Pastor Tim: Free to choose

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

My wife Linda and I received an intriguing email earlier this week from one of our nephews, inviting us to the upcoming March wedding of him & his fiancé. 
I say intriguing because the message went on to say that because of ongoing Covid-19 restrictions, we wouldn’t be able to attend in person, but could watch the livestream link of the ceremony, and also that, as the nuptials were just a matter of weeks away, the current government regulations meant that everything was likely to be postponed.  
So the summary of the email was, “come to our wedding in March, we’d love to see you; but you can’t come and the ceremony will probably be cancelled!” 
What a strange invitation.   
Perhaps the most common invitation that many people have been receiving in their post-box in recent weeks has come in an NHS-marked envelope, urging the recipient to make an appointment to receive their first coronavirus vaccine injection, with the expectation that this should have a life-changing benefit. 
From what we read of Jesus in the New Testament, he was often in the habit of handing out life-changing invitations to people. 
For example, Simon-Peter and his brother Andrew accept the invite Jesus made to follow him, giving up their livelihoods as fishermen to become his first disciples. 
Others, such as an un-named person we simply know as the Rich Young Ruler, turns down the Lord’s request to follow him because, we’re told, he wasn’t prepared to do what Jesus asked and give away his great wealth to those who were poor and needy. 
And then we also read of people who at first, were keen to accept Jesus’ invite and began to follow him, but who then had second thoughts when they realised that he wasn’t promising them an easy life.  And so, because they weren’t prepared to meet the demands he placed on their lives, they turned back and no longer followed him. 
In verse 28 of Matthew chapter 11, Jesus offers an all-inclusive, saying, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest”.  
These words have echoed down through the centuries, right up to the present day, with a multitude of people, young and old, responding positively to his appeal. 
What strikes me as I read the gospels is that Jesus never forced people to accept his invitation; neither did he run after those who refused his requests and try and persuade them to change their mind; each person was free to decide whether they said yes or no to Jesus’ offer. 
The nineteenth century English pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt picks up on this thought in his famous painting “The Light of the World”, which hangs in the side chapel of Keble College, Oxford.  Holman Hunt’s masterpiece depicts Christ standing at a door that has never been opened, with rusty hinges and overgrown with weeds. 
The words of Jesus underneath the painting are taken from Revelation 3:20, “Behold! I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with then, and they with me”.  
This door represents the entrance into a person’s soul and has no outside handle on it; the only way for Jesus to enter is for the person whose life he is knocking on to open the door, accepting the offer that he makes. 
Every one of us is free to choose. 
One person who accepted the invitation and opened his life to the Lord was the author C S Lewis, who underlines the difference his choice made to him when he wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”.