The Gift of New Life

Dr. Steve Viars December 24, 2020 Ephesians 2:1-10

- How many of you like to have a good meal on a typical holiday?...

- I realize tomorrow may be different because of all the effects of the pandemic…so I realize for some…so I realize tomorrow may be a combination of spam, potato chips, and stretchy pants…

- but for many of us, we would probably say that in a typical year, one of the best meals we enjoy in the entire year is on Christmas Day…

- please consider a couple of questions about that?...

1. Do you like food that is bland and tasteless?...or do you prefer flavors that are rich and varied and robust?...

- I think most of us would say the latter…you probably have some special dishes that you make around the holidays…and the reason they’re family favorites is because of how flavorful they are…

- one of the elderly women at Faith when we came 33 years ago was Marie McGinnis…

- our kids grew up calling her Grandma Ginnis…because that’s the only part of her name they could say…

- and Mr. McGinnis had a sweet potato casserole recipe that is now in the cookbooks of many people from this church…

- I’ve consumed enough of that over the years to say with authority – that dish has very little to do with the sweet potatoes…and a whole lot to do with everything else she put in there…including about 5 pounds of brown sugar…

- honestly, if I had to write out that recipe from memory right now – here’s what I would say – just keep adding brown sugar until you can’t taste the potatoes…

- you want it to be flavorful…

- you want Aunt Jane’s lemon meringue pie to pucker your lips for at least the next ten minutes…

- a couple of Christmases ago, we were finalizing our menu and thought – you know, a peanut butter pie would be good…[I view peanut butter as one of the 4 main food groups]…but no one had time to make it so I offered to just buy one at a bakery…

- I had no idea you were supposed to order things like that in advance…and I may have waited until the last minute…and I called around and no one had one…so I finally called a bakery and the tired person on the other end of the line said – we have one left, would you like us to put your name on it?...

- so I said yes and went and bought it…but it didn’t look the color of peanut butter…it was more of a greenish cream color…kind of like sewage to be honest…but I wasn’t buying it to look at…so I didn’t think much about it…

- On Christmas Day when we cut that pie…not only did it not taste like peanut butter…it didn’t taste like anything…

- so it’s not like it was supposed to be peanut butter and it ended up being key lime…it was supposed to be peanut butter and it ended up being nothing…

- all we could figure out is that the poor pie guy was so tired at that point of the holiday rush that he forgot to put anything flavorful in it…

- can we all agree with this this evening?...please don’t be that guy…please don’t be the “you forgot to put the peanut butter in the peanut butter pie guy…”

- here’s a question – is it possible for that image to describe the way some people think about the story of Christmas?...

- it lacks the rich variety of truths necessary to understand and appreciate the purpose and significance of the birth of Christ…

- it’s dull…tasteless…it’s as unappetizing and unmoving as the peanut butter pie that didn’t have any peanut butter…

- and of course we just threw the thing in the trash…[although in all honesty, I probably went ahead and first ate a piece anyway for the pure stewardship value of it all]…

- but I wonder if that’s what some people have done with the message of Christmas…because the way it’s considered lacks the edge…the punch…the spice…the contrasts…necessary to whet our appetites for the entire meal…

- that’s why tonight we’d like to conclude our Christmas series by thinking about how God Takes Our Death and Gives Us New Life

- this year we’ve been thinking about Celebrating God’s Gifts at Christmastime…especially as it relates to the various exchanges the Lord is willing to make…

- so we’ve talked about how…

- God Takes Our Plans and Gives Us His Purpose

- God Takes Our Grief and Gives Us His Joy

- God Takes our Weakness and Gives Us Power

- God Takes Our Distress and Gives Us His Peace

- we’re all very familiar with exchanges…especially around Christmas and that’s risen to new heights with on-line shopping…

- the Amazon guy delivers the package and it’s nothing like what you thought – so you exchange it…

- well, it’s amazing how many exchanges God offers including how God Takes Our Death and Gives Us His Life

- please listen as I read from Ephesians 2:1-10…

- Ephesians 2:1–10 - And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

- in the time we have remaining, please think with me about …

- I realize that the words I just read might be a bit unsettling, especially on Christmas Eve…do we really want to talk about being dead in our trespasses and sins after coming through a year where it seemed like there was death all around us?...

