The Gospel Unchained, Part 4: Take Care (2 Timothy 1:13-18)

When Abraham Lincoln died in 1865 at the hand of an assassin’s bullet, nine newspaper clippings were found in one of his pockets. Every article concerned some notable accomplishment of the late President. One clipping highlights a speech by the British statesman John Bright, noting that Lincoln was one of the greatest men of all time. 

That’s not news for those who live a century and half later, but in 1865, the jury was still out. The nation was divided, and Lincoln had fierce critics on both sides of the war. Life was often difficult for “honest Abe,” and he needed encouragement. Whenever something nice was printed about him in the newspaper—which wasn’t very often—he would clip it, read it, re-read it, and he keep it for a while.

Most people, especially leaders, need encouragement. Life is tough, and it’s even tougher when you have to lead. That includes the Apostle Paul, sitting in Roman a dungeon 2,000 years ago. It is dark, damp, depressing, and lonely. Thankfully, a man called Onesiphorus visited Paul as often as he could. Each time he did, Paul was refreshed in body, mind, and spirit.

Maybe that’s why Paul wrote such powerful letters from prison. It’s very possible we have people like Onesiphorus to thank for that. Yes, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit when he wrote, but he was lifted by Onesiphorus before he wrote. 

Do you have an Onesiphorus in your life—someone who blesses, refreshes, and encourages you? Better yet, are you an Onesiphorus to somebone else? If so, you could very well be assisting the spread of the gospel, as discouragement is one the enemy’s greatest weapons against believers. Paul’s message to Timothy in this passage is the same message for us today: Take care of God’s word and God’s workers. Why? So more people will know him. And people will know him more.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 3: Stand Firm (2 Timothy 1:7-12)

The “Alexamenos Graffito” is the earliest surviving pictorial representation of a crucifixion. Created in the late 1st to mid 2nd century A.D., it portrays a Roman soldier worshiping the crucified Christ. But the image has a twist. As Jesus dies on the cross, he features the head of an ass instead of a human. The Greek caption, which is difficult to decipher, roughly reads, “Alexander worships his god.” 

The purpose of the political cartoon is to mock Christians for their nonsensical worship of a crucified deity. In this case, Alexander is portrayed as especially ridiculous because he—a Roman citizen—is worshiping a dying criminal. The idea is absurd to the Roman mind, and the message is clear enough: “Your messiah is an ass, and anyone who worships him is an ass, too.”

The blasphemous picture provides a look at the kind of pressure the early followers of Christ faced throughout the Roman Empire. It also gives us an indication of why Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

It can be discouraging when everyone around you belittles your Christian faith. It was no doubt dispiriting to Timothy in Ephesus, which is why Paul seeks to light a fire under his protégé. Paul’s message to Timothy in this passage contains the same message for us today: Never be ashamed of the Christ who took your shame. Jesus hung on the cross, naked and alone, bearing our sin and shame. Therefore, we can endure a measure of social pressure and hostility for him. The gospel is worth it.

Paul tells Timothy—and he tells us us—to stand firm as a follower of Christ because God has given us the power to do so. Specifically, God the Father started our salvation, God the Son secured our salvation, and God the Holy Spirit sustains our salvation. Therefore, we have a God-given capacity to face all things, including persecution for our Christian faith. That’s because Jesus was not only crucified; he is also risen from the dead. His followers will be, too.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 2: You Got It (2 Timothy 1:1-7)

Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” That raises the question, “Are we living the abundant Christian life Jesus intended? Specifically, “Are we living the abundant Christian life such that others can tell that we are vitally joined to Jesus, and we ourselves know that we’re fulfilling God’s call upon our lives?” How would we know? Can you say with all sincerity:

  • I am where God wants me to be.
  • I’m doing what God wants me to do.
  • I’m serving where God wants me to serve.
  • I’m advancing the kingdom of God.
  • I’m sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • I’m walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • I am fulfilling my Christian calling.

