The Christ Community, Part 7: The Church as the Company of Saints (Ephesians 3:14-21)

The word “saint” (Eph 3:18) is a descriptive noun for the people of God in both the Old and New Testaments. The root of the word is “holy,” which means “set apart.” From the time of the Exodus, the Israelites came to be called “the holy ones” because they were set apart by God’s grace and for God’s glory. They were ordinary people like everyone else, but now they were set apart by God for a special work and witness in the world.

So, the word “saint” refers to all believers—not just a few good ones. Indeed, despite the many flaws and faults of the Corinthian believers, Paul called them “saints” (1 Cor 1:2). They were called to grow in the sacred status they had already received in Christ. The same was true for the believers in Ephesus. Paul prays that they would especially grow in love:

“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:14-19).

The prayer is loaded with theological insights and practical truths, some of which are highlighted in this message. The great doxology that follows the prayer is also glorious:

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” (Eph 3:20-21).

What can God do? Paul strings together here a series of “loaded” Greek words to say what cannot fully be said. First, he uses the word hyper, which means “above” or “beyond.” Then he uses the word panta, which means, “all,” “every,” or “any.” Then he uses the word hyper again, this time connecting it with a word that means “excessively” or “all the more.” How would you translate this stack of superlatives?

  • “infinitely more”?
  • “immeasurably more”?
  • “far more abundantly”?
  • “exceedingly abundantly above”?
  • “beyond all measure more”?

That’s the best our translators can do. However we translate the phrase, it’s a genuine comfort to know we worship a God whose greatness cannot be exaggerated. As Corrie Ten Boom once said, “A religion that is small enough for our understanding would not be big enough for our needs.” The good news is, God is able do anything we can think of. The better news is, he is able to do what we can’t even think of!

And it’s all “according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph 3:20). That power is the same power that raised Jesus from the dead. It’s the same power that raised him up into heaven. It’s the same power that made a new and living way for every saint—every believer—down through history. What trial could we possibly face that is greater than God’s love-power on our behalf? Billy Joel once sang, “I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, ’cause sinners are much more fun.” Paul would beg to differ. The saints of God are set apart to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Christ Community, Part 4: The Church as the Family of God (Hebrews 2:10-13)

My birth certificate has always been as mysterious as President Obama’s. There are, to be sure, a lot fewer people in the world who are interested in my birth certificate than there were in his. Still, mine is crazy. For starters, there were three originals, and they all had different birth dates (March 30, March 31, and April 1). Second, the named father is not my biological father but the man who would have been my stepfather. And, third, a new birth certificate had to be issued after the “Decree of Abandonment” was signed by a Montgomery County judge: 

“The court…finds that Henry Morucci [yes, that was my given name, but you’re not allowed to call me that!] was abandoned by his father…immediately following his birth and delivery of custody to the Children’s Aid Society of Montgomery County, he never having seen the child, and after having been contacted by the Children’s Aid Society of Montgomery County showed no further interest or desire to contact, see, or know the child in any manner whatsoever.”

That’s kind of cold to read, even after all these years. But the good news is that a completely different birth certificate was issued 13 months later when I was adopted by Carl and Cherie Valentino of Reading, Pennsylvania. Another signature by the judge—this time on a “Decree of Adoption”–changed everything:

“Hereafter the said Henry Morucci shall be in law the adopted child of the petitioners and shall have all the rights of a child and heir of the petitioners, and shall be subject to the duties of such child, and your petitioners further pray that the said child shall be known as Timothy Ray Valentino.”

If the decree of abandonment is a source of coldness, the decree of adoption is a source of comfort. In one single day, I got a new name, a new home, a new set of relatives, a new inheritance, and a new hope. In one single day, I got a whole new family!

So it is spiritually with the followers of Christ. The church in Scripture is referred to repeatedly as a “family.” That is, at one time we were spiritual orphans, but now in Christ we have been adopted as his children. And that changes everything. 

