Sunday, April 16, 2017

“Mary Magdalene: I Have Seen the Lord” (John 20:11-18) - God’s Story, Our Story VI -

Four-Minute Mile 
Have you heard of “4 Minute Mile”? In the sport of athletics, the four-minute mile means running a mile in less than four minutes. According to legend, experts said for years that the human body was simply not capable of a 4-minute mile. Since 1864, for almost a century, numerous athletes had tried to run 1 mile in 4 minutes, but no one could make it. So, people began to believe that it is impossible for human beings to run 1 mile within 4 minutes. But, in 1945 one physician released a paper that said the human body is capable of running 1 mile in 4 minutes. Few years later, on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier. Then some more runners did. Now, it’s almost routine. Even strong high-schoolers today run 4-minute miles. Our Lord Jesus Christ broke the barrier, the wall that had divided the possible from the impossible, the wall that had divided eternal life from death. The Bible says, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Co 15:20). Jesus Christ our Lord has conquered death, has broken down every wall, and opened the door to eternal life so that we may follow him.

The Women at Jesus’ Tomb

In today’s gospel lesson we meet Mary Magdalene and the other women. Those are faithful ones. When Jesus was on the cross, they didn’t abandon him but were standing by the cross of Jesus (John 19:25). After Jesus was placed in a tomb, they waited until the Sabbath was past. Early the next morning, they came to the tomb with spices while it was still dark, hoping they might anoint him. That was all they could do. They loved Jesus very much, but now he’s gone. They must have felt hopeless and powerless. They didn’t know what to do next. Although they were going to the tomb early in the morning, they didn’t even know what to say to the tomb guards. They didn’t have the strength to roll the tomb stone away for themselves. On the way they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away for us?” (Mark 16:4) They were filled with all kinds of worry and fear. But to their surprise, as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the huge stone had “already” been rolled away! Jesus already did everything. It was Jesus who conquered death. It was Jesus who rolled the stone away. It was Jesus who first came to see these women. In fact, all the problems and concerns that the women had had already been solved. They didn’t need to roll the stone away. They didn’t need to find and anoint Jesus’ body. Jesus already did everything for them. That is why Jesus was able to say on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). “It’s done… complete!” (MSG). Do you any burden of life – guilt, shame, wound, pain – something in your heart like a large stone that you cannot just role away for yourself? You have good news! Jesus has already rolled away that stone. For you. For me.

The Resurrection at Houlton/Hodgdon 

That’s why we are here today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Some of us in this room may still wonder what does Jesus resurrection have to do with me. Why the resurrection of Jesus matters? It matters because it tells us that this life is not everything, and there will be a resurrection of all the dead, including you and me. We will be resurrected. 1 Corinthians 15:23 says, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that when our Lord Jesus Christ returns with the trumpet call, the dead in Christ will rise first and then we will also be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever!” By his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus did open the gate to eternal life. So now everyone who believes in him has eternal life. In Christ you have eternal life!

Imagine the Day of the Lord! Imagine that your loved ones are raised from the grave at the Evergreen Cemetery or Hodgdon Cemetery. How would you feel? In fact, artist Stanley Spencer had this experience of revelation. He lived in the small English village of Cookham and attended a small Methodist church. There was a small cemetery in his churchyard. He passed through it numerous times, perhaps several times a week. One day as he was passing through this churchyard, Spencer had a sudden awakening experience. He perceived the great resurrection of the dead in his humble churchyard. He wrote his experience in this way: “Quite suddenly I became aware that everything was full of special meaning, and this made everything holy. The instinct of Moses to take his shoes off when he saw the burning bush was very similar to my feelings. I saw many burning bushes in Cookham. I observed the sacred quality in the most unexpected quarters.”[1] In his painting, The Resurrection at Cookham, we see not only the Son Jesus and the Father in the center, but also his loved ones – his family and friends, and Spencer himself. When we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and all the dead, our local churchyard, this place, becomes a new Garden of Eden. In a sense Houlton/ Hodgdon becomes what Spencer called “a holy suburb of heaven.” The resurrection of Jesus tells us that on the Day of the Lord we will be resurrected. As Bonhoeffer says, in Jesus Christ all of us will be eternally united with him, and with one another, and with our loved ones.