If not—why not? What’s holding you back? What’s preventing you from being all that God wants you to be? We know for sure it’s not God who’s holding you back. It’s not your circumstances or life situation, either, because God is sovereign over those. It’s not even Satan who’s holding you back because he’s on a divine leash. The opening section of 2 Timothy gives us insight into the question.

As we’ve seen, this letter is Paul’s farewell exhortation to his young apprentice, Timothy. Paul is going to be executed soon, and he knows it. So, in this correspondence, he begins to pass the baton of ministry to his dear son in the faith. To do that, he’s going to issue 25 commands or admonitions about priorities in ministry, spiritual landmines to avoid, and dangers to guard against. Twenty-five exhortations in a 4-chapter book!

But before he issues any commands, Paul is going to motivate Timothy by reminding him of what he already has. By extension, he’s going to remind us, too. His message to believers of all ages is this: God has given you everything you need to fulfill your Christian calling. The message is not unlike what Peter writes in 2 Peter 1:3, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

This message looks at seven treasures believers have now, all of which can be pondered or cultivated over the course of one’s Christian life. Like Timothy, maybe you need to draw on the resources you’ve already been given in grace. Or, like Paul, maybe there’s someone in your life you can encourage in the faith. You have what you need to do it.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 1: My Dear Son (2 Timothy 1:1-2)

Goodbyes are not easy, but sometimes they are necessary. What we say in those moments often captures what’s most important to us in life—and what we think will most benefit the other person. For example, what do we say when we drop our children off at college, and we won’t be able to see them for several more months? 

What do we say when we bid farewell to our children who depart for military service abroad, or move a long way away from home after they get married? Or what do we say to a loved one whose life is nearing its earthly end? At those times, everything seems to come into focus, and only important things are said—things of value, things of love, things of eternity, and things of God.

Second Timothy is Paul’s goodbye letter to his young apprentice, Timothy. Paul is going to be executed soon, and he knows it. What is on his mind at that moment? What claims his attention? What does he regard as most important for the sake of his dear son in the faith? The letter we call 2 Timothy tells us. And that’s why it has often been called, “Paul’s last will and testament to the church.” It’s his “swan song,” his final message, his parting words. Believers, then, do well to lean in and listen to what he has to say.

When the letter is written (ca. 67 A.D.), Paul is lonely, cold, and in prison—again. Timothy needs instruction, counsel, and encouragement—again. And Paul is preoccupied with the gospel of Jesus Christ—again. Broadly speaking, his charge to Timothy, and to the church at large, is centered around the gospel:

  • Guard the gospel (2 Tim 1:14).
  • Endure hardship for the gospel (2 Tim 2:3, 8-9).
  • Continue in the gospel (2 Tim 3:13-14).
  • Share the gospel (2 Tim 4:1-4).

What is this gospel that the author is so passionate about? It’s the gospel that had the power to convert a former terrorist (“Saul”) to Jesus Christ and become a worldwide evangelist and writer of a significant portion of the New Testament (“Paul”). Simply stated:

The gospel is the good news announcement that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and rose again from the dead, sharing his life with all who believe in him. He ascended into heaven, taking our humanity with him into the Trinity, and now stands vindicated by his Father, reigns triumphant over the powers of darkness, and works to make all things new in the great restoration of the cosmos.

Paul wants young Timothy—and the church universal—to know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is unchained and unstoppable. Indeed, around the world today, approximately 190,000 people will put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. That is, every two seconds someone comes to faith Christ. That’s over 60 Pentecosts every day! Quite significantly, 40,000 will be in the People’s Republic of China; 30,000 will be on the African continent; and 25,000 will be in India. Moreover, around the world today, 500 new churches will be planted, and 40,000+ Bibles will be distributed.

