Radiate, Part 3: “Honor Everyone” (1 Peter 2:9-17)

When believers get serious about neighboring the gospel, we soon discover that not everyone shares our love of Christ and our practice of the Christian faith. We may even encounter civil authorities who seek to oppress us for it. That was certainly the case for much of the church in the 1st century, and it’s increasingly the case for believers around the world in the 21st century. That’s part of what makes this passage so radical. In 1 Peter 2:17, the followers of Christ are given a shocking (and world changing) command—to honor everyone. Peter writes, “Show proper respect to everyone.” In The Message paraphrase, Eugene Peterson puts it like this: “Treat everyone you meet with dignity.” 

That’s hard enough to do when relationships are good, but it’s especially difficult when people are unkind to us, or when they mock us, insult us, persecute us, or try to get us to violate our conscience. Yet that’s the lofty vision to which Christians are called. Moreover, we honor others even if they don’t honor us in return. We honor others by going beyond merely tolerating them. We honor others even if we disapprove of their values, beliefs, or lifestyle choices. We honor others by disagreeing with them “with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet 3:15). The Greek verb to honor here means, “to set a price on,” “to ascribe worth to.” It’s what store clerks do when they put price tags on merchandise. To honor people, then, is to treat them with value, significance, dignity, importance, or respect. “Honor” is not a word of emotion but a word or recognition. The point is that people matter because they’re made in the image of God. That’s where their value comes from.

For believers to do what Peter is calling us to do, we have to make a distinction between people and their deeds. Yes, everyone should be honored for their personhood, but respect for their deeds must be earned. The good news is that everyone can be honored because grace allows us to “unstick” people’s bad deeds from their essential personhood. In that sense, the cross of Christ was a heavenly “crowbar” inserted between us and our sin. Jesus—at great cost to himself—pried the two apart. If that weren’t enough, he took our sin and stuck it on himself. Then he took his own righteousness and stuck it onto us. That’s why Paul could write, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). The problem with many believers is that we’re just too “sticky” when it comes to other people. Peter calls us to “unstick” them in our minds, speech, and manner of life.

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Radiate, Part 2: Gospel Neighboring (Luke 10:25-37)

Those who follow in the footsteps of Christ seek to align themselves with the mission of Christ. There are two wings on this bird, and both are necessary to fly well: (1) The followers of Christ will practice gospel messaging; and (2) the followers of Christ will practice gospel neighboring. The gospel, or course, is the good news announcement that a new emperor has ascended the throne—Jesus Christ, not Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:8-14; Phil 2:9-11). It’s the declaration of what God has freely done for his people in Christ (1 Cor 15:1-10a). In his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death, and those who believe in him now have their sins forgiven, and they receive a new life—not by righteous things they have done, but because of the finished work of Christ. In other words, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, who is making all things new in the restoration of the entire cosmos. That’s the good news, and messaging that news is part of the believer’s mission.

But gospel neighboring is the other wing, and it is vitally important, too. In fact, messaging the gospel without neighboring the gospel undercuts the credibility of the gospel (Jas 2:14-17). It’s empty words and hollow bluster. We become resounding gongs and clanging symbols (1 Cor 13:1). Moreover, Jesus said that next to loving God, loving our neighbor is the greatest commandment we could keep (Matt 22:34-40). To “love” our neighbors does not necessarily mean having warm, fuzzy feelings toward them. To “love” our neighbors means to regard them as valuable and important. However wretched certain people may be—and we all have a certain amount of wretchedness in us—they are still made in the image of God. They therefore have intrinsic worth, value, significance, and dignity, whether they’re living up to their lofty status or not.