Adoptions are expensive, and Jesus paid for ours on the cross with his own blood. In the process, we gained many spiritual relatives and a new spiritual inheritance. That’s a tremendous blessing and a tremendous challenge at the same time. In the end, we are reminded in this message that the church of Jesus Christ is a family of believers. Be a good brother or sister in the family!

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

No Greater Joy: Father’s Day, June 20, 2021

What a glorious day it’s been. Mother’s Day usually gets more fanfare than Father’s Day, and rightly so. After all, as Jim Gaffigan says, “When you consider the male contribution to human life, it’s not very impressive.” God knew what he was doing when he gave women the travails of labor. We men never could have handled it. That’s why Mother’s Day gets top billing. Still, my kids made me feel like a million bucks this weekend. They even laughed at my dad jokes, which were especially bad this year.

First, my son came to our house Friday night for our usual movie and pizza night. He brought along gifts and treats that were deeply meaningful to me, and we started watching The Chosen together. Tissues may have been involved—not only because the production is fresh and alive with new angles and insights than most of the “screen Jesus” fare we’ve seen (hey, love the cinema, hate the sin), but also because Andrew is making a major life change this month. It’s a new journey for him, and it’s rooted in his desire to know Christ better and love him more. 

He also called me today to wish me a happy Father’s Day, and we talked about his new adventure. He said, “I’ve never had this much confidence in the face of this much uncertainty.” I’m moved by his faith and dedication, and I couldn’t be prouder of him than I am right now. He’s the first blood relative I ever met, and I often remind him that he’s “my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

Then, this morning, we had a beautiful worship service focusing on our “good, good Father.” It was a thrill to meet some new people today and hear their stories. After the service we gathered at my favorite Italian restaurant in the area with my daughter and her husband. They, too, shared wonderful cards and gifts that got me choked up. I even got a card from my future grandchild, along with a special gift from him or her. (The in utero child is the size of an avocado right now, which explains one of the gift tags below.)

Micah, who is celebrating his first Father’s Day this year (because being pro-life means he’s a father now), turned my Puddles the Popsicle post into a children’s book so that I could read it to the munchkin when he or she finally arrives. (The due date is December 2.) Opening that gift was a heart-stopping moment. And it made it easier to forgive them for getting me the card that came with it—the one with “Puffy” on the front.

Years ago I had a beautiful Pomeranian. Beautiful on the outside, that is. Inside, the little terror was demon possessed, and, alas, I don’t have the gift of exorcism. Our failed experiment in having a dog actually began with Bethany batting her eyelashes at me when she was little and saying in the cutest way possible, “Daddy, can we have a puppy? I’ll take care of it.” Uh huh. Right. And now she owns a cat. Smart lady. Bethany and Micah are serving the Lord, too, using the gifts and graces God has given them for his glory. 

I am beyond blessed to be a father to these three wonderful kids. And I can say with the Apostle John, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).

Our son-in-law, Micah. Part of what it means to be pro-life is that we celebrate fatherhood when the mother is expecting.
We all start out as rookies, but Micah is going to be a good father.
The grandchild on the way is now the size of an avocado. I got a gift from him (or her), too. I love the love on the gift tag! 🙂
One of my gifts from Sonya. It’s getting real.
That’s exactly what Puffy the Pomeranian looked like, minus the crown. It almost gave me heart failure when I saw it.
A card from my little avocado.
My grandchild’s handwriting looks a lot like my daughter’s. 🙂
Here’s the gift that took my breath away. Micah turned a story I wrote into a children’s book so I can read it to my grandchild.
Micah worked really hard on the artwork.

“May his favor be upon you / And a thousand generations / And your family and your children / And their children, and their children….”

The Christ Community, Part 3: The Church as the People of God (1 Peter 2:4-12)

One of the most tragic changes Christianity has experienced in the last 50 years is the minimizing of the centrality of the local church in the life of believers. The Lord’s Day used to be considered sacred. It was dedicated to the worship and service of God, but now it’s treated like any other day. And local church life, which was once considered indispensable to the Christian life, is now treated like an extra-curricular activity rather than an essential part of our spiritual formation. 

