Summary: 75% of British people say they believe in God but so few have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is an evangelistic sermon given to a congregation where about a third are not christians yet.
An article in The New York Times in December 1990 told how a group of 50 Japanese engineers held a religious ceremony at a Buddhist temple to pay their respects to ‘old computer chips’. The chief priest dressed in purple robes, bowed low and chanted as a large tray covered in used parts was placed before a statue of the Buddha, waiting to be taken up to heaven. The priest, Shogen Kobayashi, said that he had “no doubt that revering the chip will pay off for the Japanese people”. As well as performing these annual ceremonies, the engineers said that in time they intended to put up a monument to these loyal but now defunct computer components.
(Illustration adapted by Simon Coupland from a book by Russell Chandler called Racing towards 2001)
When I first came across that story my mouth began to twitch at how ridiculous some people can be!
However, it’s no more or less ridiculous than the situation we have just heard about in our Bible reading. God used Moses and his brother Aaron to rescue the Jewish nation from slavery in Egypt. Moses went up a mountain top which was covered with blazing fire, storm clouds and smoke and returned with the 10 Commandments from God:
The God who created the heavens and the earth said, “Do not worship any god except me. Do not make idols (don’t bow down and worship idols).” God said, “Don’t misuse my name. Work for six days and then take a day for rest and worship. Respect your parents. Don’t murder. Be faithful in marriage. Don’t steal. Don’t tell lies about other people, and don’t want in your heart to take or steal anything that belongs to somebody else.” (Exodus 20: 1 to 17)
(Paraphrased for a congregation in which many are not yet Christians; based upon the ‘Contemporary English Version’ of the bible: ©2000 Harper Collins.)
(Exodus 24: 3) In response the Jewish people said, “Yes, we’ll do everything the Lord has commanded.”
Moses then returned to the presence of God on the mountain for over a month (40 days). In the meantime, the people began to forget God and they asked Aaron (Moses’ brother) to build them a ‘god’. Aaron built them a golden calf, a young bull and they bowed down and worshipped it, breaking both of the first two commandments in the process.
Strangely, when an angry Moses (Exodus 32: 21) returned and said to Aaron, “Why did you make them sin in this terrible way”; Aaron’s reply is one of those humorous moments in the bible which I love! (Exodus 32: 24) Aaron said, “…I asked [the people] to bring me their gold earrings. They took them off and gave them to me. I threw the gold into a fire and …”
…wait for it, here’s the punch line: “…out came this bull”!
Now of course some of you may be thinking, “What’s this got to do with me? How can this 3500 year old story affect me? What’s it got to do with Jesus or Christianity?”
Some of you may be thinking, “So what!”
When I was at school I loved history. In particular I loved studying other peoples’ mistakes in history, hoping that I might find evidence that humanity is learning from its past mistakes. Very rarely did I find any evidence that we learn from the mistakes of our ancestors!
At yesterdays English Football league (soccer) games there was a minutes silence held in ‘honour’ of George Best. He was the most amazing football (soccer) player of his generation, yet we know the mistakes which he made. Excessive alcohol over a number of years killed him early. Alan Mullery said, “He had an illness. He just couldn’t stop it.”
I love the Bible for so many reasons. One reason is the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of others; but more than that, the Old Testament, the older part of the bible points to Jesus Christ!
Throughout the bible the regular mistake of so-called ‘religious’ people was that they forgot God. I wonder if the mistake of ‘forgetting God’ resonates with you. As we approach Christmas, as we soon sing carols, as we hear afresh about the birth of Jesus Christ, I wonder if there is a realisation that so often we have a tendency to forget God.
75% of British people say that they believe in God but the percentage of people who would say that they have a personal relationship with God is much less. I was chatting to a guy on Thursday evening; a guy who is in his mid-forties who says that for years he has had emptiness in his soul, a hole which needs to be filled. Perhaps that describes you?
In our bible ‘event’ which we had read for us, the people knew God existed and they had experienced his provision. The fact that we have clean water to drink and food to eat is an example of God’s provision for us. For me, the miracle of the birth of my children and the wonder of creation is only explained by the existence of a creator.