Gospel neighboring also means serving those around us, whether they believe the gospel or not (Matt 5:43-47). It’s easy to be kind to those who are like us, but Jesus doesn’t let us get away with finding loopholes in the command to love our neighbor. The story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) drives home the point. But how well do we actually know our neighbors? Mr. Rogers used to sing, “Who are the people in your neighborhood?” Do we even know? If so, how well do we know them? Gospel neighboring starts with getting to know the people who providentially surround us. But this challenge raises many questions. What if we don’t like our neighbors? What if our neighbors don’t like us? What if they’re loud, obnoxious, or annoying? What if they’re immoral, violent, or dangerous? What if I’m an introvert? What if I’m already insanely busy? We have many questions about how to do this well, and we’ll look at some of them over the course of this series. For now, we’re simply getting centered on our need to radiate the gospel.

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Radiate, Part 1: The Priority of One (Luke 19:1-10)

If you knew you had only two weeks to live, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you spend your time? With whom would you spend it? What would be the final experience you give yourself before exiting this life and entering the next? Most people (believers included) would spin out scenarios that focus on their own interests, desires, or pleasures. It’s a natural and understandable impulse. By the time Jesus encounters Zacchaeus in Luke 19, he has less than two weeks to live before dying on the cross, and he knows it. But what do we see him doing? We see him focusing his time on “the priority of one.” And the one that Jesus focuses on is the chief tax collector of Jericho! No one was more despised or vilified than the wealthy Zacchaeus. Matthew was a garden variety tax collector, but Zacchaeus was his boss. He cheated the cheaters! 

So, this famous story isn’t just about a mafia thug, it’s about a mafia don—the godfather of the first century. In fact, the rabbis in that day said, “A tax collector could never be saved. It would take a lifetime of lifetimes for him to repent of all his sins.” Jesus didn’t agree with them on that point, so he invited himself to Zacchaeus’ house, causing everybody to “mutter” (Luke 19:7). But it was an encounter that changed Zacchaeus’ life. Indeed, Zacchaeus received Jesus into his home, and somewhere during the visit, he received Jesus into his heart, too. The story is rich with insights about: (1) the gospel message (i.e., how the lost can be found); and (2) the gospel mission (i.e., how the found can impact the lost). It’s a story that teaches not only that God can save anybody, but also that God—and the godly—are on the lookout for the lost.

Quite significantly, in the previous chapter, a rich young ruler comes to Jesus, wanting to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. The man doesn’t like Jesus’ answer, so he goes away dejected. His wealth had become an idol to him, and Jesus tells him to smash his idol and follow him. The man won’t do it. So, Jesus declares as the man is walking away, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). But those who heard him say it asked, “Who then can be saved?” (Luke 18:26). Hear the panic in their question! The rich young ruler was a man of status and wealth, so he was assumed by most people to have been unusually blessed by God. If he can’t be saved, then who can be? The shocking truth is that Zacchaeus can be saved. In fact, Zacchaeus is the camel that Jesus got through the eye of the needle! “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (Luke 18:27). Listeners are therefore challenged at the beginning of this new year to pray:

Lord, lay some soul upon my heart,
And love that soul through me;
And may I bravely do my part
To win that soul for Thee.

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The Danger of Playing God (James 4:11-17)

The expression “messiah complex” is not a clinical diagnosis, but its symptoms closely resemble those found in individuals suffering from delusions of grandeur. It’s a real and documented condition that many unfortunate individuals have endured over the years. But mentally healthy people can be just as delusional—foolishly living our lives as if we were God himself. We would never come right out and say that, but we sure do act it sometimes. And we do so by granting ourselves powers that only God himself has. According to James 4:11-17, we tend to play God by: (1) claiming to know what’s in other people’s hearts; and (2) claiming to know what’s in our own future. 

Specifically, we recklessly slander and judge other people, says James, and we foolishly practice the illusion of “life control” for ourselves. But James reminds us—and the whole world learned firsthand in the chaotic year that was 2020—that we do not know the future. Rather, we are called to live life and make decisions in line with God’s will. Indeed, James warns us here that playing God is a dangerous game that nobody wins. The idea of “giving God control” of our lives is little more than a delusion. We do well to remember that we never actually had control in the first place. The only thing we can do, then, is give God our fear of his control over our lives. 