- and we certainly don’t want to be callous about that…

- 2 members of Faith Church died of COVID this year…a significant number of people have lost loved ones to this disease…our own Pastor Green has lost 4 family members…

- and of course our health care workers and first responders have risked their own lives and worked in an environment where death and dying are all around them even more-so than usual…

- and I hope we’ll pray for people who are suffering significant loss and uncertainty this Christmas and who knows what 2021 will bring…

- but friends, the pointedness [sharpness, acidic] nature of those physical trials can point us to crucial spiritual [theological] realities…

- we could say it this way – don’t waste COVID 19…we don’t need bland discussions of Christmas…we need flavorful ones…answers that are honest about all the issues with the robust variety that God’s Word provides…

- so here’s where Paul starts…

I. Remember Who Were

- Paul said – 2:1 – And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…

- friend, can you taste the burst of flavor in that statement?...

- and you might say – but I recoil at that notion, it’s a sensation that’s almost sickening…that might be good…

- whenever our sin becomes something that we minimize our laugh at…that’s a real problem…because its impact on our Holy God is anything but bland…

- Isaiah 59:2 - But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you…

- what did we learn about one of the primary symptoms of COVID-19 early on?...for many people, they lost their sense of taste…

- that’s why I started giving myself a COVID test every day…

- I opened the door of the freezer we have in our garage, and took a handful of frozen chocolate chips and crammed them in my mouth to see if I could taste them…

- much more convenient and less expensive that some of these COVID-19 tests…

- by the way, on occasion, a few times the first few tests were inconclusive…so do you know what I did?...in the name of scientific accuracy, I repeated the test…

- but we have some people in our church who have recovered from the disease but to this day their sense of taste has not fully recovered…

- do you realize it’s possible to be that way with our sin?...

- where we gossip and gossip and gossip…or disobey and disobey and disobey…

- or rebel and rebel and rebel…

- and over time our conscience is seared and the sense of conviction is gone?...

- and what does that do to our celebration of Christmas?...

- we become like the peanut butter pie guy…

- where the deliciousness of the Savior is not appreciated because we forgot the significance of the hunger…

- friend, as we conclude the year 2020…and can we all agree…we’ll be glad to throw that calendar away…remember the depth of sin we brought to the equation…

A. Spiritual death

- you remember the lie of the adversary in the Garden, right…

- where God had clearly explained what would happen if they disobeyed the one command they were given…

- don’t eat from that tree…

- and you understand – the issue wasn’t that God was hoarding his prized apples…

- the story wasn’t about an apple…it was about a what that act of direct disobedience would reveal about the nature of their hearts…

- and what did Satan say – you won’t surely die…

- think about the depth of that lie when you consider what we have just endured as a culture…

- Paul explained it this way… Romans 5:12 - Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned—

- you heard the description in the next verses I read from Ephesians 2…

B. Displeasing God in both our behavior and our hearts

  • · in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world
  • · according to the prince of the power of the air
  • · of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.
  • · Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh
  • · indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind
  • and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest.

- has the pandemic revealed any sinful tendencies in your heart and life this year?...or the election, or the protests and riots?...

- and you understand, just like the issue in the Garden of Eden wasn’t the apple…

- the issue this hasn’t been the masks, or the politicians, or the protests, or the vaccines, or the shutdowns…

- the issue if what our response to all of that revealed about the nature of our hearts…

- would it be fair to say that sin and death have been on full display in 2020?...

- I realize some might say – but do we really want to have that taste as part of our holiday celebration?…

- do you remember one of the primary meals that God taught His children in the OT to observe each and every year?...

- Passover…to commemorate the events that led to their release from Egypt after the ten plagues…

- what was the foundation of that meal, do you remember…

- it was bitter herbs….that was a kind of acrid-tasting lettuce that was indigenous to Egypt…

- that was Egyptian food…

- and yet even when they entered the promised land…God wanted them to remind themselves of the bitterness that went with their enslavement in Egypt…

- you can never fully appreciate your deliverance unless you remember the depth of the problem from which you had to be rescued…

- friend, this Christmas season – please don’t be the peanut butter pie guy…

- allow the events of 2020 to remind us of who we were – of the depth of the sin that we brought to the equation…

- now, thank the Lord that the meal doesn’t end there…because Paul goes on to explain…

II. Rejoice Because of How God Responded

- one of the greatest phrases in the passage before us is…

- 2:4 – But God

- our sin is an important part of the story…but it doesn’t have to have the final say…

- we quoted Romans 5:12 a moment ago…a few verses later Paul affirmed…

- Romans 5:20 - …where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,

- now we have something else on our plates…

- think back to the Passover meal…yes, it began with bitter herbs…but what came next?...

