The Christ Community, Part 13: The Church as a Golden Lampstand (Revelation 1:9-3:22)

If you were looking for a new church home, what would you be looking for? What would be the criteria by which you make your selection? Size? Location? Style of Worship? Average age of the parishioners? How about facilities? Or the ministry programs? Or the preaching?

There are probably as many answers to that question as there are believers. Different people look for different things when it comes to finding a church. And trying to satisfy everyone is an absolute impossibility. But have you ever wondered, “What does Jesus look for in a church?” After all, it’s his church, right? What are the criteria by which he makes an evaluation?

Revelation 2-3 tell us. In these chapters we catch a glimpse of seven report cards for seven first-century churches in Asia Minor. The criteria Jesus uses to evaluate them may be different from our own. Now, Jesus is not looking for a new church home, but he is looking for a home in his church. What is it that makes him feel like he belongs in a group of believers? This message takes a summary look at that question in the context of John’s experience of the risen, glorified Christ. 

John meets an awe-inspiring Jesus, functioning like a great high priest, actively tending to his lamps—filling his people with the oil of his Holy Spirit and trimming their wicks with his corrective word. He does these things so they can shine upon the nations with the hope of the gospel. The image tells us that the church is a company of believers vitally joined to Christ, giving light to the world. That’s a creative, apocalyptic way of saying much the same as we saw in the image of the church as the ambassadors of Christ.

Are we connected to the center stem of this lampstand—Jesus—by faith? Are we burning brightly for him? Are we allowing ourselves to be “trimmed” (i.e., sanctified) by the Lord? He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

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The Christ Community, Part 12: The Church as the Ambassadors of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:9-6:2)

After winning the gold medal in the women’s tennis event at the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Serena Williams told a reporter, “I didn’t think it could be better than winning Wimbledon, but at Wimbledon, I was just playing for myself. The Olympic gold means more to me because I was playing for my country.” 

It’s an interesting observation. When you’re competing to bring honor only to yourself, the victory may be wide, but it’s not very deep. When you’re competing to bring honor to an entire country, however, the victory is both wide and deep. But why? It’s because—in a sense—you’re sharing the celebration with the people you represent. Your victory is their victory, too. The joy is wider, and the satisfaction is deeper.

Imagine the significance, then, of representing not just a nation but an entire kingdom. And not just any kingdom but the kingdom of God. In 1 Corinthians 5:20, Paul says: “We are…Christ’s ambassadors.” In other words, we’re sent by the risen King—Jesus Christ—and we are sent to operate on his behalf in a certain cultural setting. We’re royal citizens of heaven, but we’re also heaven’s ambassadors on earth in a certain time and a certain ZIP code. 

What are ambassadors? Ambassadors are government representatives commissioned to serve in a foreign country for the purpose of accurately communicating the position and policies of the government they represent so that the people to whom they speak will be brought into—and kept in a good relationship with—the government of the country they serve. When Paul writes, “We are Christ’s ambassadors,” he’s saying: The followers of Christ are the representatives of Christ in the worldThat is both an honor and a challenge. This sermon takes a brief look at both the marks and message of an ambassador.

When it comes to the marks, Paul indicates that ambassadors of Christ must display loyalty, authenticity, humility, and winsomeness. They must have confidence in the message God sends them with and truly value the people he has made. There’s a sense of urgency to the task, and they have to be willing to let God share his message through them.

When it comes to the message, ambassadors of Christ speak about God and his grace. They do this because the benefits of the gospel are astounding. Paul writes, “God made him [Jesus] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). Ambassadors also speak about God and his invitation. They do so because the consequences of rejecting the gospel are disastrous. Paul writes, “We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor 5:20). To whom are you being an ambassador for Christ?

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The Christ Community, Part 11: The Church as the Army of God (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Scattered throughout the New Testament are words, phrases, and illustrations that give the church a military flavor. In Philippians 2, for example, Paul speaks of “Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier.” In Philemon 2 he refers to “Archippus our fellow soldier.” In 2 Timothy 2 Paul exhorts his young apprentice to “endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” Moreover, Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:12, “Fight the good fight of the faith.” The Christian life is a battle.

But the military motif is found not only in Paul. It’s also found on the lips Jesus. In Matthew 11:12, Jesus offered this challenging statement: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.” Forcefully advancing is something an army does. It’s no wonder, then, that theologians have long spoke of “the church militant,” that is, the church on mission, as opposed to “the church triumphant,” the company of believers who left the battlefield of this earth and have gone to be with Jesus.

Now, we have to interpret these kinds of Scriptures carefully. The Christian mission does not involve taking up arms against a human enemy to advance the cause. That’s a gross distortion of the nature and purpose of the kingdom of God. When Jesus stood before Pilate, he said in John 18, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” Moreover, the previous night—when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane—Peter pulled out a sword and tried to attack the authorities, but Jesus said in Matthew 26:52, “Put your sword back in its place…for all who live by the sword will die by the sword.” 

