Monday, June 02, 2008

A Psalm of Comfort

Losing a loved one is never easy. There is the sense of loss, the pain of separation and even guilt, as in could we have done more for him when he is alive. I believe that you have done all that could be humanly done for your husband or father in the time that he was paralysed by a stroke. I am sure he would have expressed his gratefulness if he was able. There is a psalm that offers comfort to all who reads it.

PS 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

A shepherd is one who looks after sheep. The shepherd’s job involves looking after the sheep, making sure they are fed and watered, and making sure that they are safe. A shepherd is working all the time. It is not a 8-5 job. They are on call 24 hours a day. The sheep are safe and protected. That is the impression that the psalmist wants to convey. Our Lord Jesus Christ is like a shepherd. He looks after us so that we will not be in want. That does not means we will not suffer pain or loss. Loving in this world, we cannot avoid pain. There are many things beyond our control. Like when we are to be born. Or when we die. We Christians believe that life and death in the hands of our God. While we recognize that many things between birth and death is beyond out control, we also recognize that it is in the control of God. Like a good shepherd, God will make sure we get what we need for our life on earth.

PS 23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,

God meets our physical needs. A sheep needs grass to eat and water to drink to live. In the same way, God provides us food to eat and water to drink. More than that, he provides jobs, business opportunities, friends and families. All good things come from the Lord. He also comforts us in our times of pain. The imagery of green pasture and quiet water is a place of comfort, a place of retreat, a place of restoration of a tired, sorrowful body. It is like the comforting arms of a mother to a child who is hurt.

PS 23:3 he restores my soul.
He guides me in paths of righteousness
for his name's sake.

God meets our spiritual needs. He knows that like sheep, we are easily led astray. Like sheep we are easily killed by lions or wolves. That is why he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to save us. It is because of his love that God took the form of a man to die for us. God restores our souls. For those who do not know him, God says, “I love you.” “Believe in my Son, Jesus Christ and you will find rest for your soul.” For those who are hurt, “God says I love you.” “Come into my arms and I will give you rest.”

PS 23:4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Life is difficult. Even for Christian life is difficult. There are all sorts of dangers to our lives and properties. A cyclone may come. An earthquake may happen. A tsunami may wash away all we have given our lives to build. Not matter how strong and healthy your bodies are. No matter how careful you are with your food, how often you exercise and how many vitamin supplements you take, you will still fall ill. Your body will succumb to disease, cancers and accidents. God does not promise that he will prevent us from being sick or dying. What he does promise is that he will be with us all the time. He will walk beside us through thick and thin.

PS 23:5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Like there are always lions and wolves waiting to catch the unsuspecting sheep, the devil is out there watching for unsuspecting human beings. Like a host who prepares a dinner party for his guest; making sure everything is well, the food is well cooked, the table laid and the guest made comfortable. God has prepared a special banquet for us. This banquet is called eternal life. He has invited everyone to this special banquet. No matter how rich or poor, good or bad, clever or not so clever, there is a place for all in this banquet. The invitation is made through Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross to make this possible. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are called Christians. Their head has been anointed with oil, and their cup overflows with God’s goodness.

PS 23:6 Surely goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

In your grief and despair, know that goodness and love will follow you all the days of your life. That is because God is your shepherd and he will be with you all the days of your life. Not only in this earthly life but beyond. Because you have been invited to live in the house of the Lord forever. For all eternity. And you know that on the other side of death, you will receive a new body that never get sick, never age and never be destroyed.

Dear brother and sister. Know that in your mourning and pain, you are not alone. This community of Christians shares your pain and sorrow. Know also God, who have never abandoned you will comfort you when you turn to him.


God is Love and Mercy

a funeral sermon

Let us be reminded that our human life here on earth does not end with death. Death is not the end but the beginning of another part of our life. Human beings are eternal beings. This is because we are created this way. According to the Bible, God created us. He created us out of the dust of earth. When we die, our earthly bodies return to dust but our spirit and our soul continues on. One day, we shall all receive a new body, a body that is renewed, no longer plagued by diseases, stroke or aging.

