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April 5 - John 5:1-15; 7:14-24 - "Five Things Jesus Wants You to Do Before You Die (or even sooner!)"
MPC 5th April 2009.
If you've already read the book 100 Things to Do Before You Die, then I guess by now you've had some pretty impressive holidays. It's interesting, it's a grand title for a book isn't it? It's been a best seller for the last ten years. Written by Dave Freeman, who prefaced the book with the words, "This life is a short journey... so how can you make sure you fill it with the most fun and that you visit all the coolest places on earth before you pack those bags for the very last time?"
In short, Dave Freeman's list of a hundred things to do before you die is really just list of 100 holiday destinations and what he'd call unmissable events and experiences. Like the Pushkar Camel Fair in Rajastan. Like the World Cow Chip Throwing Championship in Beaver, Oklahoma. Like the running of the bulls in Pamploma.
So it was kind of ironic that the author Dave Freeman, after promoting a life of dangerous and exciting travel experiences, after putting his life on the line in so many thrill-seeking ways, only made it half way through his own list before he was accidentally killed. Not by a rampaging bull or snapped bungee cord. Dave died when he slipped over in his bathroom and hit his head on the bath.
At his funeral his co-author Neil Teplica said, "Dave didn't have enough days; he was only 47. But he lived them like he should have," But I wonder if that's true?
See, it's interesting you could think that of the 100 most important things to do before you leave this life... every one of them involves an air ticket. I mean, what about your first kiss? Doesn't that beat the running of the bulls? What about watching your baby take her first steps? Wouldn't you trade that for a parachute jump over the indonesian jungle? What about the things you do that make you into the person you are? Which are a much bigger issue than just the places you've pointed your Canon Powershot and taken 200 digital photos you'll never really get time to look at anyway.
See, I wonder if instead of making sure we have the most fun we can and visit all the coolest places we can, there are maybe other priorities we should have in the way we live our lives?
Which is why I sat down and read through John's gospel in the New Testament. And asked the question what are the things that Jesus most wants us to do with whatever days we have? And I made a list.
I mean, I'm fully aware that for some of you asking what Jesus would want you to do with your life may not make a whole lot of sense. Because you're not convinced that Jesus deserves any particular attention. And yet if nothing else, you've got to concede that as a man who lived a lifespan of only 33 years, and that he lived over 2000 years ago, there's no doubt that he somehow made a mark. That he's had an impact out of all proportion. And that somehow what he did with his life... was on any way of accounting it, more significant than just a string of expensive adventure holidays.
And so I started in the bible at John's gospel chapter 1 verse 1, and I read all the way to the end at John 21 verse 25, and I kept asking the question, "What does Jesus want us to do?" And I wrote down a list of all the concrete actions that Jesus wants us to make sure we do before we die.
The list had in the end five pages. The list had 69 concrete things for followers of Jesus to be serious about doing. Though some of them are repeated in different places. But today I want to share with you what I think are the top five. Five things that Jesus says you and I need to do. As listed from the gospel of John.
If you've got a bible there and you've found John's gospel you can flip through the pages as we go. Or you might just like to watch as they come up on the screen. So let's get started with the top five things Jesus wants us to do before we die. Or even sooner. In fact, they're things that Jesus wants us to be doing right now.
Here's the first one. It's in John chapter 1 verse 7. Just seven verses in, and you'll be able to see right away what Jesus wants people to do. There's no beating around the bush at this point. We're in the very first page of the gospel of John, and it's unapologetic and it's unmistakable. And we might as well get it right on out there on the table.
Now John the baptist was the warm up guy for Jesus. John the Baptist was the advance party before Jesus burst on the scene. John the Baptist said he was a nobody, and that Jesus was going to be the great light. He said other stuff as well, like "I'm not even fit to untie his shoelaces." And it's John the Baptist you meet here in chapter 1 verse 7. And it says here, right up front:
[John] came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.
Now this might strike you as obvious, or it might strike you as odd. That the fundamental thing Jesus is going to be asking people to do, the key thing John the Baptist is preparing people to do, it isn't first and foremost to behave better or to try harder or to be nicer. The thing Jesus is going to ask is that all men might believe. All people everywhere. The thing first and foremost Jesus wants people to do isn't to be more religious or fight wars in his name or give up smoking or even try harder to be a nicer person. The thing he wants you to do is to trust him. To believe.
And if you read further in John's gospel you see it over and over again.
