Here’s the second of two talks I gave at the weekend.
Yesterday we were thinking a little about the story of Alice. We left her as a beggar, full of self-hatred and pain and loneliness and fear. And in a moment we’ll see where her story – and our stories can end.
We thought about our own stories and our own struggles – with how we look and feel and who we are. The ways that other people have hurt us – and the ways we hurt ourselves. But our biggest problem, isn’t what other people have done to us, even though this can feel overwhelming. It’s what we have done to God, by trying to make our lives work without Him. By trying to fix our mess, ourselves.
One way we can try to do this is by wearing masks – we thought about this yesterday.
But the masks don’t work. They only make it worse.
Last night we also thought about Jesus as the Suffering Servant, who was lonely and despised and rejected and abandoned and bullied and who alone can understand, really understand, how we feel in all our pain.
But unlike us, Jesus never turned His back on His Father and He never sinned. This means that only He is innocent and only He can pay the price that we should pay for rejecting God. Jesus doesn’t only know what it’s like to suffer for Himself. He comes and suffers for us. Not just ordinary suffering. Hell suffering. Because that’s what we deserve for our sins.
But He loves us so much He’d rather die for us, than live without us.
But how does this happen? And what does it mean as we go back home and to school and to life?
You see, Jesus isn’t just a suffering servant. And His story doesn’t end with the Cross. He dies in our place, but He also rises from the dead and He is sitting with His Father now, ruling in Heaven. Listen to how John describes him in the book of Revelation
12 I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and among the lampstands was someone “like a son of man”, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash round his chest. 14 His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. 15 His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, and out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. 18 I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
In Revelation John uses all sorts of picture language to speak about Jesus and heaven. Don’t worry, he hasn’t gone bonkers and he’s not on drugs. Instead, he’s giving us loads of different ideas, one on top of the other, to try to describe something so incredible it could blow out your eyeballs.
A few weeks ago, I was at a wedding. The bride looked hot. Now I didn’t put it quite like that (I was standing beside her mum). What I said was – ‘you look radiant’. But that’s nothing compared to this. Jesus, says John, has a face like the sun, shining in all its brilliance. Can you imagine?
What makes you weak at the knees? For me it was when my husband proposed on a beach in Australia. Get this for romantic – it was so overwhelming that when he pulled out the ring, I threw up. Now, when John sees Jesus, he doesn’t throw up. And he doesn’t just have a leg wobble. He drops at His feet like a dead man.
And then in v17 something even more amazing happens. Jesus – this brilliant, all-powerful, beautiful incredible person – reaches out to touch him. And he says this:
“Don’t be afraid.”
But actually, these words, ‘don’t be afraid’ are important, not just for John, but also for us.
Because if you’re anything like me, you are afraid. You’re afraid of lots of things – some we’ve already talked about. You’re scared of who you are and what other people think and what you’re meant to be like and what you’re really like and if you’re weird or mucked up and a million other things, some of which you don’t ever want to go near. You don’t feel ok. You’re not sure if even your parents like you, let alone the God of the universe. And it’s God who’s properly frightening. Not because He’s going to blow us sky-high with a thunderbolt if we miss church. No – it’s because of this – He knows who we are. He’s not fooled by our masks. When he asks, how we’re doing and we say ‘fine’, he knows the truth and He’s not going to just drop it. You can switch off your phone or unfriend your mates or slam the door on your mum. But that doesn’t work as well with Jesus. Jesus knows everything about us even the stuff we never talk about.
But get this. He accepts us. He loves us. And He tells us that if we trust in Him, we need never be afraid – of anything or anyone. Because if this Lord – the Lord of Revelation is looking out for you, no-one’s gonna step on His toes.
Let’s return to the story of Alice
Imagine you’re her. Smelly, poor, hungry, lonely, despised.
Now some really nice people, as they’re going past, might drop a few coins into her hat. If they were very kind..
And some really nice people might stop and chat.