In his book, Set Apart: Calling a Worldly Church to a Godly Life, Kent Hughes presents six images describing today’s “de-churching” trends—trends that are held even by those who wish to retain some sort of connection to the historic Christian faith:

  • Hitchhiker Christianity
  • Cafeteria (or Consumer) Christianity
  • Spectator Christianity
  • Drive-through Christianity
  • Relationless Christianity
  • Churchless Christianity

It’s hard to square these images with the lofty vision of the church found in the New Testament. In 1 Peter 2:4-12, for example, the Apostle Peter sets his sights extremely high. He writes to 1st-century believers about their continued need for Jesus, their continued need for each other, and their continued need for a genuine spiritual commitment. He knows they won’t make it or be effective in this world without these three things. In this message, we learn that the people of God are living stones being built together by Jesus Christ to reverse a crumbling world. Masonry imagery is used to describe both Christ and the church he is building:

  • Jesus is the living stone. (4a)
  • Jesus is the rejected stone. (4b, 7a)
  • Jesus is the chosen stone. (4c, 6a)
  • Jesus is the precious stone. (4d, 6a)
  • Jesus is the cornerstone. (6a, 7a)
  • Jesus is the capstone. (7b)
  • Jesus is the stumbling stone. (8)
  • Jesus is the coming stone. (12)

To the masonry image, Peter adds the temple and priesthood metaphor in his description of the church:

  • We are living stones. (5a)
  • We are a spiritual house in progress. (5b)
  • We are worshippers with direct access to God. (5c)
  • We are a chosen people. (9a)
  • We are a royal priesthood. (9b)
  • We are a holy nation. (9c)
  • We are a people belonging to God. (9d)
  • We are a people of praise. (9e)
  • We are a people called out of darkness into light. (9f)
  • We are the recipients of divine mercy. (10)
  • We are aliens and strangers in the world. (12)

Peter cites numerous Old Testament passages to make his case. He calls the people of God to live good lives and subdue the war around us (v. 12). But for that to happen, the church must also live godly lives and subdue the war within us (v. 11). The challenge is great, which is why drive-through Christianity doesn’t cut it. 

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Lord’s Prayer for Us: Why and What Jesus Prays for His Followers (John 17:6-24)

If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow at 3 p.m., what would you do tonight at 9 p.m.? Who would you be with? How would you spend your time? What would be the final memory you give yourself before stepping into eternity? That’s the situation we find in John 13-17, the account of Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room. 

Jesus knows he’s going to die in about 18 hours. He doesn’t have the privilege of ignorance like we do when it comes to our own departure. Most people don’t usually know when they’re going to breathe their last, but Jesus knows exactly when he’s going to die. He also knows that he’ll be betrayed by one of his followers. He knows he’ll be unjustly tried and rejected by his own people. He knows he’ll be mocked, flocked, and crucified like a common criminal. 

In the face of such an ordeal, Jesus decides to spend his last night with his closest friends. He wants to be with them so he can prepare them for his absence. To that end, he will teach them, encourage them, love them, and pray for them. Yes, pray for them! What must it have been like to be the subject of Jesus’ prayer? Many people have heard of the Lord’s Prayer, but John 17 records the Lord’s Prayer for us—not the prayer we pray to him but the prayer he prays for us, his followers. The prayer unfolds in three segments:

  • In vv. 1-5 , Jesus prays for himself.
  • In vv. 6-19, Jesus prays for his first-century disciples.
  • In vv. 20-24, Jesus prays for his future disciples.

Speaking to the heavenly Father, Jesus says, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

If you are a follower of Christ, be encouraged by the fact that you were on the Lord’s heart and mind the night before he was executed. Moreover, Jesus has not stopped praying for you. Hebrews 7:25 teaches that Jesus “ever lives to make intercession” for his people. What that means for us today is that the Christ to whom we pray is also praying for us. Naturally, we can conclude that the prayers of Jesus work! They get through. They get the job done. James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective,” and they don’t come any more righteous than Jesus. He was the sinless Son of God!