He Lives!

But there is more! The resurrection of Jesus gives us not only hope for tomorrow, but also it gives us power to live our new life today. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). He also promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Believing in resurrection is at the core of Christianity. And the most important truth of the resurrection is that the Risen Christ lives in us today. In this respect, John Wesley cried out as his last words, “The best of all is, God (the Risen Christ) is with us!” Today we are not here to honor a good teacher Jesus, who taught the truth and died two thousand years ago. We are here to worship and celebrate a risen King and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives in the world and in us today! There are many evidences of Jesus’ resurrection, but perhaps the greatest evidence of all is the transformation of the disciples of Jesus. All of them were transformed from cowards to martyrs because of the resurrection. They met the Risen Christ. Eventually, 11 of the 12 men died for their faith in Christ. Saul was transformed from a passionate persecutor of Christian to the world’s greatest missionary for Christ. He was sold out for Christ. How can this be possible? Only the resurrection. Saul met the Risen Christ. Not only in Jesus’ time, but also even today we know it is true by our own experience. There were times in my college years, I found no meaning or purpose of life. But after I met the Risen Christ, my life changed. Everything became new and meaningful. Even in small things – whether I ate a meal, took a nap, or took a walk, I could find a sense of purpose and meaning and feel joy, contentment, and peace! The risen Christ gives us power to live a new life in him and makes us more like him.

Perhaps one of the most beloved Easter hymns is “He Lives” written by Alfred Ackley. There is a story behind this hymn. In fact, there were two events that gave Pastor Ackley fresh insight to write this hymn. One day he was holding an evangelistic meeting. A young sincere Jewish student asked the question, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” Ackley answered, ““He Lives! I tell you; He is not dead, but lives here and now! Jesus Christ is more alive today than ever before. I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.” The young Jewish student eventually accepted the living Christ as his own personal Savior. Few days later, Easter Sunday came. On that Easter Day morning Ackley turned on his radio. He was then shocked to hear a preacher say something like this, “You know, it really doesn’t matter to me if Christ be risen or not. His body could have turned to dust long ago in some Palestinian tomb. But what’s important is that His truth goes marching on!” Ackley was so upset. That Sunday he preached with great fervency on the resurrection of Jesus based on the Scripture: “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.” But later that night, he still could not shake the question of that young Jewish student and the words of that preacher. Then, his wife said, “Why don’t you write a song about it?. Then you will have something that will go on telling the story.” That very night Ackley wrote out the words, and then composed the melody:

I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.

He lives, he lives Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!


[1] Terry Glaspey, 75 Master Pieces Every Christian Should Know (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 2015), 214-15. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

“Pontius Pilate: What Is Truth?” (John 18:33-38a) - God’s Story, Our Story V -

Who Is Pontius Pilate?
Probably, the name Pontius Pilate is one of the most notorious names in history. Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea from A.D. 26-36, serving under Emperor Tiberius. Pilate is best known today for trial and crucifixion of Jesus. Although Pilate was responsible for Jesus’ death, in fact three times he declared Jesus to be innocent (John 18:38; 19:4, 6). Pilate’s conscience was already bothering him when his wife sent him an urgent message concerning Jesus, saying, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him” (Matt 27:19). As he was interrogating Jesus, he intuited the light, but blinded by darkness he was not able to see it, recognize it or submit to it. The story of Pontius Pilate is indeed a story of tragedy. But we can learn a very important lesson from his story.

