True humility, genuine need

Matthew 15:10–28

When Jesus was in Capernaum, he was visited by a Gentile man.

When Jesus was in the region of Tyre, he was visited by a Gentile woman.

The first incident takes place in Matthew 8, and the second in Matthew 15.

There are similarities between these two events. Both of these Gentiles are pleading with Jesus on behalf of their children. Both of them are generally despised by faithful Jews. Both of them receive the healing they request. The healing is done at a distance.

This distant healing is remarkable. People other than Jesus have been associated with healing as a result of prayer. Jesus healed many people and normally it was done up close. When others healed it was at close proximity. In these two cases, Jesus heals at a distance. This long range influence sets him apart from other healers immediately.

There are also some obvious differences. One is a man of power and influence who approaches Jesus inside Galilee. The other is a woman of no power and no influence who approaches Jesus in foreign territory. When the man, a Roman centurion, comes to Jesus, Jesus is already going around healing. When the woman comes to Jesus, Jesus is taking a break and getting away.

Jesus leaves Galilee and travels north out of the promised land into Pagan lands. Just before he goes, Jesus is near his home town when some Pharisees and teachers of religious law arrive from Jerusalem to see him. They have come to question Jesus, not to listen to him. They accuse him of heresy when they ask, “Why do your disciples disobey our age-old tradition?”

In his answer Jesus explains what defiles us and what makes us holy, and it is all about the heart and nothing to do with food. After calling the religious leaders ‘blind guides’, Jesus goes away into foreign lands.

In between these two healing events, in Chapter 10:5-8, Jesus sent his disciples out and told them: ‘Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep. ’

Yet this is exactly what Jesus did when he went to Tyre and Sidon, where he met the woman.

The reason may be found in Chapter 11. Here Jesus talks about the miracles done in the Jewish towns of Korazin and Bethsaida, which were just a couple of miles from Capernaum. That’s the same place where Jesus said of the Roman Centurion, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.’

In Matthew 11:21 Jesus says: “What sorrow awaits you, Korazin and Bethsaida! For if the miracles I did in you had been done in wicked Tyre and Sidon, their people would have repented of their sins long ago, clothing themselves in burlap and throwing ashes on their heads to show their remorse. I tell you, Tyre and Sidon will be better off on judgment day than you. And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead.’

Now a few chapters later Jesus is in Tyre and Sidon talking to a Gentile woman. He performs a great miracle in healing her daughter of an evil spirit from afar. But before that there is a conversation that many people find strange and disturbing.

In part, Jesus may well have been withdrawing from Jewish opposition when he went north. Surely he had to know where this journey into Gentile lands would lead – to amazing healings, great miracles and the feeding of 4,000 men.

Jesus went in secret and tried to hide. Mark explains in 7:24, ‘Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret. Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet.’

Jesus was not having a public meeting. He was in a house and the Canaanite women searched him out. Why did she do that? What did the people of Tyre and Sidon know about Jesus, and what might she have heard. Luke give us a clue in 6:17 when he says, ‘When they came down from the mountain, the disciples stood with Jesus on a large, level area, surrounded by many of his followers and by the crowds. There were people from all over Judea and from Jerusalem and from as far north as the seacoasts of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those troubled by evil spirits were healed. Everyone tried to touch him, because healing power went out from him, and he healed everyone.’

Jesus has been rejected and accused by the people he came to save, but this Canaanite woman comes to him for help. It was one thing to be a Gentile, and quite another to be a Canaanite. In Jewish eyes, this was about as low as one could go.

She calls Jesus, ‘O Lord, Son of David!’ This woman calls Jesus the Messiah, and his disciples want to send her away and stop her from bothering him. They were wrong. Jesus did not praise them. He praised her, but not before he gave her a hard time. This is where some people think Jesus was just plain wrong, and others cannot understand his words.

Jesus calls her a dog. It is an insult these days in most cultures to call someone a dog. It was an awful insult in those days. To understand this we start by acknowledging that Jesus is the saviour and he came to save us all from sin, including this woman. We cannot think his words are wrong. His words are the words of life spoken for the purpose of saving this woman.

How did this woman interpret the words of the Messiah, and how does she teach us?

She first accepted the truth of his words, and did not argue with his statement.

Yes, she was a dog and in great need of his blessing. She was humble.

She was not offended. It was the religious Jews who were offended by Jesus. Matthew 15:12 says, the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”

The woman instead calls Jesus her Lord. She knows power flows from him and wants some.

In spite of the disciples’ persistent prodding to have Jesus send this woman away, Jesus did not tell the woman to leave. His silence in this regard was golden for the Canaanite woman. And what Jesus said was also encouraging to her. He said he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel. That was his mission. He was open to talking with her. She was not seeking to dissuade him from fulfilling his calling. And so she persisted to plead with him to have mercy on her.

She listened to him and noticed the word he used for ‘dog’ was not the word for a stray or street cur, but the word for a pet. She responded to what he actually said and was not distracted by an imagined insult. She asked for what it was reasonable for a pet dog to receive.

