Saturday, December 29, 2018

Arise and Shine!

1 Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
     For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,
and thick darkness the peoples;
       but the Lord will arise upon you,
and his glory will be seen upon you.
     And nations shall come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
     Lift up your eyes all around, and see;
they all gather together, they come to you;
       your sons shall come from afar,
and your daughters shall be carried on the hip.
     Then you shall see and be radiant;
your heart shall thrill and exult,
       because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you,
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
     A multitude of camels shall cover you,
the young camels of Midian and Ephah;
all those from Sheba shall come.
       They shall bring gold and frankincense,
and shall bring good news, the praises of the Lord.
     All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you;
the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you;
       they shall come up with acceptance on my altar,
and I will beautify my beautiful house.
Isaiah 60:1-7

God calls Israel to rise up!  God instructs Israel to shine!  The time has come.  No more sleeping.  No more hiding.  The whole world must see the rising Israel.  The entire universe must take note of the shining Israel.  Because the true light of Israel has come.  Because the glory of Yahweh has dawned upon Israel.  Because Israel has to become the lighthouse for all the nations in the midst of the coming darkness.  All the world will search for light when the darkness comes.  And Israel is going to be the only one shining brightly.  So it is time for Israel: Arise, Shine!
To those who still ask: Why?  Theologians give two reasons.  First, Israel must rise up and shine because God, who is the true light of Israel, has come.  This reason alone should be enough to motivate Israel.  True light penetrates even the darkest place.  Not only God has come upon Israel, but also His shining glory that makes the world tremble is on Israel.  Out of all the peoples and nations of the world, God has chosen Israel to be His special people, through whom He expresses His utmost glory.  Being chosen by the God of heaven and earth is beyond special.  It is beyond honor.  A privilege beyond words.  For all peoples and nations have fallen into the grip of sin and death, and thus of no value to God except to be thrown into the fire of hell.  Yet the most glorious God of love and grace decides to lift up Israel and chooses her to be His own, whom He endows with glory and honor and showers with love and mercy.  This reason alone should have awaken Israel to rise up and shine!
The second reason that theologians point out is the fact that darkness will certainly come to all the world.  God’s foresight is not something anyone can ignore.  When He says darkness will come, then certainly it will.  And it is not just any darkness.  It is not the physical darkness God is prophesying about.  It is the spiritual darkness that brings sin and death.  It does not just darken the earth, but it will also darken the peoples of the world.  The minds and the hearts of all peoples will be engulfed by the coming spiritual darkness.  In Romans 1:21-23 Paul spoke about it:
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
That darkness will certainly blind the people of God, which then will result in their complete destruction in the second death.  But God desires to save all people, as recorded in 1 Timothy 2:3-4:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
And it pleases God to appoint Israel as the lighthouse for all those people, so they may see the light when darkness comes and then come to God and be saved.  Therefore it is necessary for Israel to rise up and shine.  No more hiding.  No more slumbering.  In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus gives Christians a very important identity:
14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Arise and shine, O Israel of God!
            Darkness is also covering our world today.  The first quarter of the 21st century is already covered with darkness.  Only a few years ago the most powerful country in the world fell to the spell of LGBT, and immediately the entire world is affected by the LGBT tsunami the US has caused.  Christians who stand faithfully to the word are labeled intolerant and devoid of love and grace.  What makes this darkness darker is the fact that many Christians also fall to the LGBT spell and so they advocate the LGBT way in the church.  These spell-bound Christians work so hard in order to legitimize LGBT by forcing the church to rewrite their doctrinal statements.  As they grow in power they start excluding the faithful Christians in the name of tolerance.  Their motto of tolerance has turned into intolerant, yet they still believe they are the most tolerant people in the world.  D.A. Carson saw in advance before tolerance was used as a weapon by the LGBT supporters and wrote a piece addressing such issue in his famous book called “The Intolerance of Tolerance,” which was published in 2012.  The whole wide world is now under the spell of LGBT.  All books – adult and children alike, all movies – adult and children alike, reality TV shows and many more, are now smeared by the propaganda of LGBT.  Even school is infiltrated by LGBT and its shout for acceptance in the name of tolerance and God’s love.  This kind of darkness is quite overwhelming that it is able to cause hundreds of Church split in the span of a few years.  Imagine how dark the next generation’s mind and heart would be when acceptance of LGBT as a legitimate lifestyle is done being indoctrinated to our young people.
