Sunday, August 20, 2017

“15 Minutes” (Outdoor Service)

15 Minutes
Today’s sermon title is “15 minutes,” which means my message will be no longer than 15 minutes. Do you like the title? Another reason why I chose the title “15 minutes” is because I wanted to ask each of you in this place one question today: “If you have only 15 minutes to live, what would you do?” Actually, there is a play, titled “15 minutes.” The curtain rises on a drama and one man appears with a happy smile. He is the man who has a bright future before him. But suddenly, he feels severe chest pain and is taken to the hospital. And the doctor tells him he has only 15 minutes to live. While he is lying in his sickroom, he receives three telegrams. The first telegram says that he will inherit a large fortune by his uncle’s will. But it is no use for him at all because he will die in 15 minutes. About after 5 minutes, the second telegram arrives, and it says that his doctoral dissertation was passed, and he will be the youngest Ph.D. candidate. But it is absolutely no use for him now. About after 5 minutes, the last telegram arrives, and it says that his fiancĂ©e accepted a marriage proposal. But even her love was not able to comfort him. Eventually, the time comes, and he draws his last breath, and the curtain falls.

The point of the play is to show the futility and finitude of life. This play condenses our life into “15 minutes” and shows us what it looks like in a nutshell. Many of us have been pursuing successful life and happy life at breakneck speed. Then we lose control of ourselves. And then, we realize that we have already reached the very last stop of our lives. So the Bible says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, "I find no pleasure in them." Thankfully, today I don’t see any elderly people here! It’s never too late. This is the day of salvation. This is the day to remember our Creator.

Death and Bucket List

And this is the day to remember and think about one more thing: “DEATH.” Many people don’t want to talk about death. They don’t want to even think about death. In fact, we live in a death-denying culture. Have you seen the film, “The Bucket List”? Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in this film. Both of them are announced they have lung cancer. They decide to do everything on their bucket list before they die. They go skydiving together. They drive a Shelby Mustang. They ride motorcycles on the Great Wall of China. They attend a lion safari in Africa, and so on. They do lots of fun and interesting things together. But at the end the time comes. Although they did everything they wanted, nothing changed. Eventually, Morgan Freeman dies on the operating tables, and Jack Nicholson dies at the age of 81 in the film. This film is entertaining. It relieves our fear about death. But it never solved anything. Nothing changed. Both of them died in the end anyway. “What is on your bucket list?” You may have one or two, or hundreds of them. But the Bible says at least you must have “one thing” on your bucket list. That is to remember your creator. You must get acquainted with God before you die. And today I want to tell you how to get acquainted with God.

Repent!

First, you must repent your sins. Our sinful and wrongheaded lives cause the split between God and us. The Bible says, “It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore” (Is 59:2 NLT). Then, how can we restore our relationship with God? The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1Jn 1:9) When you admit and confess your sins, God will clear all the obstacles between you and him. Today if God reminds you of your sins during this hour, particularly “deliberate sins” and “unconfessed sins,” please do not hesitate to confess your sins before God. And if you are not sure what kind of sins you must confess, I want you to hear from Romans 1:28-32, saying, “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God's justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.” (NLT) If we commit just one of these, we still deserve to die. Our real status is not a student, nor teacher, nor housewife, nor retiree, but “a sinner who deserve to die”!

Pastor Gordon McDonald, who used to be a senior pastor at Grace Chapel in Boston, once took the following example about repentance. It was a story about John the Baptist. The curtain rises on a drama, and one by one, people come and confess their worst sins to John. John writes down the sins on a sign and hangs it around the neck of each person. Gordon said because he himself actually committed adultery, he confessed that it was written “adultery” on his sign. Everyone has his or her own sign. At the very moment, Jesus appears to be baptized. He takes all the signs off their necks one by one and hangs them all around his neck, and he is baptized. This is repentance and forgiveness of sins. This is the very first step to get acquainted with God. Confess your sins!!

Believe!

The second step to get acquainted with God is to receive Jesus as your Savior and Lord. If you grew up in the church, this phrase, “Jesus is Savior and Lord” might be very familiar. But, do you know Jesus Christ? One time Moravian pastor Spangenberg asked John Wesley, “Do you know Jesus Christ?” Wesley replied, "I know he is the Saviour of the world." Spangenberg countered, "True … but do you know he has saved you?" Wesley answered, "I hope He has died to save me." Spangenberg pushed further, "Do you know yourself." Wesley said, "I do" but confessed in his diary, "I fear they were vain words." When I visit shut-ins and the homebound, I often ask this question after our small talk: “Do you know Jesus? Do you have assurance?” Their typical answer is “I hope so.” I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have that assurance of salvation for a long time. I was born to pastor’s family. I always grew up in the church, but not necessarily in Christ. I believed in God, I believed in Christ, but I did not experience living Christ in everyday life. I lived my way, not His way. In other words, I received Jesus as my Savior, but not as my Lord.

I realized this truth only after I had the following experience. It happened in the year 2000. At that time, I was 21 years old. I was young and healthy. I made a good salary from the army because I was working for the UN Peace Keeping Forces. They gave me generous proficiency pay. I was proud and stiff-necked. In February 2000, God led me to East Timor where civil war broke out. There was no church, of course, no Sunday worship service. At first, I felt freedom from religious duty. I skipped Sunday worship services. I wanted to live a free life, and East Timor was a perfect environment for that. I drank just like others, I watched pornography just like others, and committed sins just like others. God kept giving me a burden for keeping the Sabbath holy, but I ignored it. At first, I felt freedom, but later, I felt restrictions by something. Something was the sin. I became a slave of sin. Around that time, I fell ill with an endemic disease, called “Dengue Fever.” I had a high fever and red rashes all over my body. I went to a military medical center. The army doctor misdiagnosed and gave me aspirin and ointment on the bite. My condition got seriously worse that night. I could not eat anything. I could not even lie down, nor sleep. I became delirious from a high fever. Intuitively, I felt I was going through the valley of death. I knelt down on the cot and repented my sins before I died, and I prayed, “God, if you save my life, I will serve you with all my heart with humility for life.” I fell asleep in peace. I woke up in the early morning. The fever was gone, and red rashes were also all gone completely. And I heard God speak to my soul, “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Mal 4:2) Literally, I went out and leaped like a calf. My stiff neck was broken, and I did receive Jesus Christ as my Master, my Lord, as well as my Savior. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn 14:6). Jesus is the only way to get to know God fully.

