Summary: The 8th talk in a series. This talk encourages believers to have some resources to explain the hope we have, and challenges not-yet-Christians to respond to Christ.

“…in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

When people know that we’re Christians they will watch us carefully and closely. If we slip up they’ll notice, but if we acknowledge and confess our failures and seek to be changed they will notice that too.

More often, it is what we do, and it is who we are that matters most to a watching world. What we say is less important than how we behave, what we do, and who we are. Our developing character will be plain for the world to see; but sometimes opportunities arise to explain why we have an eternal hope within us; and the Bible says that Christian believers should be ready and prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks, “Just what is this hope that you have?”

About 15 years ago after a morning service at St. Barnabas in Darby Green a teenage lad approached me and said, “I want to become a Christian. What do I do?” It was the first time anyone had asked me that question for about 10 years and I was stumped. I tried to open my mouth to say what I thought I needed to say but I cannot remember what words came out. I just know it was all very garbled, and so eventually I grabbed an older member of the church and together we went upstairs to talk and pray with the young man.

It was a lesson for me, because I was totally unprepared, and at the time the Church had no Vicar.

Now I’m not suggesting we all need to be fluent and articulate, but I do believe we should think about it because the Bible asks us to be ready. Liz, just what is this hope that you have within you? Pete, why are you a Christian? Rita, where do you get your strength from? Paul, why do you seem to be so full of hope? Well, let’s grab a coffee, or a pint, and talk about it.

The Bible says this (2 Cor. 5:20): “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God.”

Our son Matthew has taken to wearing a red band around his wrist with four symbols on it; a heart, an X, a cross and a question mark. It reminds him of the story of God and humankind ( and I think it’s worth going back to basics for a moment and asking a different question: Just what is the Christian message in a nutshell?

I could summarise it like this: As we look at Jesus and consider all that he did and said we then get to know what God is really like; but I think there’s more to say than that; so let’s consider Matthew’s wrist band.

1: The Heart: John 3:16 begins like this; “For God so loved the world”; and that is where we begin.

God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and within that trinity there is a perfect bond of love and unity; and God so wanted to share that love that He created us in his image (Genesis 1:27). God so loved the world. God so loves you. God knows everything there is to know about you and God loves you deeply with the love of a perfect Father; and the Bible even says ‘the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid’ (Matthew 10:30). It’s as if God has a heavenly catalogue in which he has lovingly recorded not just a lock but every single strand of hair on your head!

When each of my three children were born I can remember holding them in my arms and simply looking at them, and staring at them, and studying them, and loving them with a heart bursting with love.

But we mustn’t stop here. That wouldn’t do justice to the facts, and it can lead to the impression that perhaps God is a Grandfather-type figure.

2: The X-Factor: God is love, but God is also holy, pure, righteous, sin-less. God is a perfect father and also a perfect lawmaker. God is just and true. How often do we long for justice in a world of injustice, greed, violence, and crime? Our sense of justice is offended when the news reports a murder, or a cheating spouse, or an expenses scandal, or a crime against a child, or an evil dictator. We want justice for ourselves and for others. ‘An eye for an eye’ (Exodus 21:24) we cry out, and we discover that God punishes sin. Fantastic! Evildoers, murderers, rapists, swindlers, cheats, adulterers and child abusers will all be sentenced justly and fairly by God, because sin breaks the spiritual laws of the universe. God made us so we can live forever in relationship with him, but Sin with a capital ‘S’ means that spiritual death has infected the entire human race. God punishes sin perfectly. The result is that we can’t enter God’s presence whilst infected with sin; and as we look honestly at our hearts we realise we’re also guilty.

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