If you’re part of the church of Jesus Christ, you are part of something that cannot and will not fail. There may be setbacks and persecutions along the way—just like in the book of Acts—but the destination is guaranteed. As Woodrow Wilson once said, “I would rather fail in a cause that will ultimately succeed than succeed in a cause that will ultimately fail.” The gospel will not fail.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Good News, Bad News (Ecclesiastes 1:1-4; 12:13-14)

Ecclesiastes is one of the most puzzling and provocative books in the entire Bible. Like coffee, it can be an “acquired taste” for people. In a dour sort of way, it deals with a key issue of human existence—namely, the meaning of life and all the questions surrounding that issue:

  • “Who am I, and why am I here?”
  • “What can I do with my life that will make it worthwhile?”
  • “What’s the ‘big picture’ of this world, and how do I fit into it?”

The everyday weariness, frustrations, injustices, and sense of emptiness that people often experience during life “under the sun” don’t seem to square with the fleeting moments of happiness, joy, contentment, and fulfillment that are also part of the human story. 

Aggravating the problem is a certain death that looms over every person—a dread that stands in sharp contrast to the pulsating life that each living person has now. 

Ecclesiastes challenges us to think deeply about foundational questions. Life and all it contains appear to be meaningless vapors—here today and gone tomorrow. What, then, is the big picture of this world and its intersection with our transitory lives? 

And if there is no Big Story at all, what is the point of all our little stories? Ecclesiastes offers an answer that is rather surprising: Live now. Live forever. Amidst all the bad news of this world, there is good news in the end.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

A Supernatural Walk (Matthew 14:22-33)

The Apostle Peter did something that no other mortal has ever done. He walked on water at the invitation of Jesus. He also sank like a rock after a few steps because he was distracted by the wind and became afraid. At that point he needed a lifeguard and a towel. Mercifully, Jesus rescued Peter out of his predicament.

Such is often the case for Christ’s followers today. Jesus calls us to a supernatural walk with him, but so often our lives lack a supernatural component. Honestly, when is the last time something truly supernatural happened to you or through you—something that can be explained only in terms of God having done it?

A miracle? A divine healing? A real and specific answer to prayer? A deliverance from some sort of bondage? A victory over some sort of besetting sin? A restoration to wholeness and true contentment, whatever the circumstance? A divine love that God gives you for the unlovable? The ability to forgive someone who sinned against you? Could it be that we’re just too comfortable in our Christian boats, never stepping out of them in faith, where the chances of sinking are greatly multiplied?

For all that, this story is primarily about the identity of Christ. Jesus says to Peter, “It is I. Don’t be afraid” (Matt 14:17). Literally, Jesus says: “I am. Don’t be afraid.” That’s a reference to the divine name, “Yahweh,” that God revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exod 3). Moreover, Job 9:8 says that God alone “stretches out the heavens and treads on the waves of the sea.” So, here on the Sea of Galilee we have another declaration and another demonstration of the deity of Christ. He is God in human flesh.

We also have a revelation of Jesus’s gracious character: (1) Jesus responds to our cries for help (v. 31a); (2) Jesus rescues us in our time of need (v. 31b); and (3) Jesus reminds us to keep our faith in him (31c). That’s because without Jesus we’re sunk. Or, as Jesus himself said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

After Peter and Jesus climbed into the boat, the wind died down (v. 32). That’s not coincidental timing; it’s another indication that even nature bows to the lordship of Christ. If all nature bows to Jesus, shouldn’t we bow to him as well? That’s where the supernatural walk begins. And if we should stumble along the way, Jesus is right there to catch us (v. 31).

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

God’s Delight at Christmas (Luke 2:6-20)

Do you believe it’s possible for God to delight in you? That he loves you? That he takes joy in you? That he treasures you? Many people say, “Not me” in response to such questions. “God could never delight in me. You don’t know where I’ve been, and you don’t know what I’ve done.” 

Maybe not. But we do know where King David has been and what King David has done. For the most part, he was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), but he also committed adultery at one point during his reign. And then he arranged a murder to cover it up. He stumbled badly on several other occasions, too, leaving him with some awful red marks on an otherwise good report card. 