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“Big Enough to Be Small” (Philippians 2:5-11)

People don’t usually look for ways to get demoted. They try to go up the ladder of success not down. But if the eternal Son of God had a birthday on that first Christmas, it was a voluntary choice for demotion. It was the ultimate pay cut. It was the ultimate story of riches to rags. And he did it willingly. The Creator willingly became part of his creation. The Master Artist willingly became part of his painting. The Eternal One willingly became part history and subject to time. The One who is called in John’s gospel “the Light” took off his robe of light and wrapped himself in skin, winding up in Bethlehem’s manger two thousand years ago. The Apostle Paul’s Carmen Christi (“Hymn to Christ”) in Philippians 2:5-11 describes just how low he went. And then how high. It’s a summary of his full journey. 

The Swiss theologian Emil Bruner was the first to suggest that we can represent this three-fold movement of our Lord’s ministry using the mathematical formula of a parabola (y = x2), a journey from glory to humiliation, and back to glory again. This Christmas Eve sermon focuses on the first part of Jesus’ parabola. “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven.” It’s hard to get our minds around such a mystery. Deity in diapers? Elohim with elbows and eyebrows? How can this be?  T. S. Eliot described the newborn Christ as “the word within a word, unable to speak a word.” In Disney’s Aladdin, Genie (Robin Williams) described his own spatial paradox like this: “Cosmic, phenomenal power, itty bitty living space!” That was even more true of Jesus! He was big enough to be small. Indeed, he made the crucial decision to have a birthday in Bethlehem, leaving the splendors of heaven to be with us in our distress. 

After his atoning death on the cross, God the Son rose from the dead to give his people a “new birth” day. “Born to raise the sons of earth. Born to give them second birth.” Indeed, God wanted so much for us to become part of his family that he became part of ours. And now he lives inside his people by the Holy Spirit. Lest you think you’re not worthy to have Christ come and live inside of you, consider all the dark and dreadful places he’s already been, all the places he’s already chosen to go: The dark womb of a teenager. The rough manger of Bethlehem. The red-light district of Nazareth. The corrupt temple in Jerusalem. The flogging post of a Roman torture yard. The bloody cross of Mount Calvary. The dark, damp ledge of the garden tomb. Do you think Jesus could be surprised by any dirt or darkness he might find in your in your own heart? No—that dirt and darkness is precisely why he came. “Call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.” Give him your sin, and he will give you his divine life. Merry Christmas.

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He Is Coming, Part 4: “Be Available” (Luke 1:26-38)

December is a time when many believers remind others that we need to put Christ back into Christmas. O.k., but why stop there? We also need to put Satan back into Christmas. If we take the biblical account seriously, he’s the reason for the mess we’re in today. Things like greed, selfishness, violence, injustice, abuse, alienation, and death can all be laid at his doorstep. That’s why 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” One of our Christmas carols contains the same idea: “To save us all from Satan’s power when we have gone astray.” Yes, Satan is real and relentless, but ultimately ruined—precisely because Jesus came. In fact, on that first Christmas, Jesus began undoing what Satan did a long time ago: enticing the human race to walk away from God and his ways. The Lord’s great rescue effort began with a young Jewish virgin named Mary.

Gabriel gives the news of her mission from God in the famous “Annunciation” (Luke 1:26-38), a text loaded with insights about Mary, Mary’s Son, and Mary’s God. Moreover, it does not go unnoticed in Christian theology that Mary is a kind of new Eve. Indeed, the fall began through the false belief of one virgin (Gen 3:4-6), and the restoration began through the true belief of another virgin (Luke 1:38). Irenaeus (ca. 130-202 A.D.) wrote, “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” In one sense, then, our salvation hinges on Mary’s obedient response to God’s initiative.

All true, but what emerges from the biblical portrait of Mary is also her ordinariness. She was a normal young girl from a no-account town in Galilee. What made her extraordinary was the fact that she was a true servant of the Lord, totally surrendered to doing God’s will. In this regard, she’s still a model for believers today. It has always been the case that God has a plan to change the world, and ordinary people can be a part of it. That’s why Paul said to ordinary believers in Rome, “God will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Rom 16:20). We don’t have to be extraordinary people to engage in serpent crushing. We just have to be available to God.

