Sunday, December 10, 2017

“You’re Invited!” (Matt 22:1-14) - The Return of the King II -

When a Parable Doesn’t Make Sense
What is your favorite story in the Bible? Jesus often used short stories, called “parables” to convey deep, spiritual messages, such as “the kingdom of God” and “the end of the age.” In fact, a third of Jesus’ teachings written in the gospels are the parables. By this, Jesus did proclaim things hidden since the creation of the world (Matt 13:35). But, today’s parable, the parable of the wedding feast, is kind of a weird one. Have you ever invited people to your party who did not attend? Everything was ready but some of the guests didn’t come. Did it make you so angry that you killed them and burned down their houses? Probably not, but that’s what happens in this parable. Here perhaps Jesus uses hyperbole to emphasize his point.

There are three different groups of people in this parable: the first-invited group, the second-invited group, and the guy who doesn’t wear the wedding garment. The first-invited group is Israel, the chosen ones. The king sends his servants to call them, but they would not come. So the king graciously sends other servants for the second time, but again they pay no attention. They are either indifferent, or so preoccupied with their own affairs. They would not come. So the king says, “The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy.” Then, he commands his servants to go out and invite anyone they find to the banquet. The same parable written in Luke is more specific. The king says, “Bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (14:21b). So it becomes an open invitation to everyone, both bad and good (10). You’re invited. I’m invited. The second-invited group is the undeserving outside of Israel, that is, you and me. The wedding hall is now filled with guests. But then, the king finds a man who isn’t wearing wedding garment. So he orders this man to be tied up and cast outside into darkness. This seems a little harsh. The parable doesn’t seem to make sense. But we need to see the event through first-century eyes. In Jesus’ day, wedding clothes were often provided by wealthy hosts.[1] So this man’s wedding garment had already been provided by the king. But for some reason this man refused to wear the wedding clothes offered. Why? Perhaps he thought his own clothes were good enough. Perhaps he thought he could make it in on his own terms, dressed in his old outfit.


Who does the man without wedding garment represent? John Bunyan, in his book Pilgrim’s Progress, answers to this question. One day main character Christian and his companion Hopeful meet with Ignorance, a very lively lad, on their way to the Celestial City. He is truly ignorant of the truth, but he is very conceited and certain that he knows everything. Ignorance follows them at a distance. Christian asks, “How stands it between God and your soul?” Ignorance answers, “I have good thoughts, a good heart, and a good life according to God’s commandment.” Christians says, “The Word of God says, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one’ (Rom 3:10). Your name is Ignorance because you are ignorant of Christ’s righteousness and the results of saving faith.” But Ignorance doesn’t listen and says, “I will never believe that my heart is bad. Your faith is not mine, but mine is as good as yours.” Christian says, “Be awakened, see your own wretchedness and fly to the Lord Jesus. By his righteousness you shall be delivered from condemnation.” But Ignorance says, “You go too fast. You go on; I must stay behind for a while.” After this, Christian and Hopeful continue their journey and finally arrive at the gate. But between the pilgrims and the gate is a river. There is no bridge, no boat, and the water is deep. They have to cross a river by swimming. They have a near-death experience. Finally, they arrive at the gate, welcomed by the heavenly hosts. Ignorance gets over with little difficulty, because Vain-Hope, a ferryman, rows him over in his boat. Ignorance climbs the hill by himself, but no one welcomes him. The men at the gate ask him for his certificate. But he doesn’t have it. Then, the king orders his servants, “Take him out, bind him hand and foot and take him away.”

Wedding Guests in Jumpsuits

Who does the man without wedding garment represent? John Bunyan called him Ignorance. But I think “Pride” would be more accurate word: a man of pride. C.S. Lewis rightly says, “… the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”[2] In the parable this man wouldn’t wear the wedding garment provided by the king because of pride, self-righteousness.

Chris Hoke is a prison chaplain. He tells the story of what happened at a Sunday afternoon Bible study in his prison. At that time there were more than 20 men, and they were studying today’s passage. The group had a natural leader, Richard, and Richard had brought the whole of his part of the prison. He was very excited about the fact that the king invited both bad and good. But then they heard that the king ordered the attendants to bind the man without the wedding garment and cast him into the outer darkness. “Just what I thought,” Richard said. “What do you expect from people like us? We don’t have all the right clothes. We never look right! You should know that!” The chaplain explained quickly that in first-century Palestine, it was the custom for the host to provide these over-garments for the guests, right at the door, before they got into the banqueting hall. Richard spoke back: “But we might not want to wear those clothes. We don’t play by all the little rules. You didn’t really want us at all! Or did you just so you can throw us back out into the darkness? Better to stay in the streets with the bad people than be told you’re wanted and then find out you’re really not!” “You’re just assuming,” the chaplain said, “the one not wearing the garment is one of the ‘bad’ people who were invited off the streets. But it doesn’t say that. What if it’s one of the ‘good’ people who feels suddenly uncomfortable around all these ‘bad’ folks pouring in from the streets and sitting next to him or her. Someone who feels better than these folks. Someone who needs to set himself apart, not putting on the same robe as all these undeserving ones?” He continued, “How do you think the host would feel, watching his new flood of guests that he invited from the streets to share his joy, now all feeling judged by this one guy, who’s totally killing the party, making all the rest of the guests feel uneasy, awkward, unwanted, not belonging? He’d throw that guy outside and tie him up, let him get it out of his system, grumble all he wants—grind his teeth, I don’t care—until he was ready to come back in and share the joy of the king who wants everyone. Even people like you!” But for Richard it seemed too good to be true. He said, “Send me a copy of whatever scholar you’re talking about. I wanna see that in print!”[3]

Come to the Feast!

What is the right dress for God’s banquet? What does the wedding garment represent? The wedding garment provided by host symbolizes the righteousness of Christ provided by God for entrance to Heaven. Revelation 7:14 says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

How do we then put on the wedding garment? By repentance. How did God prepare his people before the coming of Christ? What was the first message of John the Baptist? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt 3:2). What was the first message of Jesus? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). How can we be prepared at the second coming of Christ or at God’s banquet? By repentance. We sing “Joy to the world” especially in this season of Advent. But the best way to let every heart prepare Him room is to repent. Repentance is not just to regret the sins we have done. It is to invite God to turn our heart. It is to invite God to dwell within us, to reform us from inside out. It is to be in tune with God.