Last Call

Every time I go to the airport, I often hear “last call” for passengers: “Please proceed urgently to gate right now.” For some of us today’s service and this message can be the last call from God for you. If this is your last day, are you ready to die? Are you ready to stand before God? Now is really the right time! Today is the day of salvation. Repent your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and your Lord right now. If you are willing, please repeat the following prayer after me:

Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and need Your forgiveness. I believe that You died for my sins. I want to turn from my sins. I now invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow You as the Lord and Savior of my life. In Your name. Amen.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

“The Evidence of Faith” (Romans 2:1-11) - Romans for Everyone III -

Pastor’s Daughter
When controversial book Pastor’s Daughter was first published in Korea in 2014, people had different reactions ranged from rapture to outrage. The author’s father was a well-respected pastor and theologian among Korean churches. He wrote many excellent books and taught many students. He was a pillar of Korean Christianity in the 20th century. In the book the author reveals the shocking truth that from a daughter’s perspective her father was different at home. He was legalistic, authoritarian, and hot tempered. He was cold and loveless to his wife. And he deeply hurt his children. When her father became old, the author sent a long letter because she wanted to reconcile herself to her dad before he died. She wanted to hear him say “I am sorry. I love you.” But her father’s answer was “Repent.” And he quoted the scripture, Exodus 21:17, “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”

Context of Romans 2

It’s a sad story. I shared this story because it is all relevant to today’s scripture, Romans 2. Romans 1 is about unreligious people. Paul says that they are lost. Now in Romans 2 he comes as a bucket of cold water to the religious people, saying, “You are the same! You’re lost too!” The main theme of Romans 2 is to demonstrate that Jews and Gentiles (the religious and the unreligious) are equal in sin and equal in salvation. In Luke 15 Jesus tells us a parable about two sons. It’s often called “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” But in fact, the title of this story should be plural – prodigal sons. There was a man who had two sons. A younger son, as we know, was debauched, materialistic, disobedient to his father. He committed a sin, the kind of sin everyone thinks of as sin. But then there was an older son. He was obedient and compliant with everything the father said. But listen to what he said to his father when his brother came back. He said, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat to celebrate with my friends…” (29). He thinks his father owes him because he’s better. The point of the parable is this: both the younger and older sons are lost, both alienated from the father, and they both need salvation. In Romans 2 Paul is speaking to religious, law-keeping, legalistic, self-righteous, self-confident Jews. Paul says that a self-righteous person will acknowledge the existence of God, but sees no need for him. They are doing well enough themselves. They see no need for repentance, because they think they are doing good. But in today’s passage Paul is showing that religious people need the gospel as much as unreligious people and that religious people run from the gospel as much as unreligious people.

Judging Yourself 

In Romans 2:1 Paul says, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (ESV). We often fall into the hypocrisy of the double standard – a high standard for other people and a fairly low and generous one for ourselves. We are often far quicker and harsher in our judgment of others than of ourselves. But the Bible says that God is fair in his judgment. And he will use our own standards as the standards by which we are judged. It is what Francis Shaffer called the “invisible tape recorder.” It is as if, unseen, there is a recorder around each of our necks. It records the things we say to others and about others, about how they ought to live. Then, at the last day, God the Judge will take the tape recorder off your neck and say: I will be completely fair— I will simply play this tape and judge you on the basis of what your own words say are the standards for human behavior.[1] In verse 3 Paul asks: “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”

We all face judgment, and all deserve wrath. We, religious people, need the gospel as much as unreligious people. The heart of the gospel is that the righteousness of God has been revealed, apart from the law (our righteousness) – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe! (3:21-22). We cannot appreciate the gospel and who Christ is unless we have first acknowledged who we are. Charles Simeon put it in this way: “There are but two objects that I have ever desired … to behold; the one, is my own vileness; and the other is, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ: and I have always thought that they should be viewed together.”[2] My sinfulness, and God’s goodness – these are the two things that we must see every day.

The Evidence of Faith 

When we stand before God on the last day, what is the standard by which we will be judged? Paul’s answer is surprising. In verse 6 Paul says, “God will give to each person according to what he has done” (NIV). God’s judgment is on the basis of works. Here Paul is not saying that we are saved by works. Instead, he is saying that works matter – not as the basis for salvation, but as the evidence that someone has the faith that saves. For instance, the apples on an apple tree prove life, but they don’t provide it. For instance, the apples are the evidence that the apple tree is alive, but the roots are what pull in the nourishment to keep it that way.[3] In the same way, faith in Christ alone provides new life. We are saved by faith through Jesus Christ alone. But a changed life, the fruit of the Spirit, is the evidence that we have real faith. Good works of love show we have saving faith.

Paul, then, tells us that there are two kinds of good works: Christ-exalting vs. self-seeking. In verse 7 there are the group of people who are persistent in doing good, living in a godly way. It has become a persistent life pattern. And they seek glory, honor and immortality. These are qualities that are found in life with God. They do good for God’s glory and honor, not for their own sake. But in verse 8 there are another group of people who insist on getting their own way. They do good works with self-seeking and self-glorifying motives. They feel they are better and more righteous. Doing good deeds become their Savior and their righteousness. One time Saint Francis of Assisi had started a 40-day fast with his disciples. On the 39th day one of his young disciples couldn’t tolerate pain from hunger and had some soup. And the rest of the disciples were furious, because he broke the rules. At that very moment, Francis quietly picked up his spoon and began to have soup. Of course, the disciples were dismayed. Francis said to them, “Why are we fasting for 40 days? We are doing all this to be more like Jesus and love more like Jesus. But if we hate and judge one another in fasting, it would be much better to freely eat and love one another.” What separates true good works from false ones is “love.” Authentic saving faith always issues in good works, but not just good works, but good works of love.

