Understanding the Old Testament Law

FreeBibleimages :: Moses at Mount Sinai :: Moses on Mount Sinai receiving  the 10 Commandments and other laws from God (Exodus 19 - 24)

Introduction

Imagine you are living in the time of Moses and Israelites. Here are some laws you have to obey.

For example: 

  • You cannot eat pork/seafood without scales anymore. 
  • You cannot wear clothes made out of 2 materials. 
  • Make tassels on the corners of all your clothes, with a blue cord on each tassel. 
  • On a Sabbath, you’re not supposed to study, attend tuition or work. If you do, you will be stoned to death.
  • When you sin, bring a young bull to your pastor to be slaughtered. 
  • If you have a skin disease, see the pastor for a diagnosis. 

Some of these commands can seem bizarre today. Christians either skip it entirely or drop out of their Bible reading plans when they reach this extremely “boring” section. But God gave the 10 commandments and many other laws governing every aspect of Israel’s life for a reason.

The question is:

  • How are we to understand these laws? Why were they given in the first place?
  • As Christians, are we supposed to follow these laws? 

Understanding the OT Laws

Purpose of the Law

First of all, why were the laws given to the people of Israel?

There are four main purposes. 

  • To display God’s character
  • To protect and bless Israel
  • To reveal man’s sinfulness 
  • To guide Israel till Jesus came

The first purposes of God’s laws is for Israel to display his character. Take a look:

6 Observe them (the laws) carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 7 What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? 8 And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Deuteronomy 4:6-8

God’s laws are wise, understanding and righteous. We need to realise that God’s laws are not random. God’s laws flow from His character. And when we obey the law, what is happening? We are doing what God would do. We are displaying His character through us to others. And the result hopefully is that other people will recognise how wise and understanding our God is. Israel was meant to be a distinct people among other ungodly nations of the day. 

Earlier I highlighted a few laws that seem bizarre. But when you look at the laws that God gave Israel, it was actually very humane and fair compared to the other law codes during that time (Hammurabi code of Babylon).

  • Sanctity of human life. In the Code of Hammurabi, the consequence for theft is to repay ten- to thirty-times. If that’s not possible, the thief is executed. Law of Moses seven-times, if can’t then sold as slave.
  • Favouring the privileged vs. protecting the oppressed.  Protection of the oppressed is near to God’s heart; not so much with Hammurabi. 
  • In Babylon, harboring a runaway slave brought a death sentence. But the Hebrew system forbade returning to his master a slave seeking refuge. 

Secondly, God gave Israel his laws for their protection and blessing. Not only do you identify God’s character in the law, you can also ask: What is this law trying to protect us from? Or bless us with?

When God told them “Do not lie”, it is because God is honest. God wants to protect us from destroyed relationships. Bless us with good relationships based on trust.

When God told them “Do not commit adultery”, it is because God is pure. God wants to protect us from broken marriages and destroyed families. God wants to bless us with strong and happy marriages that thrive.

When God told them to sacrifice an animal for their sins, God is holy, sin must be paid for in blood. Protects us from guilt and shame from our sin. Blesses us with forgiveness. 

When you read a command in the Bible, ask – What is the character of God behind this command? What does it protect us/others from? What does it bless us/others with?

Let me test you with a command in the law.

9 When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 19:9-10

  • What is the character of God revealed in this law? Compassion for the poor and needy.
  • What is this law protecting people from? From greed and hoarding our wealth for ourselves.
  • What is this law blessing people with? Blessing the underprivileged and needy among us.
  • How can we apply this principle today? Sharing our allowance with those who have less than us, being generous to foreign workers and domestic helpers among us.

Thirdly, the law showed man’s sinfulness. 

For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.

Romans 3:20 

If all of us automatically do what is right and good, then there wouldn’t need to be laws. But the truth is that, once we are born, we automatically do what is bad and wrong. And the law shows us how sinful we all are and how far we fall from God’s standards.

Fourthly, the law guided Israel till Jesus came. 

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

Galatians 3:23-25

The law was Israel’s guardian until Jesus came. In ancient Rome, a guardian, usually a slave, was assigned to take a child to and from school for lessons, tutor them at home, discipline them as needed and teach them good manners. He helped to guide the child. But this guardian was only temporary. Once the child grew up, he didn’t need the guardian anymore. Similarly, the law was Israel’s guardian, to teach us what is right and wrong, to discipline us. But this was temporary till Jesus came to save us. Even in the law, it often points to Jesus as we’ll see in the sacrificial system when I talk about the Tabernacle in a few week’s time.

 

Basis of the Law 

I want you to note something interesting. Before God gave Israel the law, he talked about what he did for them. Take a look:

1 And God spoke all these words:

2 ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

3 ‘You shall have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:1-3

God was going to give them the 10 Commandments. But do you notice verse 2? It says that God brought them out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. God redeemed them and brought them to himself. He was their Saviour and Lord. That’s the relationship they had with him. And in this context of relationship, God gave them the law. 

Why is this so important? It means that God saved Israel by his grace, not because of what they have done. He didn’t tell them to “Obey the law then I’ll save you”. But he saved them first and chose them as his special nation to live by a distinct lifestyle and practice.

God keeps reminding the Israelites throughout their history of this very fact that he saved them. For example in Judges when Israel chose to disobey God:

The angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bokim and said, “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land I swore to give to your ancestors. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall not make a covenant with the people of this land, but you shall break down their altars.’ Yet you have disobeyed me. Why have you done this?

Judges 2:1-2

God called them back to the basis of following his law. It is in the context of God redeeming Israel for himself. Isn’t that similar to us? God saved us when we were hopeless sinners who could not save ourselves. He didn’t tell us to get our act together first then he will save us. No, he sent Jesus to die for us while we were still sinners. While we were his enemies. Even after we become Christians, some of us still behave as if God will accept us only if we’ve been a good Christian.

We fall into a performance trap. We think that if we forget to pray or read the Bible or tell the Gospel to others, we break our relationship with God and lose our salvation. That’s the way Singapore’s meritocratic society works isn’t it? Your success depends on your ability and how well you do. Similarly, we think that God changes his mind about us if we don’t do well as Christians. No! We are saved by God’s grace from start to finish.

Nothing that you could do will cause God to break his relationship with you. It doesn’t mean we can live however we like though. We are saved by grace, transformed from the inside and to display God to others. 

So God saved Israel first then gave them the rules to live by.

 To summarise this first part, we’ve seen that the Old Testament law was given to the people of Israel in the context of a saving relationship with God. The law is good as it displays God’s character and is to protect and bless them. Furthermore, the righteous laws are meant to be a witness to other nations.

Now the question… 

Does the OT Law apply today?

All of the laws? Some of the laws? None of the laws?

There are two main views. I’ll explain them briefly but leave it to you to decide.

Some of the laws apply

Some view the OT law as roughly separated into three categories:

  • Moral (Represents God’s own moral character, as shown in the Ten Commandments – Timeless and binding)
  • Civil (Criminal code, with its procedures and punishments for Israel – Principles apply)
  • Ceremonial (Sacrificial systems, priests, holiness code – Removed by Jesus)

Some Bible scholars have pointed out that only the OT laws that are repeated in the New Testament are to be obeyed by the Christian. Out of the 10 commandments, all have been repeated except for the Sabbath law. Most of the civil laws are not repeated and thus not applicable for us today, though its principles still apply. They understand that the law was meant to be a covenant between God and Israel, not God and the church.

None of the laws apply

Another view is that none of the OT laws apply to us today. They gather from Scripture:

2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses.

Galatians 5:2-3

The Galatian Christians were depending on circumcision which was part of the law of Moses for salvation. Paul of course was telling them that you don’t need to be circumcised to be saved, you only need Jesus! But what I find interesting is in the last part of verse 3. If you’re depending on circumcision (or any law) to save you, Paul says you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. This means that we don’t choose some OT laws as still apply (not lying, tithing, keeping the Sabbath) and some not. Either you take it all in full or none of it. None of it applying doesn’t mean it is useless. The law is good because it’s from God, so how can we draw principles from it and apply it today?

For example, honouring pastors:

17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,’ (Deut 25:4) 

1 Tim 5:17-18

A Common Thread

Whatever your views may be (some or none), there is a common thread through both that we must acknowledge – none of us is able to obey the law FULLY. 

There is no one alive on earth today that says “I have never broken a law”. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount expanded on the 10 Commandments by going even deeper into the heart issues right? Being angry is like the sin of murder, being lustful is like the sin of adultery. All of us are sinners. 

James says:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘You shall not murder.’ If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a law-breaker.

James 2:10-11

You may think I’m not that bad. But if you break one law of God, you have broken all of God’s laws. God doesn’t grade on a curve – either pass or fail only. God is a very brutal examiner, the passing mark is 100. Even 99.5 marks you fail! And guess what, we all fail. No one can meet God’s standard of perfection.

When Jesus came to this earth, he led the perfect life, obeying all the laws of God. That’s so important. I’ve always wondered, why didn’t Jesus just come and die? Why live 33 years on this earth? Remember what he said?

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Matthew 5:17-18

Jesus lived the perfect life to fulfill every law of God! Because he fulfilled the law of God, he was thus perfect and could die on the cross for our sins. He was the perfect Passover lamb of God who shed his blood on the cross for us. Instead of us dying for our sins for breaking the law of God, Jesus died in our place. Jesus lived the life we could not live and he died the death we should have died.

When we trust in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, we are no longer under the law but made right with God (justified). It’s not that we are perfect now; we’ll never be perfect. But because of what Jesus did, we are clothed with His righteousness and allowed into God’s kingdom. Jesus got the full 100 marks on the exam. He passed. And when we reach the gates of heaven one day, God doesn’t want to see our exam papers – I got 85 God, fail! I got 95 God, fail. We point to Jesus and say my entry is based on His 100 marks.

What a wonderful Saviour! 

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”

Galatians 3:13

Thank God that we do not need to obey the law for our salvation. Thank God we are saved by faith in what Jesus did for us. May God help us to respond in gratefulness to him.

Let’s pray. 

Jesus fulfilled the law and became a curse for us by dying on the cross so that we may be free from the requirements of the law. It doesn’t matter how many marks you have in life. You may feel your life is like 10 or 90 marks. Only Jesus has the 100 marks and wants to give it to you. Pure grace. Pure love. If you desire to put your trust in Jesus, please pray this prayer with me.

“Dear God, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for living the perfect life, dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Lord and Saviour. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.”

Let me pray for you.