As I look back on my college years, I had to confess that I was legalistic. At that time, I wanted to tithe my time as well as my money. So each day I went to a chapel room on campus, I prayed for a tenth of the day, that is, 2 hours 24 minutes, without joy, but out of sense of duty. And the rest of the day, nine tenths, I was so preoccupied with my own affairs. And I thought that I was doing pretty good and better than many other believers. What a Pharisee I was! I served God, on my terms, with my strength and efforts. Much effort, little fruit. Recently, as I was working out at the fitness center after my morning devotion, the Voice said, “How much time do you spend communing with me?” The first thought that came to my mind was, “I did my devotion.” Then, the Voice said, “Look around, and see people. I want you to be open and listen to me always. I want you to make yourself available to me always, so that I can commune with you and work through you all the time.”

Have you made yourself available to God today? Have you responded to God’s invitation? Are you wearing the wedding garment today? In verse 14 Jesus says, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” Many hear God’s word, but few believe and respond. John Wesley said, “Yea, many are members of the visible Church, but few of the invisible Church.” Let us repent. Let us come out of our old filthy rags of self-righteousness and receive the new ones of abiding in Christ. Let us be awakened, and see our own wretchedness and fly to the Lord Jesus, and by his righteousness we will be saved from ourselves. Jesus is calling! Come to the feast! You’re invited!

[1] Bryan Loritts, Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love (Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2016), 106.
[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 108– 9.
[3] Chris Hoke, “Wedding Guests in Jumpsuits” The Christian Century (1/21/15)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

“Maranatha!” (Revelation 22:16-21) - The Return of the King I -

Advent begins today. The Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means “coming” or “visit.” Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas and ends Christmas Eve. Advent is the beginning of the Christian year. So during Advent, we remember, look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. But more importantly, we also eagerly anticipate the second coming of Christ Jesus our Lord in this special season of Advent. So this year during Advent, each week we will explore different Bible passages from the perspective of Jesus’ second coming. And we will resume our study on the Book of Romans in the new year.

Advent is a great reminder that Christ will return soon. It reminds us that we must begin with the end in mind. It reminds us that our best life is not now, but the best is yet to come. It reminds us that we must set our hearts on the kingdom of God and live for eternity.

Garden of Eden and New Jerusalem 
Today’s passage is the final chapter and conclusion of the entire Bible. Today we will explore the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelation 21 and 22. There is one dominant characteristic of these two chapters. In these chapters we cannot find any sin or evil. They are already eradicated. There is the only other place where there is no sin or evil in the Bible, that is, the Garden of Eden in the first two chapters of the Bible, Genesis 1 and 2. The entire Garden was filled with the presence of God. There Adam and Eve enjoyed a deep, intimate, constant communion with God. There was full of joy and pleasure. There was no sin, no evil, no death, no suffering, and no disease. Everything was good in God’s eyes. God created the whole universe for man and woman and let them be the lords of creation to take care of it. God even gave them perfect free will to accept his love or to reject it, because the essence of true love is perfect freedom. In the middle of the garden was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The tree was the holiest place where Adam and Eve worshiped God and had the most intimate fellowship with him. The tree was also a loving reminder that “He is God, the Creator, and we are his creation.” The tree could be seen from anywhere because it was in the middle of the Garden. One day Adam and Eve were tempted to be like God and chose to disobey God. They chose to become the lords of their life. Since that time the way to the middle of the Garden has been blocked (Gen 3:24). Since that time the way to the sanctuary of God has been blocked. We have become separate from God. We have become slaves of sin and death.

However, the last Adam, Jesus, became human to restore the Garden of Eden. In Luke 13:33 Jesus says, “I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day--for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” Here Jerusalem symbolically refers to the Garden of Eden. It was the place where Adam and Eve used to enjoy intimate fellowship with God. It was the place where they failed to obey God. Jesus came to the very same place. He obeyed God to the end and died on the cross. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom (Mk 15:38). He reconciled us to God through the cross. He restored our broken relationship with God through his obedience. The Bible says, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.” (Rom 5:19) Calvary was located in a high place that could be seen from anywhere in Jerusalem, just as the tree of knowledge was seen from anywhere in the Garden. The cross at the Calvary was a reminder that “He is our God. We are his people.” God was pleased to save everyone who looks at the cross and believes in Jesus. In Revelation 21:2 John sees the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the new Eden, coming down out of heaven from God. In the New Jerusalem there is no sorrow, no death, no suffering, no disease, no sin, and no evil.

Engaged to Jesus
God invites all of us in this room to come to his Holy City. “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (22:17). This gospel is available to everyone who believes. 

In Jewish custom a marriage took place in two stages, the engagement and the wedding. The engagement included an exchange of promises and gifts, and was almost regarded as a marriage. The engaged couple could be called ‘husband’ and ‘wife’, and if a separation happened, it would have to be a divorce (cf. Matt 1:18–19). The wedding followed some time after the engagement. It began with a festive procession, music and dancing. Then, the bridegroom went out to bring his bride, who will have made herself ready. And he would bring her back to his home for the wedding feast. We, as a Jesus’ bride, live in the engagement period. Now we are preparing ourselves and waiting for the Bridegroom. Once we get engaged, the power of the devil is remarkably weakened. But still, the devil carries out a full-scale attack to break off our engagement. He tries hard to make our attention wander. He makes us “busy” with many things. He makes us “worry” about many things. All these fragment our lives. All these pull us apart and make us lose our center. Our lives are full of many things to do or think, but we feel unfulfilled.

Our Bridegroom, Jesus Christ, does not try to pull us away from the many things. Instead, he shifts our attention to the “one necessary thing” from the “many things.” In Revelation 22 Jesus says three times, “Behold, I am coming soon!” (7, 12, 20) Here Jesus is saying, “Be ready. Set your hearts on the kingdom of God first… and all these other things will be given as well” (Matt 6:33). Jesus asks us to readjust our priorities and to move our hearts to the center, “the kingdom of God.”

Maranatha Mindset
Horatius Bonar was a Scottish preacher and hymn writer. Whenever he opened the curtains in the morning, he asked to Jesus, “Lord, are you coming today?” Whenever he closed the curtains in the evening, he said, “Lord, are you coming tonight?” He was always packed and ready to go. He said, “Be ready for the last moment by being ready at every attending to every duty that, let Him come when He may, He finds the house in perfect order, awaiting His return.”

The word "Maranatha" is an Aramaic expression meaning “Come, O Lord.” In the early church when believers gathered or parted, they didn't say "Hello" or "Goodbye." Instead, they said "Maranatha!" to one another. They encouraged one another, reminded one another, and anticipated the imminent return of the Lord. Living with a Maranatha mindset means living as pilgrims and strangers in this world, traveling light and eagerly longing for our heavenly home. It means living as Jesus’ bride purifying ourselves and preparing for our wedding. It means living as servants of the Lord giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord and laboring for our rewards.

