Summary: Introduction to a series on the Message of Jesus
According to a landmark survey by academics from Baylor University in the USA each person has one of four possible views of God (authoritarian, benevolent, critical and distant), and that the viewpoint they hold is a predictor of many other beliefs and practices. The poll, which claims to be the most extensive and sensitive study of religion ever conducted, asked 1,721 Americans nearly 400 questions about religious belief and practice, superstition and new age beliefs. If you want to know what God is like look at Jesus. What I want to do is to look afresh at the whole message of Jesus and see what he was really saying, in his day and time and so see what he is saying to us. The Great commission in Matt. 28:19-20 tells us to teach “all” that he taught. That is key to everything.
This is the most significant preaching series I have ever embarked upon, I feel a little daunted and excited about what I am attempting. I have been hinting for a while that I have been deeply challenged in my understanding of Jesus and the Gospel. For example, in 1998 I preached on the Sermon on the Mount without ever really understanding it!!! I think for the first time in my life I am starting to “get” the Sermon on the Mount. Some pieces in the jigsaw of what Jesus was on about are beginning to come together. Be prepared to have things we have taken for granted questioned and from this radical reassessment I believe we can have renewed vision as to what we are for in the 21st Century. I believe that a rethink is necessary because as the 2005 English Churches Survey showed the church is still in decline. Statistically in the world there are 6 billion people in the world, 4 billion of whom do not follow Jesus – reality check time. Jesus did not come to this world so that billions of people should be lost.
If I was to ask you to summarise the Gospel into a nutshell how would you do it & what would you mean by it? Usually it might be “humans have sinned and therefore are liable to God’s judgement. Jesus died and rose so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven.” All of this is of course true. It’s just not how Jesus did it he said simply “Repent for the Kingdom of heaven/God is near.”
The Kingdom of heaven is near
Many people equate the kingdom of God/heaven (kingdom of God & heaven are interchangeable) is with heaven i.e. the place where we go when we die where God lives. But when Jesus uttered those words that the kingdom was near no-one thought that he meant that, they understood that jesus was talking about God’s rule, the rule of heaven. He was announcing that it was near, later he would say it has come and is among/within them (LK 17:20 Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation,  nor will people say, `Here it is,’ or `There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you."). So the kingdom refers not to a place but to a rule. Most scholars are agreed that this was Jesus central message, he had brought God’s kingly rule.
When Jesus said those words they would have had massive impact, people’s ears would have pricked up. Every single Jew grew up hearing about the kingdom of God which would come when the messiah came, he would crush the invincible Romans and all Israel’s enemies would be destroyed. There would be one super-power, not Rome, but Israel. It was what most longed for, prayed for, fasted for, tithed for and obeyed the Law and the Pharisees countless elaborations on the Law for. It would have been like someone going on the radio in the darkest hours of WWII in 1940 and saying the War is nearly over and the Germans have been beaten – 5 years before it actually did end. It would be like going on TV and saying all the terrorists are going to give up, all the drugs pushers, murders, rapists, thieves, vandals – all criminals are going to give up once and for all! God’s rule is coming and all wrongs will be put right. If we go back to what we have been looking at recently in terms of the Message of the Bible, Jesus was saying at last, the problem that started so long ago when mankind sinned and fell and messed the world up – now is the time when God is going to put that right. God’s rule is here, I’ve brought it with me!! The world that is upside down is going to put right way up again – that is Good News for everyone! This is our message!