God Has Landed: Rejoice & Respond! (Matthew 2:1-11)

God has landed! Right in a manger. Right on top of cow spit and barnyard bacteria. Jesus came a long way to save us. Two thousand years ago, the eternal Son of God stepped across the stars of the universe to become a zygote in the womb of the Virgin Mary. And then he was born as one of us. “Manhood and deity in perfect harmony—the Man who is God,” wrote Graham Kendrick.

Christmas, then, is the ultimate display of meekness and majesty in one person. “Glory to God in the highest,” was the angelic response. They easily could have said, “Glory to God in lowest,” too. God is with us now in the person of Jesus Christ. On earth. Magi from the east were among the first to welcome him. Following the natal star, they set out on a journey to find the newborn king. 

It was more than curiosity that drew this caravan of dignitaries and polymaths to Jesus. It was God himself. They saw him at work in the sky—speaking their language—and they wanted to go meet with him. Indeed, this passage shows us that God speaks in a variety of ways because he has something important to say. Matthew 2:1-11 reminds us that God makes himself known to us:

  • generally through creation. (1-2)
  • specifically through revelation. (3-6)
  • graciously through intervention. (7-10)
  • supremely through incarnation. (11a)

Are we listening? The Magi were listening, and that’s why they traveled hundreds of miles across the desert to go see the Christ. They were men of wisdom and learning. They were into math, medicine, astronomy, and human nature. Some of them were superstitious. We get our word “magic” from their title. Call them “wizards” if you like. It was basically the cast of Harry Potter who came to see Jesus. Mark it well: Gentiles (non-Jews) were among the first to welcome and worship the Christ, indicating that God means for Jesus to be the Savior for the whole world!

If the Magi teach us anything, it’s that it’s never enough for us to just be amazed at the wonders of God; we have to set out on the journey and follow him. Our calling is not just to stand in awe of creation but to get to know the Creator. That’s why God’s revelation of himself in Christ demands a response of faith in Christ. He is worthy of our treasure and our trust. Indeed, he wants everyone to come and worship his Son. He wants you to worship his Son. Even if you’re a wizard.

This interactive Christmas Day devotional is followed by a reading of The Tale of Three Trees, a wonderful story for children of all ages.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

Concerning This Salvation (1 Peter 1:10-12)

Even the apostles came across passages of Scripture once in a while that confounded them. Peter wrote of Paul’s writings, “His letters contain some things that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16). That’s a comfort to those of us who have ever been perplexed by something we’ve read in the Bible!

Peter also wrote, “The prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10-11). In other words, the Old Testament prophets also had difficulty understanding some aspects of Scripture—including their own prophecies! The good news is, they kept pursuing greater understanding despite their own confusion. They faithfully wrote down what God had led them to write, even when they couldn’t piece it all together.

To take a case in point, the prophets spoke of a glorious messiah to come. They also spoke of a suffering messiah to come. Consequently, they had trouble reconciling these two concepts, which seemed to stand in an irresolvable tension. “What kind of messiah will he be,” they wondered, “a glorious messiah or a suffering messiah? Or will he somehow be both?”

Looking at all the biblical evidence, some rabbis said there was not one messiah coming but two! They even gave them names. The first was called, “Messiah, son of David,” the one who would rule and reign in righteousness in the spirit of King David, the one who brought Israel to its zenith of power and glory in his day. The second was called, “Messiah, son of [Old Testament] Joseph,” the one who would be mistreated by his own people and suffer greatly at their hands, just like Joseph, the patriarch, who was betrayed by his brothers.

The two-messiah theory was a good theory. It sought to be comprehensive and make sense of the sum total of biblical data. It tried to leave no stone unturned and be faithful to what God had revealed in his Word. The only problem with the theory is that it was wrong! There were not two messiahs coming, but one messiah in two appearances. The first time he would come as “Messiah son of Joseph,” the suffering servant who would die for the sins of the world. The second time he would appear as “Messiah son of David,” the everlasting king whose throne would never end.

The lesson for us today is both practical and helpful: When Scripture is hard to understand, keep studying it as best you can, letting God unravel the mysteries in his own time. And, in the end, know that Jesus is the center of all of it. As the prophets learned, God’s unfolding plan requires patience and faith. Paul himself wrote, “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). We ought to be very careful, then, about how tightly we hold onto our pet theories—even when we can attach a bunch of Bible verses to them.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 10: Navigate the Last Days (2 Timothy 3:10-17)

Here’s a black and white photo that doesn’t look like much, but it tells an amazing story:

It’s an SAR—a Synthetic Aperture Radar— image of Hurricane Ike as it approached the coast of Texas in September 2008. Ike was the seventh costliest Atlantic storm in history, leaving about $38 billion worth of damage in its wake.

