Preached 11 May 1992 at Bolton St James, Bradford.
It’s high summer. Unlike today, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and bees are lazily droning their way from flower to flower. For the moment, your cares and worries are a million miles away. You lie back and begin to enjoy the warmth and the peace. Maybe you’ve got a glass of something cool in your hand. You’re relaxed, your eyes are closed and what do you say? You say: `Ah, this is the life’.
A different situation. It’s Saturday morning. You’ve set your heart on something you’ve seen in a shop window in town earlier in the week and you go to the shop to buy it. `Sorry,’ says the assistant. `It went just quarter of an hour ago’. What do you do? You shrug your shoulders and you say: `Well, that’s life’.
`Well, that’s life’ … `Ah, this is the life’. Two very similar expressions, each of which use the word `life’ but each of which use it in a very different way. In fact, if you spoke the language in which the New Testament is written, you would use a different word for `life’ in each expression. Instead of saying `That’s life’ you would say `That’s bios’. And instead of saying `This is the life’ you would say `This is the zoe’.
Bios is what lies between the cradle and the grave. It’s all your experiences — good and bad, happy and sad, boring and exciting. That’s why we call the written record of someone’s life a biography. Bios is mere existence. You can measure your bios by clocks and calenders. Your bios starts with a birth certificate and ends with a death certificate. It’s the sum total of everything that lies between the two.
But zoe cannot be measured by clocks and calenders; because zoe is nothing to do with events or things that happen to us. Zoe is a state of being. Which is why, in the language of the New Testament, we would say `This is the zoe’ if we were relaxing in the sun without a care in the world. We would be acknowledging our enjoyment of something that lies beyond event and activity and time.
However, the New Testament says that, sadly, we will be deceiving ourselves if we think that, even in such moments, we are experiencing zoe. All we are experiencing is a bit of bios that resembles zoe. For the New Testament says that zoe cannot be obtained or enjoyed outside of Jesus. St John says: `The person who has Jesus has zoe but the person who does not have Jesus does not have zoe’. And the reason why that is so lies in our Bible reading this morning. Jesus himself said: `I am the zoe’. That is to say: `I am the sole source of real life — life that is independent of physical existence, life that is endless, life that is full of meaning, life that is totally satisfying — life with a capital `L”.
And Jesus went on to say: `The person who believes in me will live — will receive and continue to enjoy zoe — even though that person dies, physically; and whoever lives — who receives and begins to enjoy zoe — and believes in me will never really die’.
Jesus wants everyone to trade in their bios for zoe. It was the reason he was born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary. `I have come,’ he said, `that folk might have zoe and have it to the full’. To everyone who comes to him, he gives zoe; but those who refuse to come to him are stuck with bios.
I said that bios was mere existence. But it’s worse than that. The New Testament says that bios is death. Paul writes to the Christians at Ephesus: `As for you, you were dead — you only had bios – but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive — gave us zoe — with Christ’. Bios is death because all our bios ends in a handful of dust and nothing more. If we don’t have zoe, all our experiences, all our memories, all that we have achieved will vanish in a puff of smoke — literally — after we’ve breathed our last.
One night, early in his ministry, Jesus had a secret visitor. He was a top religious leader — Nicodemus. He came to talk to Jesus about the kingdom of God — the kingdom of heaven which Jesus said would last for ever and which he was inviting people to become part of now. And Jesus said a very strange thing to Nicodemus. He said `No one can see or enter the kingdom of heaven unless he is born again’. And Nicodemus asked the obvious question: `How can anyone be born a second time?’.
But Jesus was not, of course, talking about another physical birth. He was talking about receiving zoe — receiving real life. It is a second birth, but not a physical one. It marks a complete new beginning. The receiving of life with a capital `L’ which, once received will go on for ever. It is the zoe, the life, of Christ within us. St Paul said: `I no longer live, but Christ lives in me’. Paul said to the Christians at Colossae: `You have died and your life is now hidden with Christ in God’.
How wonderful, to ask Jesus to come into your life and to experience, day by day, a new life bursting forth within you; a new you, growing and maturing. How marvellous to be filled with the knowledge that now, nothing at all, not even death itself, can bring your life to an end.
Once you have Christ’s zoe, you cannot believe that you once thought your bios was so worth hanging onto. As Jim Elliot who was killed bringing the Auca indians to know Christ put it: `He is no fool who loses what he cannot keep (that is, his bios) to gain what he cannot lose (that is, the zoe or real life of Jesus).
Where do you stand this morning. To you, here and now, Jesus says `I am the Life — real life, eternal life, life with a capital `L”. And I want you to have that life. I want you to live to the full. I want you to stop simply existing. I want you to know the love of God filling your heart. I want you to experience cleansing and peace and joy and satisfaction. I want you to enter into a relationship with me that will change and transform you. I have come — and am here this morning — that you might have life.
Will you accept him — or will you turn away. Will you settle for mere existence. Will you resign yourself to being, at the end of the day, nothing but a handful of dust? As God said to his people of old: `This day I set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live …