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Rev Julian Mann: Christ is the stairway to heaven


This is an edited version of the sermon preached on Sunday September 27th at the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge:

How bad do you think the world is? And by the world, I don’t mean the natural world. I mean the world of humanity, the human world. How bad is it?

If you’ve living in some parts of Syria, it’s bad, so bad lots of people are fleeing for their lives. If you’ve living in Oughtibridge on a decent salary in a nice house and you mix with generally nice people, then your world is quite pleasant.

So, given the range of human experience, it’s very important as Christians that we look at the world from God’s perspective and allow our view of it to be shaped and decided by his.

Right from the start, John’s Gospel makes clear that the world of humanity is in rebellion against God, the good and loving God who made us, and that as a result of our wilful rebellion against God, we are in darkness, in deep spiritual and moral darkness. Under whatever material or social circumstances we live, as culpable rebels against God we are in darkness.

John wrote, chapter 1 verse 5: ‘The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it’ (NIV). The light of the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, shines in the darkness of the world through his gospel message of salvation from God’s judgement on the world, but the world rejects the light, with the exception of those people out of the world whom God graciously saves through the Lord Jesus.

Do we realise how much we need saving from the world of humanity in rebellion against God? Do we realise how dark the world is, whether or not it looks dark to us?

John’s Gospel is clear that the old creation, the world of humanity that has turned its back on God, is in a terrible, terrible situation. The old creation is under the wrath of God, it is under his rightful moral anger, it is facing ultimately God’s condemnation. The old creation is like a human settlement next to a volcano.

I remember visiting Pompeii on holiday in Italy as an 11-year-old boy. It was amazing seeing the buildings largely preserved from that terrible day in AD 79 when Mount Vesuvius erupted and virtually everybody in Pompeii was destroyed. No doubt there were some pretty nasty people to live among in Pompeii, quite possibly there were some nicer people to kick around with, but the point of comparison here is that they were all destroyed.

The prospect for the old creation is like the prospect for those people in Pompeii – people who belong to the old creation are living under the smoking volcano of God’s righteous moral anger against evil and one day they will be destroyed.

We should desperately want to escape from the old creation.

John’s Gospel makes clear right from the start that we can when we believe and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We can become part of God’s new creation. As John declared in the overture to his Gospel, the prologue, John 1v10-13: ‘He – the Lord Jesus – was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.’

We enter the new creation when we become children of God through faith in the Lord Jesus.

Now in our passage this morning from John’s Gospel, chapter 1v35-51, we see people, real people, entering God’s new creation and it’s wonderful to see it.

The action in v35-42 happens east of the Jordan River where John the Baptist has been baptising people and bearing witness to Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ, God’s rescuing King, The action in v43-51 take places in Galilee, in the north of Palestine where Jesus grew up.

Both sections begin ‘the next day’, v35, v43. Yes, that is an accurate recording of a sequence of events, but we know the deeper meaning of ‘the next day’ because we’ve read John’s prologue: ‘In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God’ (John 1v1). John, right from the start of his Gospel, sets his account of God’s new creation against the background of the old creation, the record of which in Genesis is divided up into days.

The next day. God’s new creation is breaking in in Jesus. And Jesus is calling real people into his new creation.

First, a disciple of John the Baptist, named Andrew, starts to follow Jesus, v40, and tells his brother Simon, v41: ‘We have found the Messiah’. And then, we’re told in v42, Andrew brought Simon to Jesus.

Real people enter the new creation when they come to the King of God’s new creation, the Lord Jesus. That’s what happened to Andrew and to Simon, whom Jesus renamed Peter, indicating that one day he would become a rock-like follower of the Messiah.

Two brothers come to Jesus, the Lord of life, in contrast to the old order of creation under which one brother, Cain, murdered the other, Abel.

Which order of creation would you rather belong to?

And then the next day in Galilee (v43-51), we see two more people, Philip and Nathanael, entering God’s new creation. Finding Philip, Jesus said to him: ‘Follow me,’ v43. And then Philip finds Nathanael, v 45, and invites him to ‘come and see’ Jesus, v46.

Nathanael comes to believe in Jesus Messiah as a result of supernatural knowledge that Jesus has about what he, Nathanael, was doing before he met Jesus – ‘ I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you’ (v48).

Jesus hadn’t been there physically whilst Nathanael was under the fig tree but he knew supernaturally where Nathanael had been.

Nathanael declares, v49: ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.’ Nathanael has come to believe that Jesus is the divine King of God’s people, the Messiah.

That’s how people enter God’s new creation, that’s how they get on the stairway to heaven. Jesus said to Nathanael: ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You shall see greater things than that.’ Then he added, using the plural ‘you’ to address all his disciples: ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’ (v50-51).

There is a stairway from the old creation into the new. If we’re part of the old creation, we need to get out of it and the only way we can is by stepping on to the stairway, who is the Lord Jesus.

He’s the one who takes us to heaven, to God’s new creation where evil and death are abolished for ever and we can be the renewed, forgiven people God has made it possible for us to be.

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Julian Mann
Julian Mann
Julian Mann is a former Church of England vicar, now an evangelical journalist based in Heysham, Lancashire.

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