And yet King David could write, “God rescued me because he delighted in me.” (2 Sam 22:17b). God didn’t delight in David’s sin, but he did delight in David. He was part of the covenant. So, believers today can dare to believe that God delights in us, too. In his famous Christmas carol “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing,” Charles Wesley includes these heart-stirring lyrics:

Pleased as man with men to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

The truth is, God is more excited about Christmas than we are! He sent his Son into the world for the ultimate rescue. Why? Because he delights in us. In this message, we look at four delights of God at Christmas: 

God delights in SURPRISING us (Luke 2:6-9).
God delights in SAVING us. (Luke 2:10-12).
God delights in SATISFYING us (Luke 2:13-14).
God delights in STIRRING us (Luke 2:15-20).

He does these things through his Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. He’s the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. He’s the Name above every name. He’s the blessed Redeemer, the Emmanuel—the God-with-us. He’s the Rescue for sinners, the Ransom from heaven. He’s the King of kings and Lord of lords. And he’s the only one who can remove those awful red marks from our report card. Trust in him so that your Christmas can be truly merry.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Mirror in the Manger (Luke 2:25-35)

Life is filled with riddles and illusions. We’re often surrounded by mysteries and conundrums. We can’t always figure out what’s going on around us or why things happen the way they do. Sometimes our minds get confused and we need help to determine what we’re really seeing. Certainly, it’s the case that “we all see from where we stand.” We all have different backgrounds, experiences, families of origin issues, and traumas—and that can affect how we see the world.

Psychologists tell us that sometimes what we’re looking for determines what we see. It’s an interesting observation considering Jeremiah 29:13, where God says, “You will…find me when you seek me with all your heart.” If we honestly look for God, we’ll find him. That’s especially true in the Christmas story. God is all over the story of Christmas. He’s on every page of it. And if we look for him there, we’ll find him. Most of the people who were part of the original story certainly did, although a few did not.

In this holiday message, we ask the question, “What did the original characters see in Christmas?” What was their perspective? How did they see it? And what will we see as we join them around the manger this year? It’s an important question because what we see in Christmas reveals what God sees in us. That’s what Simeon was getting at in his prophecy, “This child is destined…to reveal the thoughts of many hearts” (Luke 2:35). In other words, there’s a mirror in the manger, not just a baby. And that mirror tells us something about what’s inside our own hearts.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

O Holy Night, Part 4: Chains Shall He Break (1 Corinthians 7:17-24; Ephesians 6:5-9)

It’s easy to overlook the fact that God entered the human race through a descendant of slaves. Every slave who has ever lived, then—whether in physical shackles or some other kind of bondage—has a friend in Jesus. He can identify with the struggle, which is a tremendous source of encouragement to the oppressed of this world.

Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His Name all oppression shall cease.

Cappeau’s reference in verse 3 of “O Holy Night” to the equality of all persons, whether slave or free, got the song banned by the church hierarchy in the early years of its popularity. Congregations all over Europe, however, sang it anyway. Such was the French revolutionary spirit. In a qualified sense, St. Paul may have agreed with that sentiment, having written to the Corinthians, “Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so” (1 Cor 7:21).

Once again, Sullivan Dwight’s theology—not Cappeau’s lyrics—drives the English translation. Dwight elevates an important biblical ethic (viz., loving others and standing against oppression), but he eliminates part of the gospel in the process. Lost in Dwight’s translation in v. 3 is:

  • The concept that Christ, the Redeemer, has already broken all shackles
  • The concept that Christ has already freed earth and opened heaven
  • The concept that Christ was born, suffered, and died for all humanity
  • The concept that gratitude is a proper response to this good news

Dwight really did a hack job on Cappeau’s lyrics. And yet what remains is true and beautiful. In this particular message, we focus on two admonitions to two groups of people: (1) to those under authority—remember the contentment of Christ; and (2) to those wielding authority—remember the kindness of Christ. Indeed, we can begin to conquer our own sense of oppression by adjusting our attitudes even before adjusting our circumstances.

In the end, we celebrate the fact that God entered the human race through a descendant of slaves to set us free. Consequently, no one who knows Jesus can ever live perpetually with a victim mentality. 