- unleavened bread…baked that way to remind them of the swiftness with which their deliverance came…

- but is there anyone here who doesn’t like the taste of freshly baked bread?...

- and imagine that mixture of sensations on your palate of the bitter herbs and the unleavened bread…

- the meal is starting to taste differently, isn’t it?

A. Rich in mercy

- 2:4 - But God, being rich in mercy…

- after the children of Israel left Egypt and began their trek to the promised land…

- a new system of government and worship was established…

- God gave them the 10 commandments along an entire system of law to govern their relationship with Him and one-another…

- it was the beginning of the notion of law and order…

- but on the heals of that was a system of sacrifice because the assumption was that in their weakness and rebellion, they would break God’s laws and sin would always demand a sacrifice…

- so God would forgive them if they would come to him in repentance and faith…but an unbelievable number of animals would have to die to make atonement for their sin…because the principle was – without the shedding of blood, there would be no remission of sin…

- do you see how even that statement illustrates what we’re talking about tonight?...

- if we want the sweetness of the remission of sin – we have to accept the bitter reality that our sin has to be acknowledged and a sacrifice had to be made…

- but what was at the very center of their tabernacle worship…

- the ark of the covenant…representing the special presence of God among His people…

- and what were they instructed to put on the lid, or the top of that piece of furniture?...

- Exodus 25:21 - You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you.

- God chose to relate to His people by being rich in mercy…which is why King David would later write…

- Psalm 86:15 - But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.

- do you remember what Mary said when she learned that she would have the privilege of giving birth to God’s promised Messiah? - Luke 1:46–50 - And Mary said: “My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior. For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave; For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed. For the Mighty One has done great things for me; And holy is His name. And His mercy is upon generation after generation Toward those who fear Him.

- are you thankful tonight that one of the dishes God brings to the holiday meal is a rich helping of His mercy?...

- isn’t is true that the more we understand our sin, the more amazed we are at His mercy?...

- and how often did you run to that this year?... Hebrews 4:16 - Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

- and then Paul reminded them that God came to them and us…

B. With great love

- 2:4 - …because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions

- one of my great concerns as a pastor is the number of men and women who might hear this message tonight, and what you’re really trusting for your eternal destiny is your own works…

- you’ve never really faced the depth of your sin in light of God’s holiness…and therefore you’re not particularly amazed by his love…

- maybe that’s one of the reasons God allowed all the events of 2020…to squeeze the pimple especially hard and allow all the puss of our sin to be exposed…

- so we would acknowledge – I need a God who is rich in mercy and willing to relate to me with great love…

- that prepares us for the centerpiece of the meal…for the Passover, there was the bitter herbs, and the unleavened bread…can you close your eyes and taste that incredibly flavorable contrast?...but what was that intended to prepare you to receive…the savory sweetness of the Passover Lamb…the centerpiece of the experience pointing directly to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ…

- what is the nature of the exchange?...we bring God our death because of our sin [if we’re willing to]…and He exchanges it for new life in Him…which brings us to a point od decision…Remember who you were, Rejoice because of How God Responded,

III. Receive the Gift He Offers

- here’s something that you can’t find on Amazon but is better than anything else they have to offer…it is the possibility of being…

A. Spiritually alive

- 2:5 - even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved),

- friend, in contrast to the sin and death that has been the principle story of the year 2020, stands a crucified Savior who offers you new life in Him…

- and when that occurs – the change that makes in a person’s outlook is simply amazing…

- I’m so thankful for the way our healthcare workers and first responders have served our community this year…

- in many cases…their courage and sacrifice has been supernatural…

- and I don’t mean in some comic book or superhero movie kind of way…many of those men and women would say…I was relying on the new life I have in Christ…

- which means that while I have a respect for life and health…I don’t fear death…

- and what motivated me to not desert my post…but instead to walk into that hospital or medical facility and do my job was that for me as a follower of Jesus Christ, the sting of death has been removed…

- Philippians 1:21 - For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

- 2 Corinthians 5:8 - we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

- understanding the depth of one’s sin increases our amazement of the possibility of having new life in Christ…

