I was asked to speak at a Christian Union quiz night yesterday and I thought I'd share what I said as a link to the video and as the script below. I'm always interested in people's thoughts and critique so feel free to let me know what you make of it.
The video above is timestamped to start when I turn up - feel free to do the quiz from the beginning!
I wonder what you think about when I use the word “authority”. You might be one of the majority in the UK who do not trust politicians or the majority who trust police or maybe you’ve struggled with the authority from teachers or parents. You might even be questioning my authority to speak tonight? I’ll address that in a moment…
How much you trust authority often comes from asking the questions, are they in control? Do they live as they expect me to? I’m sure other questions can be asked and I don’t need to get political but it is quite evident that many people think politicians aren’t in control and they don’t always live as they expect society to and that is a big reason for not trusting them.
I’ve been asked to talk about the question, Is God in Control? And I think that is a question connected to authority and trust as we’ll see in a bit.
I grew up in a Christian family in a Christian environment, so I learnt a lot about the bible and Christianity but was never really challenged on it because everyone around me was in the same boat. It wasn’t until I came to university here at Surrey a few years ago that I was challenged. I found that despite knowing a decent amount, I’d never really questioned whether it was true. In my second year I was challenged by a friend who had recently made a decision himself to follow Jesus having grown up as an atheist to figure out if Christianity was true and if it was, then to start living like it was.
What happened at university for me is the challenge Jesus makes repeatedly through the book of Mark which we will read from in a moment. He repeatedly challenges people to ‘follow him’. By following Him it means to listen and learn from him and to change your life, even give things up, because there is not just truth in what Jesus says but also a promise of hope even when life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it might.
Almost 15 years on from meeting my friend, I am more confident than ever that Jesus is someone worth following, so much so that I help lead a local church.
Why do I have the authority to speak about the bible? Well, to be honest, I don’t have any more authority than the next Christian, I’m not an expert, I’m still learning, I read a lot and I’m going to share with you a little bit of what I’ve found over the course of my life. I hope that the next 15 minutes will at least start a conversation but may leave you with more questions than answers! I would encourage you to keep asking questions as both the bible and Christianity can withstand scrutiny.
If you have Christian friends with you, get them to open a bible and you can read along or go to bible.com, find the book of Mark and I personally recommend the NIV or ESV translations (the bible wasn’t written in English – key fact), but I’ll be reading from the NIV.
'That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over to the other side.’ Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ They were terrified and asked each other, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’' Mark 4:35-41
I wonder if you have grown up like me in a Christian environment, maybe this was a story at Sunday school or in an assembly if you went to a church school. I wonder what the outcome of the story was – you might have got something along the lines of ‘what storms in your life can Jesus calm for you?’.
I’m afraid I am going to have to burst the idea that this story is about calming the storms in your life. That said, there is a part of this story where you will fit in. Mark is telling us that there is something very important about Jesus and we need to do some digging because for us, unlike Mark’s original audience, we don’t have cultural cues he is referencing.
What do I mean by cultural cues? Well you and I, grew up in a time and place that has left imprints on us. When I reference movies or stories, by a quote, many of you will be able to get what I’m saying. Simply by saying ‘let it go’, many of you will be picturing a princess in a movie called frozen even if you haven’t seen it. For Mark’s audience, scriptures and icons from both Jewish and Roman religions were the cultural imprints of the day. Unless you’ve grown up in a Jewish or Christian household that recites scripture in Hebrew daily, many of these cues are lost on us.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, what most Christians call the Old Testament, the sea and the wind have important symbolism that goes back to the very first book of the bible. In the creation story in Genesis you will find the spirit of God hovering over the waters – the word spirit in Hebrew is ‘ruach’ which can also mean ‘wind’ or ‘breath’, from that point the creation begins. Mark, by telling us a story about Jesus calming the windstorm is giving evidence that Jesus has authority that only God should have – he has power over nature.
'You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.' Psalm 89:9
Now you might be saying that I don’t believe in God. Many of you will have grown up being told that God doesn’t exist and evolution and science disprove God. I don’t have time unfortunately to go into all of those discussions though you’d be very welcome to get in touch with me if you would like to. Suffice to say that I think science and faith go well together rather than oppose each other. All I can do here is challenge you that God can’t both exist and not exist, nor can all religions be true – Jesus’ teaching doesn’t allow for that. I highly recommend that you take the time to find out which makes the most sense of the world around you. It very literally can change the direction of your life.
