Sunday, March 19, 2017

“Judas Iscariot: While You Have the Light” (John 13:21-30) - God’s Story Our Story II –


Kichijiro, the Judas Everyman
One of the main themes that stands out in the Gospel of John is the betrayal of Judas. Today we will explore Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and learn from it. Before we dive into the Scriptures, I would like to first tell you a story, Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence. It’s a novel based on the true history of 17th century Japan. At that time Japanese Christians had to endure severe persecution. In the story we meet Kichijiro. He and his family were found to be Christians, and they were ordered to trample on a fumie, an image of Christ. Kichijiro trampled; the rest of his family refused. He watched them die. Later he confessed to a priest and had conversion experience. But due to external pressure he denied God publically three more times throughout the story. He even sold out Father Rodrigues and received 300 pieces of silver, 10 times Judas’ price for the deed. Kichijiro cries out in despair, “I am weak! Where is the place for the weak man like me?” Although he keeps falling and is traumatized by his failure, he continually seeks forgiveness. As we hear this story, we are tempted to easily scorn Kichijiro. But in fact, Kichijiro is a kind of Christian-disciple Everyman. The author presents us with a moment for self-examination about our own relationship with Jesus.  

The Love of Jesus for Judas
John 13 clearly tells us how much Jesus loved his disciples, including Judas Iscariot. It begins in this way: “Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end” (NLT). Jesus chose Judas Iscariot as one of his disciples. They had spent at least three years living together, working together. They had been through a lot together. In fact, Judas was the group’s treasurer, a trusted follower of Jesus, a close friend of Jesus.

But somewhere Judas made a wrong turn and pressed ahead; Jesus showed him the full extent of his love right to the end. In the Upper Room Jesus washed Judas’ feet. Think about it. He knew Judas was plotting to betray him. What was it like for Jesus to wash this man’s feet? What was it like for Judas? Even this footwashing didn’t change Judas’ heart. So after this, Jesus said the word in the way only Judas could understand, saying, “And you are clean, but not everyone of you” (11). He wanted to give Judas a chance to repent. “Abandon your way of life, your way of thinking. Come back to me now!” But he didn’t. So Jesus said for the second time by citing from Ps 41:9, David’ lament over a betrayal from his close friend, “He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me!” (18). But Judas didn’t change his course. So now Jesus was troubled in his spirit and said for the third time in a more direct way, “Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me!” (21) “That’s the pain, Judas! You have been with me for three years. After all we’ve been through. After all I’ve done for you. After all the wonder you’ve experienced.” Judas kept pressing ahead.

Jesus then gave a piece of bread to Judas (26). Here it would be helpful to know Jewish tradition at the time of Jesus for our better understanding. Jews used a low three-sided U shape table, which was necessary for them to recline. The body was supported with the left arm (or elbow), the right hand was used for eating, and the feet were extended away from the table. If we read today’s scripture closely, we find that Judas was sitting to the left of Jesus (host), in the place designated for the most honored guest. At that time, it was common for the host to serve the honored guest a morsel from the table. Jesus was serving as a host, Judas, his honored guest, the piece of bread, the sacred elements of the last supper. This gesture of love and respect was the last thing Jesus could do for Judas. He didn’t humiliate Judas in the presence of the other disciples. Even after Judas went out, they didn’t know who the betrayer was. It was between Jesus and Judas. Jesus loved Judas to the end.

The Choice of Judas
It’s striking that Satan put it into Judas’ heart to betray Jesus. John 13:2 says, “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him” (ESV). That’s how the enemy works in our lives. Satan puts his evil thoughts into our hearts. That’s why the Bible says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). For the same reason, Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.” In verse 2, although the devil had already put his evil thoughts into Judas’ heart, Judas was not yet the object of the devil’s work. But unfortunately, he chose to allow evil thoughts to come in and cherish them in his heart. He chose not to repent. He chose not to change his course. He was persistent. Then what happened? In verse 27 Satan entered into him. From that moment, Satan controlled Judas’ fate. And Jesus dispatched him to pursue the course he had set for himself. This is the judgment. The light has come into him. But Judas loved the darkness rather than the light. He hated the light and didn’t come to the light (John 3:19-20). Jesus is the light. He abounds in love and grace. But he withdraws his outstretched loving arms to hold us if we continue to reject his grace. Romans 1:28 says, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done (ESV). This is the judgment.
                   
The Voyage of Life
As I was meditating on today’s passage over the past week, what came to mind was Thomas Cole’s four-painting series, The Voyage of Life. It is an allegory for the four stages of human life, filled with both warning and promise about what lies ahead for each of us as we journey through our lives. In the first painting of the series, Childhood, the young traveler launches out from a cave (birth) onto a placid stream. The sun is rising in the distance, and a guardian angel stands with in the little boat. In Youth, the second painting in the series, the youth holds the tiller and the angel watches from the shore. The boat is headed down the river toward a ghostly castle, representing his dreams and ambitions. The third painting, Manhood, reminds us of the troubles and travails of existence. The little boat is now entering menacing rapids, and the traveler is trying to navigate without its tiller. The sky is stormy, but the journey must go on. The angel has not forsaken him, though, still watching him from a distance. The traveler folds his hands in prayer. The final painting is Old Age. Our traveler has survived the trials of life and now draws near to the end of his journey: death. The guardian angel draws close to him and guides him to heaven.[1]