Jesus commended her faith in a way that no Jew was ever commended. Only the Gentile centurion was commended in a similar way

She trusted in Jesus’ promise of long distance healing and went away satisfied. We can learn from this woman how to relate to Jesus when he is silent or speaks words we don’t expect. We see from her how once she was humble and accepted him as Lord he was able to do a great healing.

It was not the woman’s persistence that persuaded Jesus to give healing. We are not being taught to just keep on until we get what we want. We are shown by her how to be humble and to listen closely to what God says. We are shown that we must recognise and accept our need.

We are shown an example of making a right relationship with Jesus. The purpose of this story is to teach us how to relate to Jesus. It shows us the way of salvation. Let’s learn from her example.

Amen 아멘

Posted in Sermon - English | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What saved the tax man?

Luke 18:9–14

Today we are looking at the famous story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. It’s a simple, straightforward story that is easy to understand. It’s dramatic and predictable. You don’t need to be a Bible expert to see the moral. But that’s exactly why we need to slow down and be careful, because we may be assuming too much.

Pharisees have become known as the bad guys in the Bible, so it is easy to jump to the conclusion that whatever the Pharisee is like he is an example to avoid. We should be the opposite. If he is arrogant, we should be humble.

There is a trap here, though. It is far too easy to think we aren’t like that Pharisee. We are in danger of saying in effect, Thank you Lord that I’m not a hypocrite, too pious, self-righteous. I attend church every week and know that I should always be humble like the tax collector.

Oops, you’ve just done what the parable condemns. As soon as you draw a line, you have put yourself on the wrong side of the line.

The Pharisee is actually a great man of faith. He is to be admired and copied in many ways. He is not a bad guy, but a righteous man. He meets the standards. His problem is that he doesn’t see the real reason for his righteousness. He has been blessed by God, but he is trusting in himself.

As he prays we can see that he thinks he is righteous because of what he does and how he lives. He is praying in gratitude to God, but his words are also praising himself for not being like the other guys. The Pharisee says, “I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.”

Jesus says “The Pharisee stood by himself”, and so we can see how he sets himself apart as better than others. And when he gives thanks to God for being so righteous, it is to praise himself. The Pharisee actually trusts in himself and in his own goodness. The tax collector doesn’t trust in himself at all. He asks God to help him because he is a sinner.

He is not so different from the Pharisee. They have both gone to the synagogue to pray. They are both standing with hands held up to God, as is the custom in prayer. They are both believers and faithful Jews, but only one trusts God. And that man is the one who ends up as righteous, because it is God who justifies us.

When we read the words of Jesus in the New Testament we have to take steps to understand his message and not jump to conclusions. Here are three questions from John Piper you can ask about a passage when you read it. Answering these questions will help focus on the point of the story or the teaching. We are looking at words spoken by Jesus. Let’s ask ourselves.

1) What difference does it make that the words were spoken by Jesus, the Messiah, the eternal, sinless son of God?

2) What difference does it make that Jesus was born to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45), and as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many (Matthew 26:28)?

3) What difference does it make that Jesus thinks we are all spiritually dead (Luke 9:60) and need to be born again (John 3:3)? That we all are so rebellious in our hearts that we cannot come to Jesus unless the Father leads us to him (John 6:65; Matthew 16:17)?

If we don’t ask these questions, Jesus’ commandments are likely to be misused.

Luke opens his Gospel by reminding us in 2:10 that Jesus is the Messiah. John said Jesus was “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Mark spends most of his Gospel writing about the last week of Jesus’ life.

Matthew starts his Gospel in 1:21 by telling us who Jesus is: “you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

In other words, all the Gospels want us to know from the very beginning how the story ends. It ends with Jesus dying as a Lamb for the forgiveness of sins and rising again as the Lord of the universe. That is the way to understand every paragraph in the Gospels. Jesus’ commandments are not mere snippets of wisdom for how to raise your family, or how to prosper in business, or how to feel good about yourself. They are descriptions of how new human beings live who have been born again by God’s Spirit.

Let’s try to remember that as we read. Going back to today’s passage, in verse 9 we find that “Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else.”

They knew about God. They knew about grace. They knew about righteousness. But they missed the key point.

They don’t know that everything written about God in the Old Testament was pointing to Jesus, the Messiah who takes away the sins of the world. That man is speaking to them at that moment. He is telling them how to be saved. He is teaching them how to be justified. That is the word Jesus uses in verse 14 – “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.”

This is not a story ‘about’ people who trusted in themselves. It may seem a small point, but Jesus is talking directly ‘to’ people “who had great confidence in their own righteousness”. He is looking them in the eye and telling them they need to be saved.

The point here for us is, don’t talk about people. Talk to people. Talk to them directly and lovingly about their need for the Messiah. Don’t tell other people how bad they are and how much they need the Messiah, because that isn’t what Jesus did.

When Jesus spoke to them he didn’t accuse them directly, but preferred to tell them stories. Maybe that his how we should be also. Don’t accuse. Don’t judge.