Are You the King of the Jews?
In today’s story Pilate asks all the right questions, but for all the wrong reasons. Frist, he asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (John 18:33) Pilate asked this question, simply because he wanted to know whether Jesus was a threat to Rome’s power, a threat to his power. Unlike Pilate, there was another group of people who asked the same question for the right reason. After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem and asked King Herod, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews?” (Matt 2:2a). Then, why is this question important? It is because the King of the Jews refers to God’s Promised One, Messiah, the Christ. The Lord God appeared to Abraham and promised, “To your seed I will give this land” (Gen 12:7). “And your seed will possess the gates of his enemies, and through your seed all nations on earth will be blessed…” (22:17-18). The Scripture does not say, “your seeds,” meaning many people, but “seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ! (Gal 3:16) Again God made the covenant with David and promised, “… I will raise up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:12b-13). Who is the seed whose kingdom will last forever? Who is the seed? Solomon? No! The seed refers to the Promised One, the King of the Jews, the Christ! And now, standing before Pilate, Jesus declares, “Yes, I am the One. I am the son of Abraham. I am the son of David. I am the King of the Jews. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world…” (cf. John 18:37). Pilate heard this, but he didn’t get it; the wise men saw the king of the Jews, recognized him, and worshiped him.  

What Is Truth?
Pilate also asks another important question to Jesus: “What is truth?” (v. 38) We don’t know exactly what was behind the question. But based on the context we can assume that Pilate was being sarcastic rather than asking a sincere truth-seeking question. In fact, today we live in a society that has great difficulty answering to this question: “What is truth?” Charles Colson in his book, Being the Body describes four characteristics of the contemporary approach to truth in this way:[1]
  • Contemporary society is secular. It has no thought about things eternal . . the focus is only on the "here and now".
  • Prevailing society is naturalistic. They believe all nature is equal in value. The animals should have the same "rights" as humans. Earth Day gets more attention than Easter.
  • Our contemporary society is utopian. They believe human beings are good by nature and in time are only getting better.
  • The prevailing society is pragmatic. People don’t ask, “What is truth?” any more. Today the only question is: "Does it work?" “Does it make me feel good?” “Does it get me what I want?”

For the Pilates of our world today everything is in the eye of the beholder. For them there is no absolute truth. But the Bible proclaims there is truth – truth that is absolute and unchanging, truth that everyone should seek for and submit to and believe. More directly, Jesus said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6). He also said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (8:32). But the Pilates of the world grumbled and said, “We have never been slaves to anybody.” Jesus said the truth No.1: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” So the first step to know the truth is to admit that we are slaves to sin. We are darkness. But the Pilates of the world claim they can see. Unlike Pilate, there was a man who came to Jesus by night. His name was Nicodemus. He admitted something was missing in his life. He admitted his blindness, his ignorance, and humbly asked Jesus, “Teacher, what is truth?” Pilate asked the same question, but he didn’t want to hear. He saw the truth, heard the truth right before him. But anyway he chose to compromise truth to maintain peace and expediency of his world; Nicodemus came to the truth, listened to it, believed it and was set free!

What Will You Do with Jesus?
And finally, Pilate asked the Jews this question: “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called the Christ?” (cf. Matt 27:22) That’s the crucial question that every one of us in this room must answer. We can’t remain neutral about Christ. We have two choices. We can either reject him or accept him. Christian apologist C.S. Lewis rightly said, “…People often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic… or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”[2]

Pilate and his soldiers chose the option No.1. They flogged Jesus, mocked him, spat on him, killed him. Pilate knew Jesus was innocent. He knew Jesus was not a threat to Rome’s power. He had nothing against Jesus. But he rejected and crucified Jesus. Why? It was because he couldn’t remain neutral about Jesus. It was because to recognize Jesus and follow him would cost him everything. He knew the Jewish leaders held the upper hand over him, Caesar. They said, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend” (19:12) The Bible says, “So when Pilate heard these words, he decided to deliver Jesus over to them to be crucified” (13-16). Pilate rejected Jesus thinking that he was protecting his own interests and his way of life.

To follow Jesus costs us everything. It requires us to restructure our life. It requires us to change our allegiance, our values, our priorities, our lifelong goals and mission. Let me tell you another parable of C.S. Lewis: Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what he is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on. You knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts enormously and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that he is building quite a different house from the one you thought of -- throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage, but he is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it himself.

Jesus is the King of the Jews, the Promised One, the Christ, the Son of God. He is the truth and came to bear witness of the truth. He was beaten and crushed and wounded, so that we might be healed. He suffered and died in our place, so that we might be forgiven and have peace with God. He was raised from the dead in power, so that we may have eternal life. So now I ask you: “What will you do with Jesus, who is called the Christ?”