“Dear God, thank you for giving us your laws. We know how far off from your perfect standard we are. Thank you for Jesus’ death on the cross for us, removing all the curses of the law from us who trust in you. Help us honour and love you and live by your principles . In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Discussion Questions:

  • Discuss the law “Do not murder” thinking about the character of God displayed and how it protects and blesses us/others.
  • Have you ever felt you need to do the right things for God to love and accept you? Why or why not?
  • Does being saved from the requirements of the law mean that we have a license to sin?

Exodus: The Call of Moses

Moses Adores God in the Burning Bush. <br/>Cropped image. <br/>James Tissot (1836-1902) – The Jewish Museum, New York. – Slide 16
James Tissot Collection https://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/jtjm-moses1/

We’re looking at the book of Exodus. What is this book about? In a nutshell, it’s the story of God Redeeming Israel from Slavery through Moses to Worship Him. Exodus is a book about Redemption. Many wonderful stories in Exodus form the basis for the Jewish people. Even if you’ve not been in church before you would likely have heard about the 10 plagues, the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, the 10 commandments, or the golden calf. These are some of the events we’ll be looking at for the next few sessions.

What does it mean to Redeem? Let’s watch this video from Spider Man 2.

 

Spiderman saved those in the train from death and the evil Doc Ock. He redeemed them. Similarly in Exodus, God redeemed Israel by saving them from suffering and the evil Egyptian empire. 

Maybe you’re wondering, “What is so special about Israel? Why does God choose them? Is God showing favouritism?” Some go even further to ask, “Is God racist (certain human races are superior to others)?”

In the book of Genesis, we see that God chose the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to establish his name. It is true that God had a special covenant with the Jewish race and for a reason. It’s not because they were more righteous or better than other races. It’s purely God’s grace in choosing them. They were to be a model nation as God’s people to other nations. But they failed terribly through their sin. So God planned to redeem sinful humans once and for all by taking on human form through the birth of Jesus. Jesus was born into the Jewish race. Jesus didn’t come just to save the Jewish people but to save every race in the whole world (Jew and Gentile, non-Jew). So God’s choosing Israel wasn’t just about Israel. It was about using them to make God’s name known and to offer salvation to the whole world. In fact, God judged his own people Israel harshly for their sins showing that he does not play favourites.

Now back to the book of Exodus.

At the end of Genesis, the descendants of Jacob went to live with Joseph in Egypt to survive the famine. They grew and multiplied in the land but after Joseph’s death, a new Egyptian king (Pharaoh) felt threatened by the Hebrew nation. He was afraid that if war broke out, the Israelites would join his enemies to overthrow Egypt. So he wanted to control their population by making them his slaves and submitting them to brutal working conditions. In their suffering, they cried out to God for help and God heard. We read God’s response:

7 Then the Lord told him (Moses), “I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own fertile and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey—the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites now live.”

Exodus 3:7-8

God could have sent angels to destroy the Egyptian armies to free the people from slavery but he chose to raise up a deliverer to do it – Moses. We could say that Moses wasn’t the best candidate. 

Moses’ background story is fascinating. 

Remember Pharaoh was trying to limit Israel’s population? He went to even more extreme measures by ordering all Israelite baby boys to be drowned in the Nile River. However, Moses’ parents refused to obey this evil command and put baby Moses into a basket and let it float down the river. By God’s special providence, Pharaoh’s daughter went to bathe in the river and when she saw baby Moses, instead of drowning him, felt pity and adopted him as her son! So Moses was raised in the Egyptian courts having a good education and enjoying the luxuries of the palace. (Fun fact: Moses’ birth story formed the basis for Superman’s birth as its creators were Jewish immigrants to America!)

When he grew up, Moses still remembered his roots. He remembered he was an Israelite, not an Egyptian. He wasn’t happy to see his people suffering under slavery. This is what he did.

11 Many years later, when Moses had grown up, he went out to visit his own people, the Hebrews, and he saw how hard they were forced to work. During his visit, he saw an Egyptian beating one of his fellow Hebrews. 12 After looking in all directions to make sure no one was watching, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body in the sand.

Exodus 2:11-12

Although Moses had the right desire to free his people, he did it in the wrong way. He chose to take things into his own hand and to kill the oppressors, much like a vigilante. He committed murder to achieve this end. 

The next day, Moses was trying to resolve a quarrel between two fellow Israelites but they rejected his help! One of them said:

14 The man replied, “Who appointed you to be our prince and judge? Are you going to kill me as you killed that Egyptian yesterday?”

Then Moses was afraid, thinking, “Everyone knows what I did.” 15 And sure enough, Pharaoh heard what had happened, and he tried to kill Moses. But Moses fled from Pharaoh and went to live in the land of Midian.

Exodus 2:14-15

Can you imagine how Moses would have felt? “I’m trying to help my people but they don’t appreciate me. In fact, they exposed my murder to Pharaoh” Moses had to escape Egypt and hide in the wilderness for the next 40 years. From being the Prince of Egypt, he became a nobody. 

I believe though Moses had the right intentions to save his people, he wasn’t ready to do it. He was trusting in his own cleverness and plans instead of God. God still had to shape and mold his character. So that’s Moses’ background story, a failure who tried to save his people through murder. 

But God refused to give up on him. 40 years later, God spoke to 80 year old Moses in a burning bush and told him to go to Egypt to rescue his people Israel. Can you imagine how Moses would have felt? “Yup, I tried that once and look how it turned out. Did you get the right guy?” And that’s how Moses tried to worm his way out of God’s assignment. 

Moses gave God five excuses why he didn’t want to do it and God’s reply. Somehow the confident Moses from 40 years ago was replaced by a more humble and less confident Moses.

  • Who am I? (Moses doesn’t have a good track record – God is with him) 3:11-12
  • Who are you? (Moses doesn’t know who God is – God is the unchanging I AM) 3:14-15  (I AM indicates an eternally constant God, who always existed, ever-present and never changes)
  • What if they don’t listen? (Fear of repeated failure – God showed miracles) 4:1-4
  • What if I mess up? (I’m not good enough – God will help you) 4:10-12
  • Send someone else (God was angry but sent Aaron to help) 4:13-14

And it’s often the same with us. We may have a burning desire just like Moses that we know God has called us to do. But we give God the same excuses.

  • I’m just a student, housewife, employee, a nobody. What can I do? God is with you.
  • Who are you God? Do you know God?
  • What if they reject my help? God will affirm that he sent you.
  • What if I fail? God will help you.
  • I think you got the wrong person God! God will send people to help you. But you still need to do it.

God never makes mistakes. He chose Moses to deliver his people from slavery. He had the unique position of having an insider view of Pharaoh’s palace and how it worked. He had the training and ability from his education. He had the right skills and now, he had the right heart to go along with it. God in his grace chooses us to be his instruments to serve him. It doesn’t matter how young you are, how unskilled you are because it’s not about you. It’s about what God can do through you. Are you willing to be used by God for his purposes?

What might God be calling you to do?

What is the one aspect of this broken world that, when you see it, touch it, get near it, you just can’t stand? Very likely, that firestorm of frustration reflects your holy discontent, a reality so troubling that you are thrust off the couch and into the game. It’s during these defining times when your eyes open to the needs surrounding you and your heart hungers to respond that you hear God say, ‘I feel the same way about this problem. Now, let’s go solve it together!

– Bill Hybels (From the book “Holy Discontent”)

Is there a Holy Discontent within your heart? A brokenness in the world that you want to address? Bible illiteracy, poverty, social justice, evangelism, healthcare, politics. That’s good, cling to it. Let it spur you to action. But like young Moses, maybe this isn’t the right time. God still needs to shape your character for the task ahead. If so, keep praying and trusting God to work it out in his perfect timing. 

Let me close with how the book of Exodus ties into the story of the Bible. One is seen in the people of Israel, one in the life of Moses.

Firstly, the people of Israel parallels our own Christian journey. There are three parts in our Christian: Justification (being made right with God), Sanctification (being made like God) and Glorification (being with God). 

The Israelites were saved from slavery (justification). As they travelled through the wilderness it revealed how rebellious they were. They kept complaining about their suffering and how they wanted to go back to Egypt! God had to discipline them (sanctification). They were taken out of Egypt but now God was taking Egypt (sinful ideas) out of them. Sadly, that whole generation died and only their children plus Joshua and Caleb reached the Promised Land (glorification). 

Similarly, we are all sinners, slaves to sin and death without hope. And when we put our faith in Jesus, we are saved from our sins (justification). We are now being shaped and purified from our sinful ways in this life (sanctification). One day, we will be with God in glory and perfected (glorification).

Secondly, Moses’ story also closely parallels what Jesus did for us. 

Exodus is the story of God Redeeming Israel from Slavery through Moses to Worship Him.

It reflects the story of God Redeeming us from Slavery to sin through Jesus to Worship Him.

Look at the similarities but also how Jesus went much further. 

  • Just as Moses had a special birth, Jesus had a special birth, born of the virgin Mary.
  • Just as Moses escaped death as a baby, Jesus escaped death when Herod wanted to kill all the baby boys.
  • Just like Moses who used a lamb’s blood on door frames to avert death, Jesus the lamb of God shed his blood so we will not face death.
  • Just as Moses saved Israel from slavery, Jesus saved us from slavery to sin by dying on the cross and rising from the dead.
  • Just like Moses split open the Red Sea, Jesus opened the way for us to cross from death to life.

Peter says this about Jesus’ death in redeeming us:

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

1 Peter 1:18-19 (NIV)

When we are freed by Jesus from sin and death, we are freed to worship Him. And when we recognise how hopeless our situation is without Jesus, we become more thankful to Him for saving us. We will naturally worship Him for what he has done in our lives. Not because of the good things we’ve done but because of God’s love and mercy towards us sinners. The more we realise how undeserving we are, the more we will worship God. 

Let’s pray.

“Dear God, thank you for the book of Exodus. Teach us precious lessons how you redeemed Israel from slavery and what it means for us today. Help us to be shaped by you for your purposes. Thank you for Jesus who redeemed us from sin with your blood that was shed on the cross. Help us always be grateful to you. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Discussion:

  • Which of Moses’ excuses do you usually give for not serving Him? Why?
  • Is there any “holy discontent” that God has placed on your heart? Any action you could take?
  • Does God play favourites? Why do you think He chose Israel?

What to Pray (Prayer, part 2)

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

In my previous post How to Pray, Jesus addresses two wrong ways to pray and why it is wrong. 

  • Don’t pray to impress others because God sees your heart 
  • Don’t pray to impress God because He knows your need 

So contrasting how we are not to pray, Jesus goes on to explain how we are to pray. Let us read it together:

9 ‘This, then, is how you should pray:

‘“Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name,

10 your kingdom come,

your will be done,

    on earth as it is in heaven.

