Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Law and Grace

Law And Grace
Balai Baptist Damansara Utama Church


The book of Deuteronomy is a good book for us to understand the relationship between Law and Grace.

In many ways the book is the last will and testament of Moses. Deuteronomy presents Moses, standing on the Plains of Moab, east of the River Jordan. Across the river, on the west, lies the Promised Land. After forty years wandering in the merciless desert, they were poised to enter the promised land.

With Israel assembled before him, Deuteronomy is Moses’ farewell address to the people of Israel. His last sermon. When he completes it, he will leave his pulpit on the plains, climb a mountain, and die."

The key issue confronting Moses on the eve of Israel’s entry into the promised land:

How should Moses prepare them to remain faithful, holy and committed to the Lord their God ?

By emphasising Law or Grace?

Should Moses be stern and says: obey and be blessed. Disobey and be cursed. (Dt 27,28)

Or should Moses say with the Psalmist
: the Lord your God is a merciful God, Ps 103
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
Israel left Egypt, a disorganised, motley collection of tribes. Marked and shaped, by almost 400 years’ experience of slavery. But now their nomadic way of life was about to end. Shortly they will settle in a land flowing with milk and honey. A special land. “… a land the LORD your God cares for; the eyes of the LORD your God are continually on it from the beginning of the year to its end.” (Dt 11.12)

But the land can also be a snare and a temptation to Israel.

10 “The Lord your God will soon bring you into the land he swore to give you when he made a vow to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is a land with large, prosperous cities that you did not build. 11 The houses will be richly stocked with goods you did not produce. You will draw water from cisterns you did not dig, and you will eat from vineyards and olive trees you did not plant. When you have eaten your fill in this land, 12 be careful not to forget the Lord, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. 13 You must fear the Lord your God and serve him. When you take an oath, you must use only his name.

They will be exposed to cultures that are alien at best and antagonistic at worst to their faith.

They will have access to new religions and new gods!

14 “You must not worship any of the gods of neighbouring nations, 15 for the Lord your God, who lives among you, is a jealous God.

These are not primitive, stone age, crude civilisations, Israel will be rubbing shoulders with the Canaanites, the Philistines, the Moabites, the Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians, and others. Palestine is the land bridge that connects all these diverse cultures.

Eugene Peterson in his book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, makes the point that these religions “were colourful and exciting, a three-ring circus of gods and goddesses, accompanied by sideshows promising the latest in underworld wonders and heavenly mysteries. Something for everybody. Israel’s belief and worship was dull compared to the Technicolor extravaganzas put on by their neighbours.”

Pagan, sensuous, idolatrous religions threaten at every nook and corner to tempt and distract them.

Hence we can appreciate Moses great challenge, there on the Plains of Moab, on the eve of Israel’s entry into the promised land:

The tension faced by Moses is the tension faced by Christians today:
At the end of the day which do we emphasise: Law Grace?

We have been born again. We have experienced God’s grace, repented of our sins, had a mountain top experience. We are down back to normal, hum drum, routine living.

Traffic jams. Office politics. Annoying neighbour. Unbearable mother. Lustful urges. Addictions – drugs, porn, computer games. Struggle with anger and bad temper. Battles with QT. To go or not to go to church for prayer meetings.

How do I prepare myself to remain faithful, holy and committed to the Lord their God? Not only today, but in the days, weeks, months and years ahead?

By emphasising Law or Grace?

Folks in Singapore had been telling me that they are losing their second generation. Their children are bored in SS. Youth meetings are getting smaller and smaller. They SMS one another, play games on their mobile phones, go to the toilet and never come back during services.

We grieve, realising that if we are unable to pass on our Christian heritage, if we fail in this area, it doesn’t matter how successful we are in other areas.

How do I prepare our children, the second generation to remain faithful, holy and committed to the Lord their God? Not only today, but in the days, weeks, months and years ahead?

In fact, how do we prepare the ordinary members of our church?

By emphasising Law or Grace?

Think about 9/11, London bombings, or Madrid bombings – in light of such cruelty, shouldn’t we demand God for justice?