[1] “Moment of Truth,”
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper One: New York, 2015), 53-54. 

Sunday, April 2, 2017

“Peter: Are You His Disciple?” (John 18:15-18, 25-27) - God’s Story, Our Story IV -

Les Miserables and Gospel Story
The story of Jean Valjean in Les Miserables is a great example of the gospel story. The main character, Jean Valjean, is a convict without hope. Sentenced to a 19 year term of hard labor for the crime of stealing bread, Jean Valjean gradually hardened into a tough convict... At last he earned his release. But, no innkeeper would let a dangerous felon spend the night. For four days he wandered the village roads, seeking shelter against the weather, until finally a kindly bishop had mercy on him. That night, Jean Valjean rose from bed, stole valuables, and crept off into the darkness. The next morning three policemen knocked on the bishop's door with Valjean in tow. They had caught the convict with the stolen silver and were ready to put him in chains for life. But the bishop said to the policemen, “This silver was my gift to him.” Then, he said to Valjean, “I'm delighted to see you. Had you forgotten that I gave you the candlesticks as well?” Valjean was no thief, the bishop assured the police. Jean Valjean experiences undeserved grace from the bishop, and it transforms his life forever. He becomes a hero, a man who adopts and loves and cares for a young girl who loses her mother. For me personally, particularly I love how the author Victor Hugo describes the bishop's gracious acceptance of Jean Valjean when they first met that night. The bishop said, "You need not tell me who you are. This is not my house, it is the house of Christ. It does not ask any comer whether he has a name, but whether he has an affliction. You are suffering, you are hungry and thirsty; be welcome... What need have I to know your name? Besides, before you told me, I knew it... your name is brother."

My Name Is Simon Peter
In today’s passage we meet Simon Peter. We see so much of ourselves in Peter. Peter was a common man. He is full of inconsistencies. He struggles between faith and doubt, between the carnal man and the spiritual man. At one time Peter was the first to boldly get out of the boat and walk on water, but in a few seconds, he was terrified by the strong wind and sank. Peter was the first to confess the divine nature of Jesus. He boldly said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But, in a few minutes, he rebuked Jesus when Jesus began to explain that he must suffer and die. Peter was the first to draw a sword to defend his Master, but within a few hours, he denied his Lord three times. Peter is not always like this. As we know, in the New Testament there are two letters written by Peter. They were written about thirty years after these earlier events of his life. In the letters Peter is solid and steady like a rock. He is no longer easily moved. He does not fluctuate. Even in the midst of severe persecution he stands firm and takes up his positions and writes the messages of encouragement to his fellow believers. Simon Peter has matured. He is no longer a man of many moods. Peter is the conqueror of inconsistency.

Love: “You Will Be Called Peter!”
So what happened to Peter? It certainly was not an accident. There are two things that changes Peter’s life forever – one is love and the other is power. First of all, the love of Christ transformed Peter’s heart. When Jesus met Simon Peter for the first time, he said to him, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”; Peter means “rock”; John 1:42). Here Jesus was saying, “Simon, you are a man of inconsistency now, but I know you will be a man like a rock!” When Jesus had the last supper with his disciples, he knew within a few hours all of the disciples would abandon him, including Peter. But Jesus prayed for Peter and gave him a mission. Jesus said, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers" (Luke 22:31-32). Again Jesus was saying, “Simon, you will be a man like a rock.” After the resurrection Peter goes back to his old life. But Jesus comes to him and asks the same question three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus reinstates Peter and says. “… When you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18b). Jesus is saying, “Simon, you will be a man like a rock. You will live for me. You will die for me.” The love of Christ transforms Peter, and eventually he has become a man like a rock indeed!

Power: “You Will Receive Power!”
The second phase of Peter’s transformation came at Pentecost. This meant “power.” On the day of Pentecost the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit. They became different persons. Look Peter after Pentecost! How different he is! He was scared to death to acknowledge Jesus in front of people, but now in the midst of a mocking mob he stands up and speaks out with boldness. He proclaims, “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Then he continues, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” After this, Peter is arrested, and the Jewish leaders give threats to him. But he says to them, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Pentecost completed Peter’s transformation.