While the text of Jesus’ prayer is virtually inexhaustible, this particular message focuses on WHY Jesus prays for his followers (17:6-11a) and WHAT Jesus prays for his followers (17:11b-24). It can be a tremendous source of encouragement for believers to know that Jesus is praying for us at this very moment.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Shadows of the Cross, Part 2: The Ram in the Thicket (Genesis 22:1-19)

In watching Jesus carry the wood of the cross to the place of execution, Christians naturally think of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22. God said to the patriarch, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” Abraham obeyed God, and Isaac quietly carried the wood up the mountain, preparing to be slaughtered by his own father. 

In many ways, the story is disturbing, repugnant, and infuriating. We want to know what it was that drove Abraham up the mountain to take the life of his beloved son. We want to know why Isaac was so passive and compliant in the whole affair. And we want to know why God intervened at the last possible moment, possibly traumatizing Isaac even further. The entire episode is a bit more comprehensible when we understand that covenants often involved the exchange of firstborn sons. But sending Isaac to live in God’s house would necessitate his death. That’s hard to take.

Yet it was precisely because Isaac’s life was on the line that something even more horrendous than child sacrifice was at issue—namely, the possibility that God could be a liar. After all, Isaac was the child of promise, so if he died, God’s trustworthiness would die with him. Isaac has to live—or be resurrected—if all nations of the earth are to be blessed through his line. Abraham knew this, as the New Testament tells us in Hebrews 11:17. Abraham was convinced that God cannot lie, so he raised the knife. Just then an angel of the Lord called out from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you revere God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up, and there in a thicket was a ram caught by its horns. He took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in the place of his son. Amazing.

Genesis 22 is a story about the costly sacrifice of a father, the willing submission of a son, and the gracious provision of the Lord. “He will provide,” said Abraham. “The Lord will see to it.” No wonder Jesus said to his contemporaries, “Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56). Jesus was now part of a similar story himself, and Abraham had gotten a preview of it. But what did Abraham see when he was standing on Mount Moriah? What did he hear? What did God show him? Did Abraham see the obedient Son of God bearing the wood of the cross to Golgotha—the Son for whom there would be no substitute this time? Perhaps if Abraham had been standing at the foot of the cross and had seen Jesus die right in front of him, he would have looked up to heaven and spoken God’s words back to him: “Lord! Lord! Now I know that you revere me, for you have not withheld from me your Son, your only Son, Jesus, whom you love.”

This message shows how the hardest thing God could ever ask of us is the very thing he did for us—he gave us his only Son.That Son was a descendant of Abraham through Isaac, and all families of the earth are blessed through him. God kept his word. Again. “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32). Even more amazing.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Shadows of the Cross, Part 1: The Carcass in the Garden (Genesis 3:21)

It all started in the garden of Eden. One man—made in the image of God—has the privilege of walking with God, talking with God, and enjoying God. His Hebrew name is Adam, which means “humanity.” He is the fountainhead of the human race, and he represents all of us. In this garden, Adam has a choice to make: Say “yes” to God, and all will be well, or say “no” to God, and all will be lost. As the story goes, Adam says “no” to God. In effect, he says to him, “Not thy will but mine be done.” As a result, his paradise is blitzed, the ground beneath him is cursed, and humanity is born again backwards into the darkness. Weeds of alienation start springing up everywhere. Humans are alienated from themselves, from each other, from creation, and from God himself. They’re naked and ashamed, hiding in fear.

But it’s a gracious God who seeks them out. Though he was the one dishonored, God pursues Adam and his wife to start repairing the mess they had made. He replaces the fig leaves they made to cover their nakedness, giving them instead garments of skin to wear (Gen 1:21), a more suitable covering than what they had crafted with their hands. But in order for Adam and Eve to wear garments of skin, God had to take the life of one of his own creatures to make it happen. Somewhere in Eden, then, there lies a dead animal carcass so that Adam and Eve can be spared the death sentence for their cosmic treason. As such, we are introduced on the earliest pages of the Bible to the theological concept of substitution—one dying so another can live.