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

O Holy Night, Part 3: He Knows Our Need (Hebrews 2:9-18; 4:15-16)

Verse 2 of “O Holy Night” contains these two lines: “In all our trials born to be our Friend! / He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.” These concepts are biblically true and spiritually encouraging. Once again, however, the translator’s theology, not the original lyrics, are driving the carol’s rendering into English. 

Lost in translation is the sinful pride of humanity for which Christ came to die as an atoning sacrifice. But by eliminating the reference to human brokenness, the good news is not as good as it could be. For example, it’s certainly amazing that a holy God would befriend sinful people, but that’s amazing precisely because in our natural state, we were first his enemies (cf. Rom 5:8).

What the translator did is what so many people try to do today—keep the good news of the gospel while eliminating the bad news that it answers. But if there’s no bad news, what is it that makes the good news good? The lack of a contrast renders the word “good” almost meaningless in such a context. It’s like the medical community announcing a great cure for some disease nobody has. So what?

Christmas is the announcement that God has a great cure for the spiritual disease everyone suffers from—the disease called sin. It’s a condition that manifests itself preeminently in human pride, as the author originally wrote. And pride needs to be confronted by the preaching of the gospel. So, yes, God knows our need, and let’s not minimize that need. By properly understanding it, we better appreciate God’s solution for it, and the lengths to which he went to deliver it to us on that first Christmas.

“He knows our need—to our weakness is no stranger.” Our passages from Hebrews 2 and Hebrews 4 bear that out. God cares about our physical needs, our emotional needs, and our spiritual needs. Indeed, Christmas shows that God cares about our every need. He is attentive to our condition because he loves us. And his love for us is why he sent us his Son (John 3:16).

That’s why Jesus came. He would go on to suffer and die in our place on the cross. He made our hell his so that he could make his heaven ours. Our response of faith to such amazing grace is to “walk as Jesus walked” in this regard. God’s people cannot be indifferent toward other people’s physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. We serve humanity because the ultimate human served us. To our weakness that ultimate human—Jesus—is no stranger. So let us not be a stranger to him.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

O Holy Night, Part 2: And the Soul Felt Its Worth (Matthew 6:26, 10:29-31, 12:11-12)

Do you feel valuable? Significant? Important? Not in the sense of an over inflated ego or an attitude of superiority toward others—but in the sense that you matter, that your presence here on Earth is significant, that when you make a footprint in the sand it means something?

We meet people on a regular basis who are down on themselves, down on hope, and down on life. And, really, all of us have some regrets, disappointments, failures, and wrong turns that we’ve made in our day. Consequently, as life unfolds, we sometimes feel used, abused, abandoned, and confused. We feel cheapened. Sometimes we even feel worthless.

Life has a way of leaving its skid marks on our soul. It has a way of drawing its map on our face, and those lines cut deeply—not only into the skin, but into the heart. Sometimes it’s because other people have been cruel to us. Sometimes it’s because life has simply dealt us an unfair hand. Sometimes it’s because we ourselves have made poor choices.

We get involved in worthless pursuits, and over time we feel worthless ourselves. As it says in verse 1 of “O Holy Night,” “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” Sometimes it gets so bad for us personally, we don’t even feel valuable to God any more, the one who made us. We say things like…

  • “God could never love me.”
  • “God could never be pleased with me.”
  • “After what I’ve done, God could never consider me valuable.”

Such thoughts are understandable, but they’re also wrong. Three times in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus states that human beings are “valuable” (Matt 6:26, 10:29-31, 12:11-12). Moreover, the value of something is determined by what somebody is willing to pay for it. I first learned that lesson on eBay about 10 years ago. I was trying to get a few things from my childhood Christmas—silly decorations, like ShinyBrite Christmas ornaments, little red pixie dolls, Santa pins with noses that light up when you pull the string. I kept getting outbid, so I wound up going to my maximum bid right away. I refused to be outbid by anybody! 