11 Give us today our daily bread.

12 And forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

13 And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from the evil one.”

Matthew 6:9-13

The Lord’s Prayer is a model, a way of praying, it’s about WHAT and HOW you should pray. Meaning, it’s not just repeating word for word, but a template for how to pray.

“This, then, is how you should pray:”

How is the Lord’s prayer structured? It starts off with focusing on God in the first part before coming to him with our needs and requests in the second part. Someone put it as “God’s Glory” and “Our Good”. (Ideas taken from Kevin De Young’s book, The Lord’s Prayer)

There are five areas in which you can talk to God every day to cultivate your relationship with him.

5 Areas to Talk to God About

 

  1. God’s Prestige

9 Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,

Firstly, I want us to note how we address God. “Our Father in Heaven”. Note the word “Our”. It’s not just “my” but “our Father”. This tells us that this prayer is as a whole group of believers who have a common Father in Heaven who we are addressing. And if you read through the whole prayer, it is prayed as a group. Jesus was addressing the need for us to pray individually and also with others. I’m often amazed when I go overseas on mission trips and Christians pray in their own language and styles but we are all praying to the same Father God! 

Secondly, God is addressed as Father. In the original language Aramaic, it’s similar to calling God as our Dad, Papa. A very intimate way of addressing our relationship with God that Jesus calls us to pray. For a Jewish person, they would not dare to call God their father. It would seem too intimate and too irreverent. But that’s how Jesus teaches us to call God our Father. I believe the way we view God determines how our prayer life will be. If you see God as a distant person, the guy in the sky, your prayers will be impersonal and distant. But if you see him as your loving father where there is nothing too small for him, you’ll bring every care and anxiety in your heart to him. He loves you and longs to hear your voice as you speak to him.

For some of us, father is not a term of intimacy. Why? Because we view God the father by the way our earthly father is. Our earthly fathers may be loving, strict, distant, alcoholic, anger prone, violent, passive and we think God is the same. And it can hinder how we approach God in prayer. If we are always worried our father will catch and punish us for doing something wrong, we will think God is waiting to catch and punish us for our sins. We need to understand how the Bible describes God as the perfect Father who loves and also disciplines us and to know that all our earthly fathers are imperfect. They are to match up to God the father.

From the way we address God, we now turn to the first area we talk to God about. God’s Prestige – “Hallowed be your name”. What does this mean? To “hallow God’s name” means to revere and honour God. It means that we want to praise God and for everyone in this world to praise Him for who he is. We want God to be honoured by all people. It doesn’t mean that we are asking God to make his name holier but that we all will recognise how holy he is! 

“Glorifying God isn’t like using a microscope, making small things look bigger; it’s like using a telescope, bringing into view things that are unimaginably big.” – Kevin De Young

We are praying that we and everyone on this earth will see God for who he is so as to adore and obey Him. And as you view God in the right perspective, the rest of the prayer falls into place.

  1. God’s Priority

10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

While Jesus was on earth, He brought in the Kingdom of God which is Jesus’ rule and reign but not in its fullest form. This world is still imperfect and ruled by Satan until Jesus returns. Thus, we pray for God’s kingdom rule to increase in measure. We also ask for God’s perfect will to be accomplished on earth perfectly. God’s kingdom rule and God’s will is perfect in heaven but not fully realised on earth. That’s why we ask that God’s perfect rule and will to be carried out on earth as perfectly as in heaven. 

When we read the book of Revelation, we learn that one day the kingdom of God will arrive in full power (Rev 11:15). Until that day, we can continue to hasten God’s rule and plans through prayer. It also contains another idea. When we ask for God’s rule to be accomplished, it implies that God’s plans have priority over our own plans. We may have ideas how we want the kingdom of our lives to be like. We may have certain plans for our lives that we want God to do for us. We often tell God these are my plans, please approve, support and make it happen for me! It sounds like we are telling God what to do! Dare we ask God to overwrite our will with His will? To put his plans above our own plans?

Jesus, when he was going to be crucified, struggled in the Garden the night before. Jesus was human just like us and he desired to avoid the painful suffering and death on the Cross. He prayed and wrestled with God to take away this suffering from him three times but in the end He submitted to God’s will. We read his prayer to God:

“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 

Luke 22:42 

It’s not wrong to let God know what we want. But are you willing to submit to God’s plan for your life even if it is different from what you want? Will you give God the first priority over all your desires? Will you tell him, “Not my will but yours be done?”

We turn now to the 2nd part of our needs. The first part was for “God’s Glory” and the next part is “Our Good”.

  1. God’s Provision

11 Give us today our daily bread.

Bread was a staple in their diet and in our Asian context, maybe our daily bread is our rice or noodles. The original word for “daily” is epioúsios only occurs in the Lord’s Prayer. It refers to God’s provision that is needed for each day – literally, “bread that fits (meets) the unique demands of the coming day.” All that you need for the day – some day more, some day less, exactly what you need. It’s like the Manna that God gave the Israelites daily:

The Israelites did as they were told; some gathered much, some little. And when they measured it by the omer, the one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little. Everyone had gathered just as much as they needed. 

Exodus 16:17-18

God gave them manna just enough. I believe that those who collected more than they needed would have shared with those who had less. That’s why everyone had enough. 

Paul referred to this passage when he wrote to the church in Corinth as they gave money to the poor Christians in Jerusalem:

At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’

2 Cor 8:14-15

If you do not have enough, someone will supply your needs. If you have more than enough, God is saying that he’s given you more to supply someone else’s needs. So that all will have their “daily bread” to meet their needs for the day. 

It’s not just about food but being in total dependence on God every single day. God in his grace allows our heart to beat, food to eat, air to breathe. Be thankful. Rely on God for your needs. Without God, you cannot be here today.

  1. God’s Pardon

12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

In other translations, “debt or trespasses” refers to “sins” committed. We need to come to God daily to confess your sins and ask for His forgiveness. We must differentiate between God forgiving “our sin” and “our sins”. God forgives our sin when we trust in Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. Our sinful acts are cleansed and our sinful nature is transformed. We are now children of God, no longer condemned for our sin. But as Christians, we know that we still sin. These are called “sins”. These “daily sins” break our fellowship with God. It doesn’t break our relationship but our fellowship with God. 

Jesus is telling us that we need to confess sins to God daily to restore our fellowship with our Father in heaven. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we can come to God for forgiveness. There is a false teaching that we no longer need to confess our sins since Jesus has forgiven them all – past, present and future. But the apostle John in writing to Christians said this:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:9

As Christians, we still need to confess to God our sins and ask for his forgiveness. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, confess your sins to God and be assured that he will forgive you.

But there’s a catch to this that I’ve never realised before. And it makes it a very dangerous prayer!

“As we” have forgiven those who sin against us! What does “as we” mean?

It means, and it’s pretty scary, we’re asking God to forgive us only if we have forgiven others. This means that if I don’t forgive others of the sin they have done to me, God won’t forgive me of my sins. Pretty dangerous prayer isn’t it? And because this idea is so important, Jesus repeated it right after the Lord’s Prayer in verses 14-15.

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matt 6:14-15

If you harbour bitterness and unforgiveness and refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive you too. Why? Because it shows you don’t understand God’s forgiveness for you. You think your sins are less serious than theirs. Well, all sin is serious. And if God can forgive you, how can you not forgive others? “What if the person who sinned against you didn’t change their ways?” It doesn’t matter. What matters is your decision to release the hurt and forgive them. It is challenging to forgive others’ sins against us and we need God’s help to do it. When forgiveness flows, healing comes. Fellowship with God is restored.

Is there anyone you are holding unforgiveness towards? Can we take God at His word and release forgiveness to that person?

  1. God’s Protection

13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

We need to be aware that this world is a battlefield. Satan is real and is seeking to destroy us if we are not aware of his schemes. It can be an image that causes us to lust, it can be a temptation to lie, it can be insidious ideas that cause us to doubt God, it can be pressure to conform to beauty standards. Temptations are not sin until we give in to it. So we need God’s help and protection from the evil one every single day and cannot assume that we don’t need God’s help.

Temptations often come in the form of pleasure, pride or power. That’s how the devil tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, Jesus in the wilderness and even today. When the devil tempts you, which area are you prone to give in to? Pleasure (feel good, enjoy life), pride (being famous, liked) or power (want to be at the top, in control)? It’s different for different people. We need God’s help to resist it. This verse doesn’t mean that God leads us into temptation and sin. The Bible tells us that God doesn’t tempt anyone and we’re tempted by our own sinful desires (James 1:13-15). We are asking God to protect us from sinning when we face temptation. We are asking God for spiritual strength to be “delivered” from the Devil. 

So these are the 5 areas that you can talk to God about daily. God’s Prestige, Priority, Provision, Pardon and Protection.

In summary, prayer is not to impress others nor to impress God. He is looking at our hearts – do you want to connect with God? Now that you know what you are praying about, maybe you don’t want to pray this prayer anymore! 

My challenge for you is to rewrite these 5 areas into your own words and pray it daily.

“Dear God, thank you for giving us this wonderful special prayer. Help us to come to you as our Father in heaven and to pray over these five areas daily. Create in us a desire to glorify you and to be fully dependent on you for our needs. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.”

Discussion questions:

  • Someone says, “I don’t know what to pray about, it’s always the same thing about studies and health.” How would you reply?
  • Which of the five areas do you usually pray about or miss out and why? How can you incorporate all of it into your prayers?
  • Which area of temptation do you need God’s protection from – pleasure, pride or power? Pray for one another.

 

How to Pray (Prayer, part I)

Introduction

“How’s your prayer life?”

Fulfilling? Solid? Inconsistent? Non-existent? Discouraging? Dry?

Many of us know that prayer is important but struggle to pray. It’s a struggle even for church staff and pastors. It’s not that we don’t want to pray. We know that prayer is important but we feel guilty for not praying enough or attending prayer meetings.

Making you feel guilty that you aren’t praying enough isn’t my goal. You can be fired up for a while but give up just as fast. I think we need to go deeper into why we don’t pray. Could prayer be seen as a spiritual activity that only the mature Christians can do? Could it be that we don’t see the point of prayer? Could it be that we don’t know how to pray?

Whatever the reason, prayer is crucial for the health of your spiritual life. Martin Luther the Christian reformer said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Wow, think about that. If you’re not praying, your spiritual life is in great danger!

In today’s sermon, we are going to explore How to Pray and next week I’ll continue on What to Pray as we look at the Lord’s Prayer.

What is Prayer?

Prayer is simply talking to God. When you communicate and talk to a friend, it builds your relationship with them. Similarly, when you pray, it builds your relationship with God.