In his sermon, “Don’t Waste Your Life,” Pastor John Piper shares two different stories with us. The first story goes like this. In his church two of the faithful church members, Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards, who went to Cameroon as missionaries, had both been killed because of a car accident. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon. As people read this story in the paper, they said, “What a tragedy!” But no, that is not tragedy. That is a glory. Then, Pastor John tells us the second story, what a tragedy is. He reads to us from Reader’s Digest: “Bob and Penny… took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their thirty foot trawler, playing softball and collecting shells.” That’s a tragedy. The American Dream: a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account of what you did: “Here it is Lord — my shell collection! And I’ve got a nice swing, and look at my boat!”[1] That’s a tragedy.

Live for Eternity 
On the Day of the Lord we must give account. That day God is going to ask us at least these two questions: “What have you done with my Son Jesus Christ?” and “What did you do with what I gave you?”[2] What would be your answer? Are you ready to answer?

The promise of the second coming of Jesus occurs 1,845 times in the Old Testament, and 318 times in the New Testament. In other words, about every 30 verses of the Bible tells us about the return of the King Jesus Christ. The Bible keeps telling us, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Pt 3:10). But, we will not be surprised if we set our hearts on his kingdom all the time. The last trumpet may sound anytime. Let us travel light. Let us be “packed and ready to go” at every moment! 
 Let us live for eternity. Let us live to know Christ and make Him known. Let us encourage one another, remind one another, and anticipate together the return of our King Jesus. As we gather and part, let us not just say, “Hello” or “Goodbye,” but say "Maranatha!" Yes, Come, Lord Jesus!

[1] John Piper, “Don’t Waste Your Life,”
[2] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Zondervan, 2012) 37-38.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

“Christ: Rock of Offense, Rock of Salvation” (Romans 9:30-10:4) - Romans for Everyone XVI –

Two Paths: My Way vs. His Way
It is estimated that today there are about 10,000 distinct religions in the world.[1] Every religion offers some kind of ways to take away our burden, guilt, shame, and to live a new, peaceful, better life. They provide their own ways to salvation. But among all these religions, in fact there are only two possible options before us: the works-salvation and the faith-salvation. The first is like climbing up a ladder. It is to attempt to build our own righteousness, by our good works and religious observances. According to this approach, if we have a good moral or spiritual record, we’re worthy of life with God and we’re accepted. We say, “If there is a God, he’ll certainly accept me. I’m a good person.” But this is doomed to failure, because in God’s sight even all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). The other way to salvation is totally opposite. It’s not to climb up, but it is given to us as a free gift through faith in Jesus Christ. This is the heart of the gospel and unique to Christianity. All other religions teach some form of self-salvation through good works of religion or righteousness. But Christianity proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to everyone who believes. It proclaims the good news that God has mercy on underserving sinners, and that there is nothing left for us to do or even contribute, but to just receive what God offers by faith. That’s why it’s a good news! 

In his book Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan powerfully and effectively describes these two paths ahead of us. Main Character Christian leaves his home to get rid of the burden on his back. On the way he meets one decent gentleman, named, Worldly Wiseman. The gentleman asks, “Where are you going in such a burdensome manner, my good fellow?” Christian answers, “I want to get rid of this burden. But I cannot do it myself. So I am going this narrow path to find out where I can get rid of it.” Worldly Wiseman says, “I know exactly how to get rid of that burden quickly. See that high hill? In yonder village of Morality there is a very learned man named Legality. He is very clever, very well thought of, and has skill to help men get rid of such burdens as yours. He has done a great deal of good in this way. Besides, he can help those whose minds are upset because of their troubles. If he is not at home, he has a find young son named Civility who is just as clever as the old gentleman himself… There are many empty houses, the rent is reasonable, and the food is good and cheap. The neighbors are all honest, respectable, and dependable, so your life there will be safe and happy.” So Christian is persuaded and turns out of the way to go to Mr. Legality’s house for help. But unlike Worldly Wiseman’s advice, as he reaches the high hill, he sees that an overhanging cliff threatens to topple over on the road and flashes of lightning comes forth from the hill. Christian realizes that it is impossible for him to proceed, and that his burden now seems much heavier than before.[2]

Israel vs. Gentiles
John Bunyan’s illustration helps us understand the context of today’s passage. Paul tells us there are two kinds of righteousness: the righteousness that is based on the law and the righteousness that is based on faith. On the one hand, Gentiles, who were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were somehow made right with God by faith. Most of them were godless, self-centered, going their own way, lovers of money and pleasure, rather than lovers of God. But when they heard the gospel of salvation by faith, the Holy Spirit worked in them powerfully. They were cut to the heart, crying out, “What should I do?” They humbled themselves, repented, believed, and were saved. But on the other hand, the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. They did fast twice a week and give a tenth of their income. They tried hard to live a moral life. And they thought, “I try hard, so God owes me.” And they were offended by the gospel, saying, “You mean you could be a criminal and believe in Jesus and be saved? That’s too easy!” They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, rock of offense, that is, Christ (cf. 1 Cor 1:23). Why do people stumble over Christ and his gospel? Because the gospel undermines our self-righteousness. It tells us that we are so wicked that only the death of the Son of God could save us. It tells us that trying to be good and spiritual isn’t enough, thereby insists that no good person would be saved, but only those who come to God through Jesus. It is an insulting, intolerable offence to our pride. So instead of humbling ourselves, we stumble over the stumbling stone.

People may have a religious and moral zeal for God with sincerity, but they can be still lost. In verses 2 and 3 Paul says, “They have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. They don’t know the righteousness that comes from God and do not submit to God’s righteousness; instead, they seek to establish their own.” In other words, they refuse to accept God’s way of salvation, but they cling to their own way of getting right with God. Paul knows what is talking about, because he himself was extremely zealous in his religion with a sincere heart before his conversion (Gal 1:14). He persecuted Christ’s Church, and killed the saints, but at that time he thought that he was serving God. But he was doing everything exactly backwards. Jesus said him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 26:14). Sincerity was not enough, because he was sincerely mistaken. Saul was zealous for God, but he was ignorant of God’s righteousness, God’s way of salvation. What he was doing in fact was to establish his own righteousness, his own way of salvation.

“Almost” vs. “Altogether”
This ignorance of the true way is not limited to Jewish people. They are widespread among religious people, including professing Christians. Religious and moral people who do lots of good works with good intentions can be lost. Pastors and church leaders who preach, teach, and serve with a sincere heart can be lost, if they are ignorant of the righteousness of God.