Why did God create us? He created us because he loves us. He created us to be his children. He wants us to be his sons and daughters. He wants us to be his sons and daughters forever. That means now, here on earth and after death with him in heaven forever. God is Love. Human beings since the time of Adam and Eve, the first humans, have rebelled against God. Yet is spite of our rejection, God still loves us. He loves us so much that he sent his son, Jesus Christ to save us.

John 3:16 states “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
• God so loved the world…
• Gave his one and only Son…
• Believes in him…
• Not perish but have eternal life…

God loves the world. He loves us human beings. He does not want to destroy us but wants us to spend eternity with him. So he takes action. Notice that God is the one who initiate the action to save us. It is not us reaching up to a God up there; a God who does not care. It is a God up there who care so much that he initiates action and reaches down to us here on earth.

He did it by coming down himself. God is invisible. No one can see him. That is why God came down to earth as Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ in God incarnate. Jesus Christ is God who took on flesh and became man. God became man and lived as man. Here is a God who understands us because he has experienced what we all experience-love, hatred, pain, anger, sadness, and joy. This happened two thousand years ago. Our calendar still date according to when God became man. God not only become man but died on the cross bearing all the rebellions of human beings. God did what no human being can do. He died for all of mankind. However, that is not the end. To prove that he is God, Jesus Christ rose from the dead on the third day. He appeared to more than 500 people. He ate and drank with some of them. Some of them touched him to make sure that he is real. He is real. And now, two thousands years later, nobody has proved otherwise. God became man.

God has already done it. He have man possible a way for us to go back to him. It is not a difficult way. You do not have to have a million dollar to buy a ticket. You do not have to be a holy man. You have only to believe. Yes, it’s that simple. Just believe. Believe that Jesus Christ, God himself has died for you and you will receive God’s forgiveness and return to his family. God is love.

God is also merciful. He knows what is in our hearts, more than we know ourselves. He will judge each man, woman and child according to what is in their heart. Where human judges may make mistakes and condemn an innocent person, God never makes a mistake. He is God. God is omniscience, omnipotent, and omnipresent. Nothing is hidden from him. There is an incident in Jesus’ life recorded in the gospel that shows God’s mercy.

John 8:3-11
3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, "Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?" 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
JN 8:9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
JN 8:11 "No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."

This incident shows two things: One is that Jesus knows what is in the heart of all people; the teachers of the law, the Pharisees, the group of men, and the woman caught in adultery. The other is Jesus is merciful. He could have let them stone the woman to death. According to the law of Moses, they have very right to do so. Yet Jesus let her go because he knew what was in her heart. He discerned that in her heart, she has repented and was truly sorry for what she had done.

We can all take hope in this. God is merciful. God is love. He will not condemn anyone unjustly.


Sunday, June 01, 2008

A Living Hope through the Resurrection of Christ

A Living Hope through the Resurrection of Christ
Text: 1 Peter 1:3-5

1PE 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

Sermon Statement
Our living hope is our inheritance of eternal life based on the resurrection of Christ.


Took part in a study tour on “The Footsteps of St.Paul in Greece” organized by the Seminari Theologi Malaysia (STM) from 18-28 May 2008. There were 28 of us in the tour. We visited
  • Kavala

  • Philippi

  • Thessalonica

  • Berea

  • Kalambaka

  • Meteora

  • Delphi

  • Athens

  • Corinth and Cenchreae
  • Greek islands of Poros, Hydra and Aegina

The highlight of my trip was to visit the monasteries in Meteora. 98% of Greeks belongs to the Greek Orthodox Church. In fact, religion is so closely linked to nationalism that to be Greek is to belong to the Greek Orthodox Church. To leave the Orthodox Church may be punishable by imprisonment and be shunned by the family and community.

The Meteora is situated in the northwest Plain of Thessaly and is made up of numerous giant rocks amidst a flat plain. Often called a stone forest, these rocks became a wonderful place for ascetic monks to be so that they may be close to God. By the late 11th century, there were records of monasteries being built in Meteora. Meteora means ‘in the air’ because it seems to be suspended between heaven and earth. During the peak of monasticism during the 16th century, there were many monasteries. Today there are only six living monasteries left in Meteroa. They are called living monasteries because there are still monks and nuns living and praying in them. These monasteries are open to the public are the Great Meteora or of the Transfiguration, Varlaam, St. Stephen, Holy Trinity, St. Nicholaos Anapafsa and Roussano.