Some context first on this passage. This section on the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6) is focused on three spiritual disciplines of every Jew (giving, praying and fasting). Jesus corrects some wrong attitudes when they do these spiritual things. When you give to the needy and poor, don’t make a big show out of it to impress others. When you pray, don’t do it to look good. When you fast, don’t draw attention to yourself. If you do it for the wrong reasons, you will not receive God’s reward.

Jesus is more concerned about the heart behind why we do these spiritual things. Even when we do religious activity, we can be filled with pride. It’s all about the heart, not just the external actions. You can be a Christian, go to church, pray, give tithe and fast but do it for the wrong reasons.

Now let me read the text from Matthew 6:5-8 on How we are pray: 

5 ‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 6 But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:5-8

In prayer, Jesus is more concerned about your heart attitude. Jesus isn’t too concerned with externals. Notice what Jesus didn’t tell us about prayer: how long you should pray (5 mins, 15 mins, 1 hour), what time you should pray, how many times you should pray or the posture when you pray. Jesus is more concerned about your heart. He also assumes that you pray.

Note in verse 5, Jesus says, “when you pray…”. This tells us that prayer is not an option. Jesus didn’t say “if you pray”, it was assumed every Jew would pray. It was part of their daily life to pray in the Jewish temple three times a day. What does this tell us? Prayer is not just for super Christians like pastors or missionaries or older/mature Christians. No no no, prayer is for everyone who is a follower of God!

The Jewish people prayed in private and prayed as a group. Both were just as important. When I asked you at the beginning how’s your prayer life – did you automatically think, “Am I praying in my quiet time?” but forget prayer as a church body. In the Lord’s Prayer (which we will look at next week), it’s fascinating that it contains all plural pronouns – “Our, us”. It means we are to pray as a group. We need both private and public prayer for a strong prayer life.

Jesus assumes all believers pray in private and as a group. He then goes on to address the HOW of prayer – two heart attitudes in prayer that we must watch out for. 

How NOT to pray

  • Don’t pray to impress others because God sees your heart (v5-6)

 

5 ‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.

Matthew 6:5

Don’t be like the hypocrites. The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word “hypokrites” meaning “play actor”. The actor would wear a mask with different expressions and pretend to be someone he is not. Hypocrites say they believe in one thing but actually live a different way. It’s like someone who is against the tobacco industry but smokes a packet a day in his home. Or a vegan who eats beef steaks. Or a pastor who campaigns for family values but visits prostitutes. Hypocrites say they believe in one thing but actually live a different way. It’s all just an act to impress people.

Jesus said that the religious leaders were hypocrites who pretended to be prayerful when they really weren’t. They prayed in public places to be noticed and praised. Indeed, they received their reward in full from man’s praise. “Wah, that guy is so holy” but actually it’s all just a show to impress people. But Jesus saw their heart and knew that their prayer life was all an act. Don’t pray to impress others because God sees your heart.

Sometimes I fall into this trap. As a church staff who has attended Bible school, I feel the pressure to pray to impress others with my fluency or word choice. Tend to use more difficult words to impress: “grow” vs “edify”, , “Lord God architect of all the known and unknown universe”, “hide us behind the blood of Jesus”. Seeing if people say AMEN or Mm-hmm to my prayer as affirmation that it was a good prayer point! It’s the wrong motivation! I’m just trying to impress others instead of talking to God.

Let me tell you what a hypocrite is NOT. A hypocrite is not someone who does one thing but feels another. “I feel like a hypocrite when I pray but I don’t feel like doing it. I feel like a hypocrite when I come to church but I don’t feel like coming. I feel like a hypocrite when I choose to serve but I don’t want to anymore. I feel like a hypocrite when I lead others but I’m not sure what I believe about God.” It’s not hypocrisy. It’s maturity. Doing what is right even when you don’t feel like doing it is maturity. It’s faithfulness, it’s commitment, it’s love. Hypocrites are people who say one thing in public but live a different way in private.

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matthew 6:6 

Jesus says that when you pray, do it in secret and God will reward you. God is looking for sincere prayers. Prayer is not done for others to see or to impress others but really to talk to God. This doesn’t mean that we never pray in public places like church but to make sure we aren’t doing it to impress others. Hypocrites are those who behave in church one way but another outside.

You can say all the right words when you pray in church but you shout at your parents when you’re at home. You can fool everyone in church but you can’t fool God. God isn’t impressed by your words but by your heart.

Prayer involves faith that God hears our prayers and will reward us when we pray. Don’t live for the earthly reward of men but for the heavenly reward from God. Don’t pray to impress others because God sees your heart.

The second attitude that Jesus warns us in prayer is this.

  • Don’t pray to impress God because He knows your need (v7-8)

7 And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

Matthew 6:7-8

The Roman pagans of that time would keep babbling their prayers with many words. Other Bible versions translate “keep on babbling” as “heaping up empty phrases”. Pagan believers believed that they needed a magic set of words or a secret code to get through to God. And if you got the words wrong or missing, God would not accept their prayers. We see this in other religions when they chant repetitively for a long time, bow every few steps or spin prayer wheels so that their prayers are heard. Prayer to them is simply a ritual to be performed.

Of course, babbling prayer is different from persistent prayer. Jesus taught us to be persistent in prayer and to never give up. What’s the difference? The word “babbling” comes from the Greek word “battalogeo” which is a kind of sound (onomatopoeia) – ba ta ba ta, a meaningless repetition. When we pray we need to pray with active minds to the words we say to God. We can pray very meaningful words in a “babbling” way too. When you pray the collect, meal prayer, Aaronic blessing we can say it in a meaningless way as a ritual. We are just babbling our prayers!

If there’s one thing to take away, it is that there are no magic words or formulas in prayer. We don’t need to pray in a certain way with the right words or quote the right verse and end with “in Jesus’ name” to get God to listen to us. You don’t need to pray like anyone else. Talk to God in your own way. Sometimes, we pick up Christian “jargon” phrases from listening to others pray that we don’t even understand.

Interestingly, Jesus says that God knows what you need even before you ask him! Even if you fumble through your prayer, God knows what you’re trying to say because he knows what’s on your heart even before you say it. 

Then you may be thinking… 

Why do I need to pray if God knows my need?

This question actually reveals what you believe prayer to be. Is prayer only asking God for things? Do you talk to your parents only when you need something from them? If that’s so, you can’t build a relationship. You need to take time to do things together with them, chat about life and play together to build relationships. Prayer is about relating to God, not just asking for things you need. Even if God knows what you need, God wants to create in us a dependence on him daily and to come to him as our Father and ask him through prayer. 

God uses prayer to do his work. The more we pray, the more we recognise many things are out of our control and power. If you think that you don’t need God, then you will not pray. 

You don’t need to impress others because God sees your heart. 

You don’t need to impress God because He knows your needs.

I want to end by going to a story in the Old Testament that teaches us how to pray and reinforces these truths.

It’s found in 1 Kings 18 about the encounter of Elijah and the prophets of Baal, the false religion. There was a challenge to see who the true God was by who was able to call fire to come down from heaven onto a sacrifice. There were 450 prophets of Baal calling upon their god, dancing around the altar from morning till noon. But no fire fell from heaven. Then Elijah mocked them:

About noontime Elijah began mocking them. “You’ll have to shout louder,” he scoffed, “for surely he is a god! Perhaps he is daydreaming, or is relieving himself. Or maybe he is away on a trip, or is asleep and needs to be wakened!” So they shouted louder, and following their normal custom, they cut themselves with knives and swords until the blood gushed out. They raved all afternoon until the time of the evening sacrifice, but still there was no sound, no reply, no response.

1 Kings 18:27-29

Prayer was all a ritual to them. Do this and that and keep doing it and God will hear your prayer. It wasn’t a relationship. 

They gave up and it was Elijah’s turn. He prayed a very simple prayer:

At the usual time for offering the evening sacrifice, Elijah the prophet walked up to the altar and prayed, “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, prove today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant. Prove that I have done all this at your command. O Lord, answer me! Answer me so these people will know that you, O Lord, are God and that you have brought them back to yourself.”

1 Kings 18:36-37

And God answered his prayer and fire fell from heaven burning the sacrifice. There was a personal relationship between Elijah and God and he didn’t need to pray any special words or perform rituals. Just a short and straight forward prayer to God. God wants us to speak simply to him. Not to impress others or to impress him with our flowery language. Your Heavenly Father who loves you is waiting for you to show up and talk to him.

Let’s pray.

Give you a few moments to talk with God. Ask God to help you talk to Him like a son or daughter. Ask him to strengthen your prayer life. Tell God how much you love him and need him.

“Lord, we thank you for teaching us how to pray. Help us not to pray like a hypocrite as a show for others to see and praise us. May we pray only for you and you alone. Help us also not to pray like a pagan, heaping up empty phrases, thinking prayer is just a ritual to get what we want from you. Lord, you are our loving Heavenly Father and help us connect with you in a real, sincere way every day. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Discussion Questions:

  • How has this changed the way you view prayer?
  • Have you ever prayed like a hypocrite (just an act) or like a pagan (just as a ritual)? If so, what can you do about it?
  • Is prayer is easy or hard for you? Why?

Leadership 101: Warning Signs of a Manipulator

Absalom became very proud. He provided himself with chariot and horses and fifty men to run ahead of him. Everyone praised him for his handsome appearance. Absalom was particularly proud of his hair, which he cut once a year. The weight of the cut hair was 200 shekels (2.2 kg or 5 pounds). – Slide 7

Absalom rebels against his father David (2 Sam 15:1-12)

  • Seeks to impress others through appearance and charisma (v1)

In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him.

  • Usurps the leader’s authority and role (v2) 

He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, ‘What town are you from?’ He would answer, ‘Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.’

  • Jumps the chain of command (v3) 

Then Absalom would say to him, ‘Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.’

  • Claims that he would do a better job than the leader (v4)

And Absalom would add, ‘If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.’

  • Shows unusual friendliness (v5) 

Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him.

  • Pretends to be spiritual (v8)

While your servant was living at Geshur in Aram, I made this vow: “If the Lord takes me back to Jerusalem, I will worship the Lord in Hebron.”

  • Uses underhanded means to wrest control (v10)

Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, ‘As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, “Absalom is king in Hebron.”’

  • Rallies key supporters from the leader to his side (v12)

While Absalom was offering sacrifices, he also sent for Ahithophel the Gilonite, David’s counsellor, to come from Giloh, his home town. And so the conspiracy gained strength, and Absalom’s following kept on increasing.

How to be Salt and Light in this World

How to be Salt and Light in this World
Photo by Pavel Neznanov on Unsplash

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

Introduction

Entering the Army was a culture shock for me. It was a sad time when I went to Pulau Tekong and left all my familiar surroundings and family. Also, they shaved our heads so everyone looks the same. The first day, I remember feeling so sad I wanted to cry but thankfully I didn’t. Army was frustrating waking up early, not having good sleep, bathing without doors, hearing vulgarity and cursing the whole day. You could say it was a pretty dark place.

