Change and believe

Jesus had announced a new Kingdom in which God would be the loving and just king.  This demanded a response, and Jesus was uncompromising.  ‘Change (repent) and believe,’ was repeatedly his challenge.

However, there was a paradox at the heart of his demand.  In one sense it was the most daunting test that a person could face, because it involved total and sacrificial dedication.  But in another sense it required no effort at all, because those who asked for God’s mercy would discover that he would do everything that was required.

Being a follower of Jesus (‘a disciple’) involved standing out as different from the crowd.  It meant committing yourself to a life lived on behalf of others.  His followers were to be ‘salt of the earth’, preserving the world from corruption just as salt did in food.  And they were also to be ‘the light of the world’, giving direction to a society that was in moral darkness.  The followers of Jesus were called to have such integrity that, either blazing like light or seeping like salt, they would change the culture for good.

Jesus described his followers as ‘children of God’ and so they were called to take on the characteristics of their Father.  Like God himself they were to seek justice, to make peace, and to be pure and merciful.  Jesus expected generosity, love with no hint of prejudice, and unquestioning obedience to God.

He knew that most of the world would find it unnatural and undesirable that his followers would have these high ethical standards.  He warned those who believed in him to expect that they would be persecuted as a result.  So why do it?  Because Jesus’ claim to leadership was different in every way from anyone who had ever asked people to follow them before.  He gave utter commitment to those who came with him.  He was ‘the good shepherd’.  The ‘sheep’ who followed him would have such love, care and personal attention from him that any other leader would seem useless in comparison.

Previous leaders had merely wanted power, but Jesus had come so that those who change and believe ‘may have life, and have it to the full’.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:

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.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

Where to find it:

John 3:16,17

About these words:

Jesus explains his mission to an intellectual called Nicodemus.

And they said…

Helen Keller, 1880-1968, author and lecturer rendered deaf and blind by meningitis as an infant:

Death is no more than passing from one room into another.  But there’s a difference for me, you know.  Because in that other room I shall be able to see.

Robert Capon Farr, North American writer:

Jesus came to raise the dead.  The only qualification for the gift of the gospel is to be dead.  You don’t have to be smart.  You don’t have to be good.  You don’t have to be wise.  You don’t have to be wonderful.  You don’t have to be anything … You just have to be dead.

Woody Allen, film director:

There will be no major solution to the suffering of mankind until we reach some understanding of who we are, what the purpose of creation was, what happens after death.  Until these questions are resolved we are caught.

Bono, musician, asked whether it was far-fetched to call Jesus the Son of God:

No, it’s not farfetched to me.  Look, the secular response to the Christ story always goes like this: he was a great prophet, obviously a very interesting guy, had a lot to say along the lines of other great prophets, be they Elijah, Muhammad, Buddha, or Confucious.  But actually Christ doesn’t allow you that.  He doesn’t let you off the hook.  Christ says:  No, I am not saying I’m a teacher, don’t call me teacher.  I am not saying I’m a prophet.  I’m saying, ‘I am the Messiah.’  I’m saying: ‘I am God incarnate.’

And people say: No, no please, just be a prophet.  A prophet we can take … Because, you know, we are going to have to crucify you.  And he goes:  No, no. I know you’re expecting me to come back with an army, and set you free from these creeps, but actually I am the Messiah.  At this point, everyone starts staring at their shoes, and says: Oh, my God, he’s gonna keep saying this.  So what you’re left with is: either Christ was who he said he was – the Messiah – or else a complete nutcase.

What the Bible says about it

An extract from the Bible:

Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’  So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a “sinner”.’

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, ‘Look, Lord!  Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.’

Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house.’

Where to find it:

Luke 19:1-10

About these words:

A tax collector such as Zacchaeus was despised by his fellow Jews because he had sold out to work for the enemy Romans.  But the love of Jesus was far greater than any prejudice, and Zacchaeus became one of many who changed and believed.

And they said…

Augustine, north African bishop, 354-430:

If you believe what you like and reject what you don’t, it’s not the Gospel that you believe, but yourself.

Donna Summer, singer, 1948-2012:

My life was changed in one breath from God  …  I don’t really try to predict what can and will happen with things.  Sometimes you think something’s going to be a huge success and it isn’t.  And sometimes you pay no attention to something whatsoever, and God just makes it into everything.

Celia Haddon, journalist and editor of health and sex guides:

I needed, desperately needed, some help and comfort in my attempt to lead a good life.  Christ seemed to offer that support.  But if I had waited to be convinced by the weight of historical argument or by the logic of theological dogma, I should be godless still.

Rabbi Harold Kushner, North American theologian and writer:

A God who exists but does not matter, who does not make a difference in the way you live, might as well not exist.

Carrie Underwood, winner of American Idol, from the song ‘Jesus take the wheel’:

Jesus, take the wheel,
Take it from my hands,
’Cause I can’t do this on my own,
I’m letting go,
So give me one more chance,
To save me from this road I’m on,
Jesus, take the wheel.