Browsing articles in "Jesus Christ"
Jan 24, 2013
neil

Whose fault is it anyway? JC Ryle and God’s offer of salvation

JC Ryle  asks ‘Who is responsible when people refuse God’s offer in the gospel?’

There is nothing wanting on God’s part for the salvation of sinners’ souls: no one will ever be able to say at last that it was God’s fault, if he is not saved. The Father is ready to love and receive; the Son is ready to pardon and cleanse guilt away; the Spirit is ready to sanctify and renew; angels are ready to rejoice over the returning sinner; grace is ready to assist him; the Bible is ready to instruct him; heaven is ready to be his everlasting home. One thing only is needful, and that is – the sinner must be ready and willing himself. Let this also never be forgotten: let us not quibble and split hairs upon this point. God will be found clear of the blood of all lost souls.

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew – The Wedding Banquet, Matthew 22:1-14

Jan 22, 2013
neil

Jesus isn’t superman

My son asked me a really good question after a great sermon on Sunday evening. The preacher pointed out that there are things God cannot do; he cannot lie for example and he cannot be tempted either.

How then was Jesus tempted by Satan in the wilderness? Rufus asked. Was that temptation real? The writer to the Hebrews thinks that it was when he writes that Jesus was tempted like us in every way and yet was without sin. So what is the answer?

The answer is that Jesus isn’t superman. Or more precisely Jesus isn’t Clark Kent. We all know how the story goes – in the superman films people think they’re face to face with an ordinary human-being yet we know that behind the persona Superman’s real identity is simply disguised.

It was Apollinaris of Laodicea (died 390) who taught that the best way to think about Jesus is that he was God carried around in a human body and that tends to be the way most of us still think of Jesus today. But the church rejected Apollinaris’s error and recognised that the Bible affirms that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be for ever.

Because Jesus was fully man he had not just a human body but a human mind and human emotions because Jesus was fully God ‘in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ Colossians 1:19. One person with two natures and those two natures inseparable yet distinct.

So Grudem concludes in his Systematic Theology the eternal Son of God took to himself a truly human nature, and Christ’s divine and human natures remain distinct and retain their own properties, yet they are eternally and inseparably united together in one person.

Jesus was no less human than you or I

Now that is really good news when it comes to the Christian life – not least when it comes to temptation. For there is a man (more than a man, but not less) who was tempted like me in every way and the promise given us is clear.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:16.

And before we refuse to go to Jesus with our temptations because we think to ourselves but Jesus never sinned and therefore doesn’t really know temptation as I do a word of advice from CS Lewis.

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.

Dec 23, 2012
neil

He was ruling the heavens even as he lay in a manger

There is a powerful and profound video doing the rounds called The Incarnation in which Odd Thomas, through the medium of poetic word, attempts to express the inexpressible and comprehend the incomprehensible – that at Christmas we affirm God became man.

The video also highlights how much care we need to take when we put into words what happened at the birth of Jesus. Odd Thomas suggests the following;

The second person of the Trinity commissioned to abandon his position

And literally set aside the independent expression of his attributes in full submission

The word manifested in the flesh, the fullness of God expressed

The self-emptying Jesus poured out at the Father’s request

I’m not exactly sure what he means in that second line when he says that the Son literally set aside the expression of his attributes and for all I know we might find that over a cup of coffee we completely agree with each other. But it comes a little too close for my comfort to saying that in taking human form, God the Son ceased to be fully God. If we are to believe that God left heaven and became a baby does that mean he stopped being fully God?

A little over 100 years ago an idea became popular that this is exactly what happened. The kenosis theory was put forward by a man who later became the first Bishop of Birmingham and later Bishop of Oxford, Charles Gore.

Grudem in his Systematic Theology writes The kenosis theory holds that Christ gave up some of his divine attributes while he was on earth as a man…This was viewed as a voluntary self-limitation on Christ’s part, which he carried out in order to fulfil his work of redemption. Grudem puts forward a number of reasons as to why such an idea (based on a misinterpretation of Philippians 2:7) must be rejected. Probably the most important two are that no teacher in the church for 1800 years ever thought that Philippians 2 did mean a giving up of divine attributes and secondly that the context of the passage strongly suggests ‘that it talks about Jesus giving up the status and privilege that was his in heaven’ rather than a change in his nature.

What really happened then in the incarnation?

The truth is that Christmas is bigger and better than this theory allows and that it must be better than this if Jesus is able to save us.