B. Risen with Him

- Ephesians 2:6–7 - and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

- that’s the power of the gospel working in and through us…

- I want to thank all of those from our church family who participated in Christmas for Everyone and the Living Nativity this year…

- we had every reason to cancel those ministries this year…in fact I’ve mentioned several times that I just assumed we would not have the Nativity this year…

- the other pastors and deacons helped me rethink that view, and I’m glad they did…

- but a beautiful moment for me was tear down night – when 100+ guys got together and tore things down, and I looked out and every one of them had a mask on simply because we asked them to…

- lots of different views of that subject…but we’re not going to sit around and argue about that when there’s the good news of new life available in Jesus to be proclaimed…that’s what resurrection power looks like…

C. By accepting the gift

- Ephesians 2:8–10 - For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.

- Jesus Christ is the centerpiece of the meal, and His sweetness is best received in the context of the bitter taste of our sin that made His coming to earth our only hope…

- in the quietness of this moment, I would ask you at the end of what has perhaps been one of the most unusual years of our entire lives…do you know that you know that you know that there has been a definite time in your life where you admitted your sin and placed your faith and trust in Christ as Savior and Lord…

- if so, this passage teaches that not only will we enjoy a meal, our lives can be an enjoyable meal for others…

- and that will be the take-away of 2020 for me…as I mentioned, our family is completing our 33rd year of ministry here…we moved here during Christmas week, 1987…

- I have always been very thankful for the privilege of serving this church family…but never more-so than the year 2020…

- I’ve mentioned a number of times that the reports coming out of an alarming number of churches is tension and division over politics, and different views of racial justice, and masks, and vaccines…

- and we have had a very small amount of that because as Paul teaches in 1 Cor 11:19 – there must always be factions among you, so that those who are approved will become evident…

- but by God’s grace, that has comprised less than 1% of my time over the last 10 months…

- what this pandemic has revealed among our church family is a deep abiding faith and love for God and one another that has actually solidified and grown the past 10 months…

- we were tried like never before – and the good works for which we were prepared beforehand were walked out amongst us…

- let me conclude with what will be one of my enduring memories as a pastor from 2020…

- back in April and May, when there was talk of churches being allowed to return to public worship…there was a lot of concern at that point about COVID living on surfaces for up to 48 hours, or 72 hours…

- that’s why we were running around sanitizing everything, using hand sanitizer, etc…the emphasis on some of that doesn’t seem to be as strong now – but that’s the way science works…you start with a hypothesis, you test it, you examine your results, and then adjust your hypothesis…

- so as we considered if we could return to any kind of public worship service, we decided, and ultimately I decided that we would emphasize the physical health and safety of those attending our public worship services on Sunday – and we would not have any events in our worship centers 48 hours before…

- that meant that we would not have any weddings this summer…which in a church this size had significant implications to a number of families…

- the biggest challenge we had no way to control or monitor outside guests…where they had been, what level of safety they had been following, etc…

- in many churches, that’s when people would start making threats…

- lighting you up on social media…

- stomp away from the church in anger and all the rest…

- here’s what I received…from one of the fathers of a bride who was scheduled to be married here…

- a thank-you note…saying, hey, I just want to thank you for the leadership you have been providing for our church family during this pandemic…

- I want you to know that I’m praying for you and I love you as my pastor…

- friend, can you taste the sweetness in that letter?…

- against the backdrop of all of the sin and death of the year 2020, can you taste the sweetness of Jesus our Lord and savior in that letter…

- thank God for exchange of our death for His life…

Authors

Dr. Steve Viars

Roles

Senior Pastor - Faith Church

Director - Faith Legacy Foundation

Bio

B.S.: Pre-Seminary & Bible, Baptist Bible College (Now Clarks Summit University)
M.Div.: Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min.: Biblical Counseling, Westminster Theological Seminary

Dr. Steve Viars has served at Faith Church in Lafayette, IN since 1987. Pastor Viars leads and equips Faith Church as Senior Pastor with a focus on preaching and teaching God’s Word and using his organizational skills in guiding the implementation of the Faith Church mission and vision. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith Church ministries. Dr. Viars serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation. Steve is the author, co-author, or contributor to six books and numerous booklets. He and his wife, Kris, were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and four grandchildren.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video