Or should we say, ‘Lord, in your mercy remember them, for they know not what they do?

In these contexts should we emphasise Law or Grace?

The basics: The Ten Commandment. Law

Moses began by going over the basics with the people of Israel, just as he did forty years ago at Sinai. He reminded them again of the Ten Commandments.

In the NT we find the apostle John, the apostle of love agreeing with Moses. In 1 John 2 we read:

3And how can we be sure that we belong to him? By obeying his commandments. 4If someone says, "I belong to God," but doesn't obey God's commandments, that person is a liar and does not live in the truth. 5But those who obey God's word really do love him. That is the way to know whether or not we live in him. 6Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.

Law is important. We cannot live safely and meaningfully in community unless there are laws to protect us, to set down boundaries and parameters. More importantly laws are important to create, sustain and nurture a community that is free, loving and just.

Name of God

The first four commandments defined Israel as a community that is God centred, not man centred. The primary question that Israel asked is not:

“Why are my needs not met?”

Rather it is:

“How may I honour and glorify you.”
“Thy Will be done”.

The posture of the Israelites is one of submission, faith and rest in the will of God.

The last four commandments sets the parameters for proper, ethical, honourable, human relationships to take place.

Honour father and mother – command to honour parents anchors the commands to honour God in the specifics of everyday life. Life with others takes place in the conditions that are given to us, not conditions that we choose. And nothing is more unconditionally given than parents.
You shall not murder
Neither shall you commit adultery
Nether shall you steal
Neither shall you bear false witness

But the downside is :

i. Legalism

Most of the first converts and early leaders in the church were Jewish Christians who proclaimed Jesus as their Messiah. As Jewish Christians, they struggled with a dual identity: Their Jewishness constrained them to be strict followers of the law; their newfound faith in Christ invited them to celebrate a holy liberty. They wondered how Gentiles (non-Jews) could be part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
This controversy tore the early church. Judaizers—an extremist Jewish faction within the church—taught that Gentile Christians had to submit to Jewish laws and traditions in addition to believing in Christ. As a missionary to the Gentiles, Paul had to confront this issue many times.
See Acts CHAPTER 15 The Council at Jerusalem 1 While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers*: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question.

Galatians was written, therefore, to refute the Judaizers and to call believers back to the pure gospel. The Good News is for all people—Jews and Gentiles alike. Salvation is by God’s grace through faith in Christ Jesus and nothing else.
Faith in Christ means true freedom.

We are familiar with legalism – PAS :
• Compulsory fasting
• Emphasis on forms – wearing of the ‘tudung’
• Moral police and punishment for ‘khalwat’.
• You must, you ought to, you should ….

Legalism has a deadly twin – self-righteousness
• Prayer meetings, mid week bible studies (though means of grace are important)
• Daily reading of the bible – read through the bible three times a year
• Involved in ministry
• Simple lifestyle
• Perfect kids, straight ‘As’, professionals, leaders in church and society, teachers’ pets, all of them.

ii. More concerned with forensics, rather than relationships

With ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’, ‘oughts’, and ‘musts’ than relationships.
Obedient son may not be a loving son
But a loving son will (ultimately) be a loving son

The difference between a loving mother and professionally paid caregiver
What a man who is in love not do for his beloved?

ii. Legal loop hole

A case in point: Divorce
No divorce except for adultery.
If I divorce and remarry, technically it is adultery anyway – so I have ‘grounds’ for divorce and if I follow that with confession and repentance – I can remarry!

As for personal besetting sins – well there is the promise and assurance of 1 John 1.9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

The Creed –the basis for the Ten Commandments

To mitigate the downside of emphasising the Law, Moses did not just remind them of the Ten Commandments, he went on to give Israel's creed – their beliefs and understanding about God. This is the single most important teaching of Moses in the whole of Deuteronomy.

Dt 6. 4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.*

This is the first words, any Jewish baby hears.
This teaching has kept the Jewish race unique, separated and distinct through three thousand years of extremely turbulent history.