Tim Hansel, Christian writer, once met his old friend for the first time in 10 years. He was very impressed by how his friend was wonderfully changed. She was still a Christian 10 years ago, but now she was something different. She was filled with joy and confidence. So Tim couldn’t help asking, “Can you tell me what happened?” And she answered, “Sure, in the past every time I fell, I cursed myself and was tormented by guilt. But, as I was reading the Epistle to the Romans, I realized the truth that I am a sinner, and there is nothing good in me. From that moment, every time I fell, I just confessed my weakness and kept going. But, there is more! I realized that if I do something good, it is not from me, but from the Holy Spirit within me. And now I live for the joy of watching how the Holy Spirit is at work in my life.” Tim concludes as follows, “My friend has changed not from bad to good, but from good to great. She was a moral person before, but now she is a contagious Christian on fire.”

Simon to Peter
In Mark 14:54, shortly after Jesus’ arrest, we read that Peter followed Jesus “at a distance.” Before he experienced undeserved grace and forgiveness at the seashore of Galilee, before he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he was able to follow Jesus at a distance. But persecution came because of Jesus, Peter quickly fell away. Without experiencing the love and power of Christ, we are able to follow Jesus “at a distance” with our own strength and wisdom. But when trouble or suffering comes because of the word, we quickly fall away. We need the love of Christ. We need the power of the Holy Spirit. We need God’s grace. Max Lucado defines God’s grace in this way: "Grace is simply another word for God's tumbling, rumbling reservoir of strength and protection. It comes at us not occasionally or miserly but constantly and aggressively, wave upon wave.” God’s grace is like an ocean wave which constantly crashes against the beach. Before we finish saying, “Lord, I fell again,” the huge wave of God’s love sweeps into us. Before we finish saying, “Lord, I am weak. I am unqualified,” another massive wave of God’s power just sweeps over us.

Are you struggling between faith and doubt, between ups and downs? Then, remember Simon Peter. The One who changed Simon’s name to Peter is here with us today. As I close, I want to share RJ Butler’s hymn I Will Change Your Name:

I will change your name
You shall no longer be called
Wounded, Outcast, Lonely or afraid

I will change your name
Your new name shall be
Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One
Faithfulness, Friend of God, One who seeks my face.

Confidence, Joyfulness, Overcoming One
Faithfulness, Friend of God, One who seeks my face!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

“Thomas: Don’t Stop Until You Meet Jesus” (John 14:1-7) - God’s Story Our Story III -

God of My Ancestors to My God
Have you ever felt like talking to a brick wall when you prayed? I do. I was born into a pastor’s family and grew up in the church all the time. But when I was in my senior year in high school, I felt like there was no point to practice religion. When I prayed, I felt like talking to a wall. When I read the Bible, I felt like reading fairy tales. I was not sure whether God is really alive and cares about me. I had so many questions. One day I shared my struggle with my mother. She gently listened to me and shared her story how she met Jesus. She was also born into a pastor’s family and grew up in the church. After she got married to my father, she had to live with her parents for a while because my dad had to fulfill his military duty. At that time, my grandfather’s church was experiencing revival and spiritual awakening. But at the same time, Satan’s counter attack was also severe. There was slandering, gossiping, and sabotage. One day my mother was alone in the parsonage, and one church member came in a drunken stupor. Cursing and swearing, he was violent. After this, she was so upset, so angry with him. But God gave my mother compassion and burden to pray for that person. Reluctantly, she began to pray. As she was praying, God showed her a vision. In the vision, at first she saw that man’s ugly face, but then as she began to pray, the man’s face was turned into Jesus’ smiling face. That was the moment my mother met Jesus. After hearing her story, I thought, “Ok. Right now I don’t feel God. But because the person I love and respect most says so, I guess I will keep searching!” So I did keep on going, keep seeking. And finally, I met my God, my Jesus.