            Christmas is supposed to be the amazing event when God’s True Light comes into the world of man.  The glory of the heavens was displayed to the shepherd the night the Messiah was born into the dark world.  The brightest Star guided the magi from the East to come to Bethlehem to worship the Son of God – the King of kings.  The Son’s light shined His heavenly glory and lighted up the minds and hearts of those around Him.  But in the 21st century, the world’s Christmas has darkened the peoples’ minds and hearts.  The 21st century people are now blind to the light of Christ.  Their appetite is for the Christ-less Christmas.  They want evergreen tree covered in snow in order to symbolize Christmas.  So they call such tree Christmas tree.  They also want the old generous man wearing red suit from the North Pole riding his sleigh pulled by reindeers to be the mascot of Christmas.  The world gradually forgets about the “Word who became flesh” that incarnated into our world 2000 years ago.  As their eyes are blinded by the glamour and merriness of the world’s Christ-less Christmas, their hearts and minds are darkened.  When they celebrate Christmas, they reject the center of Christmas and replace Him with their idols who cannot speak, see, hear, or do anything to save them from the wrath of God.
            How is our Christmas, brothers and sisters?  Is it the Christ-less Christmas of world we are celebrating?  Or is it the true Christmas in which Christ is at the center of our joy and celebration?  We are in the middle of darkness today.  When we celebrate Christmas, do we shine ever brightly so the world may come to the True Light and be saved?  Are we still slumbering, sleeping, and snoring, when the Light with its utmost Glory is displayed in our hearts and minds?  The shepherd woke up at the visit of the angels and they quickly went to Bethlehem to worship the Son, and then proclaimed the good news of God’s true light of salvation everywhere.  We are the Israel of God, Paul says it in Galatians 6:16.  Isaiah 60 is speaking to us and about us too.  As professing Christians, we are instructed to rise up and shine.  The True Light has come upon our hearts.  He has chosen to dwell within us.  So the heavenly light inevitably shines in and through us.  What we need to do is to RISE UP and SHINE the Light into the world.  The peoples need the Light.  Without the Light they are doomed to eternal death.  Their hearts and minds are under the spell of the falsehood of the world.  Darkness covers them.  Their spirits are chained and imprisoned by the spiritual darkness of the world.  And we are their beacon of hope to lead them back to God.  ARISE and SHINE, O Christians of the 21st century!
            I guess the main question we are to ask ourselves is whether we are awake now and ready to shine or are we still slumbering and hiding the light that dwells within us?  Have you O Christians of the 21st century ARISE and SHINE for the peoples in your city and its surrounding?  Have you proclaimed the good news of God’s salvation in Christ to the dark world?  Have you warned the people living in darkness of the coming wrath of God?  Have you taught the young minds who are overshadowed by the blinding darkness of the ultra-modern world on how to live properly as creatures who were created in the image of God?  Or is your light dark?  Or are you keeping the Light to yourselves only for you to enjoy?  Or are you too afraid to shine because the world might come at you and nail you to that cross?  The fear of suffering can definitely stifle Christians.  But let me tell you something.  No doubt that faithful Christians throughout the ages and everywhere suffer as they follow the Master.  Yet they persevere.  They do not consider their lives to be worth more than the glory of the Lord.  So they’d rather lose their lives for the sake of Jesus Christ than to keep their lives in order to gain the whole world.  So they truly live the teaching of Jesus:
24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?  (Matthew 16:24-26)
ARISE and SHINE, O followers of Christ!
Let me tell you about Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation.  Before his world famous 95 theses, Martin Luther was just an ordinary pastor and professor in Wittenberg.  Nobody would notice him except for only a few people in the Catholic Church at the time.  He lived his life like every other ordinary people in Germany.  Yet an event awoke his core and he had to let the Light that dwelled within him to shine.  With the courage that he couldn’t afford to summon on his own, he wrote the 95 theses and nailed them on the door of the church that he shepherded.  His single act was noticed by the highest leader of the Catholic Church.  The Pope ordered him to recant or be excommunicated.   Luther refused to obey the Pope.  So he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church.  Then the Pope, mad as he was, went to the Emperor and instructed him to do something about Martin Luther.  So the Emperor summoned Luther to the city of Worms where he must give his defense in front of the holy assembly of the Catholic Church.  But the assembly in Worms were not attended by religious leaders, instead the political leaders were there ready to impose political sanctions if Luther refused the order.  Despite the overwhelming threat, Martin Luther chose to stand for the truth of the Scripture even though he was ordered by the Emperor of Germany Charles V to recant his 95 theses.  He knew his life would be in danger as he refused to comply with the Emperor’s command.  It was the only chance he got to save his life.  Luther forfeited his chance to maintain his rank as professor in the university of Wittenberg and pastor of a castle church in Wittenberg.  He chose to lose his life for the sake of Christ.  This is what he said in front of the Holy assembly and the Emperor:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
Martin Luther ROSE UP and SHONE!