The creed answers the question: why would you want to obey, to observe, to practice the Ten Commandments.

He is the Lord who delivered Israel out of slavery. The Lord your God is one God – Decalogue reflects God’s character. His justice.

In summary, theology must under gird all that we do. We must have sound reasons to do what we do. Not mere blind obedience.

However Law alone can never help us to be faithful, to be obedient, to be committed to the Lord. Law in and of itself, useful, important, needful as it is cannot prevent us from failures. When we fail, law cannot pick us up, redeem us nor reconcile us. It can only condemn. That is its function.

The scrupulous among us would know that it is impossible to keep all the laws, all the time. Further there is the sin not only of commission, but of omission. We fail to do the good we ought to do.

So law alone, important, necessary though it is, is unsatisfactory.

Moses knew this – knew that as soon as the people of Israel entered Canaan, all that he worked for in leading, training and praying for his people would unravel. They would disobey, be faithless, be idolatrous.

So, lastly Moses gave the people of Israel, the motivation for the Ten Commandments: Love. In the hope that a remnant will always remain faithful, obedient and committed to the Lord.

A life of love
6.5 love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your might.

Not just rightness of our beliefs
nor just the obedience of our lives
or correctness of our behaviours

Love exists only in the context of relationship. Not forensics, not dos and don’ts, oughts and musts. More importantly :

Love is a response of grace and to grace.

The prodigal son, LK 15
11Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them.
13"Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17"When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' 20So he got up and went to his father.
"But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.
21"The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.[b]'
22"But the father said to his servants, 'Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let's have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.' So they began to celebrate.

The murderer crucified with Christ
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!"
40But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong."
42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.[f]"
43Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Jesus and the woman caught in adultery
John 810 The prostitute Mary to whom our Lord say, “ do no one condemn you? 0Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?"
11"No one, sir," she said.
"Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of sin."
Mary’s response in Jn 12:

1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages.[b]" 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. 7"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. " It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."

Modern day parallels:

• Drug addict, criminals, murderers, terrorists of all shades, stripes, ethnic and religious persuasions
• We ourselves : we covet, we gossip, we judge, we lose our tempers, we are lazy, jealous, harbour unclean and unkind thoughts and …..who knows what other rats, cockroaches and other unclean things dwell in the dark corners of the cellars and basements of our lives?

Unconditional love is prompted, sustained, practiced through grace.

Hence it is not surprising that in answer to the Pharisees’ question as to which is the most important commandment, the fulfilling of which fulfils all other commands, Jesus quoted Dt 6.5

Cf. Mk 12.28-30
28One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the discussion. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29Jesus replied, "The most important commandment is this: `Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength’. 31The second is equally important: `Love your neighbor as yourself.' No other commandment is greater than these."

And the command to love worked. Throughout the history of Israel, right up to the coming of Jesus, there remained a remnant who has remained faithful, obedient and committed to the Lord.

We read of Rahab, King Josiah, the prophets, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel.
We read of Mary, Zechariah, Elizabeth, Simeon, Anna, the apostles, Peter, Paul, James…..Corrie ten Boom; Martyn Lloyd Jones, Billy Graham, John Stott……


What is the relationship between law and grace?

By grace, God loves us unconditionally. In response we will love as we have been loved, forgive as we have been forgiven. In obedience to the commandments of the Lord.

We see clearly therefore that love is the link between law and grace

Love is a response of grace and to grace. And because we have experienced love and grace relationally, we want to obey, we want to be faithful, we want to carry out and practice the biblical commands.

Challenge for us today:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength

What is keeping you from doing do?

Importance of watch night service

rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6


The purpose of the Watch night Service

It is our tradition to have a watch night service and to share our testimonies. What should we share about? The answer to this question is resolved when we think about the main purpose of having our watch night service. I can think of 3 main reasons:

1) It is a time of thanksgiving. That is what the testimonies that we are going to share is about isn't it? We wish to testify of God's goodness to us, his grace, his protection, his blessings and his mercy. In the watch night services of the past that was the main agenda. To affirm the important biblical teaching of Romans 8:28, that in all things God is working for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

But it should be more than just giving testimonies. For hearing our testimonies, can give the impression that God's presence/involvement in our lives is sporadic, random and ad hoc. Only in times of trouble and crisis does God come to our aid.