True Jews, True Christians

In verses 28-29 Paul concludes today’s story in this way: “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God” (ESV). These words can be paraphrased for today’s Christians as follows: “So what if you have been baptized? So what if you are a church member? This only counts for anything if there has been a real change in your life, if your heart has been truly affected. Don’t you know that you are not a Christian if you are only one externally, that real Christianity is not about having confidence in external things? No, a Christian is someone who is a Christian inside; what matters is inner baptism, a heart-membership of God’s people. And this is a supernatural work, not a human one.”[4]

One of my colleagues shared this story when he was visiting one church in Abu Dhabi. He was impressed because there are lots of trees there although it’s a desert city. From a distance he saw trees which look like willow trees. They gave him a good impression – warm, comforting, peaceful. But when he came to take a closer look, he was very surprised, because there were lots of thorns on its trunks. In the same way, there are some people who look like good Christians outwardly, but when we come closer to them, really get to know them, we find thorns in them. Especially those who are close – spouse and children, and close friends – know those thorns. But when Christ comes and lives in us, when we walk by His Spirit daily, he takes away our thorns one by one. And our hearts become softened and melted. River of living water flows out of our hearts. And people around us notice this difference. So this morning let us examine and ask ourselves: “Am I a true Christian?” “Is my humility, love in hard situations, grace under pressure, obvious for others to see?” My prayer is that when I die, my wife and four children may say, “He was a true Christian, follower of Christ.” And I pray that you will hear the same complement from those who are close to you and from God. I also pray that our church community would become the most attractive, loving, forgiving place in town where Christ’s love is visible and contagious. Amen.

[1] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (The Good Book Company, 2014), Kindle Location 530-533 of 2850.
[2] Ibid., 671-673.
[3] Ibid., 604-607.
[4] Ibid., 789-793.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

“God’s Wrath, God’s Righteousness” (Romans 1:16-17) - Romans for Everyone II -

The Essence of Sin 
One time a group of the atheists ran advertisements on buses in London, saying, “Enjoy your life, for there is no God.” This statement presupposes that we cannot enjoy our lives freely if there is a God. The Bible clearly says that the essence of sin is godlessness. Romans 1:28 plainly tells the inconvenient truth that people don’t like to retain God in their knowledge (KJV). They make an attempt to get rid of God. But apparently, it is impossible. So then, they determine to live as if there is no God, as if one had succeeded in doing so. They pursue their own ways, instead of following God’s ways. So Paul, in this letter, particularly in his introduction – Romans 1-3, gives a true diagnosis of our condition in the sight of God before preaching the good news. Because otherwise, we will never respond to the gospel; we would not feel like we need the gospel. John Stott says, “We must never bypass the law and come straight to the gospel… No man has ever appreciated the gospel until the law has first revealed him to himself. It is only against the inky blackness of the night sky that the stars begin to appear, and it is only against the dark background of sin and judgment that the gospel shines forth.” That is exactly what Paul is trying to do in today’s scripture. Sin, judgement, God’s wrath… those themes are unpopular, but they are essential for us to see ourselves before God. They make the good news newsworthy. 

How Is the Gospel Offensive? 

Think about the time when you heard the gospel for the first time. Was it easily acceptable? Or were you offended? How were you? In today’s passage Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. The word translated “ashamed” also means “offended.” When we take the gospel seriously to heart, it offends us. How is the gospel offensive? Regarding this important question, Tim Keller rightly answers in four different ways:[1]
  1. The gospel is insulting to moral and religious people who think their decency gives them an advantage over less moral people, because it tells us that our salvation is free and undeserved. It tells us that we are all such spiritual failures that the only way to gain salvation is for it to be a complete gift. 
  2. The gospel offends the modern cult of self-expression and the popular belief in the innate goodness of humanity, because it tells us that Jesus died for us. It tells us that we are so wicked that only the death of the Son of God could save us. 
  3. The gospel offends the modern notion that any nice person anywhere can find God “in his own way,” because it tells us that trying to be good and spiritual isn’t enough, thereby insists that no “good” person will be saved, but only those who come to God through Jesus. 
  4. The gospel offends people who want salvation to be an easy life; it also offends people who want their lives to be safe and comfortable, because it tells us that our salvation was accomplished by Jesus’ suffering and serving, and that following him means to suffer and serve with him. 
So how is the gospel offensive to you? The gospel will always cause offense. 1 Corinthians 1:22-23 says, “Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified (Good News!): a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” So we will always be tempted to be ashamed of, offended by the gospel. But we need to remember that the gospel of Christ is the power of God. We need to remember that it reveals God’s righteousness.

The Righteousness of God Revealed 

Romans 1:17 says, “For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed…” Here let us think about the meaning of the word “righteousness.” For instance, what does it mean to be “right” with your company, your government or another person? It is a positional word— it means to have a good or right standing, to have no debts or liabilities that you owe the other person or organization.[2] You are acceptable to the other party because your record is now clean. The other party has nothing against you. The gospel tells us how God makes us “right” in his sight. Not by our morality, not by our good works, not by our innate goodness, but only by the death of Christ, we are able to stand right before God. In this gospel the righteousness from God is revealed (NIV). And it is a “gift” that we receive when we believe the gospel. Many people believe they become righteous by faith through Jesus, but then they try to maintain it through their own self-seeking goodness – religious activities, good works, etc. But the Bible says that a righteousness from God is a righteousness that is “by faith from first to last” (NIV). We are saved by faith. We are transformed by faith. We are sanctified by faith from start to finish.

The Wrath of God Revealed
In the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed. Then, in the very next verse Paul says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven…” (v. 17). The wrath of God is totally different from human anger. It does not mean that God loses his temper. The alternative to ‘wrath’ is not ‘love’ but ‘neutrality’ in the moral conflict. And God is not neutral. John Stott rightly says, “God’s wrath is his holy hostility to evil, his refusal to condone it or come to terms with it, his just judgment upon it.”[3]

Then, how is God’s wrath revealed? God’s wrath is revealed quietly and invisibly. God’s wrath ‘operates not by his intervention but precisely by his not intervening, by letting men and women go their own way.”[4] God abandons stubborn sinners to their wilful self-centeredness. In Romans 1 Paul repeats three times how God’s wrath is revealed. Verse 24 says, “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity…” Verse 26 says, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions.” And again verse 28 says, “… God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” This is the revelation of God’s wrath from heaven. In Numbers 22 Balak, king of Moab, sent his messengers to Balaam. Balak asked Balaam to curse the Israelites for his people. God clearly said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them. You shall not curse the people, for they are blessed.” But once again Balak sent more honorable people with more money. Balaam asked God again, “Can I go with them?” God said, “Rise, go with them; but only do what I tell you.” Apparently God was not pleased. In fact, God gave him up to his greed and unrighteousness. On the way the angel of the Lord was standing with his drawn sword in his hand and almost tried to kill him, saying, “Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me” (v. 32). God intervened one more time. But unfortunately, Balaam didn’t turn away. He kept going on his way. And eventually, he perished in his rebellion (cf. Jude 1:11).