I had brought along a small hard-copy Bible with me and would read it once in a while during my free time. I believe God kept me safe and sane during my Army days. One night, I remembered going to bathe and coming back, I found a few guys in my bunk going through my locker. They didn’t find much except a Bible and some clothes in there.

But interestingly, a few of them, all non-Christians knew that I was a Christian and would ask me to pray for them. I was rather surprised to hear that. They too were feeling stressed and sad during their Army time. So I agreed and after lights out at 10pm, we would huddle in the corridor in the dark and I would pray for us as a group before we went to sleep.

I’m not sure where these guys are now since I’ve left the Army, but it gave me the confidence that God can use me wherever I am, even in the darkest places.

Today my talk is about how we can influence the world. How can we influence the world? It seems extremely challenging in this time and age and our Christian views can be unwelcomed. But I believe God is still calling us to influence this world for Him. Today’s passage on being Salt and Light tells us how. Jesus says that you are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It’s not what you choose to be, but who you are as a disciple of Jesus. It is our identity as children of God.

As Salt and Light, we are to intentionally live out our Kingdom values. These Kingdom values were shared by Steffi last week on the Beatitudes, the lifestyle of a Kingdom citizen. As we live it out, we will influence the world. This will lead to two results – Prevent Corruption in the World and Present Christ to the World. 

What does it mean to be Salt and Light? Let us take a look.

  • Being Salt Prevents Corruption in the World (v13)

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

Matthew 5:13

Salt has various uses. 

It could be used for adding flavour when cooking. You need it to make the dish tastier. 

Salt Bae's Salting Technique Is Actually On Point - Eater

In ancient times salt could be used as a form of payment. If a soldier did not carry out his duties, he would not be paid and not “worth his weight in salt”. That’s where the phrase comes from. The Latin root word for “salary” is salt.

But Jesus was probably pointing to the ability of salt to preserve. Farmers and fisherman who heard Jesus speak those words would have thought of the way they used salt most often – to preserve fish and other meat. 

After catching fish in the Lake of Galilee, the fisherman sold them in the capital city of Jerusalem, far away to the south. Transportation was slow and there wasn’t any refrigeration, so they would salt down the catch. When a farmer killed a cow, he would salt the meat, the only method of preservation. Salt prevents meat from decaying.

In the Bible, the righteous are seen as people who would preserve a decaying, rotting society from getting worse. Christians are worth their salt and a valuable commodity to the world because they keep decay from spreading as rapidly as it might.

What does it mean for us to be Salt then? How can we prevent corruption in this increasingly messed up world?

Be in the world but not of the world.

  • Be in the World

One thing about salt is that it must come into contact with meat. If we leave it packaged, it does absolutely nothing. Out of the salt shaker to be useful!

Throughout history, some religious people have often taken the salt out of society. Monks with good motives withdrew from society into isolated monasteries to live holy lives separated from the evil culture. That was never, however, the biblical example. Jesus sent His disciples like “sheep among wolves”. 

Whenever the church becomes a salt warehouse, it has missed Jesus’ basic lesson that salt must come in contact with meat. If we don’t relate to non-Christians in their culture, we won’t make much difference in society. In school, don’t isolate yourself but make friends with those who are not Christians. You need to be in the world, keep contact and build relationships with them. But while you are in the world, there’s another side of being salt.

  • Not of the World

Jesus adds that you must retain your saltiness. Does this make sense at all? From chemistry, we know that salt is NaCl, sodium chloride. How can salt lose its saltiness? What was Jesus talking about?

In ancient times, two kinds of salts existed. One salt was relatively pure, but another was impure. The relatively pure salt was made through the evaporation of clean sea water. But most of the salt in Palestine was taken from the Dead Sea, which was filled with white minerals that resembled salt. Farmers placed the impure salt behind their houses and used it for fertilising fields because a small amount of salt benefitted the soil. But when the rains came, the true salt sodium chloride would be washed away leaving a useless, white sandy substance. Farmers couldn’t use this for their soils as it would harden it so they would throw it in front of their houses to make a hard walking path.

I think Jesus when he talked about losing saltiness was referring to the impure salt. If salt loses its saltiness, it is worthless. If we become like the world, we make no impact on society. To be the salt of the earth, we must come in contact with the world and remain different from them.

When people look at you and your behaviour, are you different in terms of your values, the way you use your time, your money? Or do you watch and say the same things they do? If we live by Jesus’ counter-cultural principles in the Beatitudes, we should be very different from others.

As salt, you are to prevent corruption in the world by being in the world but not of the world.

Not only are we Salt of the Earth, Jesus says we are the Light of the World.

Being Salt means to keep something bad from happening, further corruption of the world. While being Light means to cause something good to happen.

  • Being Light Presents Christ to the World (v14-16)

14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

What provides light to this world? The sun. And when the sun shines on the other side of the earth, we are illuminated by the moon. The moon doesn’t produce light, it only reflects light from the sun. In much the same way, while Jesus is away, we reflect his light on earth.

Jesus said in John 9:5 that he is the light of the world. Now we present His light to others. There are two things Jesus says about being light.

  • Don’t hide your light

14 You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 

Hill cities in Israel were impressive sites. At night, these cities would glow in the distance. You can’t miss it. When we are the light of the world, everyone will know it – unless you hide the light. But God doesn’t call us to hide our light but to let it shine. We cannot live light-filled lives in our society without standing out because this world is full of moral and spiritual darkness. Do your friends and family know you are Christians? Are you hiding the light and rendering it useless or letting it shine? 

  • Light helps people see

15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.

If we buy a new lamp, we don’t cover it up. We put it in the best position to light up the whole room to help others to see everything there. By being a light in this dark world, we bring a moral and spiritual influence that enables people to see what is there, and to find their way to God. Our Christian values and principles help people thrive and find true comfort, joy and satisfaction in life. People will begin to see their need for God and be drawn to the light. 

But as people are drawn to the light, the focus is not us, but God. We read the words:

16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

When people see our good deeds, they don’t praise us, they praise your Father in Heaven. Through our light that we bring to them, acts of love and good deeds, we direct people to know God. Wherever you are, what really matters is that you be light in the darkness.

Some of you might be thinking, “I’m in a school or environment where there is not another Christian, and it’s tough. The things that go on there are disgusting. I wish I could get out of it.” I get it. Our natural tendency is to withdraw and get out of such places. We fear letting our light shine as it will cause even more problems for us. We know we should let our light shine, but we’re concerned about being misunderstood, bullied, ridiculed, cancelled. 

But God needs our light where the world is the darkest. The blacker the night the greater the need for a light bulb. If the bulb does not shine, it’s not because of the darkness. Darkness cannot put out a light. If the darkness increases until it is pitchblack, it is still not dark enough to extinguish a light. Darkness gets darker because the light fails. When we fail to reflect Christ’s light, we let the darkness win.

God has called us to be light in the darkness so that they will find God through us. 

Let me end with a story.

Conclusion 

The French culture of the early 1700s was in the process of decay. There was injustice in the government, the Church was corrupted, slave trade was going strong and the poor were oppressed. The king didn’t care about solving all of the problems and as a result, France was ripped apart by the bloody French Revolution where 40,000 people died.

Just 20 miles across the English Channel, the English culture had the same rot. Alcoholism, prostitution, violence, slave trade and appalling corruption in the church and government, created one of the worst environments Europe had ever seen. And yet England did not go through a revolution. What spared it? Its mighty navy? Its diplomats? Its politicians? Its police force? No.

The country was spared because in 1703 a man called John Wesley was born in England.

John Wesley | Christian History | Christianity Today

Wesley was an Anglican priest and one day, his heart was “strangely warmed” by God. He truly found faith in God. He reached out and won others to Christ, and historians believe that it was in large part the Methodist movement that delivered England from a revolution. They cared for the poor, took in unwanted and abused children, fought unjust laws and labor conditions, visited prisoners, and battled against slavery. They transformed society as Salt and Light.

John Wesley and the Methodist movement helped prevent corruption in England and averted a bloody revolution by influencing the whole culture by presenting Jesus.

Are you salt and light whenever God has placed you?

Let us pray.

You cannot be Salt and Light if you are not a disciple of Jesus Christ. Today, you have the opportunity to accept Jesus into your life. If that is your desire, please pray this prayer after me.

“Dear God, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Lord and Saviour. In Jesus name I pray, AMEN.”

Let me close. 

“Dear God, thank you that we are the Salt of the earth and Light of the world. Help us to prevent corruption and decay in our school and society. Help us to shed light in the dark world around us so that they will see our good deeds and praise our Heavenly Father. In Jesus’ name AMEN.”

Discussion Qns:

  • How can Christians be salt to prevent corruption in your school and society?
  • How can Christians be light to guide others to God?
  • What is ONE step you can do to be salt and light?

Passing the Baton of Faith

Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash. 10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel.

11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. 14 So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 

Judges 2:6-14

In a relay race, runners are to pass the baton (a short stick) from the first runner to the next and then to the next one. The baton needs to be successfully passed to the next person so that the race can continue to the end. It doesn’t matter if the first person passes it successfully to the second runner when the next transition fumbles. You either win or lose as a team and everyone has a part to play.

Let’s watch this short 20 seconds clip on passing the baton. It’s not as easy as it seems!

In church, we too are passing a baton on to the next person. It’s not a physical stick that we pass on but our spiritual faith to the next generation. 

If we do not pass on our faith to the next generation faithfully, the church will lose its effectiveness in the following generation and the next. Imagine a train with all its carriages. The carriages are all connected together and travel together as a unit. What happens when one of the connections is broken? The front part of the train goes ahead while the rest that is disconnected is left behind.

It’s the same for us in church. The start of the carriage is the children’s ministry  and they grow into youths and then to Young Adult, then Adults. If there is a disconnect in any of these ministries and we don’t do our part to instill the Christian faith, what happens? There won’t be anyone moving to the next carriage.

It doesn’t matter that your faith is strong and solid if the next generation is lost. 

Is the baton of faith being passed on?

Today, we look at a passage in Scripture that highlights the importance of passing on the baton to the next one. 

My sermon outline is:

  • A Faithful Generation (v6-9)
  • A Faithless Generation (v10-13)
  • Failure and Grace (v14)

Some background context first.

Israel was brought out of Egypt by Moses and headed towards the promised land in Canaan. It was supposed to be a short journey of two years, but because of their disobedience, God made them wander in the wilderness for 40 years. All the disobedient people of that generation died and Moses passed the leadership reins over to Joshua. Joshua would lead a new generation of Israel that was faithful to God into the promised land successfully.