“While You Have the Light”
Most of us in this room are somewhere between Manhood/Womanhood and Old Age in our life journey. The Bible says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Eccl 3:1). There is a time to repent. There is a time to change the course and turn to God. Judas is a parable and a warning. He saw the light and understood it, but chose the darkness anyway. Jesus loved Judas. He washed Judas’ feet. He offered Judas the opportunity to repent right up to the end. But Judas walked away from the love of Jesus. Later, like Esau, Judas felt remorse, but couldn’t find repentance though he sought for it with tears. It was too late. Jesus said, “While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light” (John 12:36a). Jesus graciously and continually reaches out to us, even right now through this message, with his unfailing love. He washes our feet. He gives us the bread of heaven. He teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, and convicts us with his word of love and truth today. Let us not reject the love of Christ. Let us not harden our hearts when we hear his voice today. Instead, let us come to the light. Let us remain in the light. Let us walk in the light. Let us turn away from our way of life and turn to God’s way of life. And let us believe in the light while we have the light. Amen.



[1] Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 2015), 155-56.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

“Mary: Wasting Your Life on Jesus” (John 12:1-8) - God’s Story Our Story I -


Three Ways to Honor Jesus
Today’s passage is the sequel to last week’s story, “the resurrection of Lazarus.” Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead. Lazarus and his family were so grateful. So they invited Jesus to dinner at their place to honor him. Verse 2 says, “So they gave a dinner for him there.” This is a thank-you dinner to Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead. We find at least three different ways to honor Jesus in this story. The first one mentioned is Martha. Martha served (v.2). We can easily find this picture of Martha, cooking, serving, giving the best of her heart to Jesus through the gift of hospitality. You see, for Martha, honoring Jesus means serving Jesus, doing that which she knows best, cooking and serving. That is her love language. The next person mentioned is Lazarus. The Bible says “Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table” (v.3). Lazarus just wanted to enjoy Jesus’ presence. He talked with him, dined with him, and enjoyed every minute he had with Jesus. For Lazarus, honoring Jesus means simply enjoying fellowship with him, spending time with him, simply being there in his presence. But then we find Mary. Moved with love and gratitude for Jesus, she demonstrated her devotion in a more dramatic way. You see, Martha and Lazarus both loved Jesus, and what they did was perfectly normal, but for Mary, her love and gratitude was so great. She wanted to do more, do something special. She wanted to go deeper. So she did extraordinary things.

Today’s story is also written in the gospels of Matthew and Mark. At the end of the story both of them wrote how Jesus sees Mary’s devotion. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her” (Matt 26:13; Mark 14:9). Chinese preacher, Watchman Nee, says that Jesus “intends that the preaching of the Gospel should issue in something along the very lines of the action of Mary here, namely, that people should come to Him and waste themselves on Him.” In other words, the gospel is “to bring each one of us to a true estimate of His worth.” Today’s story tells us when the worth of Jesus and the love of his followers match, it is a beautiful thing. Jesus is worthy for us to devote all we are and all we have to him.

At the Feet of Jesus
When it comes to devotion, timing is essential. There is a time for everything. A time to listen, and time to act; a time to save, and a time to give. I think Mary was a very wise woman. She knew God’s timing. She knew when to listen and when to act. And I would say that wisdom came from sitting “at the feet of Jesus.” Every time we encounter Mary in the Gospels, she is at Jesus’ feet. When Jesus visited her home, she was listening to his word at his feet (Luke 10:39). When her brother, Lazarus, died, she poured out her sorrow to Jesus at his feet (John 11:32). When troubles came, she ran to Jesus and sitting at his feet. And now when Jesus had last supper with her before he died, she expressed her love and devotion to him at his feet (12:3). She did the most beautiful thing at the right time. Jesus affirms her discernment in this way, “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” There is a time for everything. We learn this wisdom at the feet of Jesus.

Waste Your Money on Jesus
Mary knew the hour was at hand. She knew it was time to act, to give her best to the Master. Verse 3 says, “Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus…” True devotion is always costly. In most cases it costs us financially. Nard was a precious spice imported from northern India. So a pound of the spice would have been huge and lavish. Judas estimates that it could have been sold for 300 denarii. In Jesus’ time one denarii was equivalent to about 1 day’s pay for a working man. If we say we get paid $9 an hour (minimum wage of Maine) and work 8 hours a day for 300 days, it adds up to $21,600! Mary broke the jar and poured all the perfume on Jesus’ feet at once. Her action was extravagantly costly. It’s no wonder why Judas and the other disciples were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?” From the disciples’ pragmatic, sensible perspective, Mary’s devotion didn’t make sense at all. She was out of her mind. But, from Jesus’ perspective, it was beautiful, commendable, and memorable. Suppose we have just one last chance to express our love to the one whom we love most in the world. What would you do? I think probably all of us in this room will do something special, something memorable, give our best to that person. That’s exactly what was happening in this story. Jesus defends Mary, saying, “For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” He is not discouraging helping the poor. That’s not the point. Here he is saying, “I am more worthy of your undivided devotion than all the world’s poor put together!” Mary knew that Jesus is worth it. So she gave it all. Isaac Watts describes the surpassing worth of Jesus Christ in this way (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”):

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far two small:
Love so amazing, so divine
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

True devotion is costly. And it often costs us financially. We can easily find out how much we treasure Jesus if we look at our checkbook and bank statement. Let us ask ourselves: Is my devotion to the Lord costing me financially? Do I treasure Jesus more than my stuff?  