In fact, it's there in the most famous verse in the Bible. Just over the page in John 3:16. This is the one you see on banners at the world cup soccer. This is the one you see on T-shirts. This is the verse that says,
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
Or just down the page a little. John 3:36. Which raises the sobering prospect that God's anger might stay burning on some people, and not on others. And tells you what makes the difference.
Whoever believes in the son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.
Here's another one that talks about believing. And you might be saying, well, it's a big ask. I mean, how am I meant to start believing in this Jesus I don't even know, who's maybe just a fairy tale or a legend?
John, the disciple of Jesus, John who was his closest friend, John who knew him and walked with him and watched him in action, these are his words. This is his book. And right over near the end in chapter 20, he tells us why he's writing it.
John chapter 20 verse 31. In this book he's written some incredible things that Jesus claimed and taught and did. And here's the whole reason he's writing.
These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Now here's the thing. First and foremost and right through John's gospel, the thing Jesus wants people to do... the thing he wants every person to do... is believe. That he's the son of God. That the one who was in very nature God actually stepped into our world. To believe it in the sense that triggers a chain reaction of actually turning your life around in alignment with that. In exactly the opposite way to those who reject him. And send him to his death.
So number 1 on the to-do list, the most fundamental issue - it's not about being a better person; it's not about hoping for the best; it's not even about being religious. And it's certainly not about a blind irrational belief or a leap in the dark. John says, I walked half way round the middle east with this guy Jesus and I saw what he said and I saw what he did. Why do you think I've written it down? I've written it down so you can believe. Even if you weren't there. I've written these things so you'll believe. So do it from right now. And have life.
And so if you're asking the question how could a person like me turn into a believer in Jesus even if I wanted to, can I say your best bet is to sit down some time with a Bible and spend an hour or so reading John's gospel. And take a look first hand at what Jesus says and does.
Now that leads straight to point 2. Because all the moreso for the person who does believe, there's a tight link between the things Jesus said and did... and the way we live our faith.
And so point number 2 that Jesus wants you to do is...
Make sure you take notice of his words more. The fact is, and again it's unavoidable, Christians are people of God's word. No matter how unfashionable it is, no matter how much more fun it is to watch TV, no matter how much of a discipline it is to actually think about it.... the fact is, that's what we do. Because we're meant to be people of the word. And as a church we don't apologise for that.
And you see that idea coming through in John's gospel over and over again. Jesus wants people to pay attention to the scriptures. Jesus wants people to take heed of his word. The disciples took a while to catch on. We shouldn't. Take a look at John 2 verse 22.
After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
Or Jesus is in Samaria. John 4:41. "And because of his words, many more became believers."
It might only dawn on you slowly, like the disciples who only got it after he was raised from the dead. Or you might get it straight away. The point is, Jesus want people to hear his words and to keep his words. Jesus wants people who hear the scriptures and believe the scriptures. Because he says in John 5v39, "these are the scriptures that testify about me." The fact is, one way or another, the whole bible; it all leads to him.
Now here's number 3. And I reckon it's a big one. It's not so much something you've got to do before you die as something you've got to stop doing.
Because in spite of the old saying we all know that says you can't judge a book by its cover, we do. On almost everything. We judge by appearances. We never look more than a millimetre below the skin on anything.
We don't think about stuff deeply. We don't evaluate stuff before we jump into it. We don't think about consequences. In anything. If it feels good, we do it. If it looks good, we want it. And otherwise we ignore it. And especially when it comes to Jesus, we so easily write him off without even a moment's thought. Is that you?
Here are the words of Jesus from John chapter 7 verse 24. He's talking to the religious leaders of his day, who looked at his miracles and heard his teaching, and decided they needed to kill him. Because one of the healings he did, he did on their Jewish rest day. I mean, who could possibly follow a guy who healed paraplegics on the sabbath? What good could there be in a guy who heals a guy who's been paralysed 38 years on our holy day of rest? I mean, he's been paralysed 38 years. What's another day or two?
And because of that, they write him off.
So here's what Jesus wants them to do. He says to them, "Stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgement."
Now I don't know what's made you write Jesus off. But maybe you've written him off too quickly.
Maybe you've judged by appearances, or you've judged Jesus on the basis of your Sunday School lessons as a kid, or you've judged Jesus on the basis of a Christian you once knew who was more irritating than Ned Flanders on The Simpsons. Let me tell you, I'd hate to be living next to Ned Flanders too! But don't prejudge Jesus by that.
Item number 3 on the list. Stop judging Jesus by appearances before you die. Why not look a bit deeper.
Well, here's number 4. And we're nearly there.
