Well if there was any question whether or not Christmas was over, the weather during the past couple of days should settle it.
Well, if there were any question that Christmas is done, the wonderful temperatures we have had for the past couple of days should put that question to rest.
But the truth is that if you were to visit the Spears home today, you wouldn’t know from looking around that Christmas wasn’t yesterday. All of the decorations — at least inside — are still up.
We have made a firm commitment to have them put away by Easter at the very latest.
But for those in the know, there’s one sure way to tell that the Christmas season is finished at our house, and that’s by checking what the ladies are watching on television.
For the entire month of December, the television was tuned to the Hallmark Channel.
Who knew that somebody could make so many different movies about a guy in a hat romancing a young architect who has returned to her small hometown to save a library threatened by evil developers?
At our house, there are pretty much two different seasons: Hallmark Christmas Movie Season and the off-season.
During the off-season, the family’s television tastes vary. Currently, we’re on a cooking-challenge binge, but we used to watch a lot of stuff on HGTV.
Anyone have any favorite HGTV shows?
There was a time when we watched a lot of those home-renovation shows on that network: Chip and Joanna Gaines, The Property Brothers and things like that.
The contractors would go into some beaten-up old home, tear everything out but the roof joists and leave the place looking like it should be featured in a magazine.
Now, in my time, I’ve helped build a house from the ground up, and I’ve helped renovate an old house — tearing out walls, staircases, carpeting and everything else and redoing the whole thing.
I can tell you that I hope never to have to do either of those things again.
But I remember thinking while Annette and I were renovating our old home in Portsmouth that it might have been easier to have started the whole process with a wrecking ball.
There’s a story about a man who bought an old warehouse in London. As he was looking at the property, which had been vacant for a long while and had been the target of many vandals during that period, the real estate agent talked about how they could replace the windows and doors and bring in a structural crew to fix any problems.
The buyer gave the agent a withering look and replied that it was his plan to tear down the old structure and start fresh.
“I want something completely new here,” he said. “I’m simply buying the property for the site that it’s located on.”
As we near the middle of the first month of the new year, some of you may be struggling now to keep the resolutions to improve yourselves that you made on Jan. 1.
He takes the site, with its broken down structure, removes
But our efforts at self-improvement apart from Jesus Christ are a lot like taking a broom to an old warehouse that is scheduled for a date with the wrecking ball.
God is not looking for a home-renovation project in your life. What God wants is the site and your permission for Him to build something entirely new there.
That’s what we’re going to be talking about as we dive into today’s passage in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 5 today.
As you’re turning there, though, I want to talk a bit about the type of construction that is God’s specialty.
You see, God makes NEW things; He doesn’t just fix up the old, broken things.
He built all of creation out of nothing in and 2, and then He built man out of dust and woman out of a rib.
Through the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah, He promised to give His people a NEW Spirit and to take away their hearts of stone and give them NEW hearts of flesh.
God’s only Son, Jesus Christ, gave us a NEW Commandment — to love one another even as He has loved us.
In the sacrificial death of His Son for the sins of mankind, God made a NEW Covenant with mankind — that those who follow the risen and ascended Jesus Christ in faith that His sacrifice is the necessary and sufficient payment for the price of their sins will be forgiven and have eternal life.
In the Book of Revelation, we see God’s promise to make NEW heavens and a NEW earth and to send down upon that earth a NEW Jerusalem.
And, as we will see in today’s passage, He promises that all those who are in Christ are NEW creatures.
Jesus Christ did not die to make use nicer sinners. Jesus died to make us saints. He died to make us something that we could never make of ourselves.
The cross is a wrecking ball to the old lives of those who place their faith in Jesus Christ. And the Holy Spirit is the Master Builder who makes them new creatures.
Let’s read this passage from 2 Corinthians, and then we’ll talk about Paul’s argument about this construction project and what it should mean to you and to all those with whom you come into contact.
Now, the context of this passage is Paul’s argument in verse 10 that every follower of Jesus will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged for all that he has done, whether good or bad.
This judgment is different than the Great White Throne judgment, from which those who have declined God’s offer of reconciliation through the cross will be cast into hell.
The judgment Paul writes about here is only for believers, but note that we ALL will have our acts judged.
I heard something interesting recently in a discussion about the Book of Revelation.
The Apostle John wrote about the Marriage of the Lamb, when the church will be joined to Jesus Christ in heaven, as a bride to her groom.