Waste Your Life on Jesus
Mary even goes further. Not only did she anoint the perfume on Jesus’ feet, but also she wiped his feet with her hair (v.3). Why is this so meaningful and remarkable? Because Jewish women never unbound their hair in public. It fact, in Jesus’ time it was considered a mark of a woman of loose morals. In all ages, reputation and dignity are considered more important than wealth. Proverbs 22:1 says, “Choose a good reputation over great riches; being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold” (NLT). But as for Mary, what matters most was what Jesus thinks about her devotion to him, not what others might think about her. She was willing to take risks of losing her reputation, pride, even dignity, in order to gain Christ. In fact, Mary didn’t just waste her perfume on Jesus, but also she wasted her life on Jesus. Judas criticized Mary’s action, saying, “Why was this perfume not sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?” (v. 5) The other disciples said, “What a waste!” (Matt 26:8) When we give our best to the Lord, some people may criticize us and not appreciate what we’re doing. True devotion costs us socially as well as financially. Let us ask ourselves: Do I treasure Jesus more than my reputation, my pride and my dignity?

Do It for Jesus
Once one of Wycliffe missionaries shared this story. The missionary couple was assigned to translate the Bible into one of the Indian tribal languages. As we know it takes years. Before computers, it often took as long as twenty years. During the process, at first the church seemed to grow. But as time went by, the tribal people were becoming more and more involved in selling their crops for the drug trade and less and less interested in the Scriptures. When they finally finished the translation work and scheduled a dedication service, not even one person came! The missionary couple was angry and bitter. They had given 20 years of their lives for the tribe, but they didn’t appreciate it at all. But then God opened the missionary couple’s eyes to see all this from God’s perspective. They began to realize that they did it for God. The missionary wife said, “That is only thing that makes any sense in all of this. We did it for God!”[1] People may criticize us and not appreciate what we’re doing. But we are not wasting our lives if we waste them on Jesus. I would like to close with Mother Teresa’s prayer poem, “Do It Anyway”:
People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight.
Build anyway.
The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough.
Give the best you've got anyway.

You see,
in the final analysis it is between you and God;
it was never between you and them anyway.





[1] Steven J. Cole, “Lesson 64: Wasting Your Life on Jesus,” https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-64-wasting-your-life-jesus-john-121-11

Sunday, March 5, 2017

“Called to Life” (John 11:17-27) - Seven Signs of Christ VII -

How Can This Be?
The Voice of the Martyrs is a mission organization, and they publish a monthly mission magazine. In the March issue they tell us a story of pastor Han Chung-Ryeol, who was a missionary to North Korea martyred for his faith last year. Pastor Han and his wife had ministered to North Koreans in the Chinese border town since 1993. He trained new believers and then encouraged them to return to North Korea. His ministry was very effective and fruitful. He led many North Koreans to Christ. On April 30, 2016 Pastor Han received a phone call from one of his core church members and left home alone. That evening he was found in his car, in a remote area near the border. He was martyred by North Korean assassins. And now his wife and two children are questioning, “God, How can this be?”

Today we explore the seventh sign, the most dramatic and climactic sign in the Gospel of John. The story begins in this way: “Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha” (1). It looks likes they were very close to Jesus. Verse 5 says, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” When Lazarus got seriously ill, the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, “Lord, the one whom you love is ill.” They were anxiously waiting for Jesus. But when Jesus heard this, he stayed two more days where he was (6). In other words, Jesus loved Lazarus and his sisters, so he stayed two more days. He waited until Lazarus was truly dead. Why? How can this be?

To Martha

In today’s passage three different group of people ask basically the same question: “How can this be?” And Jesus answers in three different ways. First of all, Martha says to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (21). Jesus answers, “Your brother will rise again.” She says, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” In Jesus’ time the Pharisees and many Jews believed resurrection. Martha was one of them. But Jesus wanted to stretch her faith. So he says, “Yes, I am the resurrection, but I am also the life.” Here Jesus is saying, “Yes, Lazarus will rise again on the last day, but he is going to be raised now. In fact, he is not dead. He has eternal life now.” That’s why he says in verse 25 and 26 like this: “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live (resurrection!), and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die (eternal life!).” Martha had abstract, vague belief in resurrection in the future, but she didn’t have real, sure faith in eternal life today. So Jesus is now saying to her, “Martha, I AM not only the God of tomorrow (resurrection), but also I AM the God of today (eternal life)! Do you believe this?” Martha says, “Yes, Lord! I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.” As we are going through the valleys of despair, depression, grief, hardships, and suffering, we doubt and ask, “Lord, how can this be?” Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. I am your hope for tomorrow, and your strength for today. Do you believe this?”

To Mary

This time Mary asks the same question in verse 32, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” This time Jesus does not explain. Instead, he does weep (35). He grieves with her family. In verse 33 John says, “Jesus was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.” Here the phrase “deeply moved” is from the Greek verb embrimaomai. This word is used to describe an outburst of anger or fury. So Jesus is outraged and troubled. Why is Jesus angry? Is he angry with Mary or Martha? Of course not! Jesus is angry with the sin and its consequences – sickness, death, and so much sorrow and grief. So now Jesus is outraged and troubled. Some of us may think if that so, why doesn’t Jesus just get rid of all evil in this world and bring justice right away? Yes, he is able to do it. But if he does bring justice now, that means today becomes the Day of Judgment. In the parable of the weeds in Matthew 13 the angels said to the master, “Do you want us to go and gather the weeds right now?” But he said, “No, you’ll uproot the wheat if you do. Let both grow together until the harvest.” God is patient and compassionate. He wants everyone to repent, be saved, and know him fully (1 Tim 2:4). So in the meantime, until the harvest, he shares our sorrow. He mourns with us. He suffers with us. He joins with us in everything. He is right with us always!

