I had called 2017 the “year of the Bible,” focusing sermon and lesson series on the Bible, its overall message, and how each individual part related to the others and to the Gospel message. It was my hope that we would grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus so that we might all become mature (Ephesians 4:13). While many of us have grown in our knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures, I’m not giving up on that hope and theme – I will continue to focus on the Bible! – but a new year gives us an opportunity for a new theme. With that, I’m looking forward to 2018 being a year where we focus on Jesus; so my theme for 2018 is “Trust and Follow Jesus.”
When people first discover Jesus, they have to go through a process of growth in which they learn who Jesus is, usually by learning what Jesus said and did, which leads to learning about what Jesus came to do. Through that process, people begin to trust and follow Jesus, and that becomes a lifelong transformation. It’s through that transformation that we not only trust and follow Jesus in our own lives but we help others learn to do the same. That’s discipleship, evangelism, and church growth in a nutshell. That’s what we’re going to focus on through 2018.
I’ll begin the new year just like nearly every other preacher in the world, focusing on what’s new. The first short series of 2018 will be “Meet the New You.” Many people start a new year with a clean slate; they want to wipe away the old and start fresh. That’s where we begin with Christ.
Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” Unfortunately, many new Christians spend much of their time and energy trying to figure out what that “new creation” is supposed to be like. So they read books, magazines, and websites; they listen to preachers, teachers, and podcaasts, hoping to discover the “secret” to being a Christian.
The answer is actually pretty simple: trust and follow Jesus. Paul tells us in Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
The “new self” is Christ living in “me.” To trust and follow Jesus isn’t just the beginning; it’s the whole of our new life in Christ. So we will begin and continue through the new year meeting this “new self”: Christ who lives in us.
As we learn who we are in Christ, we will continue to grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus by following Jesus’ life through the gospel of Luke. We have spent a lot of time in the first couple of chapters of Luke, where he recorded the birth of Jesus, but Luke continues through the life and ministry of Jesus up to his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead. Luke wrote this account for the early church, as he notes in the introduction, “So that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:4).
We don’t have to be confused about who we are as Christians because we can be certain about who Jesus is from the Scriptures. As we grow in our faith and knowledge of Jesus, as we grow in our certainty of Jesus’ life and ministry and purpose, we can learn to trust and follow Jesus and help others to join us.
As I stated earlier, we’re going to maintain our focus on the Scriptures. So here’s my New Year’s challenge – and it’s the same as last year: (1) bring your Bible to church; (2) read your Bible at home; and (3) participate in at least one Bible study beyond the Sunday morning worship service. To help us keep our focus on Jesus and to keep us in the Word, I will provide a new Bible reading guide that will have us read the Gospels several times throughout 2018; it will be available at the Welcome Center. [Or you can click here to download it.]
Happy New Year! Let’s trust and follow Jesus together.