Quo Vadis?
In today’s passage we meet Thomas. He is often called, “doubting” Thomas. He had many questions. He had the spirit of inquiry. He wanted to know how and why. He had been with Jesus and known him for about three years. But still Thomas just knew Jesus from a human point of view (cf. 2 Co 5:16). He didn’t know who Jesus really is. He didn’t know why Jesus must suffer and die. He didn’t know why Jesus had to leave him and the other disciples. So he asked Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (v. 5) Jesus replied, “I AM the way.” He didn’t say, “I will show the way.” The answer to Thomas’ inquiry was the person of Christ.

There are times when we feel lost and our hearts are troubled. There are times when we are not sure whether we are on the right track. So we ask Jesus, “Lord, what is your will in this situation? I don’t know the way. Which way should I take? Show me the way!” But Jesus says to us, “You already know the way (v. 4), for I am the way. Believe in me. Trust me. Just stay close to me.” In the wilderness what we need is not a map, but a compass because the territory constantly changes. In the wilderness of life what we need to complete our journey is not religion, but the person, Jesus Christ – the way, the truth, and the life. When we meet this Jesus, we change from inside out permanently.

According to a Christian tradition (the apocryphal Acts of Peter), Peter is fleeing from likely crucifixion at the hands of the Roman government. And along the road outside the city he meets the risen Jesus. In the Latin translation, Peter asks Jesus “Quo vadis?” which means, “Where are you going?” Jesus replies, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” Peter thereby regains the courage to continue his ministry and returns to the city and dies a martyr by being crucified upside-down. Jesus is always with us. But the question is, “Am I with Jesus?” “Am I following him closely?” “Do I know him personally?” If we have Jesus, if we know Jesus, we don’t need to worry about the way or the destination.

The Holy Spirit, God with Us
We know God best through Jesus. Then, how can we know and experience Jesus best? Through the Holy Spirit! Jesus’ disciples had privilege to dine with him, talk with him, work with him. How about us? Actually, we have the same privilege just as they had! Through the Holy Spirit, we can know and commune with Jesus 24/7. Jesus said to the disciples, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever!” (John 14:16) He also said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (v. 26). The Holy Spirit is the Helper (ESV, NASB, NKJV), the Counselor (NIV), the Advocate (NRSV), the Comforter (KJV), and the Friend (MSG). How can we describe this beautiful relationship between the Holy Spirit and us? As I was pondering about this, the story of Dick and Rick Hoyt came to my mind. Rick was born with an umbilical cord around his neck. He was born with cerebral palsy. He is unable to walk or talk. At age 15, he asked his father if he could run in a race to support a friend. Dick agreed to push Rick in his wheelchair and they finished all 5 miles together. That night, Rick told his father, “Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped.” Since that first race, they have competed in multiple marathons and triathlons.[1] Now we will watch their brief moving clip together. [Moving Clip]

Neither Dick or Rick are ready to retire yet. For me personally, as I hear and watch their story, I see myself in Rick, the Holy Spirit in his father, Dick. We don’t know what to say, what to pray, but the Spirit himself intercedes for with groaning too deep for words (Romans 8:26). Although we may know what is right, we don’t have power to do it. But the Holy Spirit empowers us to live a victorious life in Jesus Christ (Romans 7:15-8:2). He dwells with us and within us (John 14:17). And the amazing thing is that not only does he push us in our wheelchair and keep us going, but also he makes us rise and walk – walk with him, run with him!

By God’s grace Thomas kept seeking until he met Jesus. Since Thomas met the person Jesus, and especially since he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he stopped wandering and questing the way. Instead, he was willing to suffer and die for his faith. According to tradition, Thomas preached the good news in India and was martyred there. Have you met Jesus? Do you walk with the Holy Spirit? Why don’t we express the desire of our hearts with the following prayer:

Jesus, I need you and I want to know you personally.
Thank you for dying on the cross for my sin.
I now invite Christ to again take His place 
on the throne of my life.
Fill me with the Holy Spirit!
Please empower me and direct my life.
Help me be the kind of person you want me to be!
I pray this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

[1] Team Hoyt,

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,”

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?