Mark is saying that not only does God exist, but he revealed who He is through a man named Jesus. A group of people saw him do what only God can do and told others about it. Mark is saying that not just the disciples saw this but there were other boats on the water as well. Mark continually connects Jesus with the authority of God but also grounds his story in reality without embellishment. Jesus’ mission wasn’t just to calm a storm, he was on earth to forgive sins and defeat death.
Let me explain sin as the Christian understanding of it is connected to death. There are many who would, “say you are what you love”. Our desires drive us more than we realise and often we give reasons for what we do after we’ve already desired to do it. The Christian can agree with this and a major theme of the bible is that we were made to love God. When we don’t love God, we love something in place of God, and this is what sin is – disordered love.
It could be a love of a person or money, fame, sex, power, family – it is anything or any person that drives and motivates you and you can generally find it in your habits, how you spend your money and who you hang around with. The problem we find with loving things or people in this way is that people let us down and we get hurt and/or we let others down or hurt people for the sake of what we love. Our disordered loves leave us in shame, fear of loss and guilt and that is the effect of sin. In fact, the impact of sin on humanity is so severe that it has corrupted the world from how God intended it to be that suffering and death became a part of it.
Our disordered loves leave us in a small boat in the middle of life about to sink and no way to save ourselves and the only way that this can end on our own terms is death.
Mark tells us that the God who creates from nothing is in the boat with his people and only he can save them. He is saying that God came down into our storm and is the only one who can reorder our loves. He is the only one who can give us power over our fears and remove our guilt. He is the only one that can actually help us live in a way that doesn’t leave us with guilt, shame or fear. The bible goes so far to promise that no matter how we feel about ourselves, no matter how deep our shame, God will remove our shame and give us honour as part of his global family.
How does God break the corruption of sin and death? Well I have to give the story away here so spoiler alert - Jesus dies… but that isn’t the end of the story! Something happened around 33AD that meant that Jesus’ life and teaching took on a whole new level for his followers. His followers claimed to have seen him come back from the dead and many were killed because they would not stop sharing this amazing story. It was one thing to claim you were God and work something that could be written off as a trick but it was quite another to come back from the dead – and death by crucifixion was designed to make sure that the person was shamed publicly and definitely dead by the end of it.
Mark is asking you what do you make of authority? If Jesus did calm the storm, then he has authority over nature just like God. If Jesus did rise from the dead, then he has authority over death just like God. If he did rise from the dead, then he has the authority to forgive sin and restore our relationship with God and humanity so that we can hope in eternal life that starts with God now. He is worth following, his authority is worth your trust and the creator of the universe can be known by you and wants to be known by you.
One final point to make from the story: I have found that life can throw a lot of unexpected pain and hurt at you but this one picture of Jesus asleep in the storm is one that is too easily overlooked. I genuinely believe that this picture of Jesus asleep in the storm is a glimpse of the promise you can have now when you trust in Jesus – that while the storms of the world rage around you – you can have a peace that allows you to sleep soundly, knowing that God has got you, even when it hurts.
How to respond?
If you aren't sure about what I've written/said, start reading and listening. There are loads of resources to engage with the historical accounts around Jesus. You can start here:
The Case for Christ (accessible and a gateway to other scholarship and authors)
Jesus and the eyewitnesses (scholarly but accessible defence of the gospels as eyewitness testimony)
Evidence for the resurrection (4 hours or short clip intro below)
Visit a church - lockdown means you can go online! You are more than welcome to check out Hope Church Guildford on youtube every Sunday at 10am GMT. You don't have to believe to visit and you can meet Christians and see the impact the gospel has on a community and even be a part of it before you make any commitments.
Some of you may have questions, may already be visiting a church but just want to know what does it mean to follow Jesus and how do I do it?
Well the first thing is to repent and believe. Repent is just an old word that means turn away. Turn away from you living your own way and turn to face Jesus and how he wants you to live. His purpose for you doesn’t mean an easy life, in fact, it potentially means more storms and struggles. You will be following a God who suffered and died for you. But hope in Jesus means that even in suffering you can find the deepest joy and peace.
If you are with Christian friends, ask them to pray with you as you say the prayer – I can guarantee you will give them the biggest shock of their lives but they will be so happy to pray with you. They will also be able to help you take the next steps of the beginning of your journey in following Jesus.
So I’m going to pray, feel free to say it with me – when I say amen that simply means ‘may it be so’ and is a sign that the prayer is finished:
Jesus I want to turn away from my sin and shame and I want to live for you.
Through the power of your holy spirit would you show me how to live and help me to walk in your ways.
Thank you for dying on the cross so that we can be forgiven and have the hope of life that goes beyond death.
In your name I pray,
Thanks for listening and reading and if you want more information or someone to read the bible with then get in touch!