Wednesday, December 14, 2005
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 :
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?
rather than burnt offerings." Hosea 6:6
WHAT CAN WE SHARE ... ?
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.