Icon is one of the ways in the Greek Orthodox Church in which to teach the gospel. Often they are also called ‘living books’ or ‘living devotions.’ These works of Byzantine art are not worshipped but are used to teach. There is one icon titled “The Resurrection” (1552) which I saw in the Great Meteora which I find fascinating and appropriate to today’s sermon.

Icons are religious art that draw us into the Divine presence and remind us that we are resident aliens in this world.

Our text today tells us three things about living hope:
(1) Our Living Hope is based on the Resurrection of Christ (v.3)
(2) Our Living Hope is our eternal inheritance (v.4)
(3) Our Living Hope is protected by God (v.5)

(1) Our Living Hope is based on the Resurrection of Christ (v.3)

1PE 1:3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
a. In His mercy
b. New birth
c. Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Some features from icon:

Figure of Christ dominates the centre of the painting
Christ has triumphed over death
Christ is dressed in brilliant, radiant apparel and surrounded by a glory of light. This symbolized His resurrected body and the eternal life (undying light) to come
His hands and feet bears the scars of the crucifixion

The arena in Philippi must have seen many Christians put to death because of their faith. The Romans are usually very tolerant of other religions. Their own pantheon was actually made up of Greek gods which they gave Roman names. They allowed the Jews some religious freedom. Yet they were intolerant of the Christians. Why? The reason is that while other religions allow many gods, Christianity has only one God. Lord Jesus is king. The Roman Empire allows only one emperor. That is why Christians presented a threat to the empire. It is treason to follow another king. What is even more frightening is that they are willing to die for their Lord. (The Roman soldiers are willing to die for their emperor). What is worst is that they are happy to die for their Lord. Christians are led singing and smiling to their martyrdom!

That is because these Christians have a living hope. This living hope is based on something tangible- Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The resurrection is the basis on which Christianity rise or fall.

Our living hope is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

(2) Our Living Hope is our eternal inheritance (v.4)

4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade--kept in heaven for you,
a. Never perish
b. Never spoil
c. Never fade

Some features from icon:
The halo around his head, his radiant robes and triumphant expression shows his victory over death.
Death is represented in chains, beneath the gates of Hades which were broken
The two broken rocks showed how Christ entered the abyss to rescue the human race
Christ is shown pulling the paralysed hands of Adam and Eve.

What is this living hope? This living hope is that Jesus Christ has conquered death and has given us eternal life. This external life is something that will never perish, spoil or fade.

In Delphi, we saw the temple of Apollos where the famous Delphi oracles were given by a priestess. Delphi has been famous for their fortune telling for over a 1,000 years. People come from all parts of the ancient world to enquire of her. In Herodotus’ records of the Persian war where King Leonidas and his 300 soldiers held back the Persian armies for 3 days, King Leonidas did enquire of the Delphi Oracle. She prophecies that either Sparta will burn or Leonidas will die. Yet even powerful and influential Delphi did not survive. It was destroyed and was forgotten for about 1,000 years when its site was discovered and excavated by the archeologists in the 1900s.

Our inheritance is eternal because it was won for us by Jesus Christ. Nothing can take it away from us.

(3) Our Living Hope is protected by God (v.5)

5 who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.
a. Through faith
b. God’s power
c. End times

Some features from icon:
Also Christ liberates from the bonds of death the righteous. On the left are John the Baptist, David and Solomon. On the right are Abel and two Gentiles.
It represent the culmination of the redeeming work of Christ

The Greek Empire at its peak under Alexander the Great extended from Greece to Afghanistan. It has even subdued the great Persian Empire. With time, the Greek Empire crumbled and along came Romans. Pax Romana guaranteed peace by the Roman legions from the British Isles to Turkey. The Roman legions offer protection. One can travel safely from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. Yet in time, it too fell to the barbarians.

Our living hope in the eternal life in the kingdom of God is protected by God, himself. It will last forever because God is forever. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

This icon shows that there is hope in the world, and for the world.
(1) Our Living Hope is based on the Resurrection of Christ (v.3)
(2) Our Living Hope is our eternal inheritance (v.4)
(3) Our Living Hope is protected by God (v.5)

Hope is important. Research has shown that people who have hope live longer, are mentally more alert and are less prone to depression than people who have no hope.

Soli Deo Gloria