In Romans 1:18 Paul says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (NIV). Then he describes all kinds of godlessness in the following verses. He describes in detail against what God’s wrath is revealed. In particular, verses 26-27 are a crucial text in the contemporary debate about homosexuality. Some churches love and welcome homosexual people, but they downplay or deny the clear teaching of Scripture on homosexuality. We might call this the “liberal” approach. Other churches take what the Bible says on homosexuality very seriously, but in a very self-righteous way. They see homosexuality as the sin that matters most. We might call this as a “conservative” approach.[5] Paul isn’t doing either. Paul is not saying: “It doesn’t matter what you do; God doesn’t mind as long as you’re happy.” But he is also not saying: “I don’t want to love you because you are beyond the gospel.” Yes, the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. In verses 26-27 “unnatural relations” is literally “against nature” – para phusin. This means that homosexuality is a violation of the created nature God gave us – not “my nature”, or “what seems natural to me,” but God’s created order (Gen 1:27; 2:24).

“You’ve Only Got Six Months to Live!”
Homosexuality is a sin, but not the worst sin. In Romans 1 we see all kinds of godlessness. Homosexuality is one of them. We also find greed, sexual immorality, hate, envy, quarreling, gossips, slanderers, arrogant, disobedient to parents, faithless, heartless, ruthless. None of these are more or less serious than the others. And the Bible says that those who practice such things deserve to die (v. 32). So when you read Romans 1, if you think ‘How wicked they are, and thank God for I am not like them,’ you have missed the point. Here Paul is saying, “You are the one who deserve to die. You are the one who is under God’s coming wrath” (cf. 2:1). When the doctor tells you that you've only got six months to live, how would you respond to that? In 2 Kings 20 the Lord said to King Hezekiah, “Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, “O Lord, remember me.” He wept bitterly. And God did heal his disease. Our response should be the same. “Lord, have mercy on me. I am a sinner. Lord, deliver me from self-righteousness, judgmental spirit, false peace and happiness, and heartless and powerless Christian life!” My prayer is that the Lord may open our eyes to grasp the gospel and to understand, as Paul did, that we are the worst sinner (1 Tim 1:15), so that we will always humbly and joyfully love God with all our hearts and love our neighbors with all our strength. Amen.

[1] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (The Good Book Company. 2014), Kindle Locations 217-227 of 2850.
[2] Ibid., 253-256.
[3] John Stott, The Message of Romans: God's Good News for the World (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 1994), Kindle Locations 1177-1181 of 8863
[4] Ibid., 1243.
[5] Timothy Keller, 435-440.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

“The Gospel concerning His Son” (Romans 1:1-7) - Romans for Everyone I –

The Influence of Romans
Paul’s letter to the Romans is often called the fullest, plainest, and grandest statement of the gospel in the New Testament. Martin Luther called Romans “really the chief part of the New Testament, and … truly the purest gospel.” John Calvin said similarly that “if we have gained a true understanding of this Epistle, we have an open door to all the most profound treasures of Scripture.”[1] Romans is a book that repeatedly change the world, by changing people. Augustine, pillar of Christendom, was converted by reading Romans 13:13-14 after wandering in the spiritual desert for a long time. Martin Luther was another good example. He was a monk. He was a good monk, but he didn’t love God and was tired of his powerless Christian life. In his writing he said, “…. Therefore I did not love a righteous and angry God, but rather hated and murmured against him…”[2] But then, as he was preparing to teach his class, meditating on Romans 1:17, he had a born-again experience. About 200 years later, John Wesley had a similar experience. Basically, he did everything he could do – Bible studies, daily prayer, giving alms to the poor, visiting prisoners, and all other good works. He even volunteered to go to Georgia as a missionary to the settlers and the Indians. But the harder he tried, the more he felt empty and dry. Then one evening he attended a Moravian meeting. Somebody was reading Luther’s Preface to … Romans. While he was listening, he had a conversion experience. In his journal, Wesley said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” So as we explore Romans, let us be prepared for the consequences of reading this letter. You have been warned!

For Everyone, for You
So why is Romans so life-changing? It is because Romans is all about the gospel. We often think that the gospel is for those who are outside the church to be saved. But the truth is that everyone needs the gospel, both the “we” inside the church and the “they” who are yet outside it. In verse 15 the Apostle Paul says to “Christians” in Rome, “So I am eager to preach the gospel to you!” Yes, we need the gospel to be saved, but also we need the gospel to grow in faith. Each and every one of us needs the gospel every day.

What is the Gospel?
The word “Gospel,” which comes from the Greek word euangelion, literally means “good news.” In the first century, if an emperor won a great victory on a battlefield, he would send heralds to spread good news. So what is then the Christian gospel? The Christian good news is the gospel of God. In verse 1 Paul says that he was set apart for the gospel of God. So The origin of the gospel is God. The gospel is not human speculations. It is revelation. That’s the first characteristic of the gospel. It all starts with God. The apostles did not invent it. It was revealed and entrusted to them by God. The gospel is not advice to be followed. It is news, good news about what has been done. The gospel is God’s good news of the way of salvation.

Second, the gospel is not something new. It’s found in the entire Bible, both the Old Testament and the New. Romans 1:2 says, “God promised the gospel beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures.” In fact, the Old Testament is all about the gospel. For instance, Jesus was the son of man of Daniel 7 and the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. All the “Scriptures” point forward to the same gospel.

Third, most importantly, the gospel is about a person, not a concept. In verse 3 Paul says, “the gospel concerning his Son…” (NRSV). NLT reads verse 3 in this way: “The Good News is about his Son.” The gospel is “who,” not “what.” It is all about God’s Son, the man Jesus.