1. The most helpful way to describe the incarnation is not that God the Son gave up his deity but rather that God the Son joined himself to humanity. Grudem suggests ‘the incarnation was the act of God the Son whereby he took to himself a human nature.’

Only such a definition allows us to continue to say that Jesus is fully God and fully man, inseparable but distinct.

2. That means that God the Son did not cease to be God the Son even whilst he was on earth. Here is where it gets to be truly mind-blowing. Christians affirm that God the Son was ruling in the heavens even as he lay helpless in a manger!  Imagine you are in Augustine’s congregation as he gives expression to this truth in these beautiful words taken from one of his sermons;

Maker of the sun,
He is made under the sun.
In the Father He remains,
from His mother He goes forth.
Creator of heaven and earth,
He was born on earth under heaven.
Unspeakably wise,
He is wisely speechless.
Filling the world,
He lies in a manger.
Ruler of the stars,
He nurses at His mother’s bosom.
He is both great in the nature of God,
and small in the form of a servant.

Such a truth is essential to affirm even as we acknowledge beyond our ability to comprehend.

3. The trinity is not interrupted and God is not changed or confused. How essential it is that we affirm the unchanging nature and character of God! He cannot be one God at a certain moment in time and another God at a different moment in time. The Son does not stop being the Son and continues to relate perfectly to Father and Spirit within the Godhead even as he experiences life in the flesh on earth.

4. Jesus is able to save us from our sins. Only by being fully God and fully man is he able to save us. If he surrenders his divine attributes he ceases to be fully or truly God. Grudem says ‘If Jesus is not fully God, we have no salvation and ultimately no Christianity.’

Conclusion

Should we therefore ever use language that describes a great condescension of God e.g. can we say of him  ‘God was in a manger’ or ‘God had to learn to speak and to walk’? Yes. Because Jesus truly is ONE person with TWO natures. Because he is one person we may rightly say that what is true of one nature is true of the person. Jesus in his human nature knew what it was to be helpless, weak, dependent on others, ultimately he knew what it was to be tempted, to suffer and to die. Because what is true of one nature is true of the person we can say that ‘God became man’ when he joined himself to humanity.

Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensible made man – Charles Wesley

Dec 19, 2012
neil

What if Jesus had never been born? Getting to the heart of Christmas

On Sunday evening City Church held its, now annual tradition, of Carols by Candlelight courtesy of The Blue Coat School in Birmingham. Beautiful music in a beautiful setting. Below is the text of my talk.

One particularly naughty young boy was worried that he might not get what he was hoping for at Christmas so as he sat at his desk writing a Christmas list to Jesus. He began, ‘Dear baby Jesus, I have been a good boy the whole year, so I want a new…’ but then crumples it up into a ball and throws it away. Beginning with a new piece of paper he starts again, ‘Dear baby Jesus, I have been a good boy for most of the year, so I want a new…’ No good he thinks and throws it away. But then he has an inspired idea. He runs downstairs and removes the statue of Mary from the nativity set, puts it in the wardrobe, and locks the door. He takes another piece of paper and writes, ‘Dear baby Jesus. If you ever want to see your mother again…’

Well how are the Christmas preparations going this year? Some of you are looking pretty relaxed the trees up, cards have been sent, the presents bought and wrapped. Some of you are not looking quite so confident, maybe still have a little bit of work to do? Well I’m glad that whatever your situation you’ve made some time to sing carols tonight.

Can I start asking what, in particular, does Christmas mean to you?

Christmas is a few drinks too many – well that’s the answer for some

Christmas is for the kids – lots of us would echo that

Christmas is about the traditions we remember fondly from our own childhood

Christmas is a time to reconnect with the family we struggle to see at any other time of year

Christmas is cancelled or is that wishful thinking for some of you or at least delayed.  For some, Christmas can be one of the toughest times of the year.

Well I hope this evening has helped to encourage you that despite all the work we all have to put in,  Christmas really is worth celebrating.  I wonder whether you’ve seen the Christmas classic film It’s a Wonderful Life starring James Stewart? The American Film Institute ranked it as the most inspirational film of all time and I guess that’s why it’s still shown in America every Christmas day even though it was made in 1946!

The story is about a man called George who thinks that his life has not amounted to anything much and on a snowy Christmas eve is considering ending it all by jumping from a bridge into the icy waters below. But God sends an angel called Clarence, dressed as a man, to rescue him. Clarence’s job is to change George’s mind and what he does is show George Bailey how different the world would have looked if he had never been born.  In a world without George Bailey so may lives would have taken a turn for the worse if a man like him had not been there for them.