It now sets the stage for the first section which talks about a faithful generation.

  • A Faithful Generation (v6-9)

6 When Joshua dismissed the people, the people of Israel went each to his inheritance to take possession of the land. 7 And the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. 8 And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died at the age of 110 years. 9 And they buried him within the boundaries of his inheritance in Timnath-heres, in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.

Judges 2:6-9

The people of Israel that first entered the Promised Land were a faithful generation. It tells us that they “served the Lord” throughout the lifetime of Joshua and even later on during the lifetime of the elders also. Why? It tells us in verse 7.

They had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel. They had tasted God’s provision of manna and food in the desert. They had seen the fall of Jericho in the most miraculous war strategy. They saw the Jordan River being split open during the high tide season so that they could cross over on dry ground. They witnessed the great work of God in their lives and it led them to put their faith in God.

What about you? Have you seen the great works of God that he has done for you? Have you put your faith in God and given your life to Him? 

The greatest work that God has done is in sending Jesus to this earth as a human. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross for your sins and mine. By Jesus’ death and resurrection he led a new exodus by bringing us out of slavery to sin and death. He has made a way for us to be reconciled to him. Now, have you put your faith in what God has done for you? 

Joshua’s generation knew God and served him faithfully. But was that enough?

We turn to the next section which tells us the problem that was brewing. 

  • A Faithless Generation (v10-13)

10 And all that generation also were gathered to their fathers. And there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. 11 And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked the Lord to anger. 13 They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.

Judges 2:10-13

After the faithful generation died, a faithless generation arose. It says that they did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. So instead of serving God, they served foreign gods such as the Baals and the Ashtaroth. These were pagans religions that God hated for their cruel practices of child sacrifices and sexual immorality. This was the very reason that God chose Israel to drive out the pagan nations. 

And now sadly, the new faithless generation were doing exactly what God hated! You can imagine how angry and grieved God must be by their wickedness and ungratefulness.

What happened? What happened between the Faithful generation and the Faithless generation? Where did it go wrong? Scripture doesn’t tell us the reason and we won’t speculate why. We can only say that the baton of faith was not passed down.

I want to zoom in on the phrase that says they “did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel”. I see two ways the baton was not passed.

Firstly, they did not know God. This new generation did not put their faith in God. Even though how faithful their fathers were, it didn’t pass down. Their lives are not changed because they did not personally know God. And it’s true. We see this often in second-generation Christians (born into a Christian family) who know all the Bible stories but have never accepted Jesus into their hearts. No matter how much Bible they study, verses they memorise or many church services they attend, it doesn’t make a difference if they do not know God personally. 

Secondly, they did not know the work of God. As a new generation, they may have been born in the promised land itself and did not experience all the wonderful things that their fathers had experienced. They didn’t know what God had done for them. And without knowing what God has done, they lose gratitude. 

Some Christians have this same idea. They believe that “I’m a Christian and I’m going to heaven, that’s all I need to know”. A simplistic faith chooses not to grow in the faith and stays on the surface. No wonder there is nothing of substance to pass on to the next generation! If that is you, seek to grow deeper in the Word of God. Attend Christian Education classes. Join a Cell Group. Take sermon notes and reflect. Dive deep into the riches of God’s Word so that you have something of value to pass on to others.

Seek a real relationship with God and seek to grow to know Him more.

The failure to pass on the baton had drastic consequences for the new generation but God’s grace is shown.

  • Failure and Grace (v14)

So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. 

Judges 2:14

God was angry with them for abandoning their worship of the true God and turning to idols. And as any loving parent would do, he disciplined them in the hope of them returning to him. He disciplined them by letting Israel be conquered by its enemies! He made them suffer for their idolatry. But when they cried out for help, God in his grace sent godly leaders or judges to rescue them time and time again. 

It’s painful when a cell group member, friend or family member turns away from God. There are youths I did bible study with that have left the faith. It’s sad. We think that it is the end and they are lost forever. But this passage encourages us that God is able to work in their lives to bring them back to him. Sometimes it can only be through painful suffering that they come to realise how far they have strayed from God. This is actually an act of love and grace. 

Love compels us to do all we can to prevent someone from heading into disaster. But if we’ve done all we can to pass the baton to the next generation and they choose to turn from God, remember that God is sovereign and able to work in their lives to bring them back to him. The key thing is to do all we can to pass on the baton of faith to the next generation and leave the results to Him.

In youth ministry, we want to instill the Christian faith in the youths. It’s not just about games, activities or camps. These activities are important to meet their felt needs. Felt needs for friends, fun, food. But we must go beyond their felt needs to address their real need – their need for Jesus. At the end of their time in youth ministry, we must ask ourselves: Do they know God personally? Are they growing in the knowledge of what God has done for them? That’s why we intentionally have a time for worship to connect with God, teaching the word of God and applying the truth in cell groups and discipleship groups.

We want to pass on the faith to the younger ones so that they will know God. And hopefully, even as they leave youth ministry, they will continue to pass the faith on to others.

I believe that’s what Paul was teaching Timothy too.

1 You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:1-2

Do you see the different parties in these verses? (Paul, Timothy, Faithful Men, Others) 

As Paul spoke the truth of the Gospel to Timothy, Timothy was to entrust the truths to faithful men who would teach others too. Entrust means to put something into someone’s care and protection. If you were to entrust your car, your child or hard earned money to someone, you expect it to be carefully taken care of. The truth of the Gospel, the faith we have received, is to be carefully handled and passed on to the next generation. And hopefully, the next generation will in turn pass on the truths to the next. It is indeed an awesome and heavy responsibility for all of us, not just the pastors.

Jesus, in the Great Commission, also entrusted the gospel to his 12 disciples so that they can bring it to the whole world through the power of the Holy Spirit. And he promised to be with them till the end of the age. He is still with each one of us today, empowering us through the Holy Spirit. (Matt 28:16-20)

Every single one of us has a part to play. 

How does it look like for us to pass the faith?

For parents, it could mean taking time to read the Scripture and pray with your children regularly. Ask them what they learnt in church and pray for them to be transformed by God. Live out your faith authentically in front of your kids to model after. Encourage them to attend their age-group ministries regularly and as parents, please put their spiritual lives as first priority above many other priorities (studies, sports etc.). What’s the point if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?

Passing on the faith could mean having Bible study with someone younger in the faith than you. Help them get into God’s Word and to ground them in the Christian faith in a Discipleship Group. It doesn’t need to be a life-long Bible study, just a short period to show them how to feed themselves from the Bible.

It also could be serving in a ministry to the younger ones to share the faith with them. Contrary to popular belief, young people need and want older Christians who are interested in their lives and are willing to be their guide. You have the opportunity to impact their lives for eternity. Are you willing to invest your time, energy and wisdom to pass on the faith to them so that they will grow into men and women after God’s heart?

Lastly, we can pass the faith to those who don’t know Jesus yet. Join an Alpha course as a host or helper so you can build relationships with those exploring the faith and sharing your own testimony of who God is and what he has done in your life. Share with those outside the church in your workplace, schools, family and neighbourhood, let them know you are a Christian. Present Christ to them in acts of love and kindness and create a hunger in their hearts to know the God who has transformed your life. 

There are endless possibilities to pass the baton to the next generation if only God would open our eyes.

Let us not make the same mistake that Joshua’s generation made with devastating consequences for the next generation.

Who can you pass the baton of the Christian faith to?

Let’s pray.

Maybe someone has shared the Gospel with you in the past and you’ve never accepted Jesus as your Saviour. Just having head knowledge is not enough, you must personally accept Jesus. Or you’re on the fence ready to give up the faith, would you come to God and admit your difficulty? Tell God – even if it is hard, I will choose to put my trust in you. If that is your desire, would you pray this prayer with me:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for my sins and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Lord and Saviour. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Let me pray for you.

“Dear God, thank you for the gift of the Gospel that was passed to us. Thank you for our spiritual leaders who have received Jesus and are now passing it on to others. Lord, we pray for each one of us that we will be faithful in passing the faith to others in every sphere of our lives. I pray for those who may have strayed from the faith despite our best efforts. Lord, we know that you are in control of all circumstances and you have the ability to bring them back to you. Would you in your love bring them back to you and for us as a church to embrace them when they return. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

What to Look for in a Life Partner

Photo by Abdul Gani M on Unsplash

On a plane in times of emergency, there’s an oxygen mask that will drop down for everyone. One of the instructions for adults is to put on an oxygen mask for yourself first before you help the person next to you. Even though your child may be more vulnerable and needing oxygen more than you, you cannot help them unless you help yourself first.

It’s similar to relationships.

Get a relationship with God right before getting a relationship with a boy or girl right.

If you do not know God, you do not know love or how to love someone else.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:7

Our love for another comes from God’s love. 

We need to be born of God – have a relationship with God knowing that God loves us and sent Jesus to die on the cross for us. He sacrificed his life for us. What held Jesus on the cross was not the nails, but his love.

When we learn how God loves us, we can then begin loving others also. Just like the oxygen mask, we need to receive this source of life before we can love others.

I love this passage in 1 Cor 13:4-7.

4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Although Paul talks about how we love others when we use our spiritual gifts, it also applies in how we love others. 

Are you patient? Are you kind? Are you arrogant? Are you rude? 

Before you think about a relationship with someone else, focus first and foremost on your relationship with God. When you receive and know God’s love for you, God’s love then flows out through you to others. 

God’s love flows when you choose to be generous to buy a gift for another. 

God’s love flows when you get irritated by her constant indecision of what to eat.

God’s love flows when you’re tired and you rather sleep in than meet them. 

God’s love flows when you’re distressed during times of conflict.

God’s love flows when you do something wrong and need to be corrected.

Without God’s love, you cannot love another person rightly.

You must get a relationship with God right before you can get a relationship with a boy or girl right.

Now, we turn to the question. 

How do we navigate the complicated world of boy-girl relationships? 

The Bible only talks about marriage but I believe there are key principles that we can draw from the Bible.

Dating isn’t found in the Bible. In the past and even in some cultures today, marriages are arranged by the family. They are betrothed to one another from young and they don’t have the choice whether they want to marry this person or not. Only in recent times have people been given the choice to marry those whom they want to based on love.

I’d like to share briefly what Christian dating is and flowing out of that, two principles on how to date.

Firstly, my definition of Christian dating:

Dating is the process of determining if a person is whom God wants you to marry. 

It’s important that we don’t take dating lightly. Dating is not solely for fun or good company but with an intentional goal leading to marriage.

And if dating leads to marriage, what kind of person should you be looking for?

