He’s Worth it
One of the most chilling series of three photos was seen on our TV screens this past week. The first photo was of Michael Adebolajo, one of the two accused of the murder of the soldier Lee Rigby outside Woolwich Barracks in London on 22nd May of this year. He was about 13 or 14 at the time. He was in school uniform. He was part of a Christian family. He looked smart and his face had a grace and innocence and happiness of what looked like a thoroughly good young man. The second photo was of the same Michael Adebolajo as a university student, by now a convert to Islam, carrying a placard on a demonstration march against the British Government. He was shouting and his face was full of anger and bitterness, ugly and resentful. The third photo was of Michael Adebolajo standing on the road outside Woolwich Barracks with a meat cleaver and a knife in his hands which were covered in the blood of Lee Rigby whom he had just run down with a car and finished off with knife stabbing and a near decapitation. During his trial Michael Adebolajo explained that Allah had command him to kill Lee Rigby. He is not insane. He is rational and articulate. This is what he truly believes and understands. There is a generally held view that Allah is just the Muslim name for God – that is – the God of Jews and Judaism and the God of Christians and Christianity. These are called together the three monotheistic faiths and they are different from polytheistic Hinduism and atheistic Buddhism. The New Testament teaches us clearly that Michael Adebolajo’s Allah is a different being altogether. Muslims think that Mohammad superseded Jesus. But the truth is that Islam is retrograde and regressive and relies on violence to spread its doctrines and ideas.
Michael Adebolajo is an extreme example of the differences between Christianity and Islam and between Mohammad and Jesus Christ. I mention this because today we have admitted Stephen, Pat and Allan to full membership of the Church of Jesus Christ. And to make the point that Jesus is worth your friendship, love, worship, devotion and service. If you follow Him, he will not lead you down a path of hatred. He will not change you into a fiend. He will not make you a bad person. If you are true to Him, he will make you like Him. Over the years, he will change you, perhaps imperceptibly to the outside, but inside you will become a different person, a better person, a humbler person, a more loving person, a saved person. He is worth your attention. He is worth your obedience. He does not need to become like you – you need to become like Him.
Within the pages of the Old Testament and written eight centuries before Jesus lived are the words we heard read earlier.
'Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth'.
Jesus fulfilled this prophecy. That is how he carried out his life. It is clear that so far, justice has not been established fully on earth. But the ideal, the vision, the standard of justice has been established on earth and it is seen in Jesus Christ. Whether acknowledged or not Jesus set the benchmark and it is in His living presence that the world’s hope lies. He is worth it.
To be a Christian today is to be different. It is to live and act and behave differently. In Chairman Mao’s China, everyone wore exactly the same clothes – a drab kind of uniform with a bunnet. Now people in China wear different clothes and young people especially crave jeans and western style designer outfits. There was a time in this country when everyone thought they were Christians of a sort whether they went to Church or not. It’s not so long ago, within the lifetime of some here. There was a kind of acceptance of Christianity as the aspiration of the large majority and the standard of conduct to which everyone might look. The motto of the City of Glasgow was ‘Let Glasgow flourish – by the preaching of the Word’. Today – Glasgow’s motto is ‘Let Glasgow flourish’. The sense of Scotland being a Christian country is lost and the sense that Scots are in any way favoured by God is also now lost. Even if that was a false presumption there was enough evidence in Scotland’s identity to link it to Christianity in a direct and effective way. Christianity was the cement and glue of the nation. It was the umbrella narrative under which everyone sheltered.
Not so today. Christianity is no longer the default explanation for and understanding of life. There has been a catastrophic falling away from serious Christianity in public life and policy. Dreadful false gods have been raised up instead. One of them is the god of gambling. We cannot watch an hour of television without being bludgeoned with demands to place bets before and during sports events, offered free incentives to join online bingo and to seek happiness and fulfilment in what we already know is a disastrous way of living, bringing debt and misery to many. Another false god is the god of consumerism which demands that we sacrifice our resources on altars of material things. Some of these are good things and we are grateful for them but others are neither good nor necessary – all these ridiculous overblown exaggerated adverts for perfumes and body sprays for women and men. I remember Margaret Ramage telling me that her family had thrown a party for her and Robert’s Golden Wedding. 'It was great', she said, 'And I got a beautiful bouquet o' flooers'. 'What did Rab get?', I asked. Quick as a flash she replied, 'He got a scent o’ the flooers'. Another false god of our time is the god of the self. People create a false internet personality of and for themselves and act and interact with others doing the same thing. Sometimes these are called avatars. The term is from Hinduism and means an incarnation of a god on earth. It creates a dichotomy in the human personality and stretches out the tensions of identity far enough to become damaging in the longer term.
Jesus Christ is strong enough to deliver from such false gods. Jesus Christ is great enough to offer something better to live for. Jesus Christ is alive enough to do this for you and for me. He is worth the time and interest, he is worth the soul-searching and the seeking out. He is worth your reply and your response. Would you like to live out your life with Jesus by your side? Would you like Him to lead and guide you? He has done that for many over the years in many places and among many peoples. Most of history’s influential Christians started from scratch, in humble circumstances, not knowing much and not at all sure of what lay ahead. Abraham has always been revered because of his active faith in God’s promise. Moses had a stutter and worked a hard shift and saw but did not himself reach The Promised Land. David was a shepherd boy who became Israel’s greatest king. Jeremiah was an introvert with no sense in himself of power or place in society. Micah was also a shepherd with no interest at all in public politics. Jonah was the most reluctant and disobedient of all called to be prophets. We know well the biography of Saul of Tarsus. Following Jesus turned him into the great thinker of Romans and the exquisite poet of 1 Corinthians 13. Martin Luther King had a head start because his father was a Baptist Pastor but following Jesus turned Martin Luther King into a global figure of respect and admiration for his non-violent advocacy and struggle for rights for America’s descendants of the slave trade.
When I was a student there was a conveyer belt of candidates for the ministry of the Church of Scotland from the central belt – from Glasgow and from places like East Kilbride. Men and later women gave up their jobs to become divinity students and then to be ordained as ministers. That supply has all but dried up. More candidates for the ministry of the Church of Scotland come from the highlands now. It might be argued that they are the only ones with any real strength of faith and conviction left in the Church of Scotland as it has caved in to political correctness and extreme liberalism in every way and become a ghost of its former self – once a strong and influential part of the Body of Christ on earth. Jesus still calls men and women to His service. Is He calling you? Are you willing to follow Him? You are not pioneering something unknown. Many have gone this way before you. But it is only your own personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ that will carry you through. It is your response that matters. It is you that counts.
The guidance of the Lord in life is very precious and he can accomplish much through a willing heart and life. We all know the Christmas story but it is good to think again of the risks that those involved took to be part of God’s saving plan. Joseph and Mary did not have a regular courtship before marriage. Strangers interrupted the new family. The three became refugees to escape Herod’s infanticide. Mary later watched this special son dying in front of her eyes apparently rejected by God and despised by everyone. Let God take you on the journey he offers you. Do not be afraid. Above all – keep the faith over the years. Say and sing and proclaim with Isaac Watts and many who have sung his hymn…
'I'm not ashamed to own my Lord, or to defend his cause, maintain the glory of his cross, and honor all his laws. Jesus, my Lord! I know his name, his name is all my boast; nor will he put my soul to shame, nor let my hope be lost. I know that safe with him remains, protected by his power what I've committed to his trust, till the decisive hour. Then will he own his servant's name, before his Father's face, and in the New Jerusalem appoint my soul a place'.