The best news ever!

Like many people around the world I like to follow the news. Every morning I listen to the radio to hear what’s been happening. Most news stories are bad news. Reports cover economic uncertainty, corruption, child abuse, refugees, unaccompanied children, violence, conflict, crime, terrorism, pollution, climate change, disease, earthquakes, drought and famine. For many of us the stories are about what is happening to other people in other parts of the world, but for millions of people the stories are about them and the troubles and sorrows they face in their daily lives.

The message of the New Testament is called the “Gospel”, which means “Good News.” It is a message about what God has done through his Son, Jesus Christ. This message speaks into the real experiences of our broken world and of our daily lives. It is a message about reconciliation, peace and hope for the future. It lifts us out of despair. It is a true message. When people want to emphasise that they are telling the truth they sometimes say that they are speaking the gospel truth. Today we hear about fake news, but this message about Jesus is absolutely genuine.

Strangely, perhaps, one of the great themes of the Good News is sin. This is an unpopular word to many, yet the daily news stories are full of the sinful actions of people. It is the greatest problem the world faces. We all sin every day in our thoughts, words and actions. However hard we try, we cannot stop sinning. We sin when we break God’s moral commands. We misuse God’s name, dishonour our parents, hate and kill, commit sexual immorality, steal, lie, and covet what other people have. Our sinful behaviour brings great sadness to us and to others. It spoils everything.

The solution to the problems we face is not religion, but reconciliation. We need to be reconciled to God. In a letter to Christians living in Corinth the apostle Paul explained the heart of the Good News in this way, “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.” This is the best news ever!

Let the little children come to me

Recent high profile trials and reports have highlighted the horrifying extent of the sexual abuse of children and teenagers in Britain over the past 50 years. High profile celebrities, and gangs of men and women, have committed heinous crimes against hundreds of children. When those who have been abused spoke up they were not believed or were even blamed for what had happened to them. Time and again no-one took any action against the abusers who were, therefore, free to continue in their wicked ways. Some serial abusers have died before their crimes were uncovered and are thought to have “got away with it.”

The Bible teaches that children are very precious and must be protected. Children were very important to Jesus. On one occasion mothers brought their children to Jesus, but his disciples tried to send them away. They may have thought Jesus didn’t have time for children. When Jesus saw it he was indignant and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Then he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them

On another occasion the disciples asked Jesus a question, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me.” Then, very solemnly, he added, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

So children and young people must be zealously guarded from predatory paedophiles and all who would seek to harm them in any way. All of us must also learn to have simple childlike trust in God, who has wonderfully revealed his love for us in Jesus. The words of William Walsham How’s hymn speak to us all, “It is a thing most wonderful, almost too wonderful to be, that God’ own Son should come from heaven, and die to save a child like me.”

Understanding corruption

Corruption is in the news. Prime Minister David Cameron has said, “Corruption is the cancer at the heart of so many of the problems we face around the world today.” He has in mind particularly the misuse of the billions of pounds given in overseas aid to developing nations by Britain and other countries. Criminals and unscrupulous politicians are siphoning off much of the money. Poor people are not receiving the help they need. It is estimated that as much as £1 trillion is paid in bribes across the world every year.

Corruption touches every part of human life. The world of football is facing a major investigation into corruption in FIFA. It seems that very large sums of money have been paid to secure the rights to host major football tournaments around the world. Dishonesty in managing the international LIBOR exchange rate has led to heavy fines for some banks. Individuals have been found guilty of child abuse, as have institutions including children’s homes and churches.

The Bible says that corruption comes from our hearts and especially when we live as if there is no God. Psalm 14 says, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Nobody ultimately escapes justice because of their corruption, dishonesty or wicked abuse of children because, one day, all of us must stand before God. He sees all things and he judges justly.

We all need spiritual heart surgery. Five hundred years before Jesus was born the prophet Ezekiel gave a wonderful promise about what God was going to do through his Son. He said, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” That inner change is always seen in a transformed life. In his letter James writes, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Amazing Grace!

The trials of high profile people found guilty of child abuse have revealed a dark, hidden side to their character. They have been called to account for crimes committed many years ago. Their previous good reputation has been destroyed. The book of Proverbs tells us, “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold.”