Look for a Christian and Look for Character

First Principle: Look for a Christian

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that as Christians, we must marry only Christians. We read:

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?

2 Corinthians 6:14-15

Paul used the term “do not be unequally yoked”. He was using an agricultural reference to how two animals would be yoked together to plow a field. They would be like a tag team working together for a common purpose. As a farmer, it was important to yoke the animals equally so that the work will be productive. 

From that example, Paul says that being yoked together with a non-Christian or unbeliever will not work! He asks 4 questions about what is common between righteousness and lawlessness, light and darkness, Christ and Belial (Satan) and believer and unbeliever? 

What’s the answer? NOTHING! In fact, they are polar opposites, super different from each other. You have nothing in common other than maybe like activities you enjoy, food you love to eat etc. But deep down, your values are totally opposite in nature. 

You worship God, your partner worships some other God or no God at all. Your heart will be eventually drawn away from God. You will be unequally yoked to date a non Christian because dating is a process where you determine if a person is whom God wants you to marry. And I am very sure that God will NEVER want you to date a non Christian. 

Of course, we hear of stories where a boyfriend or girlfriend comes to know God through church or Alpha and it’s possible. But…there is also a chance that he or she never comes to know God. Then what? You have to break up the relationship and it’s even harder because you’ve invested so much time, energy and emotions into it.

I’m not trying to spoil your fun but I’m sharing this out of love for you. I don’t want to see you drawn from God. I don’t want to see your marriages end in divorce. I don’t want to see God’s calling on your life be hindered by a non-Christian partner. 

For God’s sake and for your own sake, please do not be unequally yoked. If you truly want to honour God, trust him to provide a suitable Christian partner for you at the right time. You are all young and have many years ahead of you. Do not rush into it until you’re ready to date and get married. Don’t give your heart or your body away so freely or easily to someone else.

Not only is the person’s faith in God crucial, you need to look for character

Second Principle: Look for Character

We’re misled by actors, actresses, YouTube stars and boy/girl bands that physical appearances are everything. We’re sucked into the idea that we should date the prettiest girl or the handsomest guy. Everybody wants to date the most pretty girl in school only.

Top 5 most popular K-Pop Artists on Youtube according to Google | allkpop
Famous K-Pop Stars

But if you didn’t already know… 

Looks have ZERO CORRELATION to character! Just because a guy is hunky doesn’t mean he’s generous, kind or loving. Ok, get that fact into your head! Looks don’t mean anything. That’s why it’s so dangerous to choose based on looks. In fact, beauty fades over time. People get old, skin gets wrinkled, hair drops and turns white. That’s life and it’ll happen to all of us (even with Botox). 

But what doesn’t fade? Character. We read:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Proverbs 31:30

Although it’s talking about a woman, it applies to all of us. Don’t look only for physical appearances. Beauty is only skin-deep. It will disappear one day. Go deeper to the heart. Look at the character. When you look beyond that, you may notice someone who has godly character but has slipped under your radar. And on the flip side, work on your character and make that the attraction, not just your looks.

As some of you might know, I’m getting married in about one month’s time. I’m excited and thankful to God for providing Sarah who’s godly, beautiful in character and looks. I’m glad I waited. At times I would feel that God had forgotten me after past dating relationships hadn’t worked out or just long periods of waiting. But God is a loving father who knows the right person and right time for us. I encourage you to trust Him and meanwhile make good friendships with those of the opposite gender.

Let’s pray.

“Dear God, thank you for the gift of relationships. Thank you for your love that came to us first. Help us to receive your love so we can love others too. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Sermon: God Can Restore the Ruin in Your Life

Photo by Matin Tavazoei on Unsplash

Haggai the prophet was sent by God to the Jews who had returned from exile. What was his main message? To rebuild the temple of God. We started with:

  • Kingdom Priority: People’s lives were cursed because they neglected to build God’s house/temple. They repented and started rebuilding God’s house.
  • Kingdom Presence: People started building but were tempted towards discouragement because the new one paled in comparison to the old one. God promised that the glory of the new one will exceed the old one.
  • Kingdom Purity: God knew that the people were defiled in everything they did. But God in his grace chose to bless them as they rebuilt the temple’s foundation.

And then we come to the final few verses, Haggai’s last message. Let’s read it:

20 The word of the Lord came to Haggai a second time on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21 “Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. 22 I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers; horses and their riders will fall, each by the sword of his brother.

23 “‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Haggai 2:20-23

The book ends on this note! Such a weird ending isn’t it? What’s Haggai talking about? Look who he’s talking to.

Haggai is speaking directly to Zerubbabel, the governor. He was moved by Haggai’s message and led the people to rebuild the temple. And God had a special message for him.

In verses 20 to 22, God tells him that all foreign powers and nations will be overturned, shaken! The language that is used often refers to the end of time when God would come and judge the whole world. The last days. Zerubbabel would have been comforted by this message as the people were weak and powerless after being conquered repeatedly by mighty nations around them. They would think it is hopeless and that they would never be able to rise to the level that they once were.

But God was assuring Zerubbabel that foreign nations would be brought down while he would be lifted up. All this started because the people chose to rebuild the temple ruins and put God again at the center of their lives. But the rebuilt temple is not the only thing. Zerubbabel is also a key figure in this story.

We read in verse 23 what God was going to do for Zerubbabel:

“‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Haggai 2:23

We need to understand the significance of what God is saying to him or we’ll miss the point of the book of Haggai. It’s not just about a ruined temple, but also a ruined person.

Who is Zerubbabel? He is the son of Shealtiel and from the line of kings. A noble, royal lineage. You need to understand the term “signet ring”. It’s not just any ring that you wear. A signet ring is used by kings as a sign of authority and power in their kingdom. It could be entrusted to servants to use on behalf of the king. Often wax seals are imprinted with the signet ring to show the king’s approval.

This is seen in the story of Joseph and Pharoah. Joseph displayed wisdom to lead the nation through a time of famine and Pharaoh decided to put him in charge:

41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 

Gen 41:41-42

Pharaoh lent his authority to Joseph to lead the nation through the time of crisis. And God, when he would choose a king to lead the nation of Israel, would say that this king is like a signet ring on his finger. He has given power to the king to make decisions under His authority. God can put this signet ring on or he can take it away.

Zerubbabel’s grandfather, King Jehoiachin, was the last king before they were conquered by the Babylonians and sent into exile. He was a sinful king who did evil before God (2 Kings 24:8-9). Because of an accumulation of evil done by the kings of Judah, God punished them by sending the Babylonian nation to conquer and take them away into a foreign land.

We read in the book of Jeremiah the prophet these terrible words about King Jehoiachin:

24 “As surely as I live,” declares the Lord, “even if you, Jehoiachin son of Jehoiakim king of Judah, were a signet ring on my right hand, I would still pull you off. 25 I will deliver you into the hands of those who want to kill you, those you fear—Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and the Babylonians.

Look at the first sentence. Even if Jehoiachin were a signet ring on God’s hand, he would take him off! He will let him be conquered by the Babylonians. That’s not all.

30 This is what the Lord says:

“Record this man as if childless,

    a man who will not prosper in his lifetime,

for none of his offspring will prosper,

    none will sit on the throne of David

    or rule anymore in Judah.”

Jeremiah 22:24-25, 30

And what’s worse, God said that none of his offspring will sit on the throne. The line of kingship that is often passed from father to son would be stopped here at Jehoiachin. The signet ring of God’s power and approval was removed from him.

That’s why it’s so significant when we come to our passage in Haggai that Zerubbabel was chosen to be like God’s signet ring. Let’s look at it again:

“‘On that day,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

Haggai 2:23

What was God doing? He was reestablishing the kingdom lineage from Jehoiachin and who did it lead to? 

Let’s look at Matthew 1 genealogy:

12 After the exile to Babylon:

Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) was the father of Shealtiel,

Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel,

13 Zerubbabel the father of Abihud,

… 

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.

Matthew 1:12-16

It led to the birth of Jesus, the Messiah! Jesus had to be born from the line of king David as part of the prophecy and God restored the kingdom lineage back to Zerubbabel. Jehoiachin lost God’s approval. but Zerubbabel regained God’s approval after they rebuilt God’s house!

Haggai is not just about rebuilding the temple. The rebuilt temple was just a prelude to the main point of the book of Haggai. God was not only restoring the temple ruins but also restoring the kingly line to Jesus the Messiah. Even though his grandfather Jehoiachin disobeyed God and was removed as God’s signet ring, God chose Zerubbabel as his signet ring because he obeyed Him.

What can we learn?

God is able to restore the ruin in your life.

No matter your past failures or shame from what you or your parents have done, God can restore the ruin in your life. He can wipe your slate clean and you can start afresh just like the people of Israel. Just like Zerubbabel. Their lives were ruined until the moment they chose to put God first in their lives. God reversed the curse on them and restored Zerubbabel’s position in the line of kings. God is able to restore the ruin in your life.

Sometimes the ruin may be a broken relationship, health or emotional issues or an unhappy home. God can heal all that. But the greatest ruin that God came to restore is our spiritual ruin through Jesus.

Jesus was born, lived the perfect life and received God’s stamp of approval (signet ring) during his baptism. He willingly died on the cross for your sins and mine. And in doing that, He destroyed the power of sin and death over us. When we put our trust in him, we become his children. You may feel that there is no difference in your life, nothing has changed but because of Jesus, our lives are totally different. We read in Colossians:

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

Colossians 2:13-15 (NLT)

Jesus forgave us our sins and cancelled all our sins by nailing it to the cross. And I want you to note the next sentence – “In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” Jesus disarmed the devil and shamed them publicly. 

In ancient times a conquering army would parade the people who they had conquered through the city. The defeated people would hang their heads in shame and embarrassment as the crowds cheered for the victor. Jesus did that on the cross. Although he was shamed as he died on the cross, in actual fact in the spiritual realm, Jesus conquered death, sin and the power of the devil and was shaming them! They are defeated! Jesus has triumphed!

God is able to restore the ruin in your life.

Our past, no matter what it is like, can be restored because of what Jesus did. That’s the good news of the gospel: you may feel cast off, rejected, judged, unloved, but Jesus is saying, “Bring your shame. Bring your fear. Bring the broken pieces. For I love you! I value you! I will erase your past! You have worth! You are my son, my daughter, my child! I have restored you! I have a good plan for you!”

I’d like to end with an old song that I love “Give them all to Jesus”. As we listen to it, will you give it all to Jesus? He is able to restore the ruin in your life. 

Let us pray.

“Dear God, you hear the heart cries of all these people here. Lord, will you comfort them and restore the ruin in their lives? Thank you for Zerubbabel’s example that you are a God who shows love and grace and is able to restore the ruins. We put you first in our lives. Help us understand the great victory that Jesus has won for us on the cross so that we can live a life that honours you.”