What is the Pharisee’s problem as Jesus tells the story?

He was a righteous man. He was a morally upright man. He kept the commandments (like the rich young ruler, ten verses later, in Luke 18:21).

He was ceremonially righteous. In verse 12 he said, “I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.” These relate to spiritual disciplines before God, and not so much to how you treat other people. This too was part of his righteousness. He was a morally upright and religiously devout man. He even thanked God for his righteousness.

The problem is not whether the man himself has produced the righteousness he has or whether God has produced it. Jesus says the Pharisee’s problem is that he trusts in it.

He is not presented as a legalist who tries to earn his salvation. That is not the issue.

So what is the issue? And what does it mean for us today?

Are you looking away from yourself? Are you looking toward Jesus? One day you find yourself standing before the holy Judge. You know that you must be found righteous in this all-knowing, infinitely-just court. What are you going to look to and trust in?

You cannot trust in your own righteousness, however great it is. You cannot even trust in all the great and wonderful things that God has done in your life. You cannot list how many souls you have brought to Jesus for salvation. You cannot list how many churches you have planted or how many prayer meetings you have attended. You cannot remind God how many people have been healed by your prayers or how many conferences you have led.

Jesus wants you to know this morning that for your justification you cannot look at or trust in what God has worked in you. Look at and trust in Christ alone. You are saved by your relationship with Jesus. The Pharisee didn’t do this.

What did the tax collector do? He looked away from himself to God. He trusted in nothing in himself. He trusted completely in God.

Look to Christ alone, trust in Christ alone. Your righteousness is like a dirty rag. Do you know and love Jesus? He is your only saviour.

Amen 아멘

Posted in Sermon - English | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jesus Christ crucified

1 Corinthians 2:1–14

Going to hear a speaker was public entertainment in the days of Jesus.

It was seen as great entertainment right up until the modern age of cinema and television. Even today skilled orators still make a huge impact on society. Among the most famous, who are all men, we find Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Cicero, Demosthenes, and Barack Obama.

Marcus Tullius Cicero, for example, was a Roman philosopher who was murdered 43 years before Jesus was born. Cicero defined the basics of rhetoric, which are still remembered in Western society. He said that without oratory skills, knowledge remains powerless; but oratory skills without knowledge are useless.

An examination of orators reveals that many who were very popular in their time spoke without any real substance. In France there was a man you have probably never heard of. He was named Peter du Bosc. The Sun King, Louis XIV, said that Peter was the perfect orator. Many French people agreed with the king. Born on 21 February 1623, Peter du Bosc was a Protestant preacher of great popularity. Further investigation reveals that it is difficult to see Peter’s appeal from what he preached. On the other hand, Peter had a wonderful full harmonious voice, and a noble and princely appearance.

Paul says in our reading today in 1 Corinthians 2:1 “I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan.”

Paul is writing to people in Corinth who value attractive speech and good rhetoric.

The culture of Corinth was invading the church. Corinth was a city in Greece, but under considerable Roman influence. It enjoyed Roman law and order, which was probably a good thing. It had also embraced Greek philosophy, and this was a root of many of their problems. In fact the influence of Greek philosophy on the West was so great we still feel it today in the church, and it still causes us trouble.

Take democracy, for example. This is a Greek political idea. There isn’t any democracy in the Bible, and yet many Christians assume it is how God wants to run the church.

A more pervasive error in Greek thinking was the separation of the physical and the spiritual. To the Greeks, the body and spirit were separate things. This is also common in Christian thinking.

This is the view that when the body dies and rots, the spirit is set free. The Hebrew view was that the liberated spirit needs another body. It needs an immortal body. Because of their view, the Greeks either ignored the body or indulged it. Two equal and opposite errors.

They didn’t see how the body could influence the spirit.

Paul in his letter to the Corinthians has to remind them of this connection. He has to remind them that it does matter if they get drunk at communion. Visiting a prostitute does affect the state of their spirit, because in effect they are trying to join Christ to that prostitute. Why? Because your body is part of Christ’s body. Today also we sometimes forget we should worship God with our bodies as well as our minds and hearts. And not just our mouths either.

So in verse 1 Paul is stating that we are not saved by rhetoric. We are not saved by clever words. We are not saved by beautiful phrases. Paul is saying that it is not his words that should be impressive, but the message of the cross. He is reminding them that wisdom does not come from his words, or the words of any clever speaker. Wisdom comes from the spirit.

In verse 4 he says, “my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In verse 2, Paul says, “I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified.”

This is important to Paul. He is emphasising this point. The work of the cross was offensive to the Greeks because they insisted the body didn’t have any value. The thought it was foolish to say spiritual salvation could come from a body killed on a cross. From that point, the members of the church in Corinth became confused and went wildly astray. At the end of his letter to the Corinthians Paul returns to this topic in chapter 15 to talk about the resurrection. They saw no reason or value in getting a new body. Paul had to teach them the need for a resurrection body such as Jesus had that could eat fish and cook breakfast.