Now, all of those objects were old, dirty, and defective, and probably meaningless to most people—but I was willing to pay top dollar for them. Why? Because I wanted them. They were valuable to me. If the value of something is determined by what somebody is willing to pay for it, then look at what God himself was willing to pay for us. When we begin to do that, we quickly realize that God could not have paid a higher price for us than he did.

God the Father bankrupted heaven for us on that first Christmas. That’s why Christmas happened in the first place. God wanted so much for us to become part of his family that he became part of ours. We can all be glad the song doesn’t end with, “Long lay the world in sin and error pining.” It goes on to say, “Till he appeared and the soul felt its worth.” Take a listen to this message, and dare to believe that your soul can feel its worth, too!

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

O Holy Night, Part 1: From Muddled Mess to Beauty (Isaiah 40:1-5, 61:1-3)

The hauntingly tender Christmas carol “O Holy Night” has a strange and fascinating history. Indeed, the version we have in our hymnbooks today was the result of a joint effort among individuals who would by no stretch be considered orthodox Christians. 

  • The lyrics were written by a lapsed Catholic.
  • The score was written by a non-practicing Jew.
  • The piece was first sung in public by a popular opera singer.
  • The English translation came from a transcendentalist who denied basic biblical doctrine.
  • The official church hierarchy originally opposed the song even though congregations loved it and demanded that it be sung.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how this alluring carol came to our ears today. Yet for all the twists and turns in its strange and bumpy journey—not to mention its wildly loose translation into English—the result is truly beautiful. In fact, it’s just not a Christmas Eve service if we don’t sing “O Holy Night.”

The carol itself, then, can be seen as a helpful illustration of life itself. We, too, experience many zigs and zags on the way to our divinely intended destination. But God can take the broken pieces of our lives and shape them into a beautiful mosaic.

We do much the same with stained glass windows. We gather sharp and broken pieces of colored glass and fit them together with design and intentionality to tell the Jesus story. The God of the universe does the same with his people. He tells the story of Jesus and his love through the order and design he brings to our chaotic lives. God’s gracious work in us is “a thrill of hope” for which “the weary world rejoices.”

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Turning the Tables, Part 8: Adjusting the Guest List (Luke 14:1-24)

After the near “food fight” we saw during the last meal Jesus attended at the home of a prominent religious leader, another Pharisee is brave enough to have Jesus over to his place on a separate occasion. Once again, Jesus serves up a spiritual meal in his teaching, and it’s piping hot for those who are listening.

In this encounter, we see that Jesus stands against religion-based unkindness, hostility, and neglect of the needy. Moreover, he frowns upon self-promotion, self-exaltation, and jockeying for position. Most prominently, Jesus detests using disadvantaged people for personal gain rather than loving them as they are.

By chance (or perhaps as a trap) a man with an illness enters the house. Typically an unwelcomed guest, this man is now welcomed by Jesus who heals him. Jesus then takes the opportunity—by way of a parable—to teach the inhospitable Pharisees about the generous hospitality of God’s Son for anyone who will accept his invitation. Through his actions and teachings, Jesus demonstrates gospel opportunities increase in proportion to our gracious hospitality. 

Quite significantly, on the timeline of Jesus’ life, we’re not too far from the cross. The crucifixion is starting to come into view, so this argument between Jesus and the religious leaders has been going on for several years now. And yet, Jesus is not finished dialoguing with them. We might have been, but not Jesus. Whatever frustration he has with these cold-hearted religionists, he seizes yet another opportunity to make the gospel known to them. He’s making it known to us, too.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Turning the Tables, Part 6: When Jesus Burns the Meal (Luke 11:37-54)

The problem with legalism is that it doesn’t feel like sin. It feels like holiness. It feels like true commitment and genuine devotion. It feels like something God should be pleased with. That’s why religious people are especially prone to it. Their perceived sense of spiritual goodness and moral superiority become an obstacle to receiving God’s grace (as well as giving it to others). Besides, they don’t really think they need it—at least not as much as other people do. In Jesus’s mind, however, legalism is just an ugly sin to be avoided.