To the Jews

Jesus wept. Then, the mourners say, “See how he loved him! Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man also have kept this man from dying?” (37) Again basically the same question for the third time, “How can this be?” This time Jesus confirms what he said “I am the resurrection and the life” by the miraculous sign. He says, “Take away the stone.” Martha says, “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead for four days.” Jesus says, “Did I tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?” Our common sense is that to see is to believe. But for Jesus, to believe is to see. So they take the stone. Jesus lifts up his eyes and prays. Then, he shouts, “Lazarus, come out!” Then, the dead man comes out. Jesus not only shares our sorrow, but also he gives us what we need today. For those who are in despair, he brings hope. For those who are in grief, he brings comfort. He gives us enough strength, enough encouragement, enough grace to get through the valleys. He shows us the glimpse of the glory of His kingdom, so that we may have strength and hope to hang on and keep going.

Called to Life

The story of Lazarus is not just an old, old story. We are to see ourselves in Lazarus. The Bible says, Lazarus is the “one Jesus loves” (3). He is a beloved child of God. You are a beloved child of God. Lazarus is us, you and me! Sometimes and even oftentimes we are bound by death in our current lives. We are bound by death in our past lives. We sit in the cave and say, “It’s too late. It’s too dark. It’s getting worse. It’s impossible. It’s dead. It’s over.” But look at the cross. The enemy thought that he had triumphed, and it’s over. But it was just a beginning. Jesus conquered death, the last enemy, on the cross and in the grave. After three days, he was raised from the dead. He came out from the grave. And he became the firstfruits of those who had fallen asleep. Today he lives! Today he comes to pastor Han’s wife and the two children in sorrow. Today he comes to Marys and Marthas in doubt. Today he comes to Lazruses who lie in darkness, in despair, and in the shadow of death. And today Jesus stands at the edge of our tomb, shouting, “Wake up! Arise! Come out! Come out now to me, the Light and the Life of the world.” “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25). Do you hear his voice?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

“What Do You See?” (John 9:1-7) - Seven Signs of Christ VI -


What Do You See?
Who sees a young lady? And who sees an old lady? Who sees both? Yes, both are there! In many cases there are different but equally valid ways to see a situation. But in some cases there is the right perspective. For instance, in 1 Samuel 17 when Goliath came against the Israelites, the soldiers all saw him and thought, "He's so big we can never kill him!" But David saw the same giant and thought, "He's so big I can't miss!" Faith perspective. God’s perspective.

What Do You See in the Blind Man?

One day Jesus and his saw him and asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Their question obviously reflects the assumption that suffering could be traced to sin, which was a common perspective in ancient Judaism. Jesus answered, “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here (MSG). This happened so the power of God could be seen in him (NLT).” Jesus makes clear that suffering is not always a direct result of a person’s sin (ex. Luke 13:1-3a; 2 Cor 12:7; Gal 4:13). In his mysterious and wise providence God sometimes allows us to go through hardship and suffering so that we can experience God’s mercy and power in our lives. The disciples saw the man and said, “He is blind. He must have done something terribly wrong.” Jesus saw the man and said, “He is blind, so that God’s work might be revealed in him!”
disciples were walking down the street. And there was a man blind from birth, begging for money. The disciples

What Do You See in Jesus?

Jesus said this and healed the blind man. He spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and rubbed the mud over the blind man’s eyes. This reminds us of God’s creative activity when he formed the man from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7). And now the Creator Jesus is re-creating. Jesus said, “Go wash yourself in the pool of Siloam.” So the man went and washed and saw! After this, the whole town was buzzing. Finally, the people in town took the man to the Pharisees because it was on the Sabbath that Jesus had healed the man. The Pharisees saw the man and said, “Obviously, this man Jesus can’t be from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” At that time there were 39 classes of work forbidden on the Sabbath in the Jewish religious tradition (Mishnah, Shabbat 7.2). So what Jesus did – to make mud with his saliva – fell under one of the forbidden works according to their tradition. Unfortunately, they failed to see the man had been blind and could now see. They failed to see the sign. All they saw was that Jesus was working on the Sabbath. And they were offended. They saw Jesus and said, “This man Jesus is a Sabbath breaker. He is a sinner (24). He is less than the prophet Moses (28). He is nothing. He is from Galilee. No prophet ever comes from there!” (cf. 29; 7:52). But the blind man saw Jesus and said, “He is a prophet (17). He is a healer who does only what God can do (32). And he is a liberator who set me free from darkness (25).”

It’s a Process
It’s interesting to see how titles that are used to refer to Jesus change in this story. At first, after the man was healed, the people around him asked, “Who healed you? What happened?” The man told them, “A man named Jesus healed me” (11). He called Jesus a “man.” Then, he was brought to the Jewish religious leaders. They asked, “What do you say about Jesus?” He said, “He is a prophet” (17). The man called Jesus a “prophet.” But they didn’t believe it. They called his parents and asked questions. And then, they called the man back a second time and said, “Give glory to God, not to Jesus, because we know this man Jesus is a sinner.” And the man said, “I don’t know whether he is a sinner. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind, but now I see!... He must be more than just a prophet, greater than Moses, the One sent from God” (25-33). The man called Jesus the Chosen One from God (cf. Isa 42:1). Eventually, he was excommunicated. After this, Jesus found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have seen him and he is speaking to you.” The man said, “Lord, I believe (38).” And he worshiped Jesus. Do you see? It’s a process. This man calls Jesus a man, then a prophet, then the one sent from God, and then the Lord, the Son of God. His faith grows with use. His eyes are open not just once, but again and again.