A favourite pastime of mine used to be people watching. Is this something you enjoy as well?

It works like this. Start by finding a comfortable outdoor cafe. If you cannot find one, try a park if the weather is warm and dry, or sit near the window of a cafe.

While you sip your coffee or nibble your cake, look at the people passing. Mostly it can be one of those times when we switch off our mind. I used to switch mine on. Actually I think what really happened was that it was already on, but in the peace I began to notice what it was doing. There was a dialogue flowing through my brain. A script written by my subconscious was being played out. It would go something like this.

Wow, do you know what you look like in that shirt? Did you wear that on purpose? You don’t really think you look good in those colours do you? He must be a foreigner, maybe French. That guy obviously is a banker. Look at his polished shoes, and smart suit. He seems very pleased with himself. I expect he’s got a wife and two children who cost him a lot, and he’s stressed that he has to bring home a lot of money every month to keep them happy.

There goes a woman holding a big Bible where everyone can see how holy she is. I bet she is a hypocrite. Oh no, why has that girl done that to her hair. It looks horrible. Doesn’t she have any sense of fashion.

Wow! Can you relate to this? The soundtrack never stops. The commentary is continuous.

Press the pause button.

I wasn’t speaking out loud, but this was obnoxious gossip. It was rising up from a subconscious desire to make me look good. It is me trying to compensate for my own insecurities. And it isn’t me doing my job. When I do this I’m sitting in God’s seat of judgement.

What if God walked up to me while I was doing this? What would he say to me? Is there any way that God would be happy with what my inner dialogue is saying.

“Simon,” he might say. “What are you doing?”

“Is this the work that I called you to do?”

Let me try to follow Paul’s advice and think only about “Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified”. Now when I see a woman with the ring in her nose and the spiky green hair, my inner voice says, ‘God thought she was worth dying for.’

The worker struggling with debt, who cannot afford nice clothes, was worth going to the cross for. So was the single mother who dropped out of high school and works in a supermarket to keep her baby.

It is a very simple thing to do, but it changes the way I people watch. Now I pray for the people I see and bless them. Each one is so precious to God that Jesus Christ went to the cross for them. When I stopped putting myself in the centre and put Jesus and the cross in the centre, my eyes were opened.

Not only were my eyes opened, but I even felt different. When my heart was filled with gossip, I was poisoning my soul. I did not feel good for long when I criticised the people I watched. Now I have the cross in centre and my soul is fed by each prayer and blessing. I feel the difference. I feel calm and clean.

People watching with Jesus at the centre brings peace and a peculiar joy. The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in me now. If you put Jesus Christ in the centre of your life, it will change you too. Your body will be a temple of the Holy Spirit. You will remember that God puts so much value on the people you see that he died for them, just as he was crucified for you.
Amen 아멘

Posted in Sermon - English | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Jesus came to save

John 3:16–21

Our Bible passage today is about God’s love for the world. It starts with what must be one of the most well-known verses.

God gave his son. We all have heard this, so it doesn’t have the same force it had when it was first spoken. Back in those days it was impossible to imagine any god doing such a thing. The Greek gods had sons, but they wouldn’t have sacrificed them for us. They were more likely to ask us to sacrifice our sons for them. The other pagan gods were the same.

There was a Caananite god called Molech who demanded child sacrifice. The chosen people were told not to do this in verses such as Leviticus 20:2. “Give the people of Israel these instructions, which apply both to native Israelites and to the foreigners living in Israel. If any of them offer their children as a sacrifice to Molech, they must be put to death. The people of the community must stone them to death.”

In Ezekiel 20 God says, “They refused to keep my decrees and follow my regulations, even though obedience would have given them life. And they also violated my Sabbath days. So again I threatened to pour out my fury on them.” Verse 26 reveals that one of the sins was child sacrifice in direct violation of the explicit command in Leviticus.

A concept that the people of Jesus’ day would understand was that God would send his son to punish them. Instead he sent his son to die for them. It didn’t make much sense to the people of the day. It still doesn’t make sense to many people. They find it offensive. It’s just as Paul said.

“So when we preach that Christ was crucified, the Jews are offended and the Gentiles say it’s all nonsense.” (1 Corinthians 1:23) “우리는 십자가에 못박히신 그리스도를 전합니다. 이것이 유대인에게는 거치는 돌이며 이방인에게는 어리석은 것입니다.”
Jesus said that “everyone who believes in him will not perish”.

All who believe in Jesus escape destruction. Everyone is heading to destruction, except those who believe in Jesus. They receive eternal life.

This is where it becomes difficult for many people. Why would a God of love send anyone to destruction? Let’s look at what Jesus is saying and see if we can find an answer to this question. It’s important to have some understanding of God’s motivation. Is he sending people to destruction because he is angry at us all for how we are living?

Please look at the next verse of our passage today. In verse 17 we find the word ‘judge’.

This introduces us to the concept of biblical judgement. It also opens the door to a lot of confusion and disagreement.