An angel said to John:
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”
It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
There is a very real sense in which the church will be clothed in garments it has fashioned for itself — fine linen, bright and clean.
The question before us — and the one that Paul says should cause us to know the fear of the Lord — is whether we will contribute to the whiteness of those garments with our good works in Christ or whether we will sully them with our sinful deeds of the flesh.
Back in verse 11 of today’s passage, he writes that because he knows he will be judged by Jesus Christ according to what he has done for Christ, he had dedicated himself to persuading men — to telling them the gospel of reconciliation between God and man.
But when we read Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, we must remember that this was a church with more than its share of problems, and one of the problems Paul was writing about in this letter was the problem of that congregation’s perception of the apostle.
They were likely still upset with him for the scathing lecture he had delivered in the letter we know as 1 Corinthians, and they were also a bit ashamed of him, because he wasn’t the apostle they wanted him to be, the one they felt they could go and brag to all their friends about.
So, here in verse 11, he sets them straight: “We are made manifest to God.” In other words, God knows his heart for the people of Corinth, and Paul hopes that the people of that church will begin to see his heart the way that God sees it.
If they do, he continues in verse 12, then they will “have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.”
Remember when God sent the prophet Samuel to Jesse’s house to find the king who would succeed Saul? Samuel looked over all of Jesse’s sons — strapping, kingly looking gents all — and yet God did not choose any of them until little David came along.
"God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (b)
When we judge by the flesh, we look at all kinds of worldly things. We judge physical appearances, personal wealth or success, advanced degrees, habits, and all sorts of things.
But when we judge by the Spirit, we see the way that God sees. When we judge by the Spirit, we try to see the hearts of others. Are their hearts turned to Christ or are they set on the world?
When we judge by the Spirit, we see past the spiritual platitudes and search for the spiritual fruits.
This was something the church in Corinth was apparently having a hard time doing. In fact, many of those in Corinth seemed to think that Paul may have even been a little crazy. Characteristically, he didn’t really care if that’s what they thought.
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.
Paul was a Jesus freak. So should we all be. We should be crazy about our Lord, and our dedication to Him should have as one of its aims the proclamation of His grace and mercy to a lost world.
In fact, Paul argues here that our understanding of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ should COMPEL us to tell others about Him.
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died;
and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
Christ’s love for us — and our love for Him — should leave us no alternative but to recognize that His gift of eternal life was offered for all.
He died for all, and all who have followed Him in faith have died to themselves. We who follow Jesus Christ have been called to give up our rights to our own lives and give Him control.
Most of you have heard me say that I was completely satisfied to be a newspaper editor. Some of you have even heard me say that my exit strategy from that career was to die at my desk one day — after deadline.
I made a decent living, and I was well-respected (if not always well-liked) around town. I was even able to have a sort of ministry within that position; we often used the pages of the Suffolk News-Herald to proclaim the gospel.
But God had other plans for me, and among those plans was His call for me to leave that career and spend six months as a volunteer missionary in Haiti.
Now, I don’t bring that up to magnify myself. Indeed, I magnify the Lord, who has met every need — financial and otherwise — since I heeded His call. He is the one who deserves all the glory, not me.
I bring this up, because I want to ask you what He has called you to do. What step of faith has God asked you to take that you have hesitated to take? What lost family member or friend has He called you to tell about the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ? What financial sacrifice has He called you to make so that someone might share the gospel in a lost world? What ministry of love to the least of these has He called you to get yourself involved in?
If you are a true follower of Christ, you should feel compelled to be doing something for Him, something that will proclaim your faith in Him. Jesus died for all, not just for you.
“Christ’s death must change the way we live here and now on earth, not simply insure our entrance into God’s eternal presence.” (Garland, David E. 2 Corinthians. Vol. 29. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999. 280)
Garland, David E. 2 Corinthians. Vol. 29. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.
When I was lost, I looked at the world with utter disdain. People can be jerks, right?
But now, I am called to see them the way that God sees them.
Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
When I was lost, I recognized people from a standpoint of the flesh, the same way that Paul had known Jesus according to the flesh before his conversion.
As one commentator puts it, “It takes no stretch of the imagination to assume that a zealous, law-observant Pharisee would have pegged Jesus as a charlatan and blasphemer whose crucifixion revealed him to be accursed by God.” (Garland, David E. 2 Corinthians. Vol. 29. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999. 285)
It takes no stretch of the imagination to assume that a zealous, law-observant Pharisee would have pegged Jesus as a charlatan and blasphemer whose crucifixion revealed him to be accursed by God
But when Jesus appeared to him when he was on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, everything changed, and not just about the way Paul saw Jesus.