Some of us in this room have a dramatic conversion. Some have rather gradual conversion. But whether it is dramatic or gradual, it is a process. There was a man who was a slave trader. During the voyage home, the ship was caught in a horrendous storm. He took this as a warning sign from God. He repented and had a radical conversion. But he did not radically change his ways at once. His total reformation was more gradual. He did begin to read the Bible and to see his slaves with a more sympathetic view. But he continued to make the voyages as the captain of slave vessels for a while. In fact, it took 34 years for him to publicly renounce his former slaving profession. In his old age, he made a pubic statement to end the slave trade practice. He shared his story by writing hymns. One of them was this: “Amazing grace how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.[1]

The First Step
It’s a process. It’s such a long journey to clearly see Jesus, to rightly believe in Jesus. But the first step is the most important, because it will initiate the direction we have chosen. The first step to open our eyes is to know and confess, “I am blind.” Then, Jesus can come and heal us. In today’s scripture Jesus said to the man, “People don’t see will see. People who pretend to see will be exposed as blind.” Some Pharisees overheard this and asked, “Are you saying we’re blind?” Jesus replied, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless. But since you claim you can see everything so well, you’re accountable for every fault and failure” (39-41, MSG). There is a time for everything. There is a time to believe. There is a time to renounce our pretense. The night is coming. While it is day, we must repent and believe. Now is really the right time! Today is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2). Let us come to the light and believe in the light (John 12:36), and we will know one thing for sure: “I was blind, but now I see.” Amen.





[1] “John Newton: Reformed Slave Trader,’ Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/pastorsandpreachers/john-newton.html

Sunday, February 19, 2017

“Greater than Moses” (John 6:16-21) - Seven Signs of Christ V -

Stuck in the Middle?
Have you felt stuck in the middle, lonely, afraid? In today’s scripture the disciples were exactly in that situation: It was evening. They were in a boat. They were out on the Sea of Galilee and about half way across the lake. It grew dark. Jesus was not with them. The wind blowing against them and the sea became rough. Imagine this situation. You keep rowing painfully, but actually you don’t make headway. You don’t know what to do. You are stuck in the middle in your journey – scary, dark, and alone. Have you been in that situation? Or are you in that place today? You have good news. You are not the only one. The disciples have been there and delivered by our merciful Savior.

Many in Christian history have seen a spiritual reality in the disciples’ predicament. In other words, many suggest that these physical details – loneliness, darkness, and danger – also apply to the spiritual condition of those who are not in Christ or who are not walking with Christ as they should. The disciples without Jesus are toiling in the dark, frustrated, and tired. It is possible for those who believe in Jesus, at times, to be without him. So if you feel as if you are drifting alone on a lonely, dark and dangerous sea, the first thing you have to do is to examine yourselves whether you are walking closely with Christ. In 2 Corinthians 13:5 Paul exhorts us in this way: “Test yourselves to make sure you are solid in the faith. Don't drift along taking everything for granted. Give yourselves regular checkups. You need firsthand evidence, not mere hearsay, that Jesus Christ is in you. Test it out. If you fail the test, do something about it” (MSG). Let us be honest and examine ourselves: “Am I walking closely with Christ today?”

Jesus Sees!

Jesus knows where you are in your pilgrim journey. Jesus sees your pain and struggles. Today’s story is written in three different gospels – Matthew, Mark and John. In Mark 6:48 Mark says, “And he (Jesus) saw that they (the disciples) were making headway painfully…” At that time Jesus was on the mountain by himself to pray, and the disciples had already rowed about three or four miles. And it was dark stormy night. So when the Bible says Jesus saw the disciples struggle, it is supernatural, divine knowledge. In Psalm 139 David praises God’s intimate knowledge of his people: “O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up. You discern my thoughts from afar… For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made… Your eyes saw my unformed substance…” You may think, “Nobody knows what I’m goring through, nobody feels the pain I’m experiencing.” Maybe there’s been a death in the family, a divorce, maybe we have health issues, and we feel very isolated and lonely. We start to think, “Nobody feels the pain.” But Jesus knows! He sees your pain. He understands your struggles.

Jesus Comes!

And Jesus not only sees, but he cares! He comes to you! Mark 6:48 says, “And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night (3-6 am) he came to them, walking on the sea…” (ESV). Normally, we often focus on the miracle of Jesus walking on the water – how he comes to them. But actually, in this story much more important miracle is that Jesus comes to them. He gives his disciples the miracle of his presence when they thought there is no way he could be here. Who could have thought in the boat that Jesus could come to them at that very moment? Nobody! But Jesus did come to them. So what is the point of the story? Here Jesus is saying to us, “I will walk on water to be with you. I will walk on water to get to you. I will go through whatever issues and situations to get to you. I will get to you.” Jesus did not come into the world to give us an easy life, but an eternal life – to be with him, to walk with him, and to commune with him. He did not promise to deliver us from the sufferings of this present age, but he did promise to be with us. Jesus comes to us in a time of need, even when everybody else has walked out.