The Gospel concerning His Son: Jesus, Christ, Our Lord
Who is His Son? Paul expounds who he is in three ways. First, he is “Jesus.” The name Jesus refers to the fact that he is a fully human, historical figure. Verse 3 says, “As to his human nature he was a descendant of David” (NIV). Why is it so important that Jesus is fully human? It is because only human can be crucified and shed blood. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree." Hebrews 9:22 also says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Jesus has come to us in the flesh to die on the cross and shed his blood for us.

Second, he is “Christ.” In Hebrew, “Christ” is “Messiah,” which means, “the anointed one.” In Jesus’ time all the Israelites knew that “Messiah” refers to the Son of God, God himself. Christ is the true God, fully divine. Verse 4 says, “Through the Spirit of holiness he was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead” (NIV). Then why is it so important that he is fully divine? It is because only God can be resurrected from the dead. In human history there is no one resurrected. Only Christ, the Son of God can be raised from the dead. The resurrection is the essence of the Christian faith. By the resurrection of Christ God proved that Christ is righteous, and considers anyone who believes in him also righteous as much as Christ.

Third, he is “our Lord,” who owns and rules our lives. In verse 4, as Paul puts the gospel in a nut shell, he calls God’s Son in this way: Jesus, Christ, our Lord. The gospel is not just a concept or a philosophy. Intellectual agreement is not enough. The gospel, by nature, calls us to love Christ, trust Christ, obey Christ as the Lord. In verse 5 Paul tells us the goal of the gospel. It is to bring about the obedience that comes from faith (NIV). Obedience is not a second condition for our salvation, but it is a natural outcome, consequence of saving faith. Martin Luther put it in this way: “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.” It always brings about grateful, joyful, trusting obedience. So let us ask ourselves. Where can we see the obedience that comes from faith in our own lives?

The Gospel: the Power of God
When we think of the life of Paul, we see this beautiful fruit of obedience in his life. In Paul’s time, Rome was the symbol of imperial pride and power. Everybody hoped to visit Rome at least once in their lifetime, in order to look and stare and wonder. But Paul wanted to visit Rome not as a tourist but as an evangelist. According to tradition, Paul was an ugly little guy with beetle brows, bandy legs, a bald pate, a hooked nose, bad eyesight and no great rhetorical gifts.[3] It is only common sense that he would be wiser to stay away. Or if he must visit Rome, it would be prudent for him to keep silent. But Paul knew what the people in Rome needed most – the gospel. He said, “I am under obligation (v. 14)… I am eager to preach the gospel to you (v. 15)… I am not ashamed of the gospel (v. 16)…” Why? It is because the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. The gospel changes us. It completely changes our behaviors, our character, our minds, our hearts, our life orientation, our world view, our value, our understanding of everything that happens. It changes everything. And more importantly, only the gospel can save us, reconcile us to God, and purify us to grow in faith. How do we know this? We have such a great cloud of witnesses. But in the long run, we ourselves have to experience at first hand the power of the gospel in our own lives. The gospel of Christ was preached to those who were in Korea about 130 years ago. My maternal grandfather, who were about to commit suicide because of difficulties of life, heard the gospel and met Christ. Then he brought his entire family to Christ. My father was suffering from acute pneumonia. In the midst of his suffering, he cried out to God, encountered Christ and surrendered his life to Christ. For a long time, I was wandering in the spiritual desert. But God was patient. He opened his arms to me, standing before me, for 22 years. And finally, by the grace of God, I saw the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. That changed everything.

The message of Romans is not simply to live a new life. The message of Romans is this: Believe the gospel, and the gospel will set you free, change you, give you power to live a new life in Christ. Once there was a young disciple, who was filled with complaints about the world and people around him. One day his teacher asked him to bring a bowl of salt and a glass of water. Then he told him to put a handful of salt in water and drink. And he did. Then the teacher asked, “How was it?” The disciple gave a sullen answer, “It’s much too salty.” Then, the teacher took him to a lake and said, “Now put a handful of salt in water and drink.” And he did. Then the teacher asked, “Is it salty?” The disciple said, “No, it’s not.” Then the teacher said, “Although you put the same amount of salt in water, the degree of saltiness is different. It depends on how big your bowl is.” The gospel may not change our circumstances. But it changes our hearts for sure. It makes our heart like a big lake with calm surface. The gospel is not about spiritual concept or doctrine to agree with. The gospel is about the person. The gospel is Jesus Christ our Lord. So do you believe the gospel? Believing the gospel means believing that we are so wicked and spiritual failures that only the death of Jesus could save us. Believing the gospel means believing that Jesus was indeed raised from the dead to make us righteous and now he lives in us. When we believe the gospel, we join the Apostle Paul in his confession of faith: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20, NIV). Amen.

[1] John Stott, The Message of Romans: God's Good News for the World, (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 1994), Kindle Location 220 of 8863.
[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 1-7 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (The Good Book Company, 2014), Kindle Location 47 of 2850.
[3] John Stott, Kindle Location 933-939 of 8863.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

“Not Conformed But Transformed” (Romans 12:1-2) - Christian Education Sunday 2017 -


It Takes a Village
It takes a village to raise a child. This ancient African proverb teaches eternal truth. A child does not grow up in isolation. A child becomes a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in nurturing the child. Parents and immediate family might be the primary source of support, but there are many other people involved in a child’s growth. Every child is nurtured and shaped by a community. Schools, churches – teachers and congregations – all have an important role in nurturing and guiding the next generation. No child is an island. It does take a village.

Do Not Be Conformed
This truth equally applies to people of all ages, to all of us in this room, not just to children. We are consciously and unconsciously shaped by a community and this world. Then, what is the pattern of this world? The world tells us that happiness consists in the size of our cars, the impressiveness of our houses, and the expensiveness of our clothes, but our Lord Jesus reminds us, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The world tells us that sexual promiscuity is just part of self-expression. But Jesu tells us that “anyone who looks a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Therefore, in today’s passage the Apostle Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world – its ways, values and customs.” The word “conform” means to have the same shape, style, obedient to, or in harmony with. Here Paul is saying, “Don’t let the world shape, mold, influence you, or to pull you in its direction. Don’t get caught in its flow; it will pull you away.” So we Christians actually live under a lot of pressure to fit in.

