Friday, May 8, 2009

Let us… (Hebrews 10:19-25) 080509

My daughter doesn’t like to be ordered around. If I want to get her away from her mother so that she can do something else, it would work if I simply ask her to come to me. I will have to go to her and say to her, “Let’s go!” Then she will almost immediately get up and follow me. I don’t know where she learns it from, she doesn’t like to be told what to do, but like to be involved in making the decision to follow me.

The author of Hebrews seems to understand this aspect of human psychology and in today’s passage, after he has expounded on the necessity and sufficiency of the work of Jesus Christ, which is sacrificing His blood to enter the Most Holy Place as our High Priest (v19-20); he goes on to issue a call to his reader. He calls them to persevere.

In this short passage, he uses four “let us” phrases (v22, 23, 24 and 25). I don’t think we can miss them: 1) Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (v21), 2) Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess (v22), 3) Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds (v23) and 4) Let us not give up meeting together.

I think the call is simple: Let us stay together as we stay close to God. I want to stay close to God. I want to draw near to Him and be intimate with Him; but I can’t do it alone. I have to do it with you. I want to do the will of God and follow Him, but I can’t do it alone; I have to do it with you.

One of my gifts is the gift of encouragement; but I will never be able to exercise my gift if there is no one around me to let me encourage. My calling from God is to teach and preach; but I will never be able to fulfill my calling if there is no one wants to learn from my teaching and there is no congregation wanting to hear me preach. If I need to grow in my gifting and calling, I need you.

Likewise, you need me too. If your gifting is to be generous, you need me to receive your generosity. And if your calling is to be a good parent, you need your child or children to be there for you so that you can fulfill your calling. You do not only need me, you need others. We need one another.

Therefore, let us.

Don’t forget to go for your small group meeting, don’t neglect attending fellowship meeting, and don’t give up meeting each other for lunch or dinner. Shall we?

Let us.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

No more shadow… (Hebrews 10:1-18) 070409

I ride a bike, a motorbike. It is fun and very convenient. Whenever I travel on expressway with a traffic jam, I simply happily cruise through all those standstill vehicles. That is where George Orwell famous quotation comes to pass: two wheels good, four wheels bad (this is Abel’s twenty-first Century version of Animal Farm – Automobile Farm). But the only bad thing about motorbike is that it is not weather proof. Well, I don’t usually ride in the rain, but during the day, the sun can be sometime merciless. Therefore, I always try to go under some shades. I will stop my motorbike in the shadow of something, whatever it is. I thought that will be a good idea; but sometimes, the shadow which I am in, doesn’t provide the shade I need.

The author of Hebrews speaks of the law as “a shadow”, sharing similar idea with Paul. But Paul in Col. 2:17 has in mind the legal restrictions of Old Testament, whereas the author of Hebrews is thinking more of the law prescribing matters of priesthood and sacrifice in relation to the wilderness tabernacle and the Jerusalem temple. Though differ in details, both think of Christ and His new order as the perfect reality to which the earlier ordinances pointed forward. In other words, “shadow” is not used so much in Platonic sense of a copy of heavenly and eternal “idea”, but a foretaste of the reality of the good things to come.

In this passage, the author of Hebrews keeps reminding His readers that it is not that the Old Testament Law is bad, but the perfected Christ has come. That is all we need. His sacrifice is once for all (v10). There is no longer the need for any sacrifice for sin to ask for forgiveness (v18).

Are you still living in the shadow? Are you still living in the past glory or past hurts? The past is the shadow of today. I remember that I used to be able to work as a teacher during the day, attend prayer meeting on every Wednesday night, take up a part-time theological course on every Tuesday and Thursday evening, attend Bible Study group on every Friday night, take up another part-time counseling diploma on Saturday morning, go for Youth-fellowship in the afternoon, and involve in worship ministry on Sunday. Now, as I even try to recall what I did in the past, I feel tired. I wonder how I had done so for more than two years with such kind of lifestyle. And now? I can barely have enough energy to meet with more than 2 people a week. I feel that I am such a lazy and layback pastor.

I hardly go visitation, I hardly call up my members, I barely manage to organize ABFs, and I drag to go for extra meetings with other church pastors! I only read and write and preach and teach. This is the real and good thing God has for me. I don’t need to live in the shadow of those expectations of the past experiences. If I do so, I will not only living in the shadow, I will also miss out the real and good thing God has for me.

I am not the best preacher, and I don’t know what other think and learn from my preaching; but I know that I have learned a lot as I prepare my sermons, and the Lord speaks to me through my study of His Words. This is the real and good things.