In Judaism, beliefs vary about a last day of judgement for all mankind. Some rabbis hold that there will be such a day following the resurrection of the dead. Others hold that this accounting and judgement happens when one dies. Still others hold that the last judgement only applies to the gentiles (goyim) and not the Jewish people.

Among Christians there are many views of judgement and the last day. In fact among some views there are three judgement days. Some say it has already happened. Some say it happens when you die. Some say it happens on that day when Christ returns. There are Bible verses to support all these views.

Even within the same groups there is dispute. Among those who accept Protestant Millennialism, for example, what happens after death and before the final judgement is hotly contested. Some believe all people sleep in Sheol until the resurrection. Others believe Christians dwell in Heaven and pagans wander the earth. Still others consider the time to pass instantaneously.

Let’s sidestep these disputes for now and just agree that there is judgement.

The word judge means to separate. It doesn’t mean punish or kill. Judge means to look at a flock and to put all the sheep on one side and all the goats on the other. It’s as if Jesus looks at all the people and picks out the ones who belong to him.

A word we sometimes confuse with ‘judge’ is ‘convict’. Jesus said in John 16:8 that the Holy Spirit convicts those who don’t know Christ. The Holy Spirit reveals to them their guilt, giving the people time to repent and believe before judgement. Believers are not convicted. Hebrews 6:4 says believers are enlightened.

In today’s Scripture, Jesus says that judgement is not why he came. He doesn’t say there is no judgement, only that it isn’t why he came. He came to save us. He came to set us free, and left the Holy Spirit to bring us to belief.

The Spirit helps us perceive and understand the truth. In addition, he helps us obey and live out the teachings of Christ. Our part is to be fully committed to Christ and to be responsive to the Spirit.

“He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future.”

The Holy Spirit guides us with regard to all aspects of truth. The Holy Spirit not only enlightens us with truth, but he also makes the presence of Jesus himself known to us.

Jesus says in verse 18 of today’s Scripture that judgement has already happened.

This is a little scary, because Jesus seems to be saying that you have already judged yourself. You have chosen whether to believe in the Messiah or reject the Messiah.

The light has come. It has shone in the darkness. Some people have seen the light and moved toward it. Some people have seen the light and moved away.

Jesus says that is the basis of the judgement. How did you respond to the light? Did you hide from it, or embrace it?

He says evil people “refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.”

Before God sent Jesus into the world, there was no light. All was darkness. Everyone was about to perish. All people were moving toward destruction. It was like a massive conveyor belt that no one could get off. It was like a nightmare. God told people how to get off, but they couldn’t do it. So he put his son on the conveyor belt of doom. He put his son there to rescue the people who couldn’t rescue themselves.

But when the son came and shone brightly, lots of people ran away. They still run away from the light because they have been convicted. They know what they are like and cannot face it.

But God’s love is so great that he doesn’t care how disgusting you are, he wants to save you. Jesus came to save you, not to judge you. Jesus came so that you won’t perish.

It’s his free gift. We don’t need to worry about judgement day. We only need to trust Jesus and walk in the light. If we believe in him we have put ourselves in his arms and are safe.

Those who do what is right come to the light so others can see God at work.

It’s the greatest news possible. When you are judged it is to save you. The judge calls out, he’s my lamb. She’s my sheep. Bring them here. They are not to perish. They are to have eternal life.

I am so encouraged by Jesus’ words here, I hope you are too.

Amen 아멘

Posted in Sermon - English | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Hell, is it real?

Matthew 7:12–23

The Sermon on the Mount is a long section of teaching by Jesus. Four times in this sermon, Jesus warns his listeners about hell. Jesus talked about hell more than he did about heaven. He didn’t always use the actual word ‘hell’. He spoke sometimes by euphemism of ‘outer darkness’ and ‘eternal punishment’, for example. What did Jesus mean? Is hell a real place or symbolic?

Your mental picture of hell will likely depend on many outside influences. It will be a picture drawn by your church background, culture, movies, books. Through Christianity’s history, the concept of hell has changed a great deal – not only its nature, but who ends up in it, and the criteria for them going there. Even now many denominations disagree on this.

In Matthew 5:29 and 30 Jesus says, “It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” The original word in the Bible is ‘Gehenna’.

In Matthew 7:13 Jesus says,“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way.” The original word in the Bible is ‘apóleia’. It means perish, waste, destruction, cut off. It’s the word used when the woman poured perfume over Jesus and the disciples said, “Why waste such expensive perfume?” That’s why this verse is often translated ‘the way is easy that leads to destruction.’

‘Hades’ and ‘tartaros’ are the two other words translated as hell in the New Testament. Gehenna is found in 12 verses, Hades is found in 10 verses, and Tartaros is found only in one verse, 2 Peter 2:4.

