur enough to rid one dog of fleas!”
Now, surely there must be more to life than this! Are we simply nothing more than a complex mix of minerals and compounds, a chance coming together of raw inorganic matter?
People are seeking direction: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life? Where am I heading? What happens when we die?
Many years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jn., was on board a train, deep in thought as he studied a legal matter which was shortly due to be heard in court. After a short while the ticket inspector approached and asked the judge for his ticket. Holmes, who was widely known as being somewhat forgetful, searched his belongings inside and out but failed to come up with the ticket or the adequate means of purchasing one. The inspector then recognised his famous passenger and to save any further embarrassment, suggested that the absent-minded judge hand in his ticket or the correct fare on his return journey. Holmes, still perplexed, replied, “Thank you inspector but the real issue here, and my cause for embarrassment, is not so much a question of my paying the fare but rather, where am I going?”
‘Men and women were created to live in a relationship with God. Without that relationship there will always be a hunger, emptiness, a feeling that something is missing.’ Citation
Bernard Levin (not a Christian) was a distinguished columnist with The Times Newspaper. He confessed to confusion regarding the meaning of life; he wrote: “To put it bluntly, have I time to discover why I was born before I die? I have not managed to answer that question yet, and however many years I have before me they are certainly not as many as there are behind. There is an obvious danger in leaving it too late… Why do I have to know why I was born? Because, of course, I am unable to believe it was an accident, and if it wasn’t one, it must have a meaning. Citation
What is the meaning of life? The law of averages tells us that during a typical lifetime the average person will sleep for about 23 years; spend around six years watching television; about three years eating and drinking; another three years getting either dressed or undressed, and around nine months in the bathroom (more if you’re a woman)! Now, there must be more to life than this and quite frankly, there is.
Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881), the Scottish historian and philosopher wrote: “A man without a purpose is like a ship without a rudder.” – People are lost and continually seeking meaning and purpose in life. ‘That is because we were created to live in relationship with God. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the only One who can bring us into that relationship with God.
As a Christian, I believe that each and every one of us has a purpose, a reason for our being here. In the Bible God says; “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). God has plans for you; plans for good, plans to prosper you; to give you hope and a future. BUT you’ll never discover what those plans are until you come to God, or come back to Him. You’ll never be what you ought to be until you’re doing what you ought to be doing.
Elsewhere the Bible also says: “That we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2v10). Commenting on this, Tony Campolo – an American author, minister and former spiritual advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton – says:
“There is something that you will never do unless you come to Jesus. There is something wonderful that God will never be able to accomplish through you until you surrender to do His will. There is something of ultimate importance that God wants you to achieve for Him. (…) God has a special mission for you to perform in His name. When you come to grips with Jesus, you will come to know that purpose. When you discern His mission for you, you will know what your life is all about. Then, and only then, will your quest for meaning and purpose be realised.” Citation
Jesus said, ‘I am the way… to the Father.’ He is the only One who can bring us into that relationship with God. As I said earlier, Christianity – true Christianity – is not about religion; it’s not about rules, robes, rituals or reverends, it’s about a relationship; it’s about knowing God and knowing His purpose for your life.
2. Jesus said, “I am the truth.”
‘I am the way… and I am the truth.’ Sometimes people say, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you are sincere. But it is possible to be sincere and still be sincerely wrong… just look at suicide bombers. Other people sometimes respond to Christianity saying, ‘If it works for you, fine, but it’s not for me.’ ‘But that’s not a logical position. You see, if Christianity is true, it is of vital importance to every one of us. And if it is not true, then Christians are deluded and are to be pitied more than any other people – and the sooner we are put right the better! As the writer and scholar C.S. Lewis put it, ‘Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.’’ Citation
One of the things we do on Alpha is to look at the historical evidence of Christianity, and we look at the historical evidence for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – is it true? Jesus said, ‘I am the truth.’ Is there any evidence to support his claim? Before I became a Christian I didn’t realised how much evidence there is.
The best way to find out if God exists and if Christianity is true is to look at the time when God himself came into human history as a man… because then you have something concrete to investigate. Did Jesus Christ actually exist? If he did – and when you look at the historical evidence you’ll know that he did – then you will also know that God exists. “All four Gospel writers were convinced that Jesus Christ was really God’s unique Son. Mark opened his Gospel with the words: “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). He ended his Gospel with the Roman centurion supervising Jesus’ crucifixion and saying, “Surely this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). The other three [gospel writers] were equally convinced.” Citation
In fact, the New Testament is full of first hand witness statements, testimonies and eyewitness accounts about Jesus and “His contemporaries… came to the unshakable conclusion that he was the visible expression of the invisible God. His character, his teaching, [his miracles], his influence, his claims, his death, his resurrection all support that conviction. God, for who there are so many pointers [came to be with us so that we might come back to being with Him]!” Citation
But it’s not just the writings of the Bible that attest to the fact that Jesus existed: Josephus, a Jewish historian (not a Christian), gives us further information in two of his literary works – Antiquities of the Jews and Jewish Wars. In these works, we meet many of the people mentioned in the New Testament – Pilate, Annas, Caiaphas, Herod and others. Josephus tells us about John the Baptist as well as Jesus. He tells us that Jesus was a “doer of marvellous deeds, a teacher of men who received truth with pleasure. He won over many Jews and also many Greeks.” He goes on to speak of Jesus’ death and resurrection and of the group called Christians who came into existence because of him. Citation
Many people think Jesus was just a good moral teacher, a bit like Ghandi perhaps. But when you investigate the person of Jesus you come to realise that the one thing that cannot be said about Him, is that Jesus was just a good moral teacher. He never meant to leave that option open to us. C. S. Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity, wrote:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things that Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” Citation
It’s fascinating at how many people who are used to looking at evidence have come to the conclusion its true. Tony Holland, Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Salford, was a scientific humanist up to the age of thirty. Then he was challenged by the question, ‘Is there a God?’ He concluded: “On consideration, it was inconceivable to me that the complex system of which we are apart could have occurred without a creator. Just as a great symphony testifies to the skill of the composer, the world and the universe testify to the wisdom and power of God. Science is but a description of God’s work.” Citation
Professor Edwin Conklin, biologist at Princeton University, made this statement: ‘The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of an Unabridged Dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing factory.’ Citation
And, Isaac Newton, famous for discovering the law of gravity, said, “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.”