So, when we look carefully at the military flavored passages of the New Testament, it’s quite clear the type of conflict Christians are engaged in is radically different from the normal concept of warfare as we understand it. In fact, in this particular fight, the enemies are invisible. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

Our is a different kind of war, says Paul. “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood.” So, the military image is designed to teach believers that: The church of Jesus Christ is a spiritual army that fights spiritual enemies with spiritual weapons. This message takes a look at some of those weapons. It also emphasizes that believers are not struggling for a victory, but from a victory—the victory Christ has already won.

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The Christ Community, Part 10: The Church as a City on a Hill (Matthew 5:13-16)

Many believers would agree with the statement, “This world is a mess!” Crime. Violence. Poverty. Injustice. Anger. Hostility. Greed. Loneliness. Depression. The list is long of what’s wrong with the human race. Yes—the world is a mess, but that mess is precisely why Jesus came! In a world filled with darkness, Jesus came to bring light. In a world filled with death, Jesus came to bring resurrection. In fact, on the very first Easter Sunday, the angelic message was, “Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead’” (Matthew 28:6).

These are the verbs of Easter—come and see; go and tell. Gather and scatter. It’s always been that way with Jesus. He gathers his disciples to teach them. And then he sends them out to love others, do good works, and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. He then gathers them back again to share their stories and do more teaching. It’s the rhythm of life for believers—even today. Indeed, the followers of Christ gather for motivation and scatter for mission.

Jesus said, “Freely you have received, now freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We gather to receive, and then we scatter to give. So, for the Church of Jesus Christ, there is constant ebb and flow between the attractional and the missional, the receiving and the giving, the coming together and the going out, the gathering and the scattering.

When we scatter, we do so to function as “the salt of the earth” (513a). Salt preserves. Salt seasons. Salt irritates. And salt cleanses. The challenge for salt is to remain pure. (5:13b). We also scatter to function as “the light of the world” (5:14a). Light illuminates. Light awakens. Light exposes. And light warms. The challenge for light is to not hide itself (5:14b-15). As Jesus said, “A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” There has to be a visibility to our faith, not just a philosophy. As one hymn puts it, “Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.”

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The Christ Community, Part 8: The Church as the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth (1 Timothy 3:14-16)

There once was a church that was totally centered on the gospel of Jesus Christ. Above the entrance to their meeting place hung a sign that read, “We Preach Christ Crucified” (cf. 1 Cor 1:23). Everyone in that church knew what their purpose was in this world. 

Over the years, ivy began to grow up and around the entrance, and it obscured the last word of the sign. Soon it simply read: “We Preach Christ.” The members of the church never really noticed the change because the sign accurately reflected what was going on inside. Rather than preaching the crucified Savior as they had in the past, they were now just preaching Jesus as a loving man—an example of how to live—but no death on the cross to atone for our sins.

As the years passed, the ivy continued crawling over the sign, which now read, “We Preach.” Again, the parishioners hardly noticed the change, as the message of the church had become more of a lecture about morality than a proclamation of the good news—that God gave his Son for us that we might have life in his death and resurrection.

Sometime later, the ivy crawled even further and covered more of the sign, to the point where it simply read, “We.” Again, church folks hardly noticed because they had become inwardly focused and only interested in themselves. Finally, the ivy covered the entire sign, and the church died. Such is the fate of any church that minimizes the central truths about Jesus Christ and fails to carry out its mission in this world. 

In 1 Timothy 3:15, the Apostle Paul called the church of the living God “the pillar and foundation of the truth.” In other words, the mission of the church is to preserve and promote the central truths of the living Christ. The problem, of course, is that a vast majority of people today no longer believe in the concept of truth. Specific objections to the Christian faith include the following:

  • “All religions are equally valid and basically teach the same truths.”
  • “Each religion sees part of the spiritual truth, but none sees the whole truth.”
  • “Religious belief is too culturally and historically conditioned to be universally true.”
  • “It is arrogant to insist that your religious truth is right and try to convert others to it.”
  • “We will never have peace on earth as long as religions make exclusive truth claims.”

This message tackles each one of these objections, seeking to demonstrate that “what I am saying is true and reasonable” (Acts 26:25). It then presents the simple message of the person and work of Jesus Christ, who reveals the Father, as Paul outlines in this passage:

  • Incarnation: “He appeared in a body . . . .”
  • Resurrection: “. . . was vindicated by the Spirit . . . .”
  • Verification: “. . . was seen by angels . . . .”
  • Proclamation: “. . . was preached among the nations . . . .”
  • Salvation: “. . . was believed on in the world . . . .”
  • Exaltation: “. . . was taken up in glory.”

The doctrines represented in the lines of this early hymn quoted by Paul are true. To surrender them is to let the ivy obscure the church’s message.

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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.