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He Is Coming, Part 3: “Be Vibrant” (Luke 1:39-56)

Mary’s famous Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) reveals that the young Jewish girl who gave birth to the Messiah knew her Bible well. She weaves together at least 30 echoes, allusions, and citations from the Old Testament into her composition. The resulting scriptural tapestry bears a striking resemblance to the prayer of Hannah, a woman who was barren, yet God miraculously gave a son—the Prophet Samuel—whom she dedicated to the Lord. But it’s more than just Hannah’s prayer that stands behind the Magnificat; it’s myriad other references to the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings, too. Her song is saturated and marinated in Scripture. It’s a musical medley that we might consider in our day something akin to a biblical mashup.
 
Mary likely composed the piece in her head on the 90-mile journey from Nazareth to Judea, singing it to Elizabeth upon her arrival. She had several days to think about it, and now she cuts loose. It’s also likely that these words became a lullaby sung to Jesus in utero and postpartum. If so, Jesus had sacred words ingrained in him from the very beginning of his earthly life. It’s no wonder, then, that he quotes the Psalms more than once from his cross. It’s even possible he sang those words to the extent he was able—almost like a duet across the years with his mother, who’s standing there at the horrible spectacle of Calvary. He sings back to her now the words she sang to him from infancy. Both their lives are bookended by the Word of God.
 
Some rabbis in Mary’s day said, “Keep the Torah far away from women; they will corrupt it to go near it. If they so much as touch the scroll, you must burn it.” One can be glad Mary and her family didn’t adhere to such a foolish tradition, for Mary’s burst of praise becomes part of sacred Scripture itself—God’s revelation to the world. And Elizabeth is not her only audience; we, are too. In this passage, Mary is “rightly dividing the word of truth” from the Old Testament, pulling it together and describing for us how God is bringing the Messiah into the world, and what he will do when he comes. She teaches us the Scriptures—anticipating the promise in Acts 2:17: “Your sons and daughters will prophesy [i.e., speak forth the Word of God].” Mary leads the way on this declaration. Indeed, she’s an extraordinary reminder that a spiritually vibrant life is marked by Scripture, praise, and humility. While certain traditions overly exalt Mary, others greatly under appreciate her. Neither extreme is warranted. She is truly a model for the ages.

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He Is Coming, Part 2: “Be Repentant” (Mark 1:1-8)

Prior to the writing of the New Testament, the Greek word for “gospel” (euangelion) referred to “the good news announcement” of a military victory on the battlefield, a legal victory in a court of law, or the birth and/or ascension of a new king to the throne. One ancient inscription refers to the birth of Caesar Augustus as “the beginning of the gospel,” the exact phrase Mark uses in the opening line of his account of the life of Christ. Mark actually “hijacks” that reference to Caesar and reassigns it to Jesus Christ, the Son of God who has won the ultimate battle over evil, sin, and death, and rules now from his throne in heaven. What unlocks the “good news” in a person’s life is faith and repentance—making a turn from going in one direction in order to go the other way and follow Jesus. 

Ultimately, “repentance” is a positive word, as God graciously allows his people to leave their path of destruction and avoid disastrous consequences. God’s offer of repentance means there is still hope. It means God hasn’t given up on us. It means there’s still a possibility to participate in his kingdom renewal efforts here on earth. As John Climacus has said, “Repentance is the daughter of hope and the denial of despair. It is not despondency but eager expectation. . . . To repent is to look, not downward at my own shortcomings, but upward at God’s love; not backward with self-reproach, but forward with trustfulness. It is to see, not what I have failed to be, but what by the grace of Christ I can yet become.”