No more shadow.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Not again… (Hebrews 9:23-28) 060509

“I want to go back!” This is the common sentiment echoed all who went for Telunas retreat lately. Telunas Beach is a beautiful place for urban people like us to get away and have some time to be in touch with our inner self and also with God. What so special about this retreat is that it is not program driven, the only agenda we have – relax and enjoy. It is as if we are in heaven, except I still feel pain after I jumped off the jetty and landed on my butt (the sign of me being alive).

When we have experience something really good, we will want to go back to try it again. In the Old Testament, people know that God will forgive their sins when their high priests were to bring in the sacrifices into the holy place and offer it to God on their behalf. It was good to know that they were no under God’s wrath, they could also experience the grace of God. And they would do it again and again, year after year; because it was good for them.

Today’s passage reminds me of what Christ has done for me: He entered into heaven itself (v24). And this is the reason for us to celebrate and be happy about: our sins are forgiven because Christ has offered up Himself as the Sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins. We are no longer under the wrath of God; we are in the grace of God. And the most important thing about this offering, it is once and for all. Christ will not need to do in again; He does not need to offer Himself again and again (v25). Yes, not again!

Jesus will not come again to suffer for our sins (v26). He died once; He is not going to die again! He came to die; He will come back to live and bring us life! It is just like marriage, we get married only once. The wedding experience is wonderful, beautiful, and even breath-taking; but it will only happen once and not again.

Many Christians long for another experience of Jesus to tell them that their sins are forgiven. Many are waiting for another encounter for Him to lift up their hurts and pains. But Christ has already done it all, once for all, and He will not do it again. He will not have to die again so that our sins are forgiven; we are forgiven. He will not suffer again so that our hurts and pains can be healed up by His Blood; we are healed. Jesus is to suffer and die? Not again!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Bloody Covenant… (Hebrews 9:15-22) 050509

I always ask myself this question: Do I love my wife or my daughter enough to die for them? I just came back from retreat, and I had a chance to watch a DVD called: John Q. It is about an African American father hijacked the Emergency Room of an hospital, wanting his son’s name to be put on the list of donor recipients as his son was very sick with his heart failing and would die without a heart transplant. John Q was desperate and he won the sympathy and respect of many who know of his situation. When he thought that there was no way that his son was going to get a heart transplant, he was ready to give up his own life and beg the doctor to take his heart to put it in his son. That was a very touching scene. I wept. I was moved by the love of John Q has for his son. Will I give up my life for my wife or my daughter? I don’t know, when the really hits, will I? But I know Jesus gave up His life on the Cross for me.

Today’s passage reminds me of the new Covenant which Jesus speaks about in Mark 14:24, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.’, and also recorded by Paul, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.’ (1Cor. 11:25).
The new covenant involves blood. This is not a new idea; the author of Hebrews explains this idea from the Old Testament, what Moses did (v19-22). But this time, the blood is not from an animal, it is from a Person, it is from the Son of God, it is from Jesus Christ our Lord. When I think of it, I was so moved and thankful for what Christ did on the Cross; but why was death and blood necessary? I think it has to do with the understanding of covenant which comes from a Greek word diatheke. And there is problem with this Greek word too, most commentators will share the same sentiment as Leon Morris:

in English because we have no single word that is the precise equivalent of diatheke. This Greek word denotes something like an authoritative laying down of what is to be done and is the normal word for a last will and testament. But it is also suited to covenants God makes with people. These are not the result of a process of negotiation in which God talks things over with people and they come to a mutually acceptable arrangement. God lays down the terms. The result is a covenant characterized by the same kind of finality as we see in a testament. (One cannot dicker with a testator!) The author moves easily from the idea of covenant to that of testament. It might help us follow him if we render the first clause in v. 15 (with NEB) as "he is the mediator of a new covenant, or testament." This gives two translations for the one Greek word but helps us retain something of the continuity of thought. The death of the testator is necessary for a diatheke (taking the term in the sense "testament") to come into effect. The will may be perfectly valid but it does not operate till death takes place.

This is the way we have to understand covenant, it is God initiated, and it has to be fulfilled in His way, which is a bloody way. In the Old Testament, it was the blood of an animal; and in the New Testament, it is the blood of Christ and it has effect till eternity. That is why Jesus has to die, that is why He has to shed His blood. It is because the Covenant He has made with His people is a bloody one.
Will you shed your blood for someone you love? How about someone you don’t know? How about someone who is your enemy?
Take this covenant seriously, because it costs the blood of Jesus. And only by the shedding of His blood, there is forgiveness (v22).
Our forgiveness is only found in the bloody covenant…