John Wesley, in his sermon The Almost Christian, brings the contrast between the “almost Christian” and the “altogether Christian.” The almost Christian has a form of godliness (cf. 2 Tim 3:5). He has the outside of a real Christian. He keeps the Sabbath. He does not use God’s name in vain. He observes religious ordinances. He avoids all actual adultery and sexual immorality. He tries hard to keep this rule: “Whatsoever you would not he should do unto you, that do not you to another.” He does no harm to others; instead, he does good to others. He tries to do everything with sincerity. You may ask, “Is it possible that any person who lives this way and nevertheless should be only ‘almost a Christian’? The answer is yes. Wesley says, “I did go thus far for many years, as many of this place can testify: using diligence to avoid all evil, redeeming the time, buying up every opportunity of doing all good to all men… doing all this in sincerity…. Yet my own conscience bears witness in the Holy Spirit that all this time I was but ‘almost a Christian.’”[3] The almost Christian, somehow his inner being has never broken down and surrendered to God fully. Somehow self and not God rules in the holy of holies. He has never experienced spiritual bankruptcy and cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined, for I am a sinful man!” out of self-despair and self-helplessness. He has never had his life renewed, his heart touched, purified, empowered by God’s fire.[4] This man is almost a Christian.

Then, who is altogether a Christian? The first and foremost mark of the altogether Christian is “love.” He loves God with the whole heart, his spirit continually rejoices in God his Savior. His heart is ever crying out, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you!” He keeps the Sabbath because he loves the Lord. He tithes because he loves the Lord. He serves the body of Christ, the church, because he loves the Lord. And his love of God naturally overflows into the love of his neighbor. He loves everyone and forgives and prays for his enemies. He is patient and kind. He keeps no record of wrongs. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. How can it be? Because God’s love has been poured into his heart through the Holy Spirit. This man is altogether a Christian.

Both Wesley and Paul say that there is one more thing to be considered, that is, faith as the other side of the same coin. In verse 9 Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (ESV). But this faith is much more than just acknowledgement of the facts. For even devils believe that Jesus was the Son of God. But that’s not true Christian faith. Wesley rightly said, “The right and true Christian faith is not only to believe that Holy Scripture and the articles of our faith are true, but also to have a sure trust and confidence to be saved from everlasting damnation by Christ… whereof does follow a loving heart to obey his commandments.”[5]

Are You on the Right Track? 
Are you on the right track of your pilgrim journey? Are you altogether a Christian? The question we must ask is not how much we try hard to live a good, moral life or to do good to others. The question we must ask first is this: how do I love Christ? Do I desire nothing but Christ? Do I rejoice in Christ? Is Christ my glory, my delight, my treasure, my King of kings and Lord of lords? And also, how do I believe in Christ? Do I really believe that Christ loved me and gave himself for me? Do I really believe that by the blood of Christ my sins are forgiven and I have peace with God through Christ? Do I really believe and have assurance that I am a child of God because of what Christ has done for me? My prayer is that all of us in this room may experience what it is to be not “almost” only, but “altogether” Christians!
[1] “Religion,” Wikipedia,
[2] John Bunyan, Pictorial Pilgrim’s Progress (Moody Press: Chicago, 1960), 37-40.
[3] Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater, John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology (Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN: 1991) 62-64.
[4] E.M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Christian Classics Remix), 8, 12.
[5] Albert C. Outler, 66.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

“Great Thanksgiving” (Romans 9:6-18) - Romans for Everyone XV –

The Arminian-Calvinist Controversy
Today we celebrate Thanksgiving Sunday. As we look back upon this year and our entire lives, there are many things to be thankful for. But today’s passage teaches us that the biggest reason to be thankful to God should be our salvation in Christ Jesus. My prayer is that today’s message will make us sing a song of thanksgiving to God for His salvation from the bottom of the heart.

Now we come to Romans 9. In fact, chapters 9-11 are some of the most difficult in the whole Bible to understand and appreciate. Romans 9 is about God’s sovereign choice, the doctrine of election, while Romans 10 is about human responsibility. These chapters are not easy. They are solid food. But if we properly digest these passages with the help of the Holy Spirit, we will become even more joyful, thankful, and humble. This is our aim today. The Arminian-Calvinist controversy over these chapters has been bitter and intense for centuries. In this matter Charles Simeon, who was an English preacher in 19th century, can be a good role model. He warned his congregation of the danger of forsaking Scripture in favor of a theological system. He said, “When I come to a text which speaks of election. I delight myself in the doctrine of election. When the apostles exhort me to repentance and obedience, and indicate my freedom of choice and action, I give myself up to that side of the question.” He would often use the following illustration from the Industrial Revolution: “As wheels in a complicated machine may move in opposite directions and yet subserve a common end, so may truths apparently opposite be perfectly reconcilable with each other, and equally subserve the purposes of God in the accomplishment of man’s salvation.”[1] The doctrine of election and the doctrine of free will are mystery. They are complementary, not contradictory.

Who Is the True Israel? 

As we begin to explore today’s scripture, the first question we must ask is, “Who is Israel?” In verse 6 Paul says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” In other words, there have always been two Israels – ethnic Israel and true Israel. As we know, ethnic Israel is those who physically descended from Jacob. Then, who is the true Israel? They are spiritual offspring of Abraham whether they are the Jews or the Gentiles (v. 24). Paul calls them the children of the promise, the children of God (v. 8). In Galatians Paul defines who the true Israel is in this way: “For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus… if you belong to Christ, then you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you!” (Gal 3:26-29, NLT) That is, Christians are the true Israel.

Is God Unjust? 

Then, how do we become a Christian, a child of promise, a child of God? Here Paul answers this question with the doctrine of election. God chose Isaac over Ishmael. God chose Jacob over Esau even before they were born or had done anything good or bad. The choice was unconditional. It was rooted in God alone and not in man. We become children of God, not because of ethnic origin or physical birth, or any human resource, but because of God’s sovereign choice. Some of you may think that’s not fair. You may think that the doctrine of election makes God unjust (v. 14). But that’s not the case. In fact, election does let God be God. It is an indispensable foundation of our eternal thanksgiving and worship to our God.