Next on the list of the things Jesus wants us to do before we die is to love his people. Which funnily enough, is why we're here today.
So if you're thinking it's enough to just have a private faith in Jesus, if you're thinking it's enough just to believe in Jesus and then go solo, if you're thinking the Christian life is kind of like a golf game where you just wander round the course on your own rather than a team sport... you need to listen to Jesus here. Because he's very clear.
Listen first to what he says in John 13:34. Because it's another very famous verse that you might have heard before even if this is your first time in a church. John 13:34,
A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this, all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
Now can you see that? The single biggest advertisement of Jesus to the world, the primary way followers of Jesus stand out... is the way we function as a loving community. Through good times and bad times.
And even though we're very fallible and we're very caught up in our own stuff, and even though we we don't pay attention to Jesus enough, it might be that the first thing that attracted you to be here this morning, or the first thing that ever attracted you the first time you came to church... was that you've seen it in action. Christians who love one another. Jesus says love one another as I have loved you. And he says that knowing that very soon, he's going to be nailed to a cross and take on himself the punishment for sins he didn't commit. That his love is a love that means he gives himself up to the point of death for the ones he loves. Standing in as a substitute at the very point where God pours out his punishment. You know, a movie star does the exact opposite to that. Things get a bit dangerous, the main guy steps out. And a nobody anonymous dispensable stunt man steps in. Jesus does the opposite. And because of his love, steps in. So when he says as I have loved you so you must love one another, it raises the stakes. It says love means giving yourself. And it costs. And it hurts.
And yet in all kinds of ways in this church family, I know it's happening. Which isn't just a casual byproduct of being a church. This is the essence. Love one another.
And Jesus says it again. John 15:12: "My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
So even if this is your first time along to church this morning, can I invite you to join us and be part of that. It's a great enterprise. And it's exactly what Jesus would want you to do.
Let's recap. Number 1. Jesus wants you to believe on him. Number 2. Jesus wants you to love the word more. Number 3. Jesus wants you to stop judging by appearances. Number 4. Jesus wants you to love each other more. So here's Number 5.
So here's number five. Jesus wants you to stop being afraid. Now I don't know what it is that you're most afraid of. But I know that anxiety for so many people is an ever present companion. Not a friend, is it? That constant gnawing feeling that the worst case scenario lies just around the next corner. Not being able to get to sleep, waking at the crack of dawn, afraid for your job, afraid for your family, afraid for your security, afraid of what people think of you. Afraid of sickness, and fundamentally afraid of death and what lies beyond.
Jesus says, stop it.
But John 14:27 - Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.
Of course, it's contingent, isn't it? It follows on from number 1, 2, 3 and 4. In the sense that you can only ever stop fearing when you start to trust him. He goes on to say these words.
I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.
Jesus says it's a tough world out there. He knows that. But you can stop fearing it. Because at the end of the day there's the resurrection. And a whole new creation. And the pressure to fill life with adventures before you die and the fear and the uncertainty will all be a thing of the past. Because death will be no more.
So there are five things Jesus wants you to do before you die. But whatever you do, don't make it like the Bucket List, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson leaving everything to the last minute. And then cramming their last three months with skydiving and fast cars and the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal. This stuff is for now. This stuff is your to-do list for today. Here's what Jesus wants you to do.
Believe on him. And have life.
Number 2. Love his every word. Put your mind listening to what Jesus actually says in the pages of the Bible.
Third. Stop judging by appearances. Get serious about weighing up the claims of Jesus.
Number 4, Love each other more. Jesus wants you to be part of his family.
And number 5. Rest easy. Jesus wants you to stop being afraid.
These are things that can reshape a life. And I want to finish this morning by inviting you if you want to find out more about this stuff, if you want to do some more thinking, if you want someone to help you finding out more about Jesus, we about to start a six week course called Simply Christianity. And we'd love you to join it. You can fill out the green slip on the side of the bulletin, or you could talk to me afterwards, or you could email firstname.lastname@example.org and someone will be in touch with the details of when the group's going to be meeting. Starting this week.
Or if you prefer, just take some time reading John's gospel for yourself. If you don't have a bible, we can get you one. Or you can go online, to a site like Bible Gateway. And start reading for yourself.
Either way, can I urge you to not just fill your life with more and more thrills that in the end don't really satisfy. You can visit the Grand Canyon and you can run with the bulls and you can bungee and parachute as many times as you like. But in the end, that's not life. And that's not satisfaction. Is it? And yet countless Christians will tell you, that somehow realigning yourself with the sort of prioirities Jesus is on about... really is life. In every way that counts.