After he shows him a world in which George Bailey had never existed Clarence the angel concludes; Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole, doesn’t he? 

George is a man transformed at looking at his life in a new perspective and the film ends well. A life lived that brings so much blessing to others IS a wonderful life. He is the richest man in the world!

No doubt there are many people that have played a part in your life who in big ways or small you are grateful for this Christmas time every human life in some sense is a life that makes a difference. In a carol service we’re thinking about one life in particular – the life of Jesus.

What If Jesus had never been born? Would it really make any difference? The 2011 census results show that 25% of people in England and Wales claim to be of no religion. One recent survey found that 51% of people agreed with the statement that ‘The birth of Jesus is irrelevant to my Christmas”

I suppose that means if you ask them what difference the life of Jesus makes, their answer would be none. I guess it is possible to celebrate Christmas without Jesus. To get me in the mood for Christmas I thought I’d try listening to a CD recommended in the paper called Christmas with my friends by Nils Landgren. The first track I listened to was a Swedish setting of O little town of Bethlehem, but weirdly the second is Imagine by John Lennon. What a curious choice of song for a Christmas album as you sing along at Christmas imagine there’s no heaven! Why not celebrate Christmas by imagining that the world would be a better place if Jesus had never been born?!

But there again I suppose it is an extraordinary thing that we should even be in this building at all this evening, remembering the life of a man who lived so long ago. After all his story should be a footnote of history; born in an obscure village, a child was born of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village where He worked as a carpenter until He was thirty. Then for three years He became an itinerant preacher.

This man never went to college or university. He never wrote a book. He never held a public office. He never had a family nor owned a home. He never put His foot inside a big city nor travelled even 200 miles from His birthplace. And He never did any of the things that usually accompany greatness, throngs of people followed Him

And yet in Communist China, the Economist magazine estimates, he is worshipped by more people than there are members of the state Communist Party. Somewhere between 70-100 million people in China will celebrate his birth this Christmas.

Someone has written This one Man’s life has furnished the theme for more songs, books, poems and paintings than any other person or event in history. Thousands of colleges, hospitals, orphanages and other institutions have been founded in honour of this One who gave His life for us.

All the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the governments that ever sat, all the kings that ever reigned have not changed the course of history as much as this One Solitary Life.

HG Wells, author of War of the Worlds famously said;

I am a historian, I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very centre of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history. Christ is the most unique person of history. No man can write a history of the human race without giving first and foremost place to the penniless teacher of Nazareth.

We celebrate at Christmas one life like no other. One life that was always designed to make the most radical difference. This is how Matthew records the birth of Jesus;

an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

The birth of Jesus is the beginning of a wonderful life that makes all the difference in the world. Let me tell you two reasons why I’m glad that Jesus was born and why I’m ready to celebrate his birth this Christmas.

1.  Jesus is God with us

Lots of my friends aren’t sure whether to believe in a God and they’re not sure why this God rather than another God. The birth of Jesus brings to an end our debates and speculation about God. We don’t need to argue over God and big bang or look for clues in the fabric of the universe.  God is no figment of our imagination for God has entered our world, become one of us.

And not only does that bring clarity in a world of confusion but it brings comfort in a world of pain. That God should become one of us brings God home.  When I read in the papers or witness on the news all the sadness and pain that surrounds the tragic events of Newtown Connecticut I want to know that there really is right and wrong, that love does triumphs over evil, that there is someone finally in control, that justice will be done. Richard Dawkins tells me that these desires of my hearts are mere delusions. He tells me I need to wake up to reality that I live in a cruel indifferent universe that it has no design or purpose that there is no such thing as good or evil, right or wrong.

But Christmas cuts across the darkness of Dawkins worldview for it supremely offers me a reason for hope. A reason to say God is not only there but he is for us and with us because God became one of us. He walked my path, he knew my pain. He experienced what it was to suffer injustice, intolerance, hatred and overcame it all for us.

The second reason reason I’m ready to celebrate Christmas this year is that

2. Jesus is God for us

In coming into our world Jesus showed me the lengths that God is willing to go to put things right. You see there is a second reason I am glad that Jesus was born and that is because it shows that not only is God with us but God is for us. The angel said to Joseph

you are to give him the name Jesus,because he will save his people from their sins

Jesus’ life is a wonderful life, full of compassion, concern, he welcomed the stranger, he embraced the poor, he cared for the sick, he provide for the needy, he welcomed in the outsider, the excluded, the marginalised. And he also came for you and for me.