Max Lucado’s If Only I Had a Green Nose is a wonderful story for teaching children to be themselves. But it is also a great story for teaching adults to nonconform to the pattern of this world. It’s about a little boy named Punchinello, who is struggling with a really hard decision, to be like everyone else in town or to be himself. The towns people decided that by painting their nose green they would feel better about themselves. At first, Punchinello thought a green nose is just silly. It wouldn't make him faster, stronger, or even smarter. It would only make him just like everyone else. But as time goes by, he eventually wants to have a green nose just because all the other Wemmicks have a green nose. Then, he hears the news that a red nose is now the latest thing in town. Then a blue nose, then pink nose, then yellow nose… And eventually, Punchinello was totally exhausted. Just like Punchinello, we all want to fit in. To be accepted by the crowd. Our sinful nature – sexual immorality, lust, hatred, strife, anger, dissensions, factions, addictions – just wants to follow and conform to the behavior, customs, and culture of this world. But, our Lord Jesus commands us to live differently. Then, where can we find strength to swim upstream against the current and all these pressures of this world?

Be Transformed
Today’s scripture gives us an answer: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!” Here the word “transformed” means to change into something different. It means to have new nature, new character – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – from the inside out. How does this happen? The answer is “by the renewing of our mind.” Then our next question is how can we renew our mind? The answer is by the living and active power of God’s word. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I don’t know about you, but for me I find very difficult and almost impossible to renew my own mind, let alone others. But only the word of God is able to reshape, renew, retrain our mind, our thoughts, our values. In Psalm 119 David says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word… I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Be saturated with the word of God! By this, we renew our mind. And help and teach your (biological and spiritual) children to saturate their minds with God’s word.

As I look back on my Sunday school days, I particularly remember three teachers – my 3rd, 7th and 12th grade Sunday school teachers. They all have one thing in common. They did teach me the Bible, God’s word. Interestingly, all of them were kind of shy, quiet, ineloquent. But they were something different. There was power when they taught me. Intuitively, I could sense they were teaching the truth with conviction. Though there were times I was bored, for some reason their teaching did stay in me for a long time, shape my values, reshape my sinful heart and mind. By this experience, I have learned there is power in the word of God to renew, reshape our hearts and minds. In my college years I myself became a Sunday school teacher for the youth group. I taught 10th and 11th students. Some of them were from broken and dysfunctional families. They had no dreams, visions, or purpose of life. I had tried hard to build up a relationship with them, but they did not trust me. So I started “Vision Study Club” to teach them some academic subjects such as English and mathematics. But more importantly, I taught them the Bible. We met twice a week, and during summer break we met Monday through Friday. After about two years I began to see how God’s word renews and transforms their minds. They stopped using filthy language. They stopped wasting time. Instead, they started to discover the goals of their lives and eventually entered college they aimed at. It was the most exciting and honorable experience for me to watch them to be transformed and grow in faith by the power of God’s word.

Then
Before we are transformed, the Bible doesn’t make sense at all. It is just a medley of contradictions. Indeed, on a superficial level different Bible verses seem to be contradictory to one another. And God’s word seems difficult, burdensome, not relevant to our daily life. But once we are transformed, we come to understand that God’s word does make sense. We discover that God’s will is the very best and perfect for our lives. NLT version translates Romans 12:2 in this way: “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

It Takes a Village, but…
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed. How? By the renewing of our mind. We must renew our minds. Our children must renew their minds. Our children need godly parents, godly grandparents, godly Sunday school teachers, godly pastors, who are able to teach God’s word and live out God’s word in everyday life. In Nehemiah 8 revival comes. People ask Ezra to bring the Book of Moses’ Law. As he opens the book, all the people stand. As he reads the word, they answer “Amen, Amen” and worship the Lord with their faces to the ground. It was a team effort. Nehemiah united the people all together. The Scribe Ezra read the word. And the Levites helped the people to understand clearly the reading. They explained the meaning. When the people of Israel understood the reading, they wept. They were transformed by the word of God. And it was a team effort. It takes a congregation to raise the children. It takes a congregation to nurture and guide our new believers on the road of discipleship. It takes a congregation to reach out to those who slip away. It takes a congregation to nudge us into spiritual growth, to take another step, when we are more comfortable staying where we are. It takes a congregation to encourage and support one another as we travel our pilgrim journey together that are sometimes smooth and clear, but at other times are filled with potholes and conflict. It takes a congregation…


But it always begins with me. The revival written in Nehemiah 8 did not just happen. This revival begins with one person, Ezra. Ezra 7:10 says, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (ESV). Ezra did study the word, do the word, and teach the word. And when the time had fully come, revival started. Some of you may have heard D.L. Moody’s famous “T and P” Bible. In the margin of many pages in D. L. Moody’s Bible, he wrote the letters T and P, meaning “Tried and Proved.” He read it, digested it, underlined it, and put it into practice. And he proved that the word of God actually works. Let us try and prove God’s wonder-working Word. Let us set aside time daily to actually read the word, study the word, meditate on the word, memorize the word, and do the word, until God’s word reshapes us, renews us, transforms us from the inside out. Then, like Dr. King said, we will stop marching to the drumbeat of conformity. We will begin listening to the beat of a more distant drum from above and marching to the music of eternity that is good, pleasing, and perfect. More than ever before, we are today challenged by the words of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

“Fellowship with the Trinity” (Job 38:1-7; 42:1-6)


The Shack and the Trinity
Today we celebrate Pentecost and next Sunday Trinity Sunday. As I was preparing the message for these important celebrations, William P. Young’s The Shack came to my mind. I think some of you have had a chance to either read or watch this story. The brief plot goes like this: The main character, “Mack” is a father of five. One day he takes three of his children on a camping trip. Two of his children are playing in a canoe when it flips and almost drowns Mack's son. Mack is able to save his son by rushing to the water, but unintentionally leaves his youngest daughter Missy alone at their campsite. After Mack returns, he sees that Missy is missing. The police discover that Missy has been abducted and murdered by a serial killer. The police find an abandoned shack in the woods where Missy was taken. Her bloodied clothing is found, but her body is not there. Since that time, Mack's life sinks into what he calls "The Great Sadness.” In this story the author asks this question: “Where is God in our suffering? Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” It was Job’s question in the Bible, and it is our question today. We still ask, “Where is God when…?”