The difficulty for us is letting go of trying to be the boss of our own lives and letting Jesus call the shots instead. A well-known bumper sticker in our day says, “God is my co-pilot,” but the truth is: If God is your co-pilot, switch seats. He wants to be the pilot of our lives. Yes, God sees us as we are and loves us as we are, but by his grace, he does not leave us where we are. Indeed, he is ever ordering our lives in such a way that we can learn to make him our highest treasure.

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He Is Coming, Part 1: “Be Ready” (Mark 13:24-37)

People don’t usually have too much trouble with the biblical description of Jesus’ first coming. The story is largely soft, gentle, pleasant, and disarming. There’s a star in the east, a gaggle of shepherds, and a baby in a manger, asleep on the hay. It doesn’t look like very much, nor does it seem to threaten anyone (except, perhaps, King Herod). People tend to have a lot more trouble with the biblical description of Jesus’ second coming because it’s exactly the opposite of the first. Instead of a star in the sky, we have stars falling out of the sky. Instead of local ruddy shepherds, we have majestic angels and saints from all over the globe. Moreover, Jesus is not a harmless little baby anymore, wrapped in swaddling clothes. Instead, he’s the returning victorious king wrapped in clouds of glory, functioning now as the Judge of all the earth. It’s a cosmic and cataclysmic scene, and everyone will recognize his lordship when it happens.

Exactly when will all this take place? Jesus gives the illustration of a budding fig tree (Mark 13:28-31) and the illustration of alert servants (Mark 13:32-37) to remind his followers, “Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come” (Mark 13:33). So, the doctrine of the Second Coming is not given as a prophetic jigsaw puzzle to be solved, but as a motivation for practical faith and godly living until the consummation of history. All told, the passage reminds us that Jesus is coming again, so be ready for his appearing. Knowing the precise timing of his return could lead some to procrastinate their faithfulness—to put it on hold, or to suggest that loyalty to him is no big deal. “Not so,” says Jesus. “I’m coming again, and you don’t know when, so be watchful. Be ready for my return.” Ultimately, the doctrine of the Second Coming is a source of great hope and comfort for believers because it portrays the heart of the gospel: the Judge who will judge us has already received our judgment at the cross.

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‘Christ the King Sunday’ Sermon: Crown Him with Many Crowns

In ancient Israel, potential kings took part in a three-stage pattern of accession before they finally and permanently took the throne. These three stages included: (1) an official declaration of recognition, often involving an anointing by a prophet; (2) a demonstration of worthiness, often involving the courageous vanquishing of an enemy; and (3) a public coronation, often involving the reading or singing of an enthronement psalm. Coronations were elaborate affairs, typically consisting of much pageantry and ceremonial flourishes, such as a special procession, meal, crown, armband, sash, scepter, kiss, and second anointing. Additionally, there was a special elevated platform and the public mounting of the throne for the first time. Many of these elements are seen throughout the period of the Old Testament kings.

In their presentation of Jesus Christ as king, the Gospel writers mimic this three-fold pattern. Jesus is anointed at his baptism by the Holy Spirit with his heavenly Father’s public approval. He then prevails over the ultimate enemy, Satan, by triumphing over his temptations in the wilderness. He then is enthroned on his cross, quoting Psalm 22 and mirroring the flourishes of the coronation ceremony, only in surprising and gruesome ways. That’s because Jesus is a different kind of king, and he brings a different kind of kingdom. As Paul wrote, “The kingdom of God…is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Indeed, Jesus is the king of the universe whose realm is the human heart. That’s why the subjects in his kingdom seek to align their lives with his will and ways. 

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The Blood Covenant, Part 8: Remember! (1 Cor 11:23-26)

At the heart of the church’s worship life is a meal. Not a song. Not a hymn. Not a shout. Not a dance. Not even a sermon, but a meal. At the command of Christ, believers gather around a table, give thanks, eat a piece of bread, and take a sip of wine. In doing so, we remember what is central to the Jesus Story and our place in that story. Specifically, we remember what Jesus did in the past (i.e., his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension), and we remember what he will do in the future (i.e., his return in power and great glory and restoration of all things). We also experience in the present moment his Real Presence in a unique way (i.e., the bread, which is his body, and the wine, which is his blood.) Indeed, Holy Communion is Jesus sharing himself with us.