Jesus’ life was a wonderful life because he lived it for you and he gave it up for you when in his death he offered his life as a sacrifice for your sins and mine.

Christmas is a time when we find that the past so often hangs over us and overshadows our joy. We remember our mistakes, relive our regrets, dwell on our misfortunes, hide our shame and guilt and at a time of peace and good will it can be a reminder that when we are supposed to be at peace with others we are not even at peace with ourselves.  When we see the consequences of sin in our lives like that we get just a glimpse of how a holy and perfect God sees us.

But Jesus says to us this Christmas time ‘I’m here to take that off you.’ The wonderful life was a life lived for you and for me. And his life has been impacting lives for 2000 years.

What are you looking for this Christmas? I hope that it is more than ever this Christmas not new socks, or a few days off work, but a fresh start and a new life. At the beginning of John’s gospel we find these words;

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The wonderful life that Jesus lived for you is a life he now offers you.  A life that knows no end and no end of joy. We sang in our earlier carol ‘O little town’ the following words..

O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!

51% of people in that earlier service thought that Jesus would make no difference to their Christmas my hope and my prayer is that he might make all the difference to your Christmas this year. Have a happy and blessed Christmas time.

Dec 15, 2012
neil

What Napoleon knew about Jesus

Hilarin Felder in his work Christ and the Critics, vol. 2 includes the following words of Napoleon and his take on Jesus:

What a conqueror!–a conqueror who controls humanity at will, and wins to himself not only one nation, but the whole human race. What a marvel! He attaches to himself the human soul with all its energies. And how? By a miracle which surpasses all others. He claims the love of men–that is to say, the most difficult thing in the world to obtain; that which the wisest of men cannot force from his truest friend, that which no father can compel from his children, no wife from her husband, no brother from his brother–the heart. He claims it ; he requires it absolutely and undividedly, and he obtains it instantly. 

Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, Louis XIV strove in vain to secure this. They conquered the world, yet they had not a single friend, or at all events, they have none any more. Christ speaks, however, and from that moment all generations belong to him; and they are joined to him much more closely than by any ties of blood and by a much more intimate, sacred and powerful communion. He kindles the flame of love which causes one’s self-love to die, and triumphs over every other love. Why should we not recognize in this miracle of love the eternal Word which created the world? The other founders of religions had not the least conception of this mystic love which forms the essence of Christianity. 

I have filled multitudes with such passionate devotion that they went to death for me. But God forbid that I should compare the enthusiasm of my soldiers with Christian love. They are as unlike as their causes. In my case, my presence was always necessary, the electric effect of my glance, my voice, my words, to kindle fire in their hearts. And I certainly posses personally the secret of that magic power of taking by storm the sentiments of men; but I was not able to communicate that power to anyone. None of my generals ever learned it from me or found it out. Moreover, I myself do not possess the secret of perpetuating my name and a love for me in their hearts for ever, and to work miracles in them without material means. 

Now that I languish here at St Helena, chained upon this rock, who fights, who conquers empires for me? Who still even thinks of me? Who interests himself for me in Europe? Who has remained true to me? That is the fate of all great men. It was the fate of Alexander and Caesar, as it is my own. We are forgotten, and the names of the mightiest conquerors and most illustrious emperors are soon only the subject of a schoolboy’s talks. Our exploits come under the rod of a pedantic schoolmaster, who praises or condemns us as he likes. 

What an abyss exists between my profound misery and the eternal reign of Christ, who is preached, loved, and worshipped, and live on throughout the entire world. Is this to die? Is it not rather to live eternally? The death of Christ! It is the death of a God.

(HT: Brant Pitre)

Sep 6, 2012
neil

Why would we preach hell?

Bruce Milne in an address entitled ‘Preaching Hell‘ said ‘We preach hell because we have no choice.’ Not least because Jesus did:

As to his teaching, we should make as clear as we can that Jesus Christ believed in the reality of hell and warned his hearers regularly concerning it. The one sinless mind in all history, he who had his being in eternity in the bosom of the Father, who told what he had seen in his Father’s presence, spoke and taught repeatedly concerning hell.  In the words of C.H. Spurgeon:

                You must confess, my dear hearers, that Jesus Christ was the most tender-hearted of men. Never was there one with so sympathetic a disposition. But for all that, not all the prophets put together, though some of them be stern as Elijah, can equal in thundershot the sound of that still voice of him, who albeit he did not cry or lift up his voice in the streets, spoke more of hell and the wrath to come than any that preceded him.