James Kennedy gives us a very helpful illustration here: Suppose I have five friends who are planning to hold up a bank. I find out about it and I plead with them. I beg them not to do it. Finally they push me out of the way and they start out. I tackle one of them and wrestle him to the ground. The others go ahead, rob the bank, a guard is killed, they are captured, convicted, sentenced … The one man who was not involved in the robbery goes free. Now I ask you this question: Whose fault was it that the other men died? … Now this other man who is walking around free— can he say, “Because my heart is so good, I am a free man”? The only reason that he is free is because of me; because I restrained him. So those who go to hell have no one to blame but themselves. Those who go to heaven have no one to praise but Jesus Christ. Thus we see that salvation is all of grace from its beginning to its end.”[2]

If we were responsible for our own salvation even in part, we would be blowing our own trumpet in heaven. But today’s passage, the doctrine of election, clearly proclaims that there is nothing we can boast before God. All that we can do is to thank Him and to worship Him eternally: “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness!” (Ps 115:1) “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Rev 7:10) “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (5:13) Amen! God is just, and he is merciful. Praise the Lord, for His mercy endures forever! (2 Ch 20:21, KJV)

Human Responsibility 

Romans 9 teaches us that if anyone is lost, the blame is theirs, but if anyone is saved, the credit is God’s. In today’s passage Paul uses Pharaoh as an example of how God’s sovereignty relates to human responsibility (v.17). On the one hand, the Bible says that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 4:21). But on the other hand, we are also told that Pharaoh hardened his heart (Ex 8:15). So how should we interpret this? Leon Morris rightly says, “Neither here nor anywhere else is God said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself.”[3] In Romans 1:24 Paul says that people’s hearts are full of lusts and “therefore God gave them over” to their desires. God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart was a “giving him over” to his own stubbornness. In fact, God gave Pharaoh a chance 10 times to humble himself and change his heart, but Pharaoh decided to resist God to the end. And God reinforced him in that position. God gave Pharaoh what he chose. The Holy Spirit says to his people, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert” (Heb 3:7-8). God’s grace is active in our everyday life. God constantly speaks to us, nudges us, invites us, convicts us, gives us second chances. Let us do not harden our hearts. Let us do not resist God’s grace!

Mark of the Christian 

In Romans 9:29 Isaiah predicted concerning Israel, “If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have been like Sodom and become like Gomorrah.” All of us have gone astray. We have gone to our own way. Not only that, in fact, we were sprinting towards destruction, hell – that was our destination. We are on the way to be like Sodom and Gomorrah if God does not step in and save us. Let us learn from this what we are like apart from God’s grace in our life. And let us be humble, be thankful.

Christians are those whose eyes are opened to God’s grace. We were not God’s people, but now he calls us “my people.” We were not loved, but now he calls us “my loved one.” We were not his children, but now we are called “children of the living God” (vv. 25-26). Paul experienced this grace. He said, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain” (1 Cor 15:10a). He also said, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst” (1Tm 1:15). This is the mark of the Christian: genuine humility and thankfulness. But there is more! When God opens our eyes to his grace, we begin to see people around us, particularly those who resist God’s grace. They become our prayer burden. In verse 2 we see Paul’s continuing love for his people Israel who have rejected Christ. He says, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.” At that time, more than forty men of Israel bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. And many others hated him, cursed him, persecuted him. But, Paul prays, “Lord, I would be willing to be cut off from Christ, if that would save my people.” This was Moses’ prayer for his people. This was Stephen’s prayer for his people. In fact, this was Jesus’ prayer for his people. Let this be our payer.

I Smell Feet!

I want to close by sharing the story of one Korean missionary to Tibet. He and his wife were discipling Tibetan young adult group. One day the missionary couple invited them to their home. As the brothers and sisters were coming in, the missionary couple was almost fainted because of strong foot odors. Typically, Tibetans do not take a shower for life, and they don’t care about smell. After the young adult group left, they had to clean their house for three days. The thing is there was a small group meeting every week at their home. But at some point, the missionary couple did not smell feet any longer. Now the young adults had washed their feet and worn new socks before they came, because they realized how bad their foot odors were. The interesting thing is that the time when they received the gospel did coincide with the time when foot odors were gone. Somehow when they smelled their feet, they finally did smell a stagnant smell of their sin.

Do you smell your feet? Do you smell a stagnant smell of your sin? If so, you are blessed. That’s a sure sign that you receive God’s grace. Come to Jesus, and be washed by the blood of Christ. Then, go and wash those who don’t smell the smell of their sin by intercessory prayers and by laying down your life for them. As we worship today, let us be humble and thankful that we are included in the true Israel, the children of God by his sovereign grace.
[1] John Stott, The Message of Romans: God's Good News for the World (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1994), 278-79.
[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (The Good Book Company: 2014), 58-59.
[3] John Stott, 269.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

“We Are More Than Conquerors” (Romans 8:31-39) - Romans for Everyone XIV -

John Wesley wrote the following letter from his deathbed, six days before his death, to William Wilberforce to encourage him in his prolonged fight against slavery in England: “Unless the divine power has raised you up.... I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well-doing! Go on, in the name of God, and in the power of His might, till even American Slavery shall vanish away before it!”[1]

Sometimes today’s passage, Romans 8:31-39, is taken out of context and misapplied: “God is for you. God promises to freely give you all things! Do you need a nicer house or a new car? Claim it by faith! Do you want a better job and a successful career? Claim it by faith!” But unfortunately, that is not what today’s passage promises. The context is, “Do you want to endure faithfully tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword for Jesus’ sake (8:35)? God, who loved you so much that He sent His own Son to die for your sins, will give you the grace and strength to keep going. God, who has done the most for you by giving His own Son, will help you endure every trial, every opposition, that you go through for Christ’s sake. God’s love for us does not promise escape from all trials and tribulations. But it promises triumph in these things. God’s love for us does not promise earthly comfort or ease from our sufferings, but it promises freedom, joy, and courage in the midst of these things.

Jesus Christ: Four Truths
So who can be against us? Who can condemn us? Sometimes our own heart condemns us. Oftentimes our critics, our detractors, our enemies, and all the demons of hell condemn us. But their condemnations will all fail. No one will be successfully against us. Why? Because of Christ Jesus! (v. 34) Christ Jesus our Lord rescues us from condemnation, in particular by his death, resurrection, exaltation and intercession. Jesus is our eternal security. He is our No-condemnation.

First, Christ Jesus died. He gave his life for you. He was not just killed, but he chose to die. Jesus said, “No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18a). He also said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Then, why did he choose to die? Because of “love.” Octavius Winslow rightly said, “Who delivered up Jesus to die? Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy — but the Father, for love! [2] (cf. Isa 53:10; Rom 8:32) Father God made Jesus, His own Son, who had no sin to be sin for us, so we could be put right with God (2 Cor 5:21). Because of love, by his death Jesus has become our sin, and we have become his righteousness.

Secondly, Christ Jesus was raised to life. Not just he “rose,” but he was “raised” (the verb is passive in v. 34!) by the Father. God the Father vindicated the suffering of his Son by raising him from the dead. God demonstrated his acceptance of the sacrifice of his Son as the only satisfactory basis for our justification by raising him from the dead. In Romans 4:25 Paul says, “He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God” (NLT). By his resurrection Jesus set us right with God.