It may also give the impression that when Christians suffer trials, struggles, defeat, tragedy that God is absent. Or if our lives in 2005 was hum drum, routine, nothing to shout about that God has essentially adopted a hand's off approach to our lives, letting us run our lives the way we want to.

2) I think that it is therefore important in our watch night service apart from giving testimonies of God's extraordinary goodness to us in 2005, to affirm another important biblical truth. Found in Phil 1:16 That "he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus". It is to establish the fact that our sovereign God who is also our heavenly Father is personally, intimately, continually and actively at work in our lives all the time! As we review 2005, we should be able to look back and identify God's presence, God's footprints as it were and find that God is always doing something in our lives, that His active grace is constantly shaping us to mature salvation (Phil 1:6). Transforming us after Christ's likeness. (2 Cor 3:18)

So we should also share the moments in 2005 when awareness of God broke through the "crust of our routines - a burst of praise, after experiencing much boredom in worship (stagnation, self-absorption,..) a pang of guilt, resulting in glorious liberation and freedom, an episode of doubt”, In short we share the lessons, that God is teaching us in 2005, lessons that we may still be learning. We share what are the challenges that God is giving us, the changes that he is demanding of us.

We may be called in 2005 to dwell in the valley, (i.e. to suffer, to endure trials and sufferings) and to continue to do so in 2005 with no relief in sight. If so we want you to also share, so that you can be strengthened by the prayers and companionship of the members here, so that you do not need to dwell in the valley all alone, by yourselves.

3) Lastly, it ought to be a time of personal and congregational confession of sins, of repentance and covenant renewal. To acknowledge that God has remained faithful, although we have been faithless many times. To affirm the fact that God had never left us or forsaken us. In response to say with Joshua of old in Joshua 24:15 But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Christmas Meditation 2005: The Virgin Birth

The Virgin Birth

Richard Longenecker, noted NT scholar made this intriguing comment:

“Even without taking high-school biology, Joseph knew where babies come from. Yet he believed Mary’s story”

Should we?

Why shouldn’t we?

United Methodist Bishop Joseph Sprague, who denies the Virgin Birth, Christ's divinity, the Atonement, and the Resurrection, has been charged with heresy—and acquitted!

It is easy to understand why the Bishop was acquitted.

Surely no thinking, reasonable, 21st century person will believe such myths. After all how many of you still believe in Santa Claus, or The Easter Bunny? How many of you still believe that storks still deliver babies to families through the chimney?

The natural assumption had to be this:

Mary had a child out of wedlock.

She had an illegitimate baby.

Telling everybody she was a virgin must be a spin on something that has gone wrong terribly.

After all come on! Whoever heard of a virgin giving birth to a baby?

Isn’t it reasonable for the Jews, Joseph and Mary’s neighbours to doubt?

How does Luke and the bible deal with such questions and doubts among us then and today?

The bible if we study it carefully does not give dogmatic replies like the ones below:

"Why believe in the Virgin Birth?"

"Because the bible say so. Do not question the bible. Just believe whatever it says and proclaims!"

Instead, what the bible teaches, what it proclaims, what it asserts still require faith, but it is reasonable faith.

Allow me to elaborate why it is reasonable to believe in the Virgin Birth.

To do that we need to look back at four previous impossible births recorded in scriptures:

1. Abraham and Sarah and Issac

Gen 1127The name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. (Milcah and her sister Iscah were daughters of Nahor’s brother Haran.) 30 But Sarai was unable to become pregnant and had no children.

Gen 1715 Then God said to Abraham, “Regarding Sarai, your wife—her name will no longer be Sarai. From now on her name will be Sarah. 16 And I will bless her and give you a son from her! Yes, I will bless her richly, and she will become the mother of many nations. Kings of nations will be among her descendants.”

