Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Glory of God - The Heavens Declare His Glory

Psalms 19:1-2  
 1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
   And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.   
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
   And night to night reveals knowledge.

Romans 1:20-23
20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

22 Professing to be wise, they became fools,

23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Jesus - our Forgiver

Luke 7:48 Then He said to her, "Your sins have been forgiven."

Has there ever been a man who could forgive sins but Jesus? In the history of mankind, besides Jesus, has there ever been a man who claimed the absoulte authority of the heaven and the earth and all that is in them, and say, "you need forgiveness because you have sinned against me and you've been sinning ever since you were born. Unless I forgive you, you will perish."

In the verse 39 of the same chapter, the pharisee who had invited Jesus said to himself, "If this man were a prophet He would know who and what sort of person this woman is who is touching Him, that she is a sinner." It is important to realise that the pharisee did not realise that he himself was also a sinner and he needed forgiveness from Jesus also. The pharisee regarded the woman as a sinner and an outcast and he regarded himself as a righteous man. This kind of thinking is prevalent. Most people do not regard themselves as sinners because they do not want to create any guilty feelings and unnecessarily make themselves with depressing thoughts. After all, they are not too bad because they haven't commited murder, theft or adultery. Many churchgoers, I believe, err too in this regard. Although they may call themselves as sinners in the church's boundary, they do not truely realise they are REALLY sinners and that they are TRUELY BAD. Most people have only a vague concept of sin and this is probably because they haven't taught on sin much at all. The doctrine of sin is not preached and the biblical records on sin only seem to them as stories that are far from reality.

Jesus says, "your sins are forgiven," Jesus speaks now and will speak until He comes again. Everyone is commanded to open their eyes and open their ears to see the reality that they are sinners and they need forgiveness desperately. Forgiveness is granted to everyone who repents. Yes, you need to repent and I need to repent. These are the first words that Jesus spoke, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2) Why does Jesus command us to "repent:"? Because he will forgive those who repent. He will forgive you, if you repent. Repentance is not a one time event that occurs at the conversion. True Christians repent till they die and go home to be with Jesus.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The gospel: Christ and Him crucified (2)

1 Corinthians 2:2
"For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified."

This is probably one of the most important conviction that Paul had in mind whenever he went out to preach the gospel. This verse was Paul's reality. He knew what the important matter was and that was the salvation of souls. Paul knew that if someone was to be saved. That person must have put faith in the Lord Jesus, and that faith could only come from hearing and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17).

And what did Paul's preaching constitute? It was a message of a great scandal. God became a man and he died a horrible death on the cross by His own people. The message is not friendly and it seems almost ridiculous for anyone to believe such a message. However we learn that Paul was not ashamed of Jesus' gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

To maximize his gospel presenting, he literally had to know nothing but the gospel and preach nothing but Christ crucified because if Paul starts to teach people about morality, philosophy, deep theology or wondrous mysteries of God, people may become moral, philosophical or wise yet they may still come short of the glory of God and never be saved.
It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation and it is the faith by grace that a person is justified in the sight of God. It takes as much effort for a Harvard scholar to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ as does an Aborigine living in the desert of Australia. 
The kind of people that God desires are not just a moral type nor a theologically wise type. He may ignore all these types of people who believe that they are right with God in their own eyes.  So then what kind of people does God look at? We have an answer in the prophecies of Isaiah 66:2.
"But to this one I will look,
 To him who is humble and 
 contrite of spirit, and who 
 trembles at My word."
God wants a humble person, not a proud person. God desires a person who is contrite of spirit, not haughty in spirit. God looks to a person who trembles at His word, and not a person who ignores His word.
These words also characterise our Lord Jesus. He was humble, obedient to His Father even to death for He knew that there was not a moment when Father was not looking at Him and Jesus was always beholding His Father. The prayer was His life. He often went away into a mountain or wilderness to pray in secret.
Coming back to the main verse of 1 Corinthians 2:2, Paul preached, first of all, Jesus. He preached who Jesus was. Paul presented the life of Jesus to people. He told people who this Son of God was and what He did while He was on the earth. The reason for that is that by knowing who Jesus was, people could believe that there was such a person. However, acknowledging His existence and accepting the facts about Jesus were not enough. That was not a saving faith.
Then the next half of the verse gives us the essence of the gospel, "Christ crucified." This is of utter importance to everyone who belongs to Christ or to anyone who desires to come to put faith in Jesus. A person must believe that Jesus was crucified and at the same time the person must believe that his former sins were now obliterated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus was raised from the dead and likewise the person becomes a new person the moment he truly put his faith in Christ's death and resurrection for the atonement ie the gospel.
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a NEW CREATURE; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17) 
It would be a hypocritical thing if after the person had put faith in Jesus and still commit sins and lived a rebellious, unrighteous life. That alone gives the evidence he is not a new creature and the Bible is true, he REALLY is not a new creature.
We know that salvation is the work of God. And we know that when God looks at a person and saves a person, that person, out of his heart, produces certain characteristics. We have looked at some of these traits; humility, contrition of spirit and fear of God. 
The implication of Paul's teaching is that we should always constantly remind ourselves of the good news that we have come to know Jesus and believed His work on the cross for our sins and that we are now new creatures. Our former sinful lives passed away; behold new things have come.
Lastly, I want us all to examine our lives to see if we have any unconfessed sin in our lives. I pray that God will help us to turn away from our former sins and live a life pleasing to the Lord. Let us not deceive ourselves, I pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The gospel: Christ and Him crucified (1)