Thirdly, Christ Jesus reigns. He is now at the right hand of God. For first-century Christians, this little phrase “right hand of God” was a very well-known idiom. This phrase refers to “full of power and authority.” In Psalm 110:1 God says to the Messiah, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Jesus Christ our Lord reigns. He rules over all authority and power and dominion and angels and all the universe until all his enemies are put under his feet! Jesus Christ is our unshakable security.  

Fourthly, Christ Jesus is interceding for us. John Murray rightly said, “the children of God have two divine intercessors. Christ is their intercessor in the court of heaven… while the Holy Spirit is their intercessor in the theatre of their own hearts.”[3] Jesus is our heavenly advocate and high priest. Hebrews 7:25 says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (NIV). What a wonderful truth and promise of God! So every time we pray “in Jesus’ name” by faith, we experience this glorious intercession. Jesus is our intercessor every time we pray!

With these four truths of who Christ Jesus is, we know that there is no condemnation for those who are in him. So now, in Christ Jesus, we can challenge the enemy and bid him go with confidence, “Satan! Who are you that condemn me? Christ died for me. Christ was raised from the dead for me. Christ reigns at the right hand of God for me, and Christ is interceding for me. Be gone little, defeated devil!”

Jesus Christ: The Lion and the Lamb
In the Book of Revelation the Apostle John sees Jesus and knows him in two different images. These two images of Jesus are very important to understand the second half of today’s passage, particularly verse 36 and 37. In Revelation 5:5 one of the elders says to John, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” So now, John is expecting to see a triumphant lion. But, in verse 6, he sees a Lamb instead, looking as if it has been slain. Here it is crucial that we recognize the contrast between what John hears (“the Lion”) and what he sees (“the Lamb”). Both images are the “true face of Christ.” Christ Jesus is indeed the Lion of Judah. He is the Messiah and God Almighty. He is able to save us with his almighty power. He reigns with God and is equally worthy of our praise and worship. But how has Jesus saved us? He has saved us, not by his almighty power, but by his sacrificial, substitutionary death! Christ Jesus is the Lamb of God, who was slain to take away the sin of the world. Jesus was pierced for our rebellion, he was crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole He was whipped so we could be healed (Isa 53:5). In verse 9 four living creatures give praises to Jesus, “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God.” When we say ‘Jesus is the Lamb of God,’ we tend to think that this Lamb is weak and powerless. No! In fact, the reverse is true. In verse 6 the Lamb is described as follows: “He has seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” The slaughtered Lamb is indeed God Almighty. But, Jesus has overcome the world not through a show of force, but through his suffering and death. Here Jesus redefines the nature of power. This power of love transforms the world and us.

Christians: Sheep and Conquerors
We, as followers of Jesus Christ, must pursue this path. In Paul’s term, we Christians are sheep and conquerors. In verse 36 and 37 Paul says, “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” These two seemingly contradictory images tell us who we are as Christians and how we can endure opposition and overcome the world for Jesus’ sake.

We can find a good example of this truth from North Korean underground Christians. For the past 14 years, Open Doors USA has listed North Korea at the top of its list of countries where Christians are persecuted. North Korea's rulers see Christianity not only as "opium for the people" but also as "deeply Western and despicable." In North Korea Christians are treated like terrorists and that Bibles, churches, and prayer meetings are all strictly banned. Many Christians have either been executed or taken to concentration camps. One time Eric Foley, director of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, met some of Christians defectors from North Korea. And he asked, “How may we pray for you?” One of the them answered, “You pray for us? We pray for you!" That's the problem with you American Christians and South Korean Christians! You have so much, you put your faith in your money and in your freedom. In North Korea we have neither money nor freedom, but we have Christ and we've found He's sufficient.” After the meeting, Foley said, “They don't pray for a regime change. They don't pray for freedom and money. They pray for more of Christ and to mirror more of Christ in their life.”[4] Not for freedom, but for more of Jesus – that's what we should be praying for ourselves today.

In fact, this prayer is not new. We can find the exactly same kind of prayer in the early church Christians’ prayer. Some of them were arrested, interrogated, and tortured. Some were killed, slaughtered as sheep. When tribulation, opposition, persecution came, they didn’t pray that God would remove these things. Instead, they prayed that God would give them strength to stand firm, strength to love those who persecute them, strength to continue to speak the gospel of Christ Jesus with boldness. In Acts 4:29-30, they prayed, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” Let this be our prayer! Let us look to Christ Jesus, who died for us, who was raised to life for us, who reigns for us, and who is interceding for us. Let us pray for more of Christ and to mirror more of Christ in our lives. Yes, we will face challenges and opposition along the way.  But be encouraged! Take heart! God is for us. No one can be successfully against us, nor successfully condemn us. No one, nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus!

[1] “Wesley to Wilberforce,” Christianity Today,
[2] John Stott, The Message of Romans: God’s Good News for the World (InterVarsity: Downers Grove, IL, 1994), 255.
[3] Ibid., 244.
[4]  “The Surprising Prayers of North Korea’s Christians”

Sunday, November 5, 2017

“Grace, Grace, God’s Grace!” (Romans 8:26-30) - Romans for Everyone XIII -

Romans 8:28
Today we come to one of the most popular and most loved promises in the Bible: Romans 8:28.

“We know that all things work together for good
for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (NRSV)

Perhaps along with John 3:16 and Psalm 23, this verse has helped people to face life difficulties and challenges with confidence. In fact, all the rest of chapter 8 can be seen as Paul’s effort to help us understand and believe this truth: all things will work for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose. Today we will explore Romans 8:28 together and study what this promise really means to us.

God’s Promise for Christians
First of all, this promise that God is working for people’s good is not for everyone. There are two things that need to be true for this promise to apply to us. This promise is for those (1) who love God and (2) who are called according to God’s purpose. These are not two separate groups of people. This is one group of people with two things true of them. In fact, here Paul gives a definition of what it means to be a Christian. Two weeks ago we focused on Romans 8:9-10. There Paul defines a Christian as a person who is inhabited by Christ, under the sway of Christ, and owned by Christ. And now here in verse 28 Paul defines a Christian as a person who loves God and is called according to God’s purpose. And now our question is this: why does Paul mention these two things to be a Christian and to be true for this promise to apply to us?