If we look at the picture carefully, we can see within the well-defined eye, near the right side toward the bottom, a tiny white dot. That dot is the 584-foot Cyprus bulk freighter Antalina, which got caught in the storm when its engines failed. 

There were 22 souls aboard the vessel when the storm hit. The wind was so severe, the Coast Guard had to call off its rescue attempt. The ship and the crew were forced to ride it out—inside the fury of the storm—hoping against hope that they wouldn’t be swamped or capsize. The satellite image shows the ship still safely afloat as the eye passes over them, giving them a brief respite until the southeastern wall pummeled them again.

Happily, the Antalina made it safely through the storm, and a tugboat pulled it safely to port after it was all over. All 22 crewmen survived, and the ship was undamaged. Quite significantly, the crew always knew where they were. Even though their engines had failed, they had a map and a compass to navigate the adventure. Better yet, the Coast Guard never lost sight of them. They were always on the radar, and officials always knew exactly where they were. It’s disorienting to be in a storm, but the tools of navigation have a way of keeping crew members tethered to reality—even when they’re getting pummeled by a hurricane. 

Can you imagine what kind of storms will visit us in the last days? Can you imagine how disorienting it will be when all hell breaks loose and unleashes its fury one last time prior to the return of Christ? We have hints and glimpses in Scripture of what those days will be like, but the intense depravity and deception will swirl around God’s people like never before. Jesus said it would be so bad, he put the question like this: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). In other words, the hurricane of depravity and deception will be severe. 

On another occasion, Jesus described these days like this: At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:10-13).

But how do we stand firm to the end? How can we be saved in the storm? Paul tells us in this passage to navigate the last days by the map of God’s word, the compass of God’s workers, and the North Star of Jesus Christ. It’s not a specific battle plan, but a general one, and believers do well to implement it now. We can do so by emulating God’s faithful workers (vv. 10-14) and examining God’s faultless word (vv. 15-17).

Indeed, the launching point for believers is always the inspired, God-breathed Scriptures because: (1) they are the sacred writings; (2) they are the source of saving truth; and (3) they are the spoken word of God. Thankfully, God has not left his people without a map and compass to navigate the storms of life. As Vance Havner once said, “A Bible that’s falling apart is usually owned by somebody who isn’t.” Best of all, God never loses sight of his people. They’re always on his radar.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

The Gospel Unchained, Part 7: Watch Out (2 Timothy 2:14-19)

Somebody once said, “The main thing in life is to keep the main thing the main thing.” That’s true in Christian theology, too. Jesus once spoke of “weightier matters of the law” (Matthew 23:23), meaning some things in the Torah are more important than others. Likewise, the Apostle Paul spoke of “disputable matters” (Roman 14:1), meaning some things in the Christian life require no ecclesiastical positions or pronouncements. The Early Church called such things adiaphora, meaning “matters of indifference.”

The fact is, certain aspects of the Christian faith are never worth disputing (2 Timothy 2:14, 16-18a), while certain aspects of the Christian faith are always worth defending (2 Timothy 2:18b). The bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (along with his followers at the end of the age) is in this latter category. That’s always doctrinal hill to die on—so much so that Paul devotes an entire chapter to it in 1 Corinthians 15. Without the resurrection, he says, there is no Christianity.

Paul tells us in this passage that when it comes to haggling over WORDS, cut it out (2 Timothy 2:14, 16-18). However, when it comes to handling THE WORD, cut it straight (2 Timothy 2:15, 19). He instructs young Timothy—and he instructs Bible teachers today—“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). 

The image is rich with practical insights for today’s teachers. Our calling is to be faithful to what God has revealed in his Word, a task that requires hard work, courage, and living primarily for the approval of the One who inspired his Word to be written down for our instruction. 

Moreover, we should want the apostles and prophets of old—were they sitting in the front row of our classrooms or sanctuaries—to hear our sermons and lessons, and nod in agreement after we teach, saying, “Yes, that’s what I meant. You were faithful to the message I wrote down about God and his ways many years ago, and you demonstrated its relevance for God’s people in your day.”

In short, Paul’s message for us is: Watch out for Bible teachers who make much of what is little and little of what is much. What we need to make much of in our day is Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, and his gospel of salvation for all who believe.

Sermon Resources:

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.

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.

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

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

Sermon Resources

Contact This New Life directly for the sermon audio file.