The Old Testament has very little to say about hell. The Hebrew word is ‘Sheol’. It is described as a region “dark and deep,” “the Pit” and “the Land of Forgetfulness” where human beings descend after death. The suggestion is that in the netherworld of Sheol, the deceased, although cut off from God and humankind, live on in some shadowy state of existence. While this vision of Sheol is rather bleak (setting precedents for later Jewish and Christian ideas of an underground hell) there is generally no concept of judgement or reward and punishment attached to it. The ancient Hebrews did not have a developed sense of the afterlife. Judaism still doesn’t. Jewish tradition contains a variety of opinions on the subjects of heaven and hell. Modern Jewish thinkers have generally shied away from the topic. One mystical Jewish view is that hell is a “Supernal Washing Machine” where the soul is cleansed of sin similar to the way our clothes are cleansed in a washing machine. It might hurt, but it’s only temporary.

Jesus never taught that hell is a washing machine.

The verses in the New Testament in which Gehenna is found speak of it as a punishment for wickedness or misconduct. The verses using Hades speak of it as an underworld place, and metaphorically to mean destruction.

The notion of hell in early Christianity likely followed Greco-Roman thought. A very, very few righteous and favoured souls came to a pleasant afterlife while the rest, the vast majority, lingered in a nondescript, shadowy, relatively unpleasant afterlife. Stories of it being a punishment for the wicked, are found in two places. First, in Jesus’ stories extolling the virtue of compassion and selflessness, in which those who did not follow these rules ended up in torment. Second, in Revelation, in which all of God’s enemies end up in eternal perdition. Early Christians did not write extensively on hell and appear not to have taken these stories as literally as many do today.

Jesus was a Jew speaking to Jews when he taught about hell. His ideas were radical and new.

Today I think we still struggle to understand this topic, and often we prefer not to talk about it.

The theology of Hell probably started growing in the 5th century, or perhaps later, in Western Europe. Many changes entered Christianity when it expanded westward, such as a greater emphasis on the priesthood and hierarchy. The great Eastern Church Fathers, on the other hand, were relatively unconcerned with hell.

Hell is in the Bible and Jesus did talk about it, so we cannot ignore it. Understanding hell is part of understanding salvation. What are we saved from? Why do we need saving? What does it have to do with this Good News that disciples are supposed to be telling people?

Jesus believed in a real hell where ‘where the maggots never die and the fire never goes out’. Not only does he say it is real, he says it isn’t temporary. Your worm, the maggot eating your dead spiritual body, will never die. It may be that these undying worms are regrets and fears eating permanently at your mind. They cannot by physical. Whatever they are, Jesus says they are real.

Where the fire never goes out there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Jesus says this twice to emphasise it. The regret and pain is never ending.

Jesus calls hell the place of outer darkness. Jesus is the light, and this gives us a picture of a place so far away from Jesus there is no glimmer of light at all. No moon! No stars! Nothing.

Jesus is teaching of a place without hope or light. It is a place without God that will never end, but lasts for ever.

In Luke 16:24–26 Jesus tells a story of a man named Lazarus in hell that illustrates that it is a place of all five senses. Lazarus is able to think clearly and has memory. He can feel thirsty and hot. He can see and hear and speak. In hell you can feel the maggots eating you, and you know they are eating you. And you know cannot stop them.

There is spiritual life after physical death.

The ancient Jewish view was that all people go to hell after they die. When Jesus told the story of Lazarus, the other person was Abraham. This was the first time that anyone had suggested different levels of afterlife.

The hell that Jesus describes is not a place that God has created for those people whom he wants to punish. He seems to have a traditional Jewish view that it is the destiny of all people.

Many Jewish teachers at the time of Jesus expected God to send a messiah who would rescue his people from hell by endowing them with a resurrection body.

The first followers of Jesus taught that Jesus had gone to Sheol and been resurrected, so now no-one need go to Sheol. Anyone who believed in Jesus could receive a resurrection body on death in this world. This is the good news. You don’t need to go to hell when you die. Because of Jesus, you have a choice.

If you believe in Jesus, you change your destination.

John 3:18 “There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.”

This is not just about after death though. Jesus said he came to establish heaven on earth.

Currently all people are born in hell on earth. We all live in hell on earth, and pass over on death into the spiritual hell. Those who believe in Jesus enter heaven immediately. When they die, they get a resurrection body and live in heaven for ever.

Some people say they don’t believe in hell, but not believing in hell doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Some say that a good God wouldn’t send anyone to hell, but the Bible says you are going to hell and a good God is rescuing you. You don’t deserve to be rescued, but he loves you. So he gave up his son to save you. It’s his free gift.

This is the good news about hell. You don’t have to go if you don’t want to. Jesus can take you to heaven. This is the message we have been asked to share with everyone. Our message is, Please choose Jesus. Hell is real. Only Jesus can save you from hell. Come to Jesus. Believe in Jesus. Follow Jesus.
Amen 아멘

Posted in Sermon - English | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Freedom to obey

Galatians 3:1–13

An elderly woman was nearing the end of her life. A pastor visiting the hospital stopped at her bed. He asked her, “Are you ready to meet God? What will you say when you see him?”

She looked at the pastor and held up both her hands. They were lined and worn.