When it comes down to it, the linchpin of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus Christ and for that there is ample evidence. In fact, former Lord Chief Justice of England, Lord Darling, said of the resurrection, ‘In its favour as a living truth there exists such overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in a verdict that the resurrection story is true.’ Citation
The evidence for the resurrection is overwhelming and conclusive: There is no other plausible explanation for the empty tomb; the lack of a body; the transformed lives of the disciples; the fact that church worship shifted from Saturday to resurrection Sunday. There is no other plausible explanation for the existence of the Christian church, or the evidence of millions of Christians living transformed lives after personally encountering Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit. The evidence is indeed overwhelming and conclusive, as we shall discover in the coming weeks.
When someone – a Christian – says I know Jesus is the truth, they are talking about not just being convinced by the evidence, they are talking about an experience and a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ.
(Our third heading…)
3. Jesus said, ‘I am the life.’
The Bible tells us that God made man in his own image… male and female he created them. We are created in the image of God, but did you know that man is the only living creature that can smile? It stands to reason, then, doesn’t it, that if we are made in God’s image, God must like a joke; He must be able to laugh and smile? You only have to look around at some of the people here this evening, myself included, to see that God really does have a sense of humour!
I heard recently that ‘specialists’ have calculated that 1 in 3 of us are aesthetically pleasing in appearance – in other words, 1 in 3 of us are beautiful! Take a look at the person sat on your left and take a look at the person sat on the right. Now I’m sure you’ll agree that third person isn’t one of them, so therefore it must be you! Seriously though, you really are a beautiful creation.
Consider for a moment that a Grand Piano made by skilful hands has 240 strings on which beautiful melodies can be played. The tiny human ear, in comparison, has the equivalent of 24,000 strings, which enable us to hear those melodies. Consider that a closed circuit television camera has some 60,000 electrical photographic components, which pick up images and enable the camera to ‘view’ the surrounding area. In contrast, the human eye has over 137 million similar elements. There is no doubt that Mankind is a remarkably complex design… a wonderful and beautiful creation as, indeed, are all of God’s creatures… but Mankind is different from every other creature; mankind is unique; special. Why? The Bible tells us that God created us in His own image. We are special because we are made in the image and likeness of God, who created mankind to have dominion and to take care of the earth – with God, but under God’s direction. And because we are made in God’s image we have been endowed with a personality and character and freewill, the ability to choose for ourselves. But we chose wrong; we chose to ignore God and to do things our own way, and we messed up… that’s the problem – what the Bible calls sin – that separates us from God.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). He is the only One who can bring us into that relationship with God.
Jesus came to show us the way back to God… so that we can be forgiven and come to know God personally. Jesus came to pay the price for our rebellion; for our ignoring God and choosing to go our own way. He came to die in our place, to offer himself up as a perfect sacrifice, taking our sin upon himself at the cross. Jesus paid the price for our sin so that we wouldn’t have to. And as a result of what Jesus has done for us, forgiveness and eternal life are promised to all who will receive Him. Forgiveness and the removal of guilt, wonderful new life and a restored relationship with God is offered freely; as a free gift to all who will receive it: to all who repent, accept Christ and follow him.
We are going to look at this on Week 2 of the course, but you may recall that at the cross, just before he died, Jesus cried out in Aramaic, “Tetelestai” – which means, ‘it is done; it is paid, it is finished!’ – What is? The price for our salvation: the payment for our sin: It is a gift from God, offered FREE to all who will accept and receive it. That’s what the gospel is, – gospel means ‘good news’ – God’s gift to us; to restore mankind back into relationship with him. But, as with any gift, it only becomes ours if we accept and receive it.
If I had to summarise Christianity, the conclusion would be this:
- forgiveness from the past and the removal of guilt
- fresh purpose and new life here for today
- and a wonderful eternal hope for the future.
But these things; forgiveness, a new start, and hope for tomorrow are not forced or bestowed on us automatically, instead they are offered to everyone freely… Friends, it’s our call!
‘Jesus never promised anyone an easy life, but he promised fullness of life (John 10:10). This new quality of life starts now and goes on into eternity. Our time on earth is relatively short, but eternity is vast. Through Jesus, who said, ‘I am… the life’ we can not only enjoy fullness of life here, but we can be sure that it will never end.
Christianity is not boring; it is about living life to the full. It is not untrue; it is the truth. It is not irrelevant; it transforms the whole of our lives… Jesus is vital to every one of us because he is ‘the way, and the truth, and the life’. Citation