If that weren’t enough, God gives them a word of hope, a prediction. He speaks of a man who will someday come to crush the head of the serpent, the creature that enticed the first couple to say “no” to God in the first place. In the process, the man will suffer a devastating wound. It’s the first hint in Scripture of the sacrificial death of Messiah to come, but God is determined to see human sin atoned permanently. And so, we wait. For thousands of years, we wait until we find ourselves in another garden. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane is “the Last Adam” and the fountainhead of a new human race. In this garden, Jesus also has a choice to make: Say “yes” to God, and humanity will be rescued, or say “no” to God, and humanity will stay ruined. Thankfully, where Adam said, “Not thy will but mine be done,” Jesus says to his Father, “Not my will but thine be done.” Gethsemane, then, is reversing the misfortunes of Eden, as the next day, Jesus goes to the tree of death to give us back the tree of life. He becomes the carcass in the garden.

But why was the cross of Christ necessary for our salvation? Why did Jesus have to die? Why is forgiveness not by divine decree? If God can say, “Let there be light,” and it was so, why could he not also say, “Let there be forgiveness,” and it was so? Historically, the former statement has been seen as entailing no violation of God’s nature or ways. The latter, however, has been seen as a violation of at least some of his attributes. On the one hand, God’s holiness and justice require the condemnation of sinners. One the other hand, God’s mercy and grace require the forgiveness of sinners. Which will it be? Is there not a “divine dilemma” here demanding resolution? Is there a way for God to separate sinners from their sin so he can judge the sin while sparing the sinner—thus keeping all of his attributes perfectly intact? 

In addition to connecting the dots from Eden to Gethsemane, this message explores how the cross is God’s crowbar that separates sinners from their sin, allowing them to be forgiven. Indeed, on the cross, God’s holiness and justice are satisfied (sin is condemned), and God’s mercy and grace are realized (sinners are forgiven). God did not sweep human sins under the rug, he swept them onto his Son—with the adult Son’s permission. On the cross, then, God’s attributes “collide” and find their mutual resolution in the death of Jesus Christ. And the restoration of Eden begins.

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Radiate, Part 6: Hospitality & Grace (Hebrews 13:1-14)

Genuine hospitality is one of the tools in our gospel neighboring toolbox. Unfortunately, when we hear the word “hospitality” today, we often think of Martha Stewart, the Cake Boss, or Better Homes & Garden. But those things are a distortion of what the New Testament means by hospitality. The command to show hospitality to strangers (Hebrews 13:2) literally means to show love to people who are different from us. Sadly in our culture, many people sit around mocking people who are different from them. But that is not to be the case with the followers of Christ. Quite the opposite.

Henri Nouwen once said, “There is a sacramental quality to true hospitality.” What is a sacrament? A sacrament is “common stuff” (e.g., the water of baptism, the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the oil of anointing, etc.)—common stuff that, when dedicated to Christ, becomes a vehicle of God’s grace and power to the receiver. So hospitality is common stuff. It’s not “entertaining with perfection.” It’s not a 7-course meal with five-star flourishes. We’re talking about simple soup and salad. Maybe peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or perhaps a cup of coffee while listening to someone else’s struggles and aspirations—providing hope and encouragement within an atmosphere of cordiality and respect. God works powerfully through conversations like that.

In other words, your gracious hospitality to others is a conduit of God’s grace and power to others. You want the grace of God to come to people who don’t know Christ? Then beat them over the head with the Bible, right? No! Practice authentic hospitality. You want the grace of God to come to people who are destroying the culture? Then get louder and more strident in the culture war, right? No! Try a little authentic hospitality. When we share a common table, we stop—at least for a time—contending against each other. We turn our attention toward rejuvenating our bodies. We lay aside our differences and join together in one of the most basic of human activities. And as we share some common food and drink, we discover the common humanity of the person across the table from us—a person likewise made in the image of God, not a political combatant or a theological sparring partner.

A sinner? Definitely.
A heretic? Possibly.
An unbeliever? Maybe.
An immoral person? Perhaps.