17 Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief. “How could I become a father at the age of 100?” he thought. “And how can Sarah have a baby when she is ninety years old?” (This is impossible. How can this be?)18 So Abraham said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!”19 But God replied, “No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you. You will name him Isaac,* and I will confirm my covenant with him and his descendants as an everlasting covenant.

2. Rachel and Jacob

Gen 301 When Rachel saw that she wasn’t having any children for Jacob, she became jealous of her sister. She pleaded with Jacob, “Give me children, or I’ll die!”2 Then Jacob became furious with Rachel. “Am I God?” he asked. “He’s the one who has kept you from having children!” (This is impossible for me to accomplish)

22Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by enabling her to have children. 23 She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. “God has removed my disgrace,” she said. 24 And she named him Joseph, for she said, “May the Lord add yet another son to my family.”

3. Manoah, his unnamed wife and the birth of Samson

Judges 131 Again the Israelites did evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord handed them over to the Philistines, who oppressed them for forty years.2 In those days a man named Manoah from the tribe of Dan lived in the town of Zorah. His wife was unable to become pregnant, and they had no children. 3 The angel of the Lord appeared to Manoah’s wife and said, “Even though you have been unable to have children, you will soon become pregnant and give birth to a son.

4. Elkanah and Hannah and Samuel

1 Sam 12 Elkanah had two wives, Hannah and Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah did not….10 Hannah was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord. 11 And she made this vow: “O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, if you will look upon my sorrow and answer my prayer and give me a son, then I will give him back to you. He will be yours for his entire lifetime, and as a sign that he has been dedicated to the Lord, his hair will never be cut.”12 As she was praying to the Lord, Eli watched her. 13 Seeing her lips moving but hearing no sound, he thought she had been drinking. 14 “Must you come here drunk?” he demanded. “Throw away your wine!”15 “Oh no, sir!” she replied. “I haven’t been drinking wine or anything stronger. But I am very discouraged, and I was pouring out my heart to the Lord. 16 Don’t think I am a wicked woman! For I have been praying out of great anguish and sorrow.”17 “In that case,” Eli said, “go in peace! May the God of Israel grant the request you have asked of him.”18 “Oh, thank you, sir!” she exclaimed. Then she went back and began to eat again, and she was no longer sad. Samuel’s Birth and Dedication19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,* for she said, “I asked the Lord for him

5. Elizabeth, Zechariah and John the Baptist

Lk 15 When Herod was king of Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah. He was a member of the priestly order of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was also from the priestly line of Aaron. 6 Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all of the Lord’s commandments and regulations. 7 They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old.8 One day Zechariah was serving God in the Temple, for his order was on duty that week. 9 As was the custom of the priests, he was chosen by lot to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and burn incense. 10 While the incense was being burned, a great crowd stood outside, praying.11 While Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing to the right of the incense altar. 12 Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed with fear when he saw him. 13 But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you are to name him John. 14 You will have great joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, 15 for he will be great in the eyes of the Lord. He must never touch wine or other alcoholic drinks. He will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even before his birth.16 And he will turn many Israelites to the Lord their God. 17 He will be a man with the spirit and power of Elijah. He will prepare the people for the coming of the Lord. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children,* and he will cause those who are rebellious to accept the wisdom of the godly.”18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure this will happen? I’m an old man now, and my wife is also well along in years.”

(This is impossible. How can this be?)19 Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel! I stand in the very presence of God. It was he who sent me to bring you this good news! 20 But now, since you didn’t believe what I said, you will be silent and unable to speak until the child is born. For my words will certainly be fulfilled at the proper time.”

The angel Gabriel struck Zechariah deaf and dumb[1]. Being deaf and dumb cuts us off from community, from relationships, from social events. Cocooned in a portable cell of silence for nine months, Zechariah had much time to think, to meditate to pray. When he next opened up his mouth to speak, Luke tells us, “ he was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied[2].

Lk 1.34 Mary asked the angel, “But how can this happen? I am a virgin.”