            Brothers and sisters in Christ.  This Christmas, I want to challenge you to RISE UP and SHINE!  The True Light has come and dwelled within our heart.  The glory of the Lord has filled our spirit.  The world is covered with the utter darkness.  The peoples are blinded by the spell of the world.  Their Christmas is the Christ-less Christmas.  It is now the time for us to leave our slumber and go into the world to proclaim of His glory and truth.  So they may see your light and come to the Lord and be saved.  ARISE and SHINE, brothers and sisters in Christ!  And Merry Christmas!  May the True Light of Christ fills your Christmas celebrations, forever.  Amen!

The WORD Became Flesh

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’ ”) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.
John 1:1-18

Through John, God revealed that Jesus was God.  He in fact was the Word.  The very Word in which God commanded the entire world to exist.  The Word Himself was God.  As we know it today, the Word is the second person in the Godhead, who is God the Son.  And God the Son was willing to enter earth and took the form of a human, incarnated into the sinful world, became flesh.  As God the Son became flesh, He took up our infirmities and fragilities, while at the same time emptying Himself of His glory (Philippians 2:5-8).
This truth remains mindboggling even after we know His motif.  Our limited mind can’t really comprehend the reasoning why He would enter the world.  We can’t believe how someone would choose to leave the glory of heaven in order to purposefully and intentionally dwell among sinful people in the broken world.  How much more knowing that in this world He did not live as the wealthy, powerful, and privileged.  Instead, He suffered His entire lifetime on earth.  He was born in the most unlikely place, a barn, surrounded by animals, laid down on a manger.  If you have ever been in a barn, then you know how dirty it is and how the smell is unbearable.  Yet Jesus chose that place over the palace in Jerusalem.  Why?  Mary and Joseph were not successful people by any standard of the world.  They were not the poorest but they were poor.  Jesus could have chosen more successful people as His parents, but He didn’t.  Why?  He also chose to live a simple life.  Although He had the potential to becoming the greatest doctor, businessman, leader, even king.  Yet He abandoned all pursuit of worldly gain (cf. John 6:15).  Why?
He knew that He could escape the evil plot Judas and the religious leaders were devising, but He would not escape.  He knew exactly what Judas had in mind, did, and wished to do.  No worldly affairs were hidden from Him.  He could just then hide somewhere Judas wouldn’t be able to find.  But surprise!  Jesus went to the exact place where Judas made His best estimation to find Jesus.  Even then Jesus could have defended Himself because all the angels in heaven were ready to fight for their Lord.  Yet Jesus never once called them to come to defend Him.  Even the angels must have been scratching their heads in disbelief of what Jesus was doing.  So Jesus let Himself be captured by the sinners.  Why?
Jesus was then judged unjustly twice.  Firstly by the religious justice system and secondly by the political justice system.  Both systems expressed the grossest injustice.  An innocent man who did only good things all His life was brought to court, yet both systems punished Him with the worst kind of death sentence, the crucifixion.  Even then Jesus could have escaped.  He could just come down from the cross at the most critical condition and walk away.  But He didn’t.  Why?
So He died on that cross.  Being hanged between heaven and earth, as a criminal, and as a cursed man.  Yet He did it willingly.  He did it voluntarily.  This is where our mind finds it the most incomprehensible.  Jesus did not have to even come down to earth.  God could have just created a new world out of nothing, just like what He did before.  He could just wiped this broken world out and annihilated the entire human race and be done with all the mess once and for all.  He then could just start anew.  But why He chose to sacrifice Himself for our sake?  Why?
Isn’t that God’s greatest glory though?  That in His weakest state and in worst condition, He still lived with dignity, integrity, holiness, full of love & grace, kind & merciful, and in complete obedience to the Father.  That’s the most beautiful radiant glory the entire universe could have ever witnessed.  John witnessed it and stated:
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Marvelous, isn’t it?  And through His marvelously glorious sacrifice, we are saved from sin and eternal death.