The practice is rooted in the ancient custom of covenant making, where representative heads would exchange bread and wine at the end of their public ceremony. (The bride-and-groom cake exchange and interlinking-arms toast at contemporary wedding receptions go all the way back to the ancient covenant ceremony.) In this final message of the series, we consider some reasons Jesus asked us to remember him in this way. First, the God of the Bible is the God who feeds his people. (Like Father, like Son!) Second, eating is the universal language of fellowship and companionship. Third, bread and wine are the universal symbols of a covenant established. And fourth, the symbols given to us by God are windows into eternity. They reveal his gracious heart to all who commune by faith.

In the days when the British Red Coats were warring with the Scots, no one was allowed to go outside early in the morning. The Brits knew that underground churches were meeting illegally, and those who were out walking at dawn probably were making their way to a daily service of Holy Communion. One day a Scottish teenage girl was stopped by a Red Coat. “Where are you going?” he demanded. As a Christ follower, she didn’t want to lie, but she also didn’t want to expose her church. So, she staked everything on the theological ignorance of the soldiers. She replied, “My elder brother has died, and I’m going to the reading of his last will and testament. While there, I’ll be collecting my share in the inheritance.” Her elder brother, of course, was Jesus Christ. What she failed to mention was that her elder brother was now risen from the dead and serving as the “attorney” who would ensure she gets everything she has coming to her. Clearly, the young girl understood the covenant. We can, too, especially as revealed in the table of the Lord.

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The Blood Covenant, Part 7: The Final Exchange (1 Cor 15:50-57)

Human beings have a rendezvous with death. The Grim Reaper is coming for everyone, regardless of who they are, where they live, how much money they make, or what they believe. As one writer put it, if death were a preacher, “every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and someday every one of you will be his sermon.” That’s a creative way to say what Charles Dickens said bluntly a couple of centuries ago, “We are all fellow pilgrims to the grave.” It’s a cold fact of life, and no one likes to dwell on it. Thankfully, the followers of Christ have something glorious to look forward to despite the unavoidability of death. The reason for that hope is the theme of this series.

Covenant partners become functionally one—as symbolized in their exchange of weapons, outer garments, token possessions, names, blood, and places between the slaughtered animal sacrifice. What’s true of one covenant partner is true of the other. Jesus died, but he rose again. Therefore, those who are in covenant with him will die and rise again, too. When Jesus was raised, he got a new and glorified body. Therefore, those who are in covenant with him will get a new and glorified body, too. Indeed, the Body of Christ will get new bodies from Christ. It’s the final exchange of the New Covenant, and it will lead to everlasting joy, not to mention the final humiliation of death.

As such, Paul can taunt the Grim Reaper by saying, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55). He can also celebrate with fellow believers, “Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:55).

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The Blood Covenant, Part 6: Rescued and Released (Luke 1:67-75)

Fear is a universal sensation. Everyone experiences it at some point in their lives. Thankfully, it’s not all bad. Good fear protects us from danger and keeps us from hurting ourselves. It prevents a child from getting into a stranger’s car. It causes adults to slow down on slippery roads. It even keeps spouses from forgetting their wedding anniversary! But there’s also a bad kind of fear that we have to face in life. Bad fear paralyzes us from doing what we should be doing, and it provokes us into doing what we shouldn’t be doing. Because of sin, this kind of fear is deep within all of us. In fact, the first words out of Adam’s mouth in his fallen state were, “I…was…afraid” (Gen 3:10). From that point on, many people have gone through life like the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. Fear dominates their every move.