The author Young finds the answer in the fellowship with the Holy Trinity. He himself asked this question many times throughout his life journey. Young’s parents were missionaries. He and his family went to the Netherlands New Guinea when he was a year old. He had a difficult relationship with his dad, who was very broken. He had also been sexually abused by the natives as early as 5 years old. Those experiences did devastate, fracture, damage his soul. He then learned how to emotionally detach himself and leave and never dealt with his stuff. But, he had to deal with all his stuff in his marriage. Finally, he got caught in adultery in a three-month affair with one of his wife’s best friends. That started a long process of dealing with his stuff. In this painful healing journey Young did meet the Trinity in the shack, the very place he got stuck, got hurt, got damaged. And now he invites us to go to our shack, the house we build out of our own pain, and to meet the Trinity right there to be healed.

“Papa” Father
In the book of Job in His providence God allows Satan to test Job. In one day Job lost all his property and all his ten children. To make things worse, he was ulcers and scabs from head to foot. The worst scenario possible! In this respect Job and Mack in the story of the Shack have in common. Job begins questioning: “Why is all this happening?” “Why me?” “Where is God?” “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” After all these questions, God appears. He doesn’t answer Job’s questions. Instead, he asks questions. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much!” (38:4) “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (40:8) Then, Job begins to understand his ability to discern what is good, or what is evil is quite self-serving and self-centered. He repents that he has become the judge.

In the story of the Shack Mack went to see “Sophia” (Wisdom) inside of the thick, dark mountain. He was then invited to sit on the judgment seat himself to be the judge. Sophia said to him, “Now you must choose two of your children to spend eternity in heaven and three of them to spend eternity in hell.” Mack said, “I can’t. I can’t. I won’t! Could I go instead? If you need someone to torture for eternity. Please let me go for my children. Please…” And she said, “And now you know Papa’s heart who loves all her children perfectly.”  By this, Mack realized that was exactly what God did for him as a righteous Judge and loving Advocate. As a righteous Judge, God had to sentence us to death because “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23a). But as a loving Advocate, God chose to give his unique Son. He chose to walk the path of his own child loss to save all who believe, including even child abusers and abductors. So the first step towards our healing journey is to “give up” being the judge and “trust” God as a good Father and righteous Judge all the time.

Jesus the Son
Now Jesus the Son. How do we know God really love us, care about us? We do know His love perfectly in Jesus Christ. 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.” We feel God’s love through Jesus Christ the Son. Then, where do we see Jesus in the book of Job? In fact, Job foreshadows Jesus, the righteous man who suffers unjustly and is finally vindicated by his Father. Timothy Keller rightly said, “Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.”

Where and how do we see Jesus in our suffering? In the story of the Shack one time Mack was boating on a peaceful lake. All of sudden, the lake was boiling, and the boat was sinking in the middle of the lake. He cried out for help. Right away, Jesus walked on the water to help, saying, “That’s what is happening inside of you. Why do you have so much fear in your life? Look at me. Fix your eyes on me. Trust me!” Then, he offered his hand to him to come out of the boat. At first, Mack was hesitant, afraid, but eventually he came out of it. Later, Mack and Jesus ran on the water together! Run with Jesus! So the second step to our healing journey is to “trust” Jesus, trust his finished work on the cross no matter what fear or pain we have, and to be submitted to him out of love and respect.

The Holy Spirit
Last but not least, the Holy Spirit. We come to God the Father through Jesus the Son by the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Think about it. The Bible says Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb 1:3). We know God through Jesus. But how do we experience Jesus? How do we talk with him, walk with him, dine with him who lived 2000 years ago? The answer is by the Holy Spirit! Job had heard about God, knew about God. But when the Holy Spirit opened his eyes, Job shouted with joy, “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes!” (42:5) This is the creative, regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. The same thing happened to Nicodemus. He had heard about God, knew about God, taught about God. But Jesus said to him, “You must be born again!” (John 3:3) It is never enough to do a little bit of improvement or renovation of our old self. What we need is a new foundation, new nature, new self, new life. This is possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit. When we are born of the Spirit, we become like a wind. There is freedom, creativity, life. Though it is intangible, we ourselves know for sure we have new, abundant, eternal life. And others also notice something different. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the story of the Shack the Holy Spirit is “Sarayu,” an Asian woman. Sarayu took Mack to a messy garden. And she asked him to help clearing the entire plot of ground because she would plant something new and special here. They together cut off at the roots all the weeds and plants. The plot looked like a wound in the garden. Mack called this garden a mess, but Sarayu called this messy garden wild and beautiful. In fact, this garden was Mack’s soul. When the Holy Spirit comes, he does something brand-new. He tears down our old foundation and builds an entirely new foundation. He gives us new nature. At first, it is so small like a mustard seed, but it slowly grows and grows, and eventually changes our whole being from inside out. So the third step to the healing journey is to “trust” the Holy Spirit and His life-giving work within us.

The Flyer and The Catcher

As I close, I would like to share a circus story with you. I think many of you in this room have seen a circus. One day I was reading Henri Nouwen’s book, I was very impressed by his reflection on the art of the trapeze at the circus. Many of us are impressed by the performance of the flyer. We think the flyer is the great star of the trapeze. But the real star is the catcher. In fact, the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. The flyer has simply to stretch out his arms and hands and wait for him to catch him. In the art of the trapeze the worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. If he grabbed the catcher’s wrists, he might break them. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch. And the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him with split-second precision. God is the Catcher, and we are the flyer. As a flyer, all we need to do is to stretch out our arms and hands and trust the Catcher. And in his time God will be there for us. He will heal us, restore us, make us whole. So let us trust, trust, trust. Trust the Catcher. Amen. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Believe the Eternal Gospel" (Rev. 14:6-13) - Living in the Kingdom of God III -

Boling Frog Syndrome
Have you heard the story of a boiling frog? It describes a frog slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for those who are unwilling to react or be aware of the upcoming gradual threats or challenges. C.S. Lewis said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestone, without signposts.” In the days of Noah, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered the ark. They knew nothing until the flood hit and swept everything away. So, Jesus says to his disciples and us, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt 24:42 ESV). In Revelation 22 Jesus says three times, “Behold, I am coming soon!” (7, 12, 20) Jesus wants us to stay awake and have a sense of urgency. Then, as the bride of Christ, how may we – as a church and as individuals – be prepared for the Day of the Lord? Today’s passage gives us an answer to this question.