            As Christians we have known this narrative.  Many pastors and preachers have spoken of this many times over.  Every year we hear the narrative being preached, at least during Christmas time.  From Sunday school to the adult worship service, all preach about this same message over and over.  Ever since we are a little kid until now an adult, we have heard this kind of message again and again.  So, often we then take this narrative for granted.  Funny, over time, we might not feel anything special about the coming of God into our world.  Christmas becomes monotonous.  We have a Christmas service, then we have a celebration together, we eat, drink, and be merry.  We gather as a family.  We give and receive presents, and be happy.  Every year we repeat the procession and maintain the tradition.  With each year passes, we become emptier.  Christmas does not feel the same anymore like it was when we celebrated it the first time.  The joy of the coming Immanuel has faded away with time.  We have celebrated Christmas too many times in the same way, so without realizing it we gradually lose its meaning.  The Word became flesh has become just a word without any power in our life.
            In the meantime the world also celebrates Christmas, but with a twist.  Instead of honoring Jesus, the world crowns Santa as the center of Christmas.  Santa and his presents become the iconic symbol of Christmas around the world.  The image of a fat man with white long beard, wearing red suit, riding his sleigh, being mounted on the reindeers, is what the world recognizes as Christmas now.  Christmas trees and snow also become the accessories and symbols of Christmas without Christ.  And now, when we go into any shopping malls during Christmas, we will be greeted with the symbols of Christmas without Christ.  The malls encourage us to buy presents for our loved ones, and thus suggesting the way to give meaning to the meaningless Christmas without Christ.  Some others offer holiday special for families, yet another way to give meaning to the already meaningless Christmas without Christ.  Stories and movies were invented in order to creatively infuse meaning to the dry Christmas.  And many Christians bought into the world’s Christmas ideas and meanings.  Thus forgetting the true meaning of Christmas, The Word became flesh.
            Brothers and sisters, I truly hope that that is not what you feel or think about Christmas.  Today I want to direct your attention back to the true meaning of Christmas.  In two days we will all celebrate Christmas.  Consider this sermon a preparation for our hearts to be ready for Christmas.  I want all of us to internalize Christ as the center of Christmas.  In the midst of the competing offers in the world, center your heart and mind to the Son of God.  John rightly started his gospel with the attention to Jesus Christ.  The incarnation of God the Son was extremely foundational for the gospel message.  The identity of the baby laid on a manger was not something the world could ignore.  He was the very Word that brought the world and us into existence.  Without Him nothing was made.  Without Him we wouldn’t exist.  What is more?  We were made in Him, who is the perfect image of God (cf. Colossians 1:15).  Now with the first Christmas in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, the Creator dwelt with His creation.  The Word literally became flesh.
            The Creator felt pain.  The Maker of heaven and earth felt hunger and thirst.  The Most powerful Being in the whole universe felt the heat of the sun, the cold of the night, the wet of the rain, and the dust of the earth.  God could bleed through His incarnation on Christmas.  Jesus Christ, the King of kings, could understand human struggle with temptations, with pain, with injustice, with betrayal, with all the problems of the broken world, and with the dread of death.  The Authoritative and Mighty Word that brought order in the entire world now walked the face of the earth.  He touched the very tree He created.  He felt the gushing of the wind that He made.  He experienced every single element of the world that His very Hands seamed together.  And He interacted with the creatures that were created after His pattern.  Words came out from humans, the only being under the sun that is capable of uttering meaningful words, and Jesus responded with His Eternal words.  The Almighty God volunteered to be vulnerable so that His creation could do Him harm, including humans – the crown of His creation.  Why would God do that?
            The “why” is given a comprehensive answer, simple yet the depth we cannot measure.  God wanted to be with His people.  He loves His people so much that He is willing to sacrifice Himself to take our place as the cursed one.  He volunteered to be rejected by the earth and by the heavens.  He put Himself forward as the one to endure God’s full wrath.  My most favorite imagination that struck me 20 years ago as I contemplated on His “Eli Eli Lama Sabakhtani?” was that He decided not to come down from that grotesque cross because He remembered my name.  I felt it at that time and even now, that on that wretched cross Jesus looked very intently and softly, full of love yet firm, at me saying: “I love you.”  That imagination is stuck with me forever.  I believe He also remembered each and every one of your name.  He looked at you intently and softly, full of love yet firm, saying: “I love you.”
            Brothers and sisters, Christmas is coming for us this year in two days.  The world has anticipated Christmas with all the joyful noise, profitable business, and holiday specials.  The world offers us a very different Christmas.  That is a Christmas without Christ.  But Jesus Christ Himself, who is at the very center of Christmas, offers you and me Christmas with Him who chose to be born in a smelly barn, and chose to live a life of suffering, and chose to die on the cross to save us from the eternal punishment in hell.  This is the true Christmas Jesus Christ, The Word became flesh, offers to us.  Will you prepare your entire being to anticipate the Christmas with Christ?