When the New Covenant dawns in Zechariah’s day, the priest praises God because the Lord had remembered “his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham: to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear” (Luke 1:67-75). Christmas happens, says Zechariah, because God made a promise a long time ago, and now he’s bringing it to pass. But it’s not just any promise; it’s a covenant promise—an oath he swore with uplifted hand to Father Abraham. One result of that covenant is that believers can now serve the Lord “without fear.” Quite significantly, all the major characters in the Advent story are given the same angelic word: “Do not be afraid.” In this sermon, we look at the various kinds of fear they experienced, and how the God of covenant love addresses each one:

  • Zechariah—the fear of disappointment:
    “It’s hard to hope again!” (Luke 1:5-25) 
  • Mary—the fear of inadequacy:
    “This is too big for me!” (Luke 1:26-38) 
  • Joseph—the fear of rejection:
    “What will people think?” (Matthew 1:18-25) 
  • Shepherds—the fear of the unknown:
    “This doesn’t make sense!” (Luke 2:1-20) 

The message for believers today is this: The more we trust God with our fears, the more we will participate in his plan to recapture the world. God says to his people, “You don’t have to be afraid anymore. I know you live in a scary world. I know you’ll have to face difficult situations, but you are not alone. I am with you. Because of covenant, we’re in this together. So, fear not!” That’s a good word for God’s people today, too. 

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The Blood Covenant, Part 5: After Darkness, Light (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The heartbreak of the Old Testament is that Israel kept breaking covenant with God. They violated its terms and dishonored their King. We’re not talking here about common struggles of the flesh, such as losing your temper, speaking an unkind word, or being guilty of greed, gluttony, etc. “We all stumble in many ways,” said James (James 3:2). No, these were persistent violations of the first two commandments (Exodus 20:3-6). The nation kept turning to foreign gods and bowing down to lifeless idols. It was a disloyalty to God that amounted to the worst kind of spiritual treason possible. They even engaged in child sacrifice, which deeply distressed the prophets (Jeremiah 32:35). The covenant eventually collapsed (Jeremiah 3:8), and judgment came in the form of a 70-year exile to Babylon.

But the prophets also preached a message of hope alongside the doom and gloom. Indeed, there were sparks of light piercing the gathering storm clouds. “With God,” they said, “there’s hope beyond the devastation—a future beyond judgment.” God would seek out a remnant who would be loyal to him (Isaiah 54:7), giving them a new and internal work of the Holy Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27). He would give them a new joy in worship (Isaiah 35:10). And he would eventually cut the “new covenant” for them, saying, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Why? Because God’s lovingkindness is far greater than the worst human rebellion. 

Still, the new covenant would cost Jesus his life. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood,” he said, “which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20). On the cross, Jesus endured the curse of broken covenant so that we could be redeemed (Galatians 3:13). His resurrection from the dead and pouring out of the Holy Spirit shows that the new covenant is now in effect.

Sermon Resources:

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Exchange! Braided hair from two girls illustrating the underlying concept of covenant.

The Blood Covenant, Part 4: The Battle Belongs to the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:1-30)

Sometimes the questions of life are so hard, we need divine guidance to answer them. Should I go to college or enter the work force right out of high school? Should I stay in my current job or look for another? Should I move to a new location? If so, where? Should I stay in this toxic relationship? Should I put my declining loved one in a care facility? Should I take my family member off of life support? Indeed, life can sometimes feel like one crisis decision after another, and our own wisdom is not always sufficient to make the call.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat faces a major crisis. He’s being attacked by a triple alliance of nations, and he’s not ready for it. In fact, he’s alarmed when he first gets the intelligence report. He doesn’t know what to do, but he knows he’s in covenant with Yahweh—the God of Israel. So, if he’s being attacked, God is being attacked, too. Consequently, the king calls on his covenant partner for help: “O Lord…we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:6, 12b). In response, God gives him strange instructions, reminding him that the battle belongs to the Lord. 

The same is true today. When you’re afraid and don’t know what to do, pray to the God who does. God knows all about the scary situations we face and and the difficult decisions in front of us, so he puts divine resources at our disposal. When we trust him fully, we may—like Jehoshaphat—find ourselves praising our way to victory.

Sermon Resources:

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