And if they were really, really, super nice, they might sit down next to her, on the pavement, and give her time and space to talk.
But if you were someone important – like say a celebrity or royalty, you’d probably be far too busy to notice her, let alone stop.
That’s why when someone like Prince William spends time with the homeless, we are seriously impressed.
William’s the patron of a homeless charity in London.
Last year he even spent a night sleeping rough to highlight the problem of homelessness.
The Prince spent a night as a beggar. One whole night. It was so shocking, it made headline news.
But imagine if William did more than give money to Alice. More than leaving the palace for a night to keep her company. Imagine this. Imagine that he marries her!
As you know, there’s a royal wedding coming up. And who’s William marrying?
He’s marrying Kate. And we can understand why. She’s gorgeous, she comes from a good family and she seems very nice. But what if, instead of Kate, William picked Alice. Alice, with her drinking and her lying and her dirty, smelly clothes and her withered face and body. Alice, who’s made such a mess of her life that even her friends cross the road to avoid talking to her.
On their wedding day, here’s what William would say to Alice:
“All that I am I give to you, All that I have I share with you.”
What does this mean for Alice?
Firstly, she gets his royal family. Suddenly she’s royalty. She has a royal name. She’s instantly a member of the family. The Queen is not just Ma’am, she’s Mum!
Secondly, she gets his royal wealth. Everything that’s his is hers. All his money. Her face on the coins. All the corgis. The ski-chalet in Klosters.
And thirdly, she gets his royal power. She’s now a princess. With a proper throne – no just a Posh and Becks pretend one, on loan for the day.
From being thrown out of Macdonalds, she’s now got the keys to Buckingham Palace. It’s a million times better than winning the X-factor. And it happens in a moment.
But that’s not all. You see it’s not just that Alice gets what William has. He also gets what she has. And that’s not such a good swap for him.
The bride says the same vow back to the Prince.
“All that I am I give to you, All that I have I share with you.”
Instantly – from the minute they’re married – he takes responsibility for her. If she’s shameful, he carries her shame. If she’s weak, he’ll takes her weakness. If she’s poor, he’ll cover her debts.
So this is the deal. The moment they marry, she gets all his riches. And he takes all her debts.
Now, last night I told you that I didn’t believe in fairy stories. And you know what, I still don’t. But this story is true. It’s in the Bible. And it’s exactly what happens with us and Jesus!
On the Cross, Jesus comes down to our level. He takes our pain. He takes our sin. He takes our shame. He pays for all our debts.
And in return, here’s what we are given:
A royal family. His Father is now our Father! We also get His inheritance – that’s everlasting life. And we get His riches – that means we are counted as pure and perfect and righteous as Jesus Himself. As if we’d never done anything wrong, never ignored God, never starved ourselves or cut ourselves or made mistakes. A fresh start.
But you know the best thing about marriage? It’s not the stuff you get out of your husband. It’s your husband himself. It’s the fact that you GET him.
Jesus gives Himself to us. We get to know Him and love Him for all eternity. That’s incredible. And it’s true.
But here’s the thing: the minute the hag marries the Prince, Will she necessarily FEEL like a princess? She might do on her wedding day. But what about the next morning? The morning after that? The morning after that? Will she wake up feeling like a princess?
My guess is no.
And so will she instantly act like a princess? Will that happen straight away?
I’m thinking no on this one too. Not only does it take time to feel like a princess. It takes time to act like one too.
And it’s the same with us. When we trust Jesus we are made new, we become like that princess. We are different. We are forgiven and clean. But sometimes we’ll think – and act – like that beggar.
But – every time that happens, we can come back to the Cross and know Jesus’ forgiveness and acceptance and love. Even when we don’t feel it, we are princesses. And that means we’re loved and accepted and valued. That we can be who we are – and be set free from shame and fear and all the other things that trap us. Nothing and no-one can separate us from His love. Because Jesus will never let us down and He will never let us go.