Garland, David E. 2 Corinthians. Vol. 29. The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999.
When we encounter the cross, and the resurrection and are filled with the Holy Spirit in our conversion, we begin to see things differently, and we begin to see people differently. In fact, we begin to see God’s new creation unfolding before us.
That’s part of what we see in this next verse.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
This clause, “he is a new creature,” can also be translated as “there is a new creation,” and I think Paul has both ideas in mind here.
The idea is that we who have followed Jesus Christ are made completely new in Him — not remodeled or renovated. And as He makes us new, He is also making all things new.
The old things are gone. That means that if you have accepted Jesus as your savior, then you are no longer the person you once were. Praise God!
At the cross, everything changed. The world was subject to the penalty of sin. No more. You do not have to pay for your sins — you could never do that anyway, so you were condemned by them. Jesus paid the price. All you have to do is accept His payment on your behalf.
When you do that, then you become a new creature, part of God’s new creation operating under His new covenant.
The flip side of this, however, is that if you haven’t been made new, then you are still lost.
A former pastor of mine used to say, “If nothing has changed, then maybe nothing changed.”
If you claim the name of Jesus Christ, then your life should exhibit some difference from what it was. Your life should look different from how the world looks.
Surely that means you’ll strive not to do bad things, but it goes deeper than that.
If you follow Jesus Christ, then you will be doing the things that He did. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, you will be loving the way that He did — sacrificially. You will be seeking feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to seek justice for the widow and the orphan. You will be telling people about your savior.
These are the new things. These are the things that should be replacing the old self-involvement, the old self-centeredness, the old fear, the old bitterness and contempt and backbiting and conniving.
Are you doing new things? Or are you still doing old things? These are the kinds of questions we should be asking ourselves if we are working out our salvation in fear and trembling.
If you are doing the new things, then remember, as we see in verses 18 and 19, that the new things are from God, and that it was God Himself who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. We do not come to Him with reconciliation. He gave us this gift AND this ministry through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Now, if you have accepted this gift, you are a new creature with a new calling in this new creation that God is making.
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Ambassadors in modern times live in embassies, and those embassies are considered the sovereign property of the nation from which they come.
So if we are ambassadors for Christ, then the idea here is that we have staked out a part of His kingdom right here in the middle of the kingdom of the enemy, the ruler of this world.
This church is a kingdom location, but so is every place where you go, and everyone you meet is either another ambassador or a lost person who needs to become a citizen of God’s kingdom.
We should no longer see them according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Paul took his ambassadorship so seriously that he even recognized there were those within the Corinth church who had not yet been reconciled to God, and he begged them to pay attention to the logic behind his crazy love for Jesus Christ.
We who are ambassadors for Christ can do no less.
Whom do you need to tell? And what will you tell them?
Here’s a simple, straightforward way to put say what needs to be said:
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
That’s the message of the gospel in 24 words.
God made His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, to be sin itself as He hung on the cross, taking on all the sins of all mankind. And He did this so that we could take the righteousness — the complete and perfect holiness of Jesus — upon ourselves. By this, we are reconciled to God — we are given a relationship that we could never have had with Him otherwise.
God does NEW things, and this ministry of reconciliation is something that was new in all the history of the Bible.
If you have followed Jesus Christ in faith, then you are a new creature whose eyes have been opened to the new creation that is coming through Christ.
So will you continue to do the old things, or will you do the new things?
Will you follow Jesus by doing the things that He did and loving the way that He loved, or will you — as Paul puts it in verse one of the next chapter — “receive the grace of God in vain”?
Maybe as you’ve listened to this message you have come to recognize that nothing ever really changed for you. Maybe you’ve come to see that you can’t see the new creation because you aren’t really a new creature.
Maybe you have claimed the title of “Christian” for years and yet you still engage the world according to the flesh, rather than according to the Spirit.
If that’s the case, then let me tell you something: God is STILL making new creatures, and it’s not too late for Him to make you something different — not a nicer version of your broken self, but rather the person God always intended for you to be.
Today, you can choose to die to yourself and live for Jesus Christ, who loved you so much that He gave His life to save you from the penalty for your sins.
Today, you can become something new. Today, you can give God the permission to build something entirely new on the site of your life. You can give Him that permission right here at the altar today. Your new life awaits.