Prevenient Grace
First, Christians are “called” people. God calls his people according to his purpose. Before we ever reach out to God, God reaches out to us. Before we know God, he first loves us. 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” John Wesley called this prevenient grace, the grace of God that calls us, invites us into a loving relationship with God. Prevenient grace creates within us a desire to know and love God. It leads us to repentance, sorrow over sin and the realization that we are unable to save ourselves. It empowers us to say “Yes” to God’s invitation. God does not force us into belief or faith. We have a choice to accept or reject God’s grace. But when we say yes to God, our loving, life-giving relationship with God begins. James Small beautifully describes God’s prevenient grace in this way:

Ive found a friend, O such a friend!
He loved me ere I knew Him;
He drew me with the cords of love,
And thus He bound me to Him;
And round my heart still closely twine
Those ties which naught can sever,
For I am His, and He is mine,
Forever and forever

Last week we heard the story of Stephnie Fast. Even after she was adopted and her parents talked about the love of God, she still thought, “He can’t love me! I was raped. He can’t love me! I was abused. He can’t love me! I have this awful anger inside. He can’t love me! My daddy says I need to forgive, and I just don’t want to.” But that night Stephanie came to the realization: “He… loves… me! He loves me as I am!” This is God’s grace that calls us into a loving relationship with him. This is God’s grace that is greater than all our shame and guilt and sin!

Justifying Grace
When we say yes to God’s grace, we receive God’s justifying grace, the grace of God by which, through faith in Christ, we are set right with God. Justifying grace points to Jesus as our Savior, Lord, and Treasure. It gives us assurance, “I’m forgiven! I’m accepted! I’m beloved by God because of what Jesus has done for me!” And we fall in love with Jesus. That naturally leads to the second definition of a Christian. Christians are those who love God who is fully and perfectly revealed in Jesus Christ. Christians, regardless of nationality, race, age, or gender, have one thing in common. They have a story to tell. We, Christians, have our love story with Jesus: how he saved us, how he healed us, how he picked us up and turned us around. We have our “before and after” story. We have assurance of pardon. We have “born-again” experience.

Last week I attended Asian Commission Retreat. On the second day we had time to share our conversion and call story with each other. It was so rich and powerful. Each person had a unique story to tell. But whatever the story was, the one main theme kept occurring: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8) And by God’s grace we came to realization that Jesus loved us just as we were. That changed us inside out forever. And then, we just fell in love with Jesus. Because we loved him so much, we wanted to obey him and put our lives at his disposal. These were the main stories of ours. One of the pastors there used a Lego metaphor as he shared his story. When we have a Lego set, we can make whatever we want, many different things, with those pieces. But if we want to use every single piece for the best, we’d better to follow the assembling instructions in the manual. Then, we will finally have the masterpiece the same as the one on the cover picture. At the end the pastor said, “I loved Jesus so much. So I closely looked at all the pieces that I had – all my gifts. And I sensed that I was called to ministry.” Christians are those who love God and live their life in a manner worthy of their calling according to God’s purpose.

Sanctifying Grace
Romans 8:28 promises that “all things” work together for good for Christians. All things, not just the easy things or the good things, but the hard things and the bad things. In other words, here Paul is not saying all things are good. He is saying all things, including all the bad things, are turned by God for good. It means that God makes all things work together for good for Christians. In this process we grow in the faith. We grow in our love for God. Our will becomes more and more one with God’s. Wesley called this sanctifying grace, the grace that changes our hearts, our minds, our wills, our ideas, our hopes, our goals, to naturally do God’s will. Wesley said sanctifying grace pushes out the “love of the world, the love of pleasure, of ease, of hounor, of money; together with pride, anger, self-will, and every other evil temper.”[1]

In today’s scripture, verse 30, Paul lays out the process by which God conforms his children, Christians, to the likeness of his Son. This is a glorious, unbreakable chain. “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined; those whom he predestined, He also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified.” Five verbs, five undeniable affirmations. Here Paul speaks of our future glorification in the past tense. Why? Because it is so certain as if it were past, although it is still future. It is a so-called ‘prophetic past’ tense. James Denney writes that ‘the tense in the last word, “glorified” is amazing. It is the most daring anticipation of faith that even the New Testament contains.”[2] This process of holiness, this process of the Christian life, is like a chain of five links, and each of them is unbreakable because of God’s grace – prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace of God!

A Message for You!
Today we observe International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. When I think about the persecuted church, for me personally, one story of our Christian brothers and sisters in North Korea always comes to my mind. In 1974, a North Korea newspaper article proclaimed the government had finally killed off the last remnant of Christian believers in the country. For almost two decades about 30 brave Christians had lived underground. They would sleep underground during the day. At night they would leave their hiding place to collect tree roots they could eat. Around that time the communists were working on making a new road as their leader Kim Il Sung was planning to visit. During construction, they uncovered the hiding place of the underground Christians. They were told to lie down on the road, and the officials ordered a steamroller to run over the prostate Christians. To maximize the pain, the steamroller started by rolling over their feet and then up toward their heads. As the Christians waited for their death, one of them began to sing this song. Then the others joined their voices.[3]

More love to Thee, O Christ, more love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make on bended knee.
This is my earnest plea: More love, O Christ, to Thee;
More love to Thee, more love to Thee!

Some of us may say, with fear, what if I give up? What if I suffer for Alzheimer’s disease and stop believing? What if my children’s love for God grows cold and dies and they stop believing? What ifs…? The answer is: remember and believe today’s promise. By his grace God will strengthen you, help you, and sustain you. By his grace God will make all things work together for good. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful! (1 Cor 1:8-9). God’s grace is always enough and active in our lives. What we need today is to say “Yes” to God. What we need today is to repent. What we need today is to respond to God’s love and reorient our lives in love and service to God. Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us make our earnest plea together, “More love to Thee, O Christ! Let me fall in love with you! Let me stay in love with you always!”  He who calls you is faithful. He will surely do it.

[1] David Watson and William Abraham, Key United Methodist Beliefs (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013), 77.
[2] John Stott, The Message of Romans: God's Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 253.

[3] North Korea: Good News Reaches the Hermit Kingdom (Living Sacrifice Book Company, 2008), 45-46.

Monday, October 30, 2017

“Living as God’s Children” (Romans 8:14-17) - Romans for Everyone XII –

Adoption. It is at the heart of the gospel. God has not only erased our sins and given us new life, but also he has adopted us as his sons and daughters. He has become our loving and compassionate Father. Christian theologian J. I. Packer said, “Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption… Of all the gifts of grace, adoption is the highest.”[1] If we want to understand who a Christian is, who we are, we need to appreciate divine adoption. In verse 14 Paul says, “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” Particularly, understanding adoption in the context of Roman society will be very helpful and even necessary to understand who we really are. In the Roman world of the first century adoption usually occurred when a wealthy adult had no heir for his estate. The moment adoption occurred, several things were immediately effective for the newly adopted son. First, his old debts and legal obligations were paid; second, he got a new name and was instantly heir of all the father had; third, his new father became instantly liable for all his actions; and fourth, the new son also had new obligations to honor and please his father.[2] All this are found in today’s passage here.