(This is impossible. How can this be?) 35 The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36 What’s more, your relative Elizabeth has become pregnant in her old age! People used to say she was barren, but she’s now in her sixth month. 37 For nothing is impossible with God.*”

Eugene Peterson observed that “The work of God in the conception and birth of Jesus through Mary is continuous with these five previous “impossible births, but it is also different. In the mothers ranging from Sarah to Elizabeth, a barren womb was the impossible condition to overcome. But in Mary the impossible condition is virginity.”

These five birth stories take the so called natural processes of reproduction, conception, pregnancy, and birth, and reveal God working in impossible conditions, barrenness and virginity, to bring forth life.

Luke deliberating put the birth of John the Baptist and that of Jesus’ so close together, with the two stories in so many ways a parallel to one another – to help us finally draw the conclusion that nothing is impossible with God (Lk 1.37)

Hence it is not unreasonable for godly Jews, including Joseph and Mary’s neighbours to believe in the Virgin Birth.

Important lessons from the Virgin Birth:

  • It was completely the initiative of God – at a time of his choosing, he appointed a godly woman and choose her to give birth to a saviour, who is none other than the Son of God- here there is no yearning for or expectation of a child. Conception and birth for Mary is the surprise of creation ( Peterson, p 56)
  • the doctrine of the Virgin Birth completely excludes the role of man in the procreation of the incarnate Christ, a sign of God's judgment against all efforts to achieve salvation by human initiative and self-actualization. (Longenecker) If you look the pivotal moments in the life of Jesus – birth, death, resurrection – there is nothing that we can do, or take credit for. It is done for us. We can play no part in the birth of Jesus. Neither could we die in Jesus’ place – it is a death, a sacrifice that only a sinless, perfect man could give. It is beyond our power to raise the dead to life.
  • that God's great gift to humanity is given entirely by grace. In becoming flesh, God did not delegate. He did not send a surrogate. He came himself.
  • Nothing is impossible with God. As an old OMF saint once shared. If we are assured that what we do is of the Lord, things will seemed impossible at first. Later it would seemed difficult. Finally it would be done!

What should be our response.

Let Mary’s response be a model for all true Christians. As Luther put it, the greatest miracle was not that Mary conceived, but that she believed.

She said ‘yes’ to God.

"Let it be unto me according to thy word,"

Thus anticipating that of her Son in Gethsemane, "Not my will, but Thine be done."

In so doing she is saying ‘no’ to herself.

What did she long for as a young woman?

A man to woo her, to love her, to have children and to build a home with.

Now, pregnant, unmarried, a virgin, she is saying goodbye to all her dreams.

What is it that you have trouble saying ‘no’ to this morning?

Remember this is what is preventing you from saying ‘yes’ to God this morning.

  • Non Christian boyfriend or girlfriend?
  • Unwilling to let go resentment, give up our rights
  • Inner life – thought life, habits, relationships,
  • Jealousy, envy, covetousness, anger, bitterness
  • Laziness, lack of discipline
  • Indulging in what we want to do instead of what we ought to do
  • self righteousness – I am so right and you are so wrong
  • self deception
  • the list goes on. What is God saying to you now, today?

But it is also:

Saying yes, to the shepherd who is willing to fend off lions, the bear and the wolf

Saying yes to the shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for us

Saying yes to the shepherd who for us and never against us

Saying ‘yes’ to life and life in all its abundance, richness and fullness.

Saying ‘yes’ to a saviour for which ‘nothing is impossible’.

Do you believe this?

Remember. In order to say ‘yes’ to all this, we must be able and willing to say ‘no’.

When we are willing to say ‘no’, then all the yes that are in Christ are ours!

Isn’t that glorious?

Would you be willing to do that today?

[1] Lk 1.62 So they asked (Zechariah), communicating to him by making gestures

[2] Lk 1. 67-80, the Benedictus, One of three great prayers in Lk. The other is the Magnificat (Canticle of Mary) and the third is ‘Nunc dimittis’, "Now thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord", the prayer of Simeon.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Snippets from our book "Can Two Walk Together"

Snow and Winter
I have heard of people’s worlds turning upside down overnight.
Those were other people’s stories, not mine. Then one day it
happened. I fell ill and went to consult our doctor. He found a lump
in my throat. He was very worried and suggested I went for a laser
scan. He told us that it could be cancer. He said if it was cancer, I’d
probably have six months to live. They needed two weeks to get back
to us with the blood test result.