1 Corinthians 2:1
"And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God."

He is now speaking to the Corinthian Christians that he did not come to them with superiority of speech or of wisdom.

When I read and re-read this verse, I thought that Paul was contradicting himself as he obviously taught high theology. His wording in Romans and Ephesians reveal that his knowledge of the law and the prophets is profound. His knowledge of the mysteries of God is also extensive, for example, he teaches us about the marriage relationship between the bridegroom, Jesus, and the bride, the church, in Ephesians 5. However as we will see soon, when he talks about superiority of speech and wisdom, he means something completely different.

It would be helpful to define the speech and wisdom that Paul is referring to. First of all, this speech and wisdom caused sectarianism. in the preceding chapter, Paul condemned the sectarianism among Corinthians. Many of them obviously lacked the true knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ because people divided themselves into different sects. Some said, "I am of Paul," while others said, "I am of Apollos," and another said "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ."

It is noteworthy that the exact same thing has been happening throughout the Christian history. The great schism had divided the church into Eastern Orthodox church and Roman Catholic church in the 11th century, Luther had initiated the reformation in the 16th century and many protestant denominations had arisen afterwards resulting in more than 38,000 Christian denominations. The fine points of the doctrinal differences result in schism after schism.

So what is the source of all these divisions? Paul answers, "Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?" The source of dissension is the wisdom of the world. And this wisdom of the world includes not only the world's wisdom such as philosophy and science but also theology and specifically Christian theology. Paul asked rhetorically, "Where is the scribe?" Of course the scribe is a person who transcribes the word of God and has an extensive knowledge of the word of God. But if this knowledge does not lead us to Christ and cause dissension, it may well be the wisdom that God has made foolish.

So now we come back to the main verse. We learn that Paul did not come to Corinthians to teach them truths(the gospel) in a sophisticated manner as Greek philosophers would do nor in a complex, burdensome manner as Jewish scribes would do. But he simply proclaimed to them the testimony of God that Christ died for many for forgiveness of sins and that He rose again on the third day vindicating the name of God who is just and justifier of those who put faith in Him.

Paul preached the gospel. He did not preach the gospel like Greek philosophers nor like Jewish scribes although he was both a philosopher and theologian. As in verse 2, Paul,"determined to know nothing among Corinthians except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified." And the gospel is "foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us (Paul and believing Corinthians) who are being saved it is the power of God."

And lastly it is written,
(Isaiah 29:14)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The gospel: Jesus owns us

1 Corinthians 6:20
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

How easy it is to think that we are living our own lives independent of any divine influence.

We have been bought! It is hard to think in terms of buying and selling with regard to human bodies. But certainly in times of Paul, people knew exactly what that meant! Slavery was quite prevalent in Paul's time and Paul is indeed speaking in that context.

Paul exhorts the Corinthians to understand that they have been bought by Jesus. Jesus bought Corinthians. And He paid the price with His own life by shedding His own blood on the cross.

