Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Up

Today marks the beginning of Lent, the forty days before Easter (excluding Sundays). As we approach Holy Week 2021, we ponder our spiritual brokenness and earthly mortality. We give ourselves to humble mourning and repentance for our contrbution to the death of Christ on the cross. As Paul Tripp notes, “We should be a rejoicing people. But this side of our final home, our rejoicing should be mixed with mourning as we witness, experience, and, sadly, give way to the power of evil.” We don’t have to look very far to see that we live, work, and relate in a world that has been twisted and bent by sin. Some of it our own.

God’s Cosmos
Is Beautiful and Broken

And God saw that it was good.
Genesis 1:25

BUT NOW

  • “…cursed is the ground” (Gen 3:17).
  • “…it will produce thorns and thistles for you” (Gen 3:18).
  • “…creation was subjected to frustration” (Rom 8:20).
  • “…its bondage to decay” (Rom 8:21).
  • “…groaning as in the pains of childbirth (Rom 8:22).

God’s Image Bearers
Are Beautiful and Broken

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
Genesis 1:31

BUT NOW

  • “…every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (Gen 8:21).
  • “… I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceived me” (Ps 51:5).
  • “…there is not a righteous man on earth who…never sins” (Eccl 7:20).
  • “…all have turned aside, they have together become corrupt” (Ps 14:3a).
  • “…there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps 14:3b).
  • “…all we, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isa 53:6)
  • “…all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
  • “…if we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves” (1 John 1:8).
  • “…if we claim we have not sinned, we make [God] out to be a liar” (1 John 1:10).
  • “…tears…death…mourning…crying…pain” (Rev 21:4).
  • “…for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Gen 3:19).

God’s Son
Is Beautiful and Broken—For Us

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son.
John 3:16

BUT NOW

  • “…Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5:6).
  • “…Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
  • “…Christ died for our sins” (1 Cor 15:3).
  • “…God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21).
  • “…who gave himself for our sins” (Gal 1:4).
  • “…who gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).
  • “…Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
  • “…who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6).
  • “…Christ suffered for you” (1 Pet 2:21).
  • “…Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Pet 3:18).

God’s Gift of Repentance
Turns Us from Broken to Beautiful

In repentance and rest is your salvation.
Isaiah 30:15

David’s famous prayer of repentance, which the church typically reads and practices on Ash Wednesday, demonstrates the beauty of the king’s brokenness before God. My analysis of his literary artistry is as follows: 

The addendum (vv. 18-19) was possibly added later to correct the potential misimpression that sacrifices were no longer important or necessary in Israel.

Ken Miller writes, “David’s plea in Psalm 51 comes from someone one who has honestly faced himself for who he really is and what he has really done. No excuses, no explanations, no blame placed on circumstances or on other people. He knows he has committed sin and wants only to be honest and acknowledge what God already knows. He cannot have peace, he cannot please God, he cannot be of meaningful service unless God washes him and restores him completely. Far from David’s mind is any idea that God is lucky to have him on his side, that God should take what he gets and be satisfied, grateful for the assistance he has received.”

Miller is right. David came clean with God and thus got cleaned by God.

We fall down in repentance only to be lifted up in grace.

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.
Psalm 3:3

God does this to

“…bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes.”
Isaiah 61:3

This is falling upward. And the best is yet to come.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3:1-2 

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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.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

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.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

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.

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Come, Let Us Return to the Lord

An insightful student calls idolatry “a worship disorder.” It’s an apt description, I think, locating the source of the disease where it belongs—inside a person’s divided heart. That’s always the root of the problem. Moreover, the other gods are no gods at all, so they cannot love or bless the people who serve them. Why follow them? (That’s a head issue.) Yahweh, on the other hand, loves his people and blesses them abundantly. His prescription for their healing is to return to him and let him bind up their self-inflicted wounds, even as they seek to know him anew. God is eager to restore his people when they surrender their revolt against him. Both his hurting and his healing are means of his grace. Indeed, the pain of the former intensifies the joy of the latter.

“Come, let us return to the Lord. 
He has torn us to pieces; 
now he will heal us. 
He has injured us; 
now he will bandage our wounds. 
In just a short time he will restore us, 
so that we may live in his presence. 
Oh, that we might know the Lord! 
Let us press on to know him. 
He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn 
or the coming of rains in early spring.”
Hosea 6:1-3

Thank you, Lord, for your healing grace, especially after a season of stumbles and straying from your ways. Grant me an undeviating spirit to walk with you again in humble and joyful submission for the remainder of my days. Amen.

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