Costly and Free
First, adoption is costly for God and free for us. We know that there are huge costs in adopting children. It varies, but in average it costs about $40,000.[3] However, financial cost is just part of it. There are costs in time and stress for the rest of our life. We never stop being a parent until we die. God’s cost to adopt us was far greater than any cost we may have to endure in adopting and raising children. It did cost God the price of his Son’s life. In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul says, “But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children” (NLT). Adoption is costly for God. But for us, it is a free gift. When a father adopts a child. The child does nothing; the father does everything. Adoption is a legal act on the part of the father— it is very costly only for him. There is nothing the child does to win or earn the status. It is simply received. For this reason, the Bible says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast (Eph 2:8-9, NIV). We have been adopted by grace.

New Status (Justification)
Second, adoption changes the status of the child. In verse 15 Paul says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship…” Divine adoption changes our status from slaves to children of God. The image of adoption tells us that we were not naturally God’s children. There is a popular notion that all human beings are God’s children because God created them all. It is true that all human beings are God’s offspring by creation (Acts 17:29), but we become his reconciled ‘children’ only by adoption. In this sense, we could call Henry Ford the father of the automobile. But we have no personal relationship with him. The Father-child relationship with God is not automatic. Today’s scripture clearly tells us that we receive our sonship (v. 15a). This proves that there was a time when we were lost. We were spiritual orphans and slaves, but now we are adopted children of God. Praise God!

New Identity (Regeneration, Conversion or Born Again)
Third, adoption gives us new identity as well as new status. In verse 15 Paul says, “By him (the Holy Spirit) we cry, “Abba, Father!” “Abba” means “Daddy” in Aramaic – a term of the greatest intimacy. In Korean we say, “아빠.” It sounds quite similar. My children always call me “아빠” with confidence. There was a time when God was a distant Creator of the universe, but now He is our Daddy. When he adopts us, he does not leave us with no feelings of acceptance and love. Instead, he pours his Spirit into our hearts to give us new identity, new family affection. His love is poured into our hearts through his Holy Spirit to grant us to feel the affections of belonging to the family of God. So we cry, “Abba, Father!” When we cry out to God as “Abba,” the Spirit himself gives us assurance that we are forgiven, we are accepted, we are beloved as his family. So we cry with deep conviction, “Abba, Father! I am yours, and you are mine!” The picture in this slide (or bulletin) is one of the famous photos of John F. Kenney with his son John Jr. This small son could walk into the oval office at anytime! Others would have to wait for their precisely scheduled moment or two. But little John could boldly walk in anytime he pleased. Why? Because the man who was “president” to everyone else was “daddy” to him. The same privilege is true for us!

Transformation (Sanctification)
Last but not least, adoption brings transformation through suffering. In verse 17 Paul says, “If children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (NRSV). This verse tells us two great truths: one is that we are going to receive an incredible inheritance, and the other is that we are going to have to suffer in order to receive it. No suffering, no inheritance. Jesus himself learned obedience through his sufferings (Heb 5:8). The Bible says God disciplines all of his children so that we might share his holiness (Heb 12:5-11). For the Israelites, although they were delivered out of slavery in Egypt, the servile spirit still remained a part of them for a long time. It took 40 years to live as God’s children. Trials purify the dross from our lives. They sanctify us. They produce perseverance, character, and hope. Through our sufferings, we become more and more like Christ, our brother, co-heir, and Lord in our characters and attitudes.

Adopting Stephanie Fast
I want to close by telling one story introduced in Lee Strobel’s The Case for Grace. Stephanie Fast was born around the time of Korean Civil War. Her dad was an American soldier, and her mom was a Korean. Stephanie was abandoned by her parents when she was four. She was wandering mountainsides and villages. She had to eat locusts and field mice to survive. Then, she followed a group of homeless children. They called Stephanie, “Toogee” which means half-breed. But it’s more than that. It sort of means garbage, dust, bastard, alien devil. She had no name, no identity, no family, no future, and no hope. Over time, she began to hate herself. She was always in survival mode. When Stephanie was following a gang of homeless children, she was seven. There, she was raped. She ended up getting cholera. Then she was thrown into the garbage heap. Then, a World Vision nurse from Sweden found her and brought her to the clinic. When Stephanie regained her strength, she was transferred to the World Vision orphanage. And she was there for about two years.

One day a young missionary couple, David and Judy Merwin, came to adopt a young boy in the orphanage. But then, they met Stephanie in the hallway. David greeted her and stroked her fact. She felt love, but didn’t know how to respond. So she spat on him twice. And then she ran away and hid in a closet. But they came back the next day and adopted her as their daughter. But Stephanie thought she was going to become their bond servant, because it was common at that time. They kept feeding her, buying her new clothes, but never putting her to work. One day Stephanie talked to her friend, “Those Americans are really funny. They haven’t put me to work yet.” The friend said to her, “Stephanie, don’t you realize that you’re their daughter?” She was astonished! Stephanie said to herself, “I’m their daughter! Oh, that’s why I’ve been treated this way. That’s why no one’s beating me. I’m their daughter!”

On the outside she seemed ok. But on the inside she was scared to show her pain. She thought if her parents saw her pain, they would bring her back to the orphanage. Every night she’d go to bed scared to death I’d be discovered and lose her parents’ love. When she was 17, she met Jesus. All of sudden she realized that Jesus was actually sort of a toogee. He slept in the straw as a child. He was ridiculed and abused. They chased him and tried to kill him. Stephanie cried out, “God, do something and do it right now!” Then, she started crying. She hadn’t cried in years. Then, she started wailing. That night Jesus healed her pain. Then, she has this assurance: “Jesus knows me — and he still loves me! He knows all my shame, he knows all my guilt, he knows all my fears, he knows all my loneliness — yet he still loves me!” And that changed her, inside out! Now Stephanie counsels a lot of women with abuse in their past. And she declares with confidence, “There is no event in my life that I am better without. Why? Because everything in my life brought me to Jesus.”[4]

Adopted by God
Indeed, God’s grace goes far beyond forgiveness. We are beyond forgiven. We are more than a servant. In fact, we are adopted by a Father whose love is unconditional and never-ending. We are adopted by a Father who is for us forever!

Do you have this Father? Do you have this assurance? You don’t need to wait for a miracle or a whisper of the Holy Spirit. Instead, look to Jesus! John 1:12 says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” So look to Christ, receive Christ as your Savior and Lord and Treasure, and you will cry from a heart of deep conviction, “Abba, Father! I’m yours, and You are mine!”

[1] J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity 1973), 182, 194.
[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You (The Good Book Company, 2014) 15.
[4] Lee Strobel, The Case for Grace (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2015), 182-567 of 3611.