These cases remind us that the wrong things we do really matter, even when they happened a long time ago. Those who have been found guilty of abuse have done many good things and have helped people who are in need. They have been kind to their families and friends, but all this is now of little consequence because of the sins they have committed. No amount of good actions can compensate for the wrong things they have done. They will not be remembered for the good things they did, but for the evil deeds they perpetrated.

There is a deep sense in each of us that those who do wrong should be punished. We identify with the victims who have suffered greatly for many years because of the abuse done to them. We want the truth to come out and justice to be done through long prison sentences.

This raises important questions for us all because throughout our lives we have done wrong things. Will we one day have to give an account to the God who made us for how we have lived? Will it be enough for us to say that many of the wrong things we did happened a long time ago and that the good things we have done outweigh the bad things we have done?

Jesus Christ, God’s Son, came into the world to be the Saviour of sinful people like you and me. He came not for self righteous people, but for those who know they have sinned and want to find forgiveness. Isaac Watts wrote, “Alas, and did my Saviour bleed, and did my Saviour die? Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I? Was it for crimes that I had done he groaned upon the tree? Amazing pity, grace unknown, and love beyond degree! Thus might I hide my blushing face while his dear cross appears, dissolve my heart in thankfulness, and melt my eyes to tears. But drops of grief can ne’er repay the debt of love I owe; here, Lord, I give myself away, ‘tis all that I can do.”

Love your neighbour as you love yourself

The results of the 2011 Census for England and Wales reported a decline in the number of people identifying themselves as Christians and an increase in the number of those saying they had no religion. How significant are these figures for our nation? What influence will this change have on our society? Does it matter that fewer people believe in God? Does this affect the way they live?

A legal expert once asked Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it, Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Jesus clearly linked a wholehearted love for God with a true love for our neighbours. When we do not recognise God’s right to be first in our lives, this has inevitable consequences for those around us. When self is king, when what I want reigns supreme, then the rights and needs of those around me count for nothing.

There are signs that this is what is happening in our society. We affirm a mother’s right to choose whether or not to have a termination of her pregnancy. But does not the unborn baby also have rights? If we were that unborn baby what choice would we want our mother to make? Sexual predators who abuse children and vulnerable adults feel they have the right to fulfil their perverted desires without any thought for the devastating consequences for those they abuse. How would they feel if someone did the same thing to them? The growing population of elderly people is becoming a burden to the rest of our society. Some say it is not fair that younger people should have to pay the cost of caring for the elderly. But when we are old, how will we want people to care for us?

The commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves is a sure guide when we have to make moral choices. We owe a moral duty to God and to each other to seek to obey this commandment. Jesus said, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.” Future happiness for us and for our children depends on us rediscovering a real love for one another through a living relationship with God.

When bad things happen

Dealing with the past is not easy, especially when bad things have happened. In recent months people who were abused as children and teenagers have come forward. It is clear that they are still traumatised and are struggling with the pain of what happened to them. In some cases, those who abused them have died, which makes investigating the accusations and bringing justice impossible.

Many of us have had bad experiences in life because people have done wrong things to us. When these experiences cannot be dealt with and resolved we may struggle with ongoing pain and anger. As a result our lives may be crippled for many years and there may seem to be no way of moving forward.

Jesus suffered unjustly and was condemned to death on false charges. He was a good man who had healed the sick, set people free from the power of evil and even raised dead people to life. His teaching brought blessing to many people. But his life and teaching were a challenge to those who were in power and so they plotted to have him put to death. When he was condemned to death, at the age of 33, he had to cope with an injustice to which there could be no remedy in this life. His condemnation and death were a gross abuse of power.

So how did he deal with this? When he suffered, “he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” He committed the whole situation to God, his Father. He knew that a time would come when God will call us all to account and judge us in perfect justice. No one ever really escapes justice. So we, too, can leave issues which we have not been able to resolve with God and try to move on. He will deal with us all justly.

But Jesus also gives us an amazing example. As he hung on the cross he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” He did not want those who were responsible for his death to be condemned but to find forgiveness. So, too, God can give us grace and strength to forgive others for what they have done to us. Hatred and the desire for revenge can consume us. The wonderful experience of God’s forgiveness for our sins creates in us the desire that others, too, may find his forgiveness.