What motivated Jesus to buy Corinthians and me? The motivation that comes from His infinite love for God's glory (His name) and for His people. God is love as John said in his first letter.

When I buy a laptop. It belongs to me the moment I pay the price. I can open it and use it whenever I want to. And if someone wants to use it, they need my permission before they can use them. Likewise God is sovereign over us and if the satan wants to harm me, he needs God's permission to do so. We read about this truth in the book of Job. I know that the laptop belongs to me and I'm always aware of that fact. Then the laptop can be used in no other way than that I will it to be used.

I use my laptop and the laptop responds in an exact fashion I use it. Of course, it can be infected with a virus and may even malfunction sometimes. But it is still mine and I will fix it until it becomes normal again. The laptop is not free from harmful websites and neither are we free from sinful temptations.

I love my laptop and I'm happy that I have a laptop to use to help me work and enjoy many things that a laptop offers. God is also happy to have us. He is at work in us both to will and to work for His good pleasure.

Now this is a simple illustration to help us see that Jesus owns us, our body, soul, mind and heart. Our Lord has paid the price and we cannot imagine how large a sum He had to pay but we can be sure that He's overjoyed to have us.

We work not for our own lusts but for Him. I am happy that I am used by God to advance His kingdom. It is a simple thing; I am used by God because I have faith in God. He's delighted to have me and the same for you all Christians.

I hope my illustration helps us to realise that we are in reality doulos(slaves) of our Kurios(Lord).

Although many translations of the Bible translate the Greek word, doulos as a servant or bond-servant, it actually means "a slave." And the Lord is the master of slaves. I'd be happy to be a slave if my lord is infinitely good and loving. And He is indeed infinitely gracious and merciful.

And the second half of the verse says "therefore glorify your God in your body." He didn't say, "glorify God in your spirit, mind, heart or soul." Paul knew that people would not fully appreciate the importance of glorifying God if they were told in abstract terms. Our bodies are not separate from our mind, heart, spirit and soul. Out of our hearts, we do something good and also do something sinful. With the same mouth we praise God and also curse our neighbours. We do what is already in our hearts. If someone steals, covetousness was in his heart. If someone commits adultery, sexually immoral thoughts and feelings were in that person. Likewise if we have love inside us or is part of us, we give alms, forgive a person who is indebted to us and speak kindly to people regardless of their race, nationality and background. It reminds us of Jesus' saying in Matthew 7,

 16 You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?

 17 So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 
 20 So then, you will know them by their fruits. 

How do we know if someone is a Christian? By their fruits!
If someone says he is a Christian and has love for God and yet he swears, mocks others, drinks a lot and is sexually immoral, then we can be sure that he is a bad tree by looking at his bad fruits. But he may say, "but I have love for God and I believe in Him!"
Ok what does Jesus say with regard to this question?

 18 A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.

If the fruits are bad, he is not a good tree. He is a BAD tree. He must repent and turn away from his sins and seek God's mercy on the face of Jesus Christ. 

What if he doesn't repent and continues to produce bad fruits? What happens to a bad tree?

 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Jesus answers that every bad tree will be thrown into hell.

It is important to realise that we glorify God in our body because we have love for God in our hearts ie. we love God. And not the other way around, ie. glorify God and that is loving God. The latter attitude would be what hypocrites do. Pharisees thought that they were honouring God because they kept His commandments in a most hypocritical and ridiculous ways.

Let us glorify God in our body. I watch myself constantly and think through what I am doing. I ask myself, "is this glorifying God?" If yes, I do it. If not, I don't do it. Does watching this R-rate movie glorifying God? No. Ok. I don't watch it. But before I even ask that question, I already know in my heart that certain movies badly influence my thought life. So I reject watching this movie or that programme. I should be also cautious that I don't become a hypocrite. I shouldn't say, "I'm not watching these movies but other Christians are watching so I'm more spiritual than them and God loves me more because I don't sin like other guys do."

But rather I should talk to these guys in a kind and loving way and let them see for themselves whether what they are doing and watching is glorifying God. And that is what Paul did to Corinthians in his letter of the first Corinthians.

And lastly,

seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." (Matthew 6:33)

I believe this will keep us on the right path. 

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