Worship God
In the passage the Apostle John sees an angel who has the eternal gospel. This gospel prepares and equips us for the Day. Basically, the eternal gospel has three messages. The first angel proclaims, “Worship God alone!” In verse 7 the angel says, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” The top chronic disease of humankind is idol worship. John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory of idols… Every of us is, from his or her mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” Our problem today is the same as the one in the day of Elijah. At that time the Israelites thought they believed and worshiped God rightly. But it was not true. When Elijah confronted Baal’s prophets, he said to the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is god, follow him!” (1Kg 18:21). If we are willing to follow God, we must get rid of our idols first. We cannot worship God with divided hearts. When I was in Thailand as an exchange student, I was surprised that the people there accepted Christ rather easily than I expected. But, the problem was that they didn’t want to give up their other beliefs. They said, “I believe in Christ. But I still believe in Buddha. Both of them are all good for me.” Many Christians today have the same attitude. They sit on the fence. They stay in the gray zone. But the Book of Revelation clearly says that in the last days only two groups of people will exist: “Those who have the seal of God” (Those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes) vs. “Those who have the mark of the beast (Those who follow the ways of Babylon).” We belong to one of the two groups. We cannot belong to the both groups at the same time. Love for Babylon and love for God cannot coexist. Love for Babylon pushes out love for God. Then, what does mean to love “Babylon”? The message of the second angel gives us a clue to this question.

Don’t Worship Babylon 
The second message is this: “Don’t worship Babylon!” In verse 8 the angel proclaims, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” Here “Babylon” refers to “the kingdom of the devil.” The Book of Revelation, especially chapter 13-19, describes what the devil’s kingdom is like with detail. The devil parodies the Holy Trinity and establishes his own false trinity: “the beast out of the sea,’ ‘the beast out of the earth,’ and ‘Babylon the prostitute.’ They are three enemies of the church. First, the beast out of the sea represents physical persecution (13:1-10). He has an impressive show of power. He is given a mouth to blaspheme God. He is also given power to persecute the church. Second, the beast out of the earth represents intellectual false teaching (13:11-18). He has two horns like a lamb, masquerading as a counterpart to Christ the Lamb. He performs miraculous signs, deceives the people on earth, and made them worship the first beast. Third, Babylon the prostitute represents moral compromise (14:8; ch. 17-18). She is described as seductive prostitute who devours the church and its saints. In the early church the devil tried to crush the church by force. He tried to mislead the church by false teaching and by distracting the apostles from their ministry of the Word and so exposing the church to heresy. He tried to corrupt the church by the moral hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira. All over the world today the same threefold assault on the church – physical, intellectual, and moral attacks – is still mounted by the devil.

The difficult part is that the strategy of Satan is so subtle, so mixed. It is so hard to perceive it. So, many people, even many Christians are deceived because not only does Satan persecute the church, but also he provides some kind of distorted comfort, rest, pleasures and happiness to the people. So, in Revelation 18 when Babylon is fallen, many people on earth weep and mourn over her because their hope of pleasures is gone. But the word of God, particularly the Book of Revelation, enables us to see this Satan’s subtle deception. It also enables us to see the conclusion of Babylon, the devil’s kingdom. It will be destroyed completely, suddenly and eternally. So today God proclaims his eternal gospel to John and to us through the angel. Don't worship the wealth of Babylon, don't worship the power of Babylon, and don't worship the pleasures of Babylon. But worship God and Jesus the Lamb! (cf. 19:10; 22:9)

Choose Today 
The third message of the eternal gospel is, “Choose today for yourselves!” The angel contrasts between two groups of people. First, in verse 11 the angel warns those who worship Babylon that they will have no rest day or night. They might have temporary distorted pleasures and happiness, but their end will come like a thief. But, in verse 13 the angel of God blesses those who worship God alone, remain faithful to Jesus, and even die in the Lord. The Spirit promises, “Yes, they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” The conclusion of the eternal gospel is crystal clear, that is, “Choose today for yourselves whom you will worship and follow! Don’t sit on the fence any longer!” We know whom we must choose today. We “know” the answer, but the problem is that we don’t have “power” to follow God because we are made of flesh and blood, because the enemy’s physical, intellectual, and moral attacks and temptations are too strong to defeat. That’s why Jesus became flesh and blood. By his death he broke the power of the devil, who has the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who put their hope in this world and have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying (Heb 2:14-15). Jesus opened the door for us to clearly see the two things: the eternity of the kingdom of God and the vanity of the kingdom of the world. The Book of Revelation is all about this. The more our eyes are open for the hope of the kingdom of God, the more we will risk death for God’s kingdom and his righteousness, the more we will hate sin and compromise, and the more we will devote ourselves to the work of God without reserve.

Scottish missionary David Livingstone in his last days had been “lost” to the outside world. Henry Stanley was sent out to find Livingstone. Finally, he found Livingstone who was suffering from tropical disease in the small village in Zambia. Stanley urged Livingstone to return to England with him. He said, “You’ve dedicated yourself to this mission for 30 years. I think that is enough. So now, why don’t you go back with me and have some rest and see your children?” Then, Livingstone answered, “Thank you, but no. For me the ministry here is not a sacrifice, but a great privilege. Every time I think about this honorable ministry my heart is full.” But after Stanley left, Livingstone was thoroughly homesick. In his journal he wrote: "19th March, 1872. Birthday. Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties, save the tie that binds me to Thy heart. My Jesus, my King, my life, my all, I again dedicate my whole self to Thee." About a year later he died while kneeling in prayer at his bedside. Livingstone truly believed and lived out the eternal gospel. He lived in the kingdom of God.

Your Last Words 
For me personally, I have made my “Ten Commandments of Preaching.” I read this before preaching every single week as a reminder. The very first commandment is this: “Remember this sermon that I am going to preach would be my last message on earth.” For all of us in this room, the Day will come soon.

D.L. Moody’s last words were, “Earth recedes, Heaven opens before me! It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” John Bunyan said, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, through the mediation of His blessed Son, receives me, though a sinner. We shall meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy.” Richard Baxter said, “I have pain; but I have peace, I have peace!” As I was preparing this message, I kept asking to myself, ‘If this is my last sermon, what would I preach?’ My last message would be this: “Let us flee from Babylon! Worship God and Jesus alone! And Live for eternity!” How about you? What would be your last words?