Greater Than Moses 

The thing is we don’t often recognize Jesus even though he is so near to us. When Jesus was coming near to the disciples, they didn’t even think that was Jesus. Instead, they were terrified and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear (Matt 14:26). But Jesus said to them, “It is I. Do not be afraid” (John 6:20). The clause “It is I” is from the original Greek ego eimi which literally means “I AM.” This expression reminds us of God’s divine name in Exodus 3:14. When Moses asked God’s name, God said to him, “I AM WHO I AM.” Jesus’ I am statement reveals his divinity – God in the flesh. Jesus did not just walk on water to impress his disciples, but there was an important message in it. At that time, people considered Moses their hero, the greatest prophet ever. Under the leadership of Moses, the Israelites passed through the sea on dry land and ate manna in the wilderness. But now, Jesus is the One who is greater than Moses. He personally walks on the sea as if he were walking on the dry land without waiting until God departs the sea. He provides bread from heaven, the better and true bread which gives people eternal life. These two miracles show that Jesus is greater than Moses and he is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Fix Your Eyes on Jesus 

Jesus, greater than Moses, the Son of God, comes to you. In Matthew’s version of this story, by faith Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water as long as he fixed his eyes on Jesus. But when he turned his eyes and saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink. So what do you see? Do you see giant wind and waves? Or do you see Jesus who created them?

I would like to share a story of one man who fixed his eyes on Jesus in the middle of the storms of life. Nick Vujicic was born in 1982 in Melbourne, Australia, without arms and legs. His early days were difficult. In schools some of his friends made fun of him and called him, “freak” or “alien.” Throughout his childhood he struggled with depression and loneliness. He even tried to commit suicide when he was 10. He only focused on being “different” and “what he doesn’t have.” He just saw a life without limbs – a limited or no life at all. But at age 15, he surrendered his life to Jesus who came to him. By that time he blamed God for his pain. One day he read John 9. He read how Jesus said that the blind man was born that way so that the works of God would be revealed through him. He prayed to God “God, if you had a plan for that man I certainly believe that you have one for me.” Since that day, he fixed his eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of the faith. He totally let go of the ‘needing to know the plan’ and began to trust Jesus one day at a time. He began to be thankful for “what he has.” He has two toes on his left foot. By using them, he enjoys fishing, painting, and swimming. So far, he has been traveling more than 24 countries to share his story and the good news of Jesus Christ with millions. Nick says, “If God can use a man without arms and legs to be His hands and feet, then He will certainly use any willing heart!”[1]

Take Jesus into the Boat!

Probably Nick prayed hundreds times to be healed. The miracle of healing. It didn’t happen the way he wished. Instead, Jesus came to him to be with him, to suffer with him, to heal his wounded heart, and to give him the purpose of life. Today’s story, Jesus walking on water, is not a story about stopping storms or getting people out of storms. We have been and will have storms of life – sufferings, trials, diseases, loss, and death – in our pilgrim journey. This is a story about taking Jesus into the boat. All of us in this room have our own issues – our family issues, our church issues, and our health issues. Jesus sees us and our issues. And he cares about us and comes to us. He will walk on water to be with us. He is greater than Moses. He is greater than storms. He is greater than our issues. He is able to help us, deliver us, sustain us, and guide us. When the disciples took Jesus into the boat, the Bible says, “immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going” (21). So let us trust Jesus. And take him into our boat with joy, and together with Jesus we will safely arrive at our final destination. Amen.

[1] Nick Vujicic, Life without Limbs, https://www.lifewithoutlimbs.org/

Sunday, February 12, 2017

“Giving Bread, Being Bread” (John 6:1-15) - Seven Signs of Christ IV -

“We Preach Christ Crucified”
There is one story that I always keep in mind as I prepare the message. This story is about one church in England. At first, the slogan of this church on the front door was always "We Preach Christ Crucified." But after many years, this sign changed to "We Preach Christ." They still preached Christ, but not necessarily Christ “Crucified.” They started focusing more on Jesus' moral life, his teaching and his philosophy than on his death and resurrection. And some people had left the church. A few years later, the church changed its sign once again. It became "We Preach." From that time on, the church started preaching any topics from politics, ethics to all kinds of social issues. Then more people had left the church. And eventually, the church had to close down. I had a chance to do some street evangelism with other Thai Christians in Thailand when I was an exchange student there. I was kind of surprised by two things. First of all, I was surprised that people were very receptive. They listened attentively. Several of them followed sinner’s prayer and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. But then, I was also surprised that they didn’t want to make any change in their lives. They said, “Buddhism is a good thing. It teaches me how to live and gives me peace of mind. And now I found that Jesus is good too. He gives me freedom and blessing. To me, they are all good and compatible. I will keep them both!” What do you think? When you say, “I believe in Jesus,” what does it mean by that?

Jesus, Giver of Bread
Today’s passage, the story of Jesus feeding the 5000, is quite famous and written in all four gospels. In particular, both Matthew and Mark observed that Jesus did heal people, teach them, and feed them because he “was moved with compassion for them” (Matt 14:14; Mark 6:34). In other words, Jesus cares about us. He cares about our health. He cares about our food. He cares about our needs. He took the five loaves and the two fish, gave thanks, broke the loaves and gave them to the people. They were all well fed and satisfied – and even 12 baskets of leftovers! After they saw this great miracle, all of sudden they remembered manna and Moses’ messianic prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him!” (cf. Acts 7:37, 52) The people began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (14). It looks like finally they understood who Jesus is. It looks like finally they came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. In the following verse, verse 13, they made an attempt to take Jesus by force. They came to kidnap him, to promote him as their king, and to make him serve their agenda and their needs by force. They acknowledged, “Jesus, be our King, our Prophet, the Giver of bread!” But Jesus was not pleased with this. He knew they neither saw nor believed who He really is. Jesus said to them, “You want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (26, NLT).