In other words, the kinds of people Jesus ate with! He was friend of tax collectors and sinners. That’s why they called him a drunkard and a glutton. But hospitality breeds friendship and understanding. And disagreements between friends are of an entirely different nature than disagreements between sworn enemies. In the end, hospitality seeks to turn strangers into guests, guests into friends, and friends into brothers and sisters. Hospitality welcomes people that the world excludes. So, let us practice hospitality!

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Radiate, Part 5: Turning the Tables (Luke 7:31-35)

Fill in the blank: “The Son of Man came _________.” How would you respond? Teaching and preaching? Healing and forgiving? Loving and restoring? Dying and rising? All good answers, but Luke 7:34 says, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking.” In fact, a major feature of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is usually going to a meal, at a meal, or coming from a meal. If you love to eat, Luke is your Gospel. But wait. Does that sound like a holy man to you? More feasting than fasting? More parties than protests? What kind of rabbi is this? The rap on Jesus was that he was “a drunkard and a glutton” (Luke 7:34). Now, Jesus was neither of those things—the Bible says he never sinned—but  he did give his enemies enough ammunition to make the charge stick. And they made it stick not because he was eating and drinking per se, but because of the kinds of people he had at his table—those who were low on the “religious food chain.”

Surprisingly, there’s no indication that such folks ever had to “repent” before they could come eat with Jesus. The fact that they came at all—and enjoyed his welcome—was apparently repentance enough for him. What’s going on here? It’s called grace. And grace is often a threat to the hyper-religious. Tim Chester has said, “In Luke’s Gospel Jesus got himself killed because of the way he ate.” That’s hardly an overstatement. Indeed, before Jesus ever picked up the cross, he picked up the fork. When he did, he turned the tables—and everything changed! Significantly, the one person Jesus pictured as being tormented in Hades was a man who kept others from dining at his table (cf. Luke 16:19-31). It’s a sobering thought. Moreover, Paul’s great exposition of the doctrine of justification by faith in the letter to the Galatians is sparked by a meal—by Peter’s refusal to eat with Gentiles. For Paul, broken table fellowship was a denial of the gospel itself. Why? Because meals are such a central and powerful expression of the reconciling work Jesus came to do. 

In this message, we take a look at the meaning of meals and the potential of meals. Here’s what we discover: Meals remind us that the God who feeds us is hospitable, generous, wise, and good. They demonstrate that we’re not self-sufficient beings but finite creatures dependent on the Creator. Meals also reveal to us the status of our own hearts—who are we willing or unwilling to have at our tables? This is the key issue. Are we trying to protect ourselves and our families from the kinds of people that Jesus wants us to reach? That is not true holiness. The holiest man from eternity ate with the unholiest people in history. Meals, then, enable us to be conduits of God’s common grace to others—to listen to, affirm, encourage, inspire, value, and support other people. They position us to be on mission—to ask questions, share insights, offer challenges, elevate vision, and offer the gospel.

Ultimately, meals remind us of the eschatological meal to come—the Marriage Supper of the Lamb at the restoration of all things. So mark it down: At the center of the Christian life is a meal—with Jesus himself as the main course. In light of these realities, ask yourself the question: Who is at my table and why? Who might God want me to invite to my table in order to share and celebrate grace? We read in 1 John 2:6, “Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.” In light of our theme, we might well say, “Whoever claims to live in him must eat as Jesus ate.” Are you up for the challenge?

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Radiate, Part 4: The Man at the Well (John 4:1-42)

We’ve seen in this series that messaging the gospel without neighboring the gospel undercuts the credibility of the gospel. In the famous story of the woman at the well (John 4:1-42), Jesus does both—messaging and neighboring—and the results are eternally significant, both for this woman and for much of her hometown. By looking at Jesus—the man at the well—believers can learn what messaging the gospel and neighboring the gospel look like in action. For starters, Jesus overcomes a racial barrier, a gender barrier, and a moral barrier. He then taps into some of the deepest needs buried inside this woman’s soul.