“I am a widow. I have raised five children. Life was hard and I was too busy. I had no time for church or the Bible or anything religious,” she said. “I always did my best for my children. When I get to heaven, I will just hold up my hands. God will look at them and he will understand.”

What would you say to this woman? What would you tell her?

The pastor looked gently at her and said, “Dear woman, you are too late. Far too late.”

She was surprised to hear this. “What do you mean?” she asked.

He explained.

“Someone else has got there before you. He is already holding up his hands in front of God. God looks only at him.”

She was even more surprised. “What do you mean?” she asked again.

“Don’t trust in your hands for admission to heaven. Put all your trust in his hands.”

This is an example of expecting to get into heaven by works. It is legalism. It is the idea that if we are good enough we will be admitted to heaven. Among those who are not Christian it is comparing themselves to a church-goer and finding that they are just as good at obeying the law. Being a Christian cannot be defined as being kind to cats and old ladies.

That is why in verse two Paul asks the Galatians a pertinent question.

“Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses?” (Galatians 3:2)

We should respect the rules of the church, but obeying these rules is not how we get to heaven. There are only four steps into the church – repent, believe, baptism, receive the Holy Spirit. All other steps, rules or regulations are steps in the church toward sanctification.

There are some people who believe that if a non-believer commits adultery it will take them straight to hell, but if a Christian commits adultery it is acceptable.

They believe in license, which means that once you are saved some kinds of sins are excused. They say that you may lose some blessing, but not your ticket to heaven.

Paul is concerned in Galatians to make to points to his readers. He is urging them to beware the equal and opposite dangers of legalism and licence. That is the main thrust of his letter.

He is writing to a church where people have become confused by conflicting messages. They are being told that the gospel is not enough. They need more. This is the same mistake that cults make. The Christian cults add something to the Bible. They have a new improved revelation. They have a person with a direct message from God.

These false preachers say the have more truth than is in the Bible. They demand the people turn to them. Paul says the good news is all you need.

Salvation is the question at the heart of this letter. Some people are telling the Galatians they need to do something to be saved. Others are saying faith alone can save them, and if they have faith they can do anything they like.

Paul has to answer both these errors.

Galatians 5:13 – “But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.”

In this one verse Paul uses the word freedom twice. In his letter he repeatedly talks about freedom. And he says it is a freedom that must be used to serve each other.

Works plus faith says a Christian has to obey six of the Ten Commandments and then have faith that God will forgive you for breaking the other four. Faith plus works says that we must start with faith and then you must keep the law.

Paul is talking about freedom from the law.

There are three men standing on a rock in the sea. They have not noticed the tide come in and are stranded. The rock is about to be covered by the sea and they will drown. Safety is just a few meters away. The first man jumps. He gets only one-third of the way and drowns. The second man jumps. He gets two-thirds of the way and drowns. The last man jumps. He jumps really far and almost makes it. He is just inches away. He falls in the rough water and drowns.

This is the curse of the law. All the way, or you die.

Getting to heaven this way is impossible for us.

Jesus sets us free from the need to jump. Jesus rescues us from the rock.

Being set free does not mean we can do whatever we want. Liberty is not doing what others tell us to do. Liberty, true freedom, is allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Galatians 5:22 – “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

We have freedom when we have a relationship with Jesus. Anything you do that damages that relationship is sin.

A non-Christian who lives a good life doesn’t have this relationship. However far he jumps, he can never jump far enough to be safe.

Galatians 4:5 – “God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children.”

We are not trying to keep the law, we are God’s very own children.

As we work on this relationship with our father, we have the Holy Spirit producing fruit in our lives.

David Pawson says that the first three flavours of fruit – love, joy and peace – bring us into harmony with God. David says there is only one fruit with different flavours.

The second three – patience, kindness and goodness – bring us into harmony with other people. The final three – faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – bring us into a good relationship with ourselves.

You may find some of these flavours in non-believers because God made us in his image, but never all of them. As we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, the fruit grows.

Galatians 5:16 – “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”

Galatians 5:25 – “Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.”

True freedom is to walk in harmony with God. True liberty is to live a life that is constantly guided by the Holy Spirit. That life is a life free of sin and free of law.

Paul is calling us all to turn directly to God. He is telling us to accept God’s gift in faith and live in perpetual relationship with him.

It is a narrow path of freedom to walk between legalism and license. Walking straight on this narrow path we are free to not sin. We are free to be bold. But only as we walk in the spirit.

To walk in any other way is to walk back into sin and turn our backs on salvation.

Amen 아멘

Posted in Sermon - English | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

God’s warning

Ezekiel 33:25–33

In the ancient days of fortified cities, watchmen would stand on the walls day and night. Their job was to warn of danger. If a watchman failed to warn of an enemy approaching, he would be punished with death.

God explains this to Ezekiel, and thus to us, in the first nine verses of Chapter 33. God tells Ezekiel that he has been selected to be a warner. In verse seven God says, ‘I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.’