Is there anyone here who wants to put your trust in Jesus to restore the spiritual ruin in your life? Or you may have been coming to church for some time but feel you’ve messed up again and again. And you want to recommit your life to God. If that is your desire, would you pray this prayer after me?

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for me and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Lord and Saviour. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Discussion questions:

  • How did God show grace to the Jewish people and Zerubbabel?
  • Is there any ruin in your life that you want to bring to Jesus?
  • What is one thing you have learnt?
  • What is one truth you can apply to your life?

Sermon: A New World’s Coming

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

INTRODUCTION

On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a full-scale military invasion into Ukraine.  It was an unjustified and unprovoked attack that shocked the whole world. Beautiful cities were destroyed by hundreds of rocket fire and 2,685 civilians have been killed so far. More than 4.1 million Ukraine citizens were forced to leave their homes and take refuge in other countries nearby. It’s been about 5 weeks now and we’re not sure when it’ll end. It’s so ridiculous that the world can’t seem to do much about it other than imposing sanctions and giving Ukraine some help. 

This world that we live in is not only filled with terrible deeds, the world itself is in terrible shape too.

There are tons of bacteria and viruses that have afflicted the human race and the most recent is the Covid-19 virus. It has taken the lives of thousands of people worldwide and disrupted our entire lives. Just a tiny microscopic virus can cause so much unimaginable damage to us all. 

Not only sickness but climate change is making this world berserk. Just this week, the city of Paris was stunned by snowfall in April, a week after temperatures hit highs of 20°C! The winter season typically ends around mid-March, which made the sudden flurry of snow all the more surprising. Climate change is bringing more intense and violent events such as these, including floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.

This world that we live in is in terrible shape isn’t it?

Reading this kind of news everyday can lead us to depression. It’s like there’s no hope for mankind and the world that we live in. And I would have believed it…if not…for what the Bible tells us about how the story ends! If we know that, you and I will have hope in our present difficulties. 

It is so important to know the end of the story. When I read an action novel, the hero is in crazy danger by the middle of the book and I get so worried. Will he survive this encounter? Will he die? I cheat by flipping to the end to see if he’s still safe or alive. Whew, he’s still around! It gives me relief, so when I go back to where I was reading, I knew he would survive whatever dangers he’s going through. The ending of the Bible is like that. The book of Revelation gives us a sneak peek into the end of the story and gives us hope for the present.

So let’s turn to the passage in Revelation 21:1-8 to have picture of what the end of the story is like: 

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Revelation 21:1-8

Revelation is the last book of the Bible and it is the closing chapter of the story of the Bible and also of the world. Let’s have a brief summary of the Bible. 

We started with God creating a perfect world which soon fell into sin. God promised Abraham and his descendants that he would bless them and bring them into the promised land. But the people of Israel were not always faithful and God had to send judges, establish Kings and Prophets to point the people back to God. Sadly, the people of Israel disobeyed and were taken captive by foreign powers. Only after many years were they allowed to return home.

At the right time, God sent Jesus, his son, to this earth to lead the perfect life and to die on the cross for our sins. Jesus rose from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to live in us and empower us to continue the work of God on earth. This is the time of the “already but not yet” where there is still suffering, sin and death as we wait for the second coming of Jesus.

By the time the book of Revelation was written, Christians were under extreme persecution from the Roman empire. Many were forced to acknowledge that the Roman emperor was god and to offer him sacrifices or be killed. Thus, John received a revelation from Jesus to encourage Christians to stay faithful. 

Jesus told them how the story was going to end. This gave Christians and us the hope to press on.

I want to share three points that will help us deal with our present sufferings and pain before Jesus returns with the perfected Kingdom. 

Outline:

  • Hang loose to this world as a new world is coming (v1-2)
  • Hang tight in your pain as all will be healed (v3-5)
  • Hand your heart to Jesus before it’s too late (v6-8)
  1. Hang Loose to this World (v1-2)

We can hang loose to this world as a new world is coming. Verses 1 and 2 tells us about this new world:

1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

Revelation 21:1-2

This present world as we know it will be replaced by a perfect world. The old “heaven” referring to the sky and space will be replaced. The old “earth” with all its climate change and depleting natural resources will be replaced with a perfect earth. We’re not going to float around in heaven but we will live in a physically new universe that will never spoil or decay. 

It is interesting to note “the sea will be gone”. Why is that so? In ancient Jewish thought, the sea represented chaos and evil and God had to bring order out of the chaos. It means that one day, all order will be fully restored and there will be no more chaos. Imagine this sick dying world replaced by a perfect one! That’s God’s intention from the start with the Garden of Eden but creation was spoiled by sin.

The verse then goes on to mention the “the holy city, the new Jerusalem” descending to the earth like a beautiful bride. In the Bible, God is often depicted as a bridegroom waiting expectantly for his bride. All of us, including the church, are described as the bride of Christ. The earthly marriages that we see on earth are supposed to give us an idea of our future marriage with God. It speaks about intimacy and joy and oneness with one another. 

When choosing a wedding dress and suit, we want to make sure that we look beautiful, stunning. The best that we can be for the occasion because it will be a wonderful celebration! We can’t be wearing old T-shirts and ripped jeans. Likewise, God is preparing us and this new world to be beautifully dressed (through godly character and deeds) to be presented to him at the wedding in heaven one day.  

Our future home will be a perfect one that God has prepared for all of us.

Jesus told his disciples about our future home:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” 

John 14:1-3

God is preparing a wonderful home for us in the future and will take you there to be with him. That’s why we can hang loosely to this world. It will not be around forever. 

No matter how terrible this present world is  – with wars, killing, Covid-19, deforestation, floods, God will heal all of that. For a persecuted Christian, there was hope that there was a much better perfect place waiting for them and it gave them strength to hang on loosely to this present world.

Maybe for some of you, you feel that this world is perfect and your life is great! And you’re praying to God, don’t come back yet, I’m not married, I’ve not got my driving license, I’ve not ranked top 100 in an online game, whatever, know this – the new world will far exceed any joys you may have experienced here on earth. We hold loosely to our possessions and can choose to be generous because you know eventually there’s something better waiting for you on the other side. That’s what the Bible promises us.

Hang loose to this world.

Secondly, you can hang tight in your pain as all will be healed.

  1. Hang Tight in your Pain (v3-5)

We note how in this new world, all the pain, sorrow and death that we face in this life will be gone in the presence of God. Let’s read:

3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”

5 And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” 

Revelation 21:3-5

“God’s home is NOW among his people”. I like that word “NOW”.

Finally! God’s desire was always to be with his people. But because of sin, there’s a separation between God and Man. God’s holiness cannot coexist with Man’s sinfulness. But God’s desire is to be with his people and he continues to come closer to us through the person of Jesus. In this new world, God will finally be with us forever. And all those who believe in Jesus will be one community in the perfect kingdom of God.

Look at the person on your left and right. Get used to their faces because we will be seeing one another for all eternity. Some of you may groan inwardly but it’s a wonderful thing that our friendships here on earth will carry on to our future home. 

But even better than that, God will personally wipe away all your tears. That’s what the verse tells us! God will wipe away all your tears of sadness and pain because all the effects of sin will be gone. There will be no more death, sickness, sorrow or pain. No more reason to cry.

For the persecuted Christians during that time, it was so encouraging to know that the pain they were experiencing would be temporary. Death would be gone. Tears will be wiped away. It will be the same for you too.

If you’re going through sleepless nights crying to yourself, hang tight. God has prepared a time when all crying will be gone.

If your body is painful and sick, hang tight. God has prepared a time when all pain will be gone.

If you’ve suffered unjustly at the hands of evil people, hang tight. God has prepared a time when all wrongs will be made right.

If you’re mourning over the loss of a loved one, hang tight. God has prepared a time when you will be with them again.

God indeed is making everything new. He’s making it all perfect as he originally designed the world to be. Abundant, joyful living where we can delight in God, one another and creation.

Hang tight in your pain.

Lastly, hand your heart to Jesus before it’s too late.

  1. Hand Your Heart to Jesus (v6-8)

6 And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.

8 “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

Revelation 21:6-8

Jesus is the Beginning and the End. The A to Z. He knows how this story is going to end. So he urges us to come to him for the water of life. This new home isn’t for everyone. There is a condition. 

Only those who accept Jesus will enter this new home.

In verse 6, Jesus said that he was offering the water of life for free! Don’t you like free things? But for every free thing, someone had to pay a cost. Jesus is offering you salvation from him for free because he paid a great cost – his life. Jesus died on the cross for you so that you can accept this free gift of salvation. 

The phrase “It is finished” reminds us of the time when Jesus died on the cross and he exclaimed, “It is finished.” The payment for sin is finished through his death and when we accept Jesus’ free gift of living water, you will inherit all these blessings – what blessings? Blessing mentioned earlier about the new world and enjoying the perfect relationships with God and people forever. But only if you accept Jesus.

What happens to the rest? We read:

But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.

Rev 21:8

What is the fate of those who refuse to accept Jesus’ offer of living water? Hell. It is a terrible place of torment and suffering. It is called the “second death”. Why?

The first death is physical death. The second death is spiritual death and eternal separation from God.

Those who believe in Jesus will only experience the first death but not the second death. 

Hell was not made for human beings. Hell was made for Satan and fallen angels who disobeyed God. But if people choose to continue in sin and reject Jesus, that will be their fate. Wicked people who continue in their sins will not be allowed into this perfect world. God will put a “No entry” sign. The only “Safe Entry” is through Jesus.

The ending of the story is this. God has prepared a perfect world for you and me. 

Will you hang loose to this world as a new world is coming?

Will you hang tight in your pain as all will be healed?

Will you hand your heart to Jesus before it’s too late? 

Let’s pray.

At the end of this world, where will you be? Where do you want to be?

If your desire is to be in this perfect world with Jesus and those who trust in Him, will you put your trust in Jesus right now? You can pray after me:

“Dear Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for my sins. Thank you Jesus for dying on the cross for me and rising from the dead. Please come into my life and be my Saviour. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

Let me close in prayer.

“Dear God, thank you that you have prepared a wonderful and perfect new home for us. Thank you that in spite of the terrible things that are happening in the world today, you are in control. Help us to hang on loosely to the things in this world and to be generous with others. Help us to hang tight in our pain and persevere through it with your help. In Jesus’ name I pray, AMEN.”

 

Discussion Questions:

  • What images come to mind when you think of heaven? (It’s okay for your mind to run wild!)
  • Is there anything in this world that you’re holding on too tightly?
  • Is there any pain that you need God to help you persevere through?