..........Myspace Codes An Extraordinary Life: November 2010

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Hebrews 5:7-10 & 12:1-13 ~ Instant Joy?

We are part of this current age's instant generation. From instant noodles to instant emails, we expect everything in life to be, well, instant. But we sometimes fail to see that life on earth is more complicated than that - just as how it is full of joy (perhaps from instant gratification), it is also full of sadness.

And no other sadness is greater that the great sorrow Jesus went through on the cross. It was a time of loud cries and tears (Hebrews 5:7) - his flesh was a picture of belonging to this sorrowful world. Jesus Christ had to be a real human being to understand what man undergoes, including sorrow and death. Luke 22 paints the image of this anguish and agony of Jesus drinking from the cup of God's wrath - He was abandoned by His own Father.

But Jesus was heard because of his reverence (Hebrews 5:7). Jesus prayed, "Not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42), demonstrating His reverent submission to the Father. His prayer was then heard and answered as He was obediently sent to the cross. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). This was no easy obedience but difficult obedience to learn what it was like to suffer - Jesus fully obeyed the Father when never had He had to face God's wrath or die for others' sins.

In this process, Jesus was being made perfect (Hebrews 5:9), not in the sense that He becomes more like God (for He already was God), but in the sense of becoming the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5:9). If Jesus did not come to earth as man and died on the cross, He cannot be perfect in saving us wretched sinners. And so, Jesus was made perfect for the task of saving us. This then is not an evil will of the Father but a loving will.

It is no wonder then that Jesus is being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10). "Mel" means "king" while "zedek" means "righteousness" so "Melchizedek" literally means "king of righteousness" and such is Jesus Himself who represents us to God. He is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus clearly understood "delayed joy" (as opposed to "instant joy"), which enabled Him to endure the present suffering of the cross.

We may not always understand the reason for our current suffering in this world but God assures us that he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness (Hebrews 12:10). For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:11).

The Christian life is a marathon of lifting drooping hands, strengthening weak knees, and making straight paths (Hebrews 12:12-13) but we are not alone: we have Christ as our pioneer and it is His example that we can then follow.

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Matthew 15 ~ The Greatest Banquet on Earth

Many of us would have attended some kind of banquet at least once in our lifetime. But how would the greatest banquet on earth look like? Matthew 8:11 illustrates a grand feast when many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. And when Jesus fed the five thousand and the four thousand respectively in Matthew 14 and 15, everyone ate until they were fully satisfied. It is a little foretaste of God's future banquet.

In Matthew 15, the Pharisees and scribes believed they were invited to this "banquet" but lo and behold, Jesus soon pointed out that they would be denied entry. What prompted them to come see Jesus in the first place (verse 1)? Why, nothing else but to accuse Jesus for not following the tradition of the elders (verse 2). What they failed to realize was that such tradition is nothing but man-made laws on top of God's laws. Jesus responded by calling them hypocrites (verse 7) for they broke God's commandment for the sake of their tradition (verse 3). Isaiah rightly prophesied that "this people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (verses 8-9). What makes one unclean then is not the non-washing of hands before eating but the very dark and sinful heart itself.

Being an "invited" guest who is denied entry is one thing but what about an uninvited guest? Verses 21-28 tell us the faith of a Canaanite woman. Here was a Gentile whom God's promises to the Jews did not apply to. When she requested for Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter, He calmly replied her in verse 26 that it is not right to take the children's (referring to God's children i.e. Jews) bread and throw it to the dogs (referring to Gentiles). In saying this, Jesus was not putting her down but asking her to wait her turn. It is not a question of "if you eat" but "when you eat" at this "great banquet".

Does this then make us Gentiles only second-class citizens? Most certainly not! To understand this, we need to analyze the geographical context of the passage. Verse 21 tells us that Jesus was in Tyre and Sidon, and then moved on to the Sea of Galilee in verse 29. A little background info is necessary here. On the west bank of this Sea of Galilee was a populated area where Jews resided while the east bank was a desolate area inhabited by the Gentiles. The disciples' remark on them being in such a desolate place (verse 33) implied that Jesus had chosen to enter the Gentiles' territory where He performed many miracles that saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing (verse 31). This shows us that there is no favouritism, that even the Gentiles are fully included - Jesus' miracles were not partial or second-class healing for the Gentiles were healed completely (verse 31). The earlier mentioned illustration of Jesus feeding the four thousand in this chapter also indicates that both Jews and Gentiles will be dining at the "banquet". We fully participate in God's banquet for it is for all people.

A word of caution here though: Don't miss out on God's banquet! There are two main reasons why people often miss out. First, we may make up our own invitation by playing religion, just like the Pharisees with their human traditions. We need to examine ourselves carefully and ask ourselves if we haven't been playing spiritual charades all along, thinking that playing this game pleases God when it doesn't. Secondly, we may miss out if we think we are not invited. The inner conflict of "surely God doesn't want rubbish like me to be at His banquet" can sometimes plague us when we think of a past that we are ashamed of, a life where we always failed at things, or perhaps getting caught up in a destructive habit (e.g. pornography) and not being able to get out of it. We need to recognize that deep down inside, we are all the same: our hearts are all black inside.

Everyone is invited to the greatest banquet on earth. Will you not emulate the Canaanite woman's faith and not miss out on your invitation by calling out, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David" (verse 22)?

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Romans 8:18-30 ~ Joy in Certainty

In this letter to the Romans, Paul explains the present condition of the world and creation itself. He tells us in verses 19-22 that creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God, being subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, while groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. In other words, creation is subjected to frustration. This is in line with the event in Genesis 3 where God cursed the ground, making it a harsh world and environment. That said, we have hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God (verses 20-21). There will come a day when the sons of God will be revealed. Though frustrated and decayed now, creation has a glorious future - the present time is merely "contraction time" ("childbirth" in verse 22).

As we have come to understand the present condition of the world and creation, it is vital for us to understand the present condition of Christians too. Just like creation, we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly (verse 23). Often more than not, we sometimes make the grave mistake of thinking that if only we have God's Spirit, we will be set free from suffering, but Paul points out that it is the complete opposite - it is precisely because of the Spirit within us that we groan in the first place. It is the Spirit that helps us to yearn for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (verse 23).

As such, Christians are people of hope with a glorious future. It is in this hope we were saved (verse 24) and so, we wait for it with patience (verse 25). For the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is the be revealed to us (verse 18). In the meanwhile, the Spirit helps us in our weakness (verse 26) - He intercedes for us, the saints, with groaning too deep for words and according to the will of God (verses 27-28). And what is this will of God? God's will is that everyone of us should be conformed to the image of his Son, being made into the likeness of our Lord Jesus Christ, as we await the glory He promised, having been predestined, called and justified (verses 28-30).

Dear brothers and sisters, will you then join me in enduring the sufferings of this present time, trusting Him at all times, as we patiently await the glory that is to be revealed to us?

Ps. Dear Kenneth, if you happen to read this blogpost, thanks again for preaching to us this sermon last Sunday... ^_^

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