Jesus, Bread of Life
Jesus fed the people because he did care about their needs. There is no doubt about that, but this miracle is called the sign (semeion) that points to something much greater. There is a much more important purpose why Jesus fed the 5000. By this miraculous sign, Jesus wanted to teach his people the following truth: He did not come into the world just to give bread, but to be bread. The people were still excited about the miracle performed by Jesus the day before and asked him, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!” (34) And Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will not hunger. He who believes in me will never thirst” (35). Then, they began to grumble about him and said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know?” You see, there is a huge difference between “giving bread” and “being bread.” The people were glad to believe Jesus as the one who gives bread. They were willing to make him king because he was useful. They would enjoy bread from him. They were much more interested in the product of the miracle than the person of the miracle. They didn’t want to believe that Jesus is the bread of life. Yes, they were seeking Jesus. But they were seeking Jesus as useful, not us precious. They were seeking Jesus as useful for the bread, the money, the health, the prosperity. But in John 6, Jesus plainly proclaims the main purpose why he came to the world: He did not come into the world to give bread, but to be bread.

Jesus, Bread to Eat
So Jesus clearly said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you!” (52) What does it mean to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood? Of course, Jesus was not proposing religious cannibalism. Instead, what he was saying here is intimacy – believer’s union with Christ. In verse 56 Jesus said, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” – intimate union with Christ! To eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood means to have an intimate union with him. It is to know him intimately.

J.C. Ryle, pastor of Church of England in 19th century, had awakened many preachers and Christians. At that time, many people believed if they were baptized and members of the church, they would be saved and go to heaven when they died. But J.C. Ryle, in his sermon Christ Is All, said, “Let us understand that Christ will be all in heaven… What a sweet and glorious home heaven will be to those who have loved the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity!... But alas, how little fit for heaven are many who talk of "going to heaven" when they die, while they manifestly have no saving faith, and no real acquaintance with Christ. You give Christ no honour here. You have no communion with Him. You do not love Him. Alas! what could you do in heaven? It would be no place for you. Its joys would be no joys for you. Its happiness would be a happiness into which you could not enter. Its employments would be a weariness and a burden to your heart. Oh, repent and change before it be too late!”[1] Ryle concludes that the surest way to prepare for heaven is to begin a real, personal relationship with Christ. Jesus said, in verse 54, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Let us go back to our first question: When you say “I believe in Jesus,” what does it mean by that? To believe in Jesus is to commune with Jesus. It is to eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood everyday. It is to abide in him, and he in me every moment. In today’s passage the people began to realize that to believe in Jesus, to commune with Jesus requires a deep profound change in their lives. They began to realize that it doesn’t work to follow Jesus without making any change. And they said, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?” (60) Then they turned back and no longer followed Jesus. It was all too much for them to take in.

Come and Eat!
But thankfully, today’s story is a story with a happy ending. Jesus’ disciples remained faithful. Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” And Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (67-69). They chose to believe, commune, eat, drink, and follow Jesus.

We know God through Jesus. We know Jesus through His word. Peter said, “You have the words of eternal life.” And Jesus himself said, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (63b). We know and commune with Jesus through his word. Let us come and eat his word. There are good devotional books – upperroom and disciplines. There are lots of good sermons out there. But most of all, take up his word and listen to his word firsthand. Listen to Jesus at his feet. Ask him questions. Talk to him. Have a conversation with him. Commune with him. And I am 100% sure you will fall in love with him. You will trust him more, obey him more, rejoice in him more, and love him more.

“Oh, how I love your word! I meditate on it all day long!” (Ps 119:97)
“How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps 119:103)

Let us come and eat! Let us eat Jesus and his word, the bread of heaven, and we will be truly satisfied – never hunger, never thirst, never die again – and have real and eternal life today. Amen.








[1] J.C. Ryle, “Christ Is All,” http://www.biblebb.com/files/ryle/christ_is_all.htm

Sunday, February 5, 2017

“Healing With Purpose” (John 5:1-18) - Seven Signs of Christ III -

Seeing Christ in All of Scripture
All of Scripture is telling one story. It’s a story about Jesus and our need for Him. In John 5:39 Jesus says, “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me!” (MSG). Every single text of Scripture points to Christ. And it tells us how we may have eternal life in him and through him. In particular, Jesus Christ makes ultimate claims for himself in the Gospels. Nowhere is this more obvious than in John 5. Today’s passage reveals and proclaims Christ-exalting truth: Who Jesus is and how we should respond to this truth.

Jesus Is All-Knowing
So who is Jesus? First of all, Jesus is all-knowing. In today’s passage Jesus goes to Jerusalem from Galilee to meet one man. In verse 6 John uses the Greek particle gnous which refers to supernatural, divine knowledge. Jesus knew this man’s situation. He knew that he had been paralyzed for 38 years. He knew that he had already been there a long time. And more importantly, Jesus knew that the man had been there a long time without hope. He knew that his mind as much as his body was sick and paralyzed. The place where the man was lying down was called “Bethesda” in Aramaic, which means “house of mercy.” At that time this place was known as a healing sanctuary among people. But what an irony! In this healing place, there were a multitude of invalids who had never experienced healing. This man was one of them. Probably, at first the man came to Bethesda with hope. He was eager to be healed. He got up early in the morning and kept watching a pool. But, little by little he began to get used to his life in this place. He got used to a dull life. He got used to maintaining the status quo. He got used to making excuses and complaints. He said, “I am not healed because no one helps me.” In fact, deep down in his heart he already gave up being healed. He already accepted this powerless life as his fate. He even became confident that it would be impossible to be healed based on his 38 years of experience. And Jesus knew all this. That is why he asked the man, “Do you want to be healed?” (6) Jesus knows you and me (Ps. 139). Jesus is all-knowing.


