Monday, February 17, 2014

Jesus - A Picture of Grace

It is interesting that John, the Gospel writer, chose to sandwich the trial of Jesus (John 18:19-24) between Peter’s first and subsequent denials of Jesus. So, even as Jesus appeared before Annas the High Priest, Peter had already denied him. Before that, in the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas had already betrayed Jesus, despite having been Jesus’ close companion for three years. Even as Jesus was arrested, all his disciples ran away. After investing three years of his life in them, Jesus finds none of his followers faithful to him. There he was the most powerful person in creation and yet here he had no support. What aggravated the situation even more was the fact that he was being tried on unjust charges. What would you and I do if we in Jesus’ unfair position? When life is not fair, we do everything in our power to make it fair for us. At that moment, Jesus could have showed his power and called down ten legions of angels to defend himself but he did not. If he had defended himself, we will have to agree that he was justified in doing so. However, had he done so, we would still be lost in our sins.  If he did not shed his blood on the cross, salvation would still be out of our reach and we would still face an eternity in Hell.

What we have here is a wonderful picture of the kind of grace and mercy that God extends to us sinners. Although Jesus was equal to God the father, he did not cling to his rights to defend himself from humiliation, shame and death. Instead, he willingly embraced his destiny because only then could all of us be reconciled with God. One commentator described love as a whole-hearted commitment to the other person’s welfare and well-being. I am sure many people have met a guy or girl who made them feel all warm and nice as they keep each other company. But what we see is that, to Jesus, love was more than a fuzzy-wuzzy warm feeling kindling in one’s heart.  It was a commitment to ensure that we would go to Heaven whatever it cost him to ensure that. The world says “love your neighbours but hate your enemies” but Jesus says, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).  The world says “do to others what they do to you”.  So, if others hurt us it is justified for us to hurt them back. However, Jesus says “do unto others what you want them to do to you.” So if we want to be loved, we must go out and love others first. If we want people to forgive us, let us learn to forgive others first.  That is why, in the Bible, we will find many instances where it teaches us, “do not be overcome by evil, instead overcome evil with good” (Rom 12:21), “do not repay evil for evil and insult for insult, but with blessing…” (1 Pet 3:9). Jesus did not just teach these things to his disciples and ordered them to follow his teachings, as the world often does. Instead, he lived out his teachings as John 18 shows us.

Therefore, the question posed to us is how much are we like our Master, who gave his life for us? Do we love only those who love us? Do we care for the well-being of only those important to us? Do we only forgive those who we deem ‘worthy’ of our forgiveness? Or do we want to be like Jesus, extending grace and mercy to all who come across our path.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

A New Hope


In my childhood, on the days leading to Chinese New Year, there were long queues at the bank for new dollar notes for hongbaos. Department stores were crowded by people buying new pillows, new sheets, etc. The house would be cleaned thoroughly - every piece of furniture, every corner, door, window etc. Many re-painted their house to coincide with Chinese New Year. People would bring their children to buy new clothes and get a haircut. There would be a rush for CNY goodies and bakkwa at the last minute. That is a lot of things to do in such a short time. Is it also your experience?

The tradition of Chinese New Year is the old has gone, the new has come. So we give new money, we wear new clothes and we want the house to look new. It is a celebration of newness. Thus, I understand the need for last minute shopping. Things bought at the last minute are still new in the New Year. The last-minute shopping displays the willingness to get ready for the arrival of the New Year. The emphasis on newness is embraced and celebrated with the newness that it brings. So, we need not think negatively of people who do last-minute shopping.

Children are usually excited by the newness surrounding them. The idea of newness should excite us too. “Then I saw a NEW heaven and NEW earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea”, Rev 21:1. At the end of the Bible in Revelation, John the Apostle gives us a vision of the final stage of God’s redemption plan. We are promised a hope of newness. This should make us excited and restless for the coming of this newness that will be eternal.

In the first 20 chapters of Revelation, John uses dramatic symbols to show God’s judgments on creation, the war between the satanic forces and God’s people and the final defeat of Satan. John then closes with the final judgment where everything that is not of God is thrown into the lake of fire. If the Bible ended here at Rev 20, God’s people would face a dreary existence. Much of creation would still be devastated. However, as we turn to Rev 21-22, we see John describing the glorious inheritance awaiting all of God’s people. For the Christian, judgment day is past since Jesus took the judgment we deserved. Instead, at the end of history, words of blessing await us - ‘Well done good and faithful servant’, ‘Let the little children come to me’, ‘Nothing can separate you from my love’, etc. A new creation will replace the present heaven and earth. The word ‘new’ means unworn, unused, fresh, original, etc. God is making all things new because he wants all things new, the best, for his children. Isn’t that the same with you? If you had something new to use or wear, would you want to go back and pick some old clothes to wear?

The Bible describes the Christian as a ‘new creation’. This newness is a miracle wrought by God. At the beginning of this Chinese New Year, let us continue to embrace this newness as we continue our journey of faith together. Let me close by wishing all of you XinNianMengEn, AiZuGengShen. May the blessing of this new life given to you by our Lord Jesus bring a deepening of your love for him.