There are three possible outcomes when the danger approaches. First, the watchman fails to warn the people. In this case the people will die in their sins, and the watchman will be held responsible. That’s the worst possible outcome. Everyone loses.

Second, the watchman tells everyone what is coming but they ignore him. In this case the people still die in their sins, but the watchman is saved.

Third, the people heed the warning. In this case the people are saved along with the watchman. As a Warner myself, by name and by calling, this is the outcome I seek.

When he is given this task by God, Ezekiel is living in exile in Babylon. The people he is told to warn are God’s people. His message is for the children of Israel. Ezekiel has to send his warning to Jerusalem and the people living there as well as to the exiles. He is to say to them, ‘Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?’

The first thing we see in these passages of Scripture is how serious it is to be selected by God as a ‘warner’ with a message for his people. It may cost us a lot to deliver the warning that God has entrusted to us. You might feel concerned at what it may cost you to deliver the words that God has given you. We are all called to share the Good News. God has tried to teach us that it is not the cost we should be looking at. We should be keeping our eyes on him, and then the cost will seem small by comparison.

Of first importance is our relationship with God. If that costs us a great deal in this world, so be it. Our relationship with God is worth far more than anything the world has to offer.

We also see that Ezekiel is called to warn God’s own people. They have not been granted any special protection because they are God’s people. They will still die in their sins if they ignore God’s warnings to them. It is the same for us. God is holy and he judges his own people. He does it to help us become holy. His purpose in judgement and punishment is to bring us into a close relationship with him.

God is holy. He cannot have a close relationship with wicked people. To enable us to have that relationship with him, he judges us and punishes us. Please see that this is not an act of anger like road rage. It is an act of love and compassion. Especially it is God’s grace.

God warns us in verse 12 that, ‘The righteous behaviour of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin.’

You cannot be a Christian on Sunday and then sin on Monday without consequences. The person who lives like that is not saved, Ezekiel says. They haven’t developed a relationship with God. The wicked church-goer who realises they are wicked can be saved, says Ezekiel, ‘if they repent and turn from their sins’.

Some people have a question at this point. Are these warnings only given to believers? Should Christians impose their morals on non-believers? It is a question with all sorts of difficulties. Should we demand that others live by God’s standards for us, his disciples. How should this impact our debate on things such as marriage, abortion, euthanasia, or divorce?

Some have said that God has given these instructions to his followers. They say that those who do not believe must be free to follow their own ways. This would mean that although we are bound by the rules, non-believers can do whatever they want and God doesn’t get angry.

Others insist that God’s standards, morals and ethics are for all people at all times. They should be imposed on non-believers. If possible we should warn people against these behaviours. We should also warn them that they face severe consequences if they continue in their wicked ways. Lots of people get upset when they are told their ways are wicked. It was so at the time of Ezekiel. It is so today. When we speak God’s words of warning, we can upset a lot of people.

Who are these words of warning for?

Let’s turn to the New Testament. Open your Bibles please at Acts 17 and find verse 30:

“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
The man whom God raised from the dead is going to judge the world. This man is Jesus. Jesus is going to judge everyone everywhere. The warning God has told you to share is for everyone.

There are no people who are exceptions. God’s message is for all people in all countries.

2 Peter 3:9 – ‘He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.’

God wants the people of North Korea to repent and be saved. God wants the people of Jinju to repent and be saved. Any place you can name, God has a warning for the people who live there. Repent of your sins and turn to Jesus. And if they repent, they will live.

Ezekiel in verse 16 says, ‘None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.’

Ezekiel tells us that the people didn’t like his message. They accused God of being unfair and unjust. This is much like people today who insist God doesn’t love them if he wants them to give up their drug taking or adultery or immoral behaviour. Verse 20 says, ‘O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.” ’

You and I are judged not by what our parents did, or by what we did last year, but by what we are doing right now. Although there are obviously consequences of our sins for future generations, the sins are visited upon the sinner. You cannot blame your parents.

It seems from Scripture that Ezekiel was rather good at what he did. He blew the bugle of warning and people came in their thousands to enjoy the music. There were big crowds when Ezekiel spoke. I wish we also had big crowds to hear the message of the Lord. But God was not happy with that. A church full of people who are having a good time and enjoying the preaching is not God’s purpose.

In verse 32 God says, “You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it! But when all these terrible things happen to them – as they certainly will – then they will know a prophet has been among them.”

By the time they know it will be too late. Our part is to speak out the words of warning at any time we can get people to listen. We need to also teach them that these words of life have to be acted upon.

Remember, God is gentle. He seeks relationship. Speak his words, but do it gently so as to encourage people into a relationship with him. We are not to judge, that is what Jesus will do.

Do not be angry at those who are unable to obey today, but patiently urge them to listen and obey. Gently encourage everyone everywhere to come to Jesus and submit to his authority.

You know what we have to do, now we should do it. Don’t be one of those people who fail to obey because, as verse 31 says, ‘their hearts seek only after money.’

Let’s help each other and together seek first the kingdom of God.

Amen 아멘

Posted in Sermon - English | Tagged , , | Leave a comment