Dec 25, 2011
neil

Hail the incarnate Deity

Words then and now on the indescribable mystery of God made man.

 

Maker of the sun,

He is made under the sun.

In the Father he remains,

From his mother he goes forth.

Creator of heaven and earth,

He was born on earth under heaven.

Unspeakably wise,

He is wisely speechless.

Filling the world,

He lies in a manger.

Ruler of the stars,

He nurses at his mother’s breast.

He is both great in the nature of God,

and small in the form of a servant.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430AD)

Nov 25, 2011
neil

The world’s oldest New Testament manuscript – what does it reveal about Jesus?

‘Dr Dirk Jongkind, a Research Fellow at Tyndale House, pieces together the earliest manuscript evidence for the New Testament and shows how it tells the story of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. Find out more at our website: Tyndale House

And why not take a look for yourself. This oldest fragment of a New testament gospel is located at the John Rylands Library in Manchester.

Mar 21, 2011
neil

‘Jesus didn’t come to tell us how to get to heaven’ or ‘what happens when you switch off before the end of the story Jesus is telling.’

We don’t spend enough time thinking about heaven so any book that devotes 40 pages to the subject is a good thing, or at least should be. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is a book that wants to take a fresh look at the Church’s understanding of heaven and hell. The promotional video that kicked off a huge debate did so by raising a variety of questions that Bell sets out to answer in the book.

Rob Bell – Love Wins. from Hunter Hampton Richards on Vimeo.

Bell’s claim is that the church has got heaven and hell wrong and that it is time to set straight the story Jesus came to tell and to reclaim it.

There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus’s story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn’t interested in telling, because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it’s time to reclaim it.

I’ve decided to start my review with the chapter on Heaven.  Why? Well it’s the longest in the book, easily the best chapter in the book.and also the least controversial. There are still serious problems with even this chapter 3 of which are highlighted below.

How should we think about heaven?

Bell starts by questioning the evangelical understanding that he inherited as heaven as somewhere else; as somewhere other-worldly, disconnected and unrelated to our present lives.  In the chapter he challenges two big assumptions evangelicals carry around with them.

Heaven as somewhere else.

Heaven as something else.  Something unreal. ‘harps and clouds and streets of gold, everybody dressed in white robes.’ Heaven as a never-ending church service!

Bell turns to Jesus and his encounter with a rich young man in Matthew 19 . The man asks Jesus a great question ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?

Bell is curious as to why Jesus doesn’t simply tell this man the ‘gospel’. Why doesn’t he call on him to repent and believe in Jesus but rather say ‘if you want to enter life, obey the commandments

He suggests that maybe Jesus bottled it and ‘blew a perfectly good ‘evangelistic’ opportunity? (p.29)

But here is Bell’s surprising conclusion:

When the man asks about getting ‘eternal life,’ he isn’t’ asking about how to get to heaven when he dies. This wasn’t a concern for the man or Jesus. This is why Jesus doesn’t tell people how to ‘go to heaven.’ It wasn’t what Jesus came to do. (p,30)

Jesus, Bell suggests, is not interested in heaven as much as he is concerned to teach about ‘this age’ and ‘the age to comeContinue reading »

Mar 11, 2011
neil

God does not play Pictionary

A few years ago two scientific experiments were launched.  The first is aimed at discovering how and when life began the other is concerned with discovering how and when life ends.

The Hadron Collider costs billions and has been built to recreate the first few fractions of a second after the big bang and the universe began.  The second has a much more limited budget but I think could yield more extraordinary results it’s called the AWARE study and it explores what happens after life ends.  What happens to us after we die?

How then does it work? The idea is to speak to those who have had near death experiences and test their claims.  Studies show that somewhere between 10 and 20% of those who reach the point of death through a cardiac arrest but are then revived back to life actually have memories beyond their moment of death.

In particular the study will investigate the claims of people who during cardiac arrest and resuscitation attempts have described how they actually were mentally conscious and in fact actually witnessed their own resuscitation attempts as they floated in an out of body experience from a vantage point outside of their own bodies, as if they were looking down on themselves from a bird’s eye view.

People describe sometimes in great detail, everything that was happening around them whilst they were technically dead.  They could describe things they should not have been able to know and couldn’t really have made up.  They might be able to say which doctor was attempting to resuscitate them male, female, young, old, black or white, or recall a unique detail such as how a doctor tripped over the edge of the bed and knocked something to the ground.  The sort of details that require an explanation and seemingly defy rational scientific answers.