James Huneker once said, “Life is like an onion. You peel off layer after layer only to discover in the end that there is nothing in it . . . except your own tears.” The Samaritan woman probably would have agreed with that sentiment. As Jesus peels back the layers of her life here in John 4, he exposes a heart that desperately needs him—a heart that’s been a fountain of tears for many years. She’s a loner and an outcast, but Jesus spends a significant amount of time with her. For once in her life, she feels valued. Even Jesus’ disciples are amazed by the encounter, which primes this woman to hear the good news. 

But Jesus does not present the gospel as a stale template or a set of canned talking points. He does so with fluidity, spontaneity, creativity, and respect. It’s personal and relational. It’s pointed yet engaging. He finds a way to tap into her real questions and deepest concerns. He also finds a way to turn the conversation to spiritual things for her benefit without ever watering down the truth. Through it all, the woman discovers that Jesus is much more than a mere man, and what he offers is much more than a new religion. By watching Jesus in action, believers today can discover that gospel neighboring and gospel messaging is a solid path to gospel embracing. 

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

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.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

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.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

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.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

For All Those Who Stumble in the Darkness

Here’s another Advent gem that we sang this morning—Michael Card’s “Immanuel.” I never make it through this one, either, without breaking down at some point. It’s simple, tender, and true. Above all, it’s filled with hope for those of us who know we’re broken deep down and stand in need of a Savior.

Below is a rendition by a collection of school choirs from Cheshire and the Wirral (a peninsula in North West England) joining their voices in Chester Cathedral to celebrate the Incarnation and the Epiphany. A wonderful song is made even more special by the young voices who sing it. The opening line is from Isaiah 7:14, the famous prophecy about a virginal conception and the surprising name given to the resulting child.

im = the Hebrew word for “with”
anu = the Hebrew word for “us”
El = a shortened form of the Hebrew word Elohim, “God”

Jesus is the “with-us God.” And if God is with us, who can stand against us? Be blessed by this choral arrangement of Michael Card’s modern classic—especially if you’ve stumbled in the darkness. We’re the reason he came.

IMMANUEL

A sign shall be given
A virgin will conceive 
A human baby bearing 
Undiminished deity 
The Glory of the nations
A Light for all to see 
And Hope for all who will embrace 
His warm reality

Chorus

Immanuel, our God is with us 
And if God is with us
Who could stand against us?
Our God is with us, Immanuel

For all those who live in the shadow of death 
A glorious Light has dawned 
For all those who stumble in the darkness
Behold your Light has come 

So, what will be your answer; 
O will you hear the call?
Of Him who did not spare His Son, 
But gave Him for us all 
On earth there is no power, 
There is no depth or height 
That could ever separate us from 
The love of God in Christ 

Time to go set up some more Christmas trees. They’re beautiful reminders that “a glorious Light has dawned.”

The John 3:16 of the Old Testament

We’ve been talking this week at This New Life about God’s abundance. The Lord has revealed himself to be generous and openhanded, not stingy and tightfisted. His provisions are bounteous and plentiful, not paltry and miserly. He overflows with love and compassion for his people, not reticence and standoffishness. In short, God is for us not against us. 

Unfortunately, many people believe that God couldn’t possibly love them like that. He can love other people, perhaps, but not them. Maybe it’s because of their wretched past. Maybe it’s because of some traumatic family-of-origin issue. Maybe it’s because of a deep existential crisis at some point in their lives. Maybe it’s their struggle to be on the receiving end of things rather than on the giving end all the time.

Where do we even begin to help them overcome their reluctance to accepting their acceptance in the grace of God? We commit to being as patient with them as God has been with us. We keep loving and serving them as best we can. And we keep telling the Story that has transformed our own lives—as winsomely as possible.

One story within the larger Story that has always fascinated me is the outlandish request Moses made of God nearly 3,500 years ago. In Exodus 33:18, Moses said to the Lord, “Now show me your glory.” It’s difficult to imagine a greater request that one could make of God. It’s even more difficult to comprehend how God could ever answer such a request. 