The waiting period between life and death dragged on. I grieved
that I might have to lose Tony and Lukas. Tony could take care of
himself but Lukas, who was only two then, had a whole life ahead
of Him – a big part of which I might have to miss. For the first
time in my life, I was jealous of the elderly. “Dear Lord, I know
You have plans for me and I shouldn’t be ungrateful for my life so
far. But please, let me live long enough to see my young son grow
up!” I selfishly bargained with God. I then began cross-stitching a
bookmark for Lukas with his name on in. It was a desperate attempt
to leave something behind, just in case.

“What would you do if you had only six months to live?” a
speaker back home in Malaysia had asked a few years ago. Such a
question never fails to incredibly clear our cluttered minds. “What
would matter most?” he continued. “Would you still go on doing
what you are doing?” he pressed further. I had time to seriously think
through those searching questions. I realised I didn’t need to make
any changes. Everything was what it should be. Jesus had indeed led
me all the way.

Some days I went about my chores and had things done. Some
nights I just sat on the sofa and cried until Tony came home from

It finally snowed in February. I waited all December. As it neared
Christmas, my eagerness and impatience for a snowfall grew
greater. I had never experienced a white Christmas. But throughout
December and January, the ground remained barren and bare.
The tree branches bore no weight of white. The night skies had
no reflected glow from the snow to light them up. Instead, night
after night, it rained. The streets glistened icy and slippery under the
city lights. I felt cheated. Snow and winter go together. Without it,
winter is just cold, damp and dark, like the inside of a tomb.

Death was on my mind. My wife, my companion of seven years,
twin to my soul, mother of my two-year-old son, may have cancer.
The “C” word chilled me. I feared I would never be warm again.
It was a routine visit to the doctor. Dr Eng, a specialist in thyroid
cancer, noticed a lump in Teresa’s throat. He looked worried.
“I would like you to have that lump checked, Teresa.” It sounded
like a death sentence to us.

The snow had covered our neighbourhood. From our basement
suite’s window, we saw the lawn covered with a pure, pristine layer
of snow. It was unmarked as yet with footsteps.
Teresa was sitting with me on our sofa looking out the window.
Suddenly she said, “I am going out.” She put on her winter coat
and set out into the cold. Outside, she stamped all over the lawn
– turning everything into mush.

I looked at her from where I sat. My wife. So different from me.
I would have liked to keep the lawn untouched. And appreciate it
from the comfort of a warm, cosy room. Teresa liked to be in the
thick of the action. Wherever she went, laughter and life followed.
She’s so unlike me. Soon, she may be gone. But I will not forget her,
ever. This scene of Teresa messing up the snow will be with me all
the days of my life.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Poem By George MacDonald

Where did you come from, baby dear?

Our of the everywhere into the here

Where did you get those arms and hands?

Love made itself into bonds and bands

Feet, where did you come from, you darling things?

From the same box as the cherub’s wings

How did they all just come to be you?

God thought about me and so I grew

But how did you come to us, you dear?

God thought about you and so I am here!

George MacDonald

I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of Him

1 Samuel 1:27

This delightful poem by George MacDonald reminds us that every baby is a gift from God. Sometimes we mistakenly think that only babies born to barren women are gifts from God. Not so. Eugene Peterson argues that "Birth, any birth, is our primary access to the creation work of God. (In particular), Jesus' virgin birth provides and maintains the foucs that God himself is personally present and totally participant in creation.."

Peterson goes on to say, " God is the Creator andhis most encompasing creation is human life, a baby. We, as participants in creation, do it too. When we begat and conceive, give birth to and raise babies, we are in on the heart of creation..."

This Christmas as we meditate on the birth of Jesus, may we pause and give thanks, not only to God as Saviour but as Creator too.