Jesus Is Compassionate
Jesus is also compassionate. Have you ever thought why did Jesus choose to come and heal this particular man? There were many other invalids there, but this man is picked out by Jesus, and no reason is given for his choice. It looks like Jesus healed him not because he had great faith or he was a prayer warrior, but simply because his situation was so miserable for so long. It looks like the healing came from Jesus’ compassion, not the man’s faith or righteousness. You see, when Jesus asks “Do you want to get well?” He doesn’t say, “Yes”; rather, he makes excuses, complaints, and blames others. Basically, what he says is this: “I am not healed because no one helps me! I am miserable because no one cares for me!” But Jesus graciously ignores the man’s complaint and says, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk!” (8) This is grace! Let us think about the life of the man paralyzed in the first century. Consider the problem of personal hygiene. Paraplegics frequently do not have bowel and bladder control. If we consider this, we can easily imagine this man’s life: People moved him from place to place unless he crawled; most of his income came from begging or from the charity of friends and family; and if he did not have bladder or bowel control, his hygiene problem would have been enormous. People stayed away from him. No one wanted to be near to him. He was the lowest of the low. Probably his suffering and isolation was beyond measure. Jesus knew this. Jesus knew this man and his situation. And he was moved with compassion. He chose to meet this man and heal him. We are healed, we are forgiven, we are loved, we are saved because he is gracious and compassionate, not because we did something to earn his favor (cf. Ps 103:8-14; Eph 2:8-9).

Jesus Is Powerful
Jesus not only knows us and is +compassionate with us, but also he is powerful. He is able to save us. He is able to heal us. When Jesus said to the man, “Get up,” the Bible says “at once” the man was healed (9). Jesus’ powerful word heals the man. By his word he created the heavens and the earth. By his word he made something out of nothing. By his word he divided the Red Sea in two. By his word he struck down the enemy. By his word he gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that don’t yet exist (Rom 4:17). One time Jesus helped people all day and now he was so tired. So as soon as he got on the boat, he fell fast asleep. Then the great storm came. Jesus’ disciples cried out and woke him up. I love how the Jesus Storybook Bible describes this incident: “Jesus stood up and spoke to the storm. “Hush!” he said. That’s all. And the strangest thing happened… The wind and the waves recognized Jesus’ voice. They had heard it before, of course – it was the same voice that made them, in the very beginning. They listened to Jesus and they did what he said. Immediately the wind stopped. The water calmed down.”[1] Amen. Psalm 29:4 says, “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic!” When Jesus speaks to us, our soul is revived.  

Jesus Is Equal with God
In verse 9 John purposely says that the day on which this healing took place was a Sabbath. Why is this important? Why did Jesus heal this man on Sabbath? It is because Jesus wanted to invite Jewish leaders and us to stop and think who he really is. When the religious leaders saw the man healed on Sabbath, they were mad and said, “It is not lawful for you to take up your bed.” Then later, they accused Jesus of breaking the Sabbath. Jesus said to them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working” (17). Then they were seeking even more to kill him because they thought Jesus made himself equal with God (18). Actually, they saw his point: “Jesus is equal with God.” But they didn’t want to admit that truth. They were expectantly waiting for their Messiah a long time. And now here he is. They are supposed to celebrate their Christ. They are supposed to celebrate this healing with the man. But they are angry and mad. What are they mad at? Why are they so angry with Jesus? It is because of their spiritual sickness. Karl Barth tells us a story about people who live in a wilderness alongside a canal. The canal was there to bring them water and life, and it was with great effort and cost that the project was built for their place in time. Great sacrifices were made, and many died as the canal was cut through mountain and desert. But the great irony is that the canal has become dry, and while its walls still convey evidence of the coursing of water, there is nothing there that can give life to anyone. Nevertheless, the people continue to service it, to defend it, to name their children after its architects and engineers; but it is only an historic thing. A canal meant to convey something— water and life— now has become static, an end instead of a means. Something for the museum. People tell stories about it instead of drink from it. And no one has a memory of what water in the canal really looks like.[2]

Taste and See!
Empty canals! Empty religion! But the Bible says, “Taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Ps 34:8a) And Jesus also says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him” (John 7:37-38). Jesus is all-knowing, compassionate, and powerful. And most importantly, Jesus is equal with God. Do you believe this? Come to Jesus and be healed! Come to Jesus and drink! Come to Jesus and taste and see the fountain of living water! Do not just tell stories about it but drink from it. Let rivers of living water be up to your ankles, your waist, your neck, and go over your head! Let this water fully control you, empower you, and revive you! And your life will flourish wherever this water flows! (Ezekiel 47:1-12) Amen.

[1] Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible (Zonderkidz: Grand Rapids, 2007), 241-42.
[2] Gary M. Burge, The NIV Application Commentary: John (Zondervan, 2000), 137.