Our new congregation, “Engage” will start with a First Look course running from the 8th November. First Look is a four part course which introduces the attendee to who Jesus was, how he lived, what he taught and why he ended up being executed by the Romans at such a young age. But why give so much attention to this one person who lived 2000 years ago many thousands of miles away? What has a wandering preacher who never wrote any books got to do with me?
Well we don’t want to put too many spoilers in for the course but here are just one or two reasons why looking at the life of Jesus might be the right place to start your own investigation into the big questions about life, the universe and God.
First of all, for someone who lived so long ago, who never wrote a book and had none of the benefits of political or military power to call upon, Jesus has had a massive impact on history. All around the World today, thousands of people claim that Jesus has made a difference to their lives
His first followers had such a life changing encounter that they went from being afraid of the authorities and in hiding to being willing to risk their own lives to talk about and write about Jesus. Many of them were actually killed for being followers of Jesus. Around the world today, people are still persecuted for talking about Jesus.
Jesus himself made some big claims about who he was and what he could do. In one of our studies, we discover that he claimed to be able to forgive sin, to take away guilt and shame. That’s such a big claim. Note that he wasn’t just saying that he would forgive people who hurt or upset him. He was claiming the authority to declare forgiveness and mercy for all wrong .
Now when you look at that list of statements, your first reaction may actually be to shy away from investigating. In fact, my answer may have just re-enforced your inclination not to bother. This Jesus and his followers sound a bit like the sort of fanatics that give faith a bad name. Do I want to know about someone with such a huge ego that they claimed special powers for themselves? Do I wan tto know someone whose influence on others in effect radicalised them? What’s the difference between those early disciples being willing to die for what they believed and the modern day suicide bomber?
I want to suggest two responses. First of all, I would argue that there’s a world of difference between the sort of radicalisation that whips people up into a frenzy and sends them out to maim and kill and what Jesus called his followers to do. Sadly, even some who claim to be Christians get caught up into the first sort of radicalism. They become noisy, strident and violent in their language (even if not in action). However, that’s not what Jesus did, nor what he asked his followers to do, nor in fact what they did do. Rather, they were meant to seek the peace and wellbeing of others. They were not to fight with weapons for their cause, they were told to love their enemies and turn the other cheek. When they did suffer and die, it wasn’t in the context of violent protest but as they peacefully tried to get on with their daily lives and were rounded up, imprisoned, put on trial simply for their beliefs and then led out to die, just like Jesus.
Secondly, when you look at the cost these people were prepared to pay and the big claims that they made which cost them their livelihoods and their lives then a right response is to want to know if what they lived and died for was worth it. If they considered the cost worth it, then that suggests that they thought they had got hold of something precious and of vital importance. This means that the only remaining question is whether or not they were right. It does not matter how passionate and sincere someone is. If they are wrong, then they are wasting their time and its tragic. But if they are right, then they have good reason to be passionate and we do well to give them a hearing.
Obviously, we think that the message of Jesus is worth being passionate about. We think it’s worth inviting people to find out more about. That’s why we are offering The First Look Course at ou new Engage Service.
Engage starts on Sunday November 8th. Join us at 5pm for coffee, tea and discussion followed by food at about 6pm.