So in the AWARE study scientists will place pictures on the ceilings in Hospital A&E bays that are only visible by looking down from the ceiling and no other way.  Patients of course won’t know any of this and the images will be regularly changed.

Those patients successfully revived will then be interviewed and asked to describe what they saw.  If any of them are able to describe the images accurately then scientists will have to tear up the rule books. The shame is that it will be another two years before studies are completed.

What do these two different studies tell us about ourselves?

I guess quite simply that as human beings we are curious about much more than our day to day lives.  We are keen to discover and investigate.  At one level we want a cure for cancer, we want cheaper petrol, we want our team to win the league but we have bigger questions about our origins and our destiny; who we are? Where we come from? Where we are going?

Inevitably in the midst of such philosophical discussions sooner or later God is drawn in to the conversations.  Is he real, can we know anything about him, does scientific discovery make his existence more or less likely?

I like reading stories of people’s lives and recently I have been reading a book by Anthony Flew – you may not have heard of him he was a British Philosopher who died last year and early in his career he wrote a paper entitled ‘Theology and falsification’.  It might sound a bit technical (perhaps even a bit dull) but it is actually ‘the most frequently-quoted philosophical publication of the second half of the 20th century’.

It was a paper that debunked God.  You could say he was ‘doing a Dawkins’. Flew wrote a sophisticated ‘God delusion’ and it remains a contemporary classic.  But just seven years ago he announced that he as wrong and has publically retracted his atheism and declared himself a believer in God.

This is what he writes in his book:  There is a God – how the world’s most notorious atheist changed his mind.

I now believe that the universe was brought into existence by an infinite Intelligence….why do I believe this, given that I expounded and defended atheism for more than a half century? The short answer is this: this is the world picture, as I see it, that has emerged from modern science.

Flew died last year a believer in God and it was looking to modern science that he found overwhelming reason to believe in a god. As a philosopher it was simply no longer credible to believe that this universe of law and order, of complexity and apparent design could have originated from nothing.

And to his fellow sceptics Flew puts the following question:

What should have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for us a reason to at least consider the existence of a superior Mind?

It is a good question and it is essentially our question this evening if evidence of God would you need to at least consider the existence of God.

Albert Einstein contrary to popular opinion was not an atheist and in fact he expressly denied that fact on more than one occasion.

But he did believe that as human beings science could only ever give us a very limited understanding of God. This is how he illustrated the point:

We [human beings] are in a position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is.  That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being towards God.

Einstein is far from the dogmatic atheist that people like Richard Dawkins claim him to be…but he is what you might call a dogmatic agnostic….what that means is that Einstein says we don’t know much about God and we can’t.  Agnosticism is actually simply another word for ignorance. The one thing that we know is that we don’t know.

We might suspect a creator, yet we don’t know and we can’t know who he is.

The stats for our country reveal that too.  60 % of the UK population believe in a personal god but most of us would not be willing to put a name to that god.

I think that’s true of most of my friends – they believe in some kind of God but they also are fairly sure that they have no good reason to believe in anything more than a distant deity.

Here’s the point – reason alone can only get you so far -perhaps the vague notion of a god.

And here then is the conclusion that many of us reach;  if God is there,  a God who wants to know us, why doesn’t he make himself more  obvious?

Well the Christian claim is that he has made it more obvious than by what we can work out through reason. We are not limited to reason but God has given us revelation.

And the staggering claim of Christianity is that God has spoken to us not in visions or dreams not in messages in the stars but in human form, personally, in his son Jesus and what a difference that makes.

A lot of people if they believe in God at all think he communicates in some deliberately vague way almost designed to confuse us. We think the way God communicates is a bit like the way we play Pictionary. Take away words and see just how difficult and confusing communication is!

Well it might be funny on Christmas day to live without words but it’s not so funny communicating through Pictionary in an operating theatre.

The great claim of the Christian faith is that God has spoken to us face to face and mouth to mouth through his Son. Jesus said to his disciples; anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. The apostle John wrote in John 1:18,  ‘No-one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’

Jesus perfectly reveals God. To have seen Jesus is to have seen God!

We don’t need Hadron colliders or even near-death experiences to know if anyone is out there.  God has not left us in the dark and God does not play Pictionary. We are no longer looking up and guessing because, in Christ, God has broken into our world.

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