In the context of Exodus 33, God’s humble sanctuary was not enough to satisfy Moses’s spiritual longings, but his divine glory would have been far too much for him to endure (cf. Exod 33:20). As a result, God responds to Moses’ request in a mediatorial way, showing him an unparalleled revelation of himself while hiding him in the cleft of the rock: 

“And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin’” (Exod 34:6-7a; emphasis mine). In many ways, the rest of Scripture is a commentary on that one verse, as the statement is repeated in various forms at least twelve more times throughout the Old Testament (cf. Num 14:18; 2 Chron 30:9; Neh 9:17; Ps 86:15, 103:8, 111:4, 112:4, 116:5, 145:8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; and Nah 1:3). Allusions to it are also scattered throughout the Hebrew Bible. It’s no stretch, then, to consider this passage the John 3:16 of the Old Testament.[1]

To be sure, the mediatorial nature of God’s self-revelation implies a certain moral inability on Moses’ part to survive a full-throated theophany, but it is important to remember that the story of Scripture speaks of Original Blessing (Gen 1:22, 28) before it speaks of Original Sin (Gen 3:6-7). It is truly glorious, then, to be a human being, even a fallen one.

Indeed, Scripture indicates that all persons are made in the “image” and “likeness” of God (Gen 1:26). Consequently, they possess an intrinsic value, unique significance, and lofty status in creation. Nona Harrison notes that the word “dominion” in Genesis 1:26 “involves (1) dignity and splendor, and (2) a legitimate sovereignty rooted in one’s very being.”[2] This “being” is truly sacred. That’s why Walter Kaiser, reflecting on the sixth commandment, notes that to kill a human being with malice aforethought is “tantamount to killing God in effigy.”[3]

Kaiser’s memorable phrase captures the dignity and splendor of what it means to be human. In fact, five times in the Gospels (Matt 6:26, 10:31, 12;12; Luke 12:7, 24), Jesus declares human beings to be “valuable” (diapherō). In Ephesians 2:10, the Apostle Paul calls human beings “God’s workmanship” (poiēma). Members of the human race are God’s “poetry,” says Paul—a significant affirmation in light of his observation earlier in the chapter that human beings are “dead in sin” (Eph 2:1). 

A thousand years earlier, King David asked God with great wonder, “What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than God (ʾělōhîm), and crowned them with glory (kāḇôḏ) and honor (hāḏār)” (Ps 8:4-5). God in his wisdom has conferred upon the human race a certain majesty, dignity, and splendor. Finally, David saw himself as “knit together” by God himself in his mother’s womb, and “fearfully [yārēʾ] and wonderfully [pālāh] made” (Ps 139:13-14). 

All told, it is “very good [ṭôb]” to be human (Gen 1:31). In fact, it is beautiful to be an image bearer of the beautiful God (cf. Ps 27:4). So, it is never helpful to start talking about Genesis 3 before talking about Genesis 1-2. Not only does the concept of Original Blessing precede the concept of Original Sin, there is copious grace flowing like a mighty river even in Genesis 3 where the fall of humanity takes place: 

  • the gentle pursuit of the fallen pair by the one dishonored and spurned; 
  • the provision of suitable garments for the covering of their nakedness; 
  • the proto-euangelion (pre-gospel) promise of the Seed of the Woman;
  • the fiery sword placed at the gate to prevent humanity’s irreversible damnation. 

At the epicenter of the great spiritual kaboom, then, is a spiritual bunker or “fallout shelter” provided by heaven. “Behold the kindness and severity of God” (Rom 11:22). And the kindness keeps trying to win (Jas 2:13). 

As such, be assured that God knows how to bring people to himself. He knows what it will take to open their eyes to his incomprehensible love. So, watch and wait. Pray and trust. Hope and rest—in “the compassionate and gracious God” who is “slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Amen.

Image Credits: getalongwithgod.com; onlyfreewallpaper.com; laparks.org; biblicalarchaeology.org; pexels.com.


[1] John 3:16 in the New Testament says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This verse is reportedly the most translated sentence in human language, ostensibly because it encapsulates the gospel (“good news”) of Jesus Christ and the only appropriate human response to it—faith.

[2] Nonna Verna Harrison, God’s Many-Splendored Image: Theological Anthropology for Christian Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 90.

[3] Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Toward Old Testament Ethics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1983), 91.