Surprisingly, Jesus had more conflicts with the legalists of his day than any other group. They were constantly at odds throughout the Gospels. In the end, it wasn’t the “general issue sinners” who put Jesus on the cross; it was the legalists—those overly zealous, hyper-critical religious folks who looked down on everybody else. Later, the Apostle Paul had a similar experience. The legalists dogged his every step, distorted his message of grace, and then eventually beheaded him.

Up to this point in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has shared lavish grace and gentle correction with those at his table. This meal, however, shows us something different. Jesus unleashes his anger on the religious leaders of the first century, and it’s not pleasant. In fact, the encounter is downright confrontational. We might say Jesus “burned the meal” this time. But why? What made Christ so angry that he would issue six “woes” to the religious leaders he was breaking bread with? The passage tells us that Jesus gets “steamed” when:

  • we value external ceremonies over internal cleansing. (37-41)
  • our religious traditions become more important than God’s priorities. (42)
  • we’re driven more by the praise of others than by the praise of God. (43)
  • we lead others away from God and nobody seems to realize it. (44)
  • we raise people’s moral standards but offer no help to meet them. (45-46)
  • we claim to honor the very people whose message we violate. (47-51)
  • we obscure the beauty of God’s revelation with our own distortions of it. (52)

Sadly, the Pharisees didn’t see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior. They saw themselves as jolly good fellows who kept the law; therefore, God should accept them. To make matters worse, they imposed their “fence laws” (i.e., their own tedious additions and traditions to God’s simple laws) on everybody else—which just made life drudgery for everyone. They then looked down on people who didn’t keep the fence laws like they did, thus making them feel inferior to the religious elite. 

That’s why Jesus saves his most stinging rebukes for the hyper-religious. They, more than anybody else, misrepresent the gracious heart of God. Even today, Pharisees offer a religion of “DO!” while Jesus offers a relationship of “DONE!” That’s why he announced from his cross, “It is finished.” Jesus paid it all, and now he gives salvation full and free to all who know they need his grace. 

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Turning the Tables, Part 5: Hospitality at Mary and Martha’s House

We might have expected that with Jesus in their midst, Mary and Martha would have been able to contain their spat with each other, but they don’t. In fact, it’s the very presence of this special guest that gives rise to one sister’s annoyance with the other. Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” How will Jesus respond? Will he take up Martha’s cause against Mary? The answer may surprise us.

In preparation for Jesus’s visit, Martha has pushed herself beyond all reasonable limits, and now her mood is affecting the whole house. Her irritation has a good chance of spoiling the party. It’s not just the stove that’s hot; her attitude is boiling, too. Consequently, everything is not served with the hot sauce of exasperation. When v. 40 says that Martha “came to him,” the English translation hides the force of the original, which means something like, “Martha exploded out of the kitchen.” Not only did she salt the casserole, she salted the atmosphere, too, and now everything stings.

Why not tiptoe into the living room and whisper, “Mary, could you come and help me, please?” No, Martha has to make a scene. She has to grandstand. She has to inflict her mood on everyone else around her. She has to let everyone know how hurt she is. She has to try to get Jesus to use his authority to help her get what she wants. And in the process, she insults him with her question, “Don’t you care?” Worse yet, Martha dares to give Jesus—the Lord—a command!

As a result, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” It’s interesting that in Luke 10, we have one woman telling another woman to get back in the kitchen, and Jesus says no! Martha’s attitude is, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” Jesus’s attitude is, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” Good service with a bad spirit is bad service. Nobody wants it.

Jesus doesn’t fault Martha for her service but for overdoing it. Sometimes the burdens we place on ourselves don’t come from Jesus; they come from our own twisted motives. These motives may cause us to lash out at other people. Jesus’s response to Martha is a good reminder that busyness in the King’s business is no reason to neglect the King. Mary has chosen the better course—to take the posture of a disciple and listen to Jesus’s teachings. It’s a course we need to take, too.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.