1 August 2015

The Ark of the Covenant

(Gospel e-Letter - August 2015)

The Ark of the Covenant was Israel’s most sacred religious article. It was a gold-covered wooden box containing the stone tablets of the Law (Deut 10:1-5). The lid, over which were mounted two golden cherubims, was the symbolic throne of God. It was known as the mercy seat (Exodus 25:10-22). The ark was kept in the inner chamber of the tabernacle (and later in the temple), the Holy of Holies. The ark symbolized God’s presence among his covenant people.

The original ark has long been lost; more importantly the old covenant has been replaced by the new, which is much better. It all began with the angel’s annunciation to a virgin Israelite woman, Mary. The child that was conceived in her by the power of the Holy Spirit was the Son of God. For this reason some Church Fathers refer to Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

When Mary gave birth to Jesus the people of Israel had the great privilege of having the Lord living among them. He was truly their Emanuel, ‘God with us’. Some Church Fathers also call Mary the ‘tabernacle’ of God, but the New Testament points to Jesus as the tabernacle. The apostle John writes that ‘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’ (John 1:14). The word translated ‘dwelt’ is the verbal form of ‘tabernacle’ – so we can say that the Word “tabernacled” among us!

What about our present time? Where is God’s presence among his people today, now that the Son has ascended into heaven? Jesus told his disciples that after he departure he will send the Holy Spirit. The promise was fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. The people of God, the church, is the holy temple where God dwells by the Holy Spirit. God is present with us, especially in the assembly of the church.

Even so, this age will come to its consummation at the return of the Lord Jesus Christ when he will gather his people and takes them to the very presence of God in heaven. That is the ultimate hope of all Christians.

The Ark teaches us how this hope can be fulfilled. While representing God’s presence with Israel, it also reminded them that sin was in the way. The people did not have free access to God’s presence. The Ark was kept in the Holy of holies, hidden behind the veil. Only the high priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement, to sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial animal on the Ark. The ritual showed that God’s wrath against sin can only be appeased by the death of a sacrificial victim. God could be merciful to sinners because someone else died in their place.

All this was a figure of Christ. He died on the cross, the just for the unjust, to bring us to God. He did not enter a temple made with hands, but into heaven itself, in the presence of God on the basis of the infinite merits of his blood. God’s wrath is appeased. The veil was torn from top to bottom. The way is now wide open! Through Christ we can receive mercy and forgiveness, and enjoy communion with the Father now and for eternity.

1 July 2015

Christ Died for Us

(Gospel e-Letter - July 2015)

An evangelistic tract reassures the reader (who is presumed to be unsaved) that “God loves you so much he gave his only begotten Son, Jesus, to bear your sin and die in your place.” A Bible verse is quoted to support that statement: “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Does this scripture prove the point? Can an unrepentant sinner say, “God loves me”, and ignore the fact that the Bible says that God hates all evildoers (Psalm 5:5)? Can the unbeliever say, “Since Christ died in my place to take away my sin, I am free from guilt and punishment”? Can he ignore Jesus’ warning that unbelievers die in their sins (John 8:21, 24)?

A proper understanding of this scripture shows that it does prove God’s amazing love to his people, sinful as they are, but it gives no comfort to the unrepentant and unbelieving sinner whatsoever. While it clearly teaches that Christ is the sin-bearer for his people, it does not teach the same regarding the lost. It is not even speaking about them. The lost, unless they repent and believe in Christ, will bear their sins upon their heads at death and after judgement they will spend eternity in Hell.

The Apostle Paul states that God made Christ “sin for us.” In context the word “us” refers to Paul, the writer, and the Christians in Corinth to whom the letter was originally addressed. Naturally, the same is applicable to all Christians. Therefore “us” must mean Christians, and it cannot be twisted to mean Christians and unbelievers.

God made Jesus “sin for us” is a profound summary statement of Christ’s redemptive work. He, the immaculate and sinless Son of God, became “sin” for our sake. Not that he became a sinner by nature or by practice. As the representative head of his people Jesus took upon himself the legal responsibility and punishment for their sins. He bore their sin and was sacrificed as a sin-offering to pay the full payment required by the Law of God. Thus God’s people are freed from sin because it was taken away by their Saviour. What a glorious truth revealed by God in this scripture!

Every one of us must ask in all seriousness, “Am I included in the ‘us’ of 2 Corinthians 5:21?” It is only when a sinner repents and believes on the Lord Jesus Christ that he can rejoice in God’s love and the substitutionary sacrifice of his beloved Son.

1 June 2015

God is Holy

(Gospel e-Letter - June 2015)

God is holy. The seraphims in heaven call to one another, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."  God is perfect, righteous, majestic, brilliant and marvelously beautiful. “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness” (Psalm 27:4; 29:2). God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).

When we gaze at the brilliance of God we cannot help but feel utterly miserable. We are weak, God is omnipotent; we are ignorant, God is omniscient; we are defiled, but God is perfectly pure and beautiful.

God manifests his holiness in all his works, as the Scripture declares, “Your ways, O God, are holy” (Psalm 27:2). God also reveals his holiness in his moral Law. “The law is holy and the commandment holy and just and good” (Rom 7:12). He commands all that is good and righteous and prohibits all evil.

Since God is holy, he abhors and detests all sin, as the Scripture says, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness” (Hab 1:13). God opposes sinners. “The perverse person is an abomination to the LORD.” Even “the thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 3:32; 15:26). Furthermore, God punishes sinners, “The LORD will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies” (Nahum 1:2).

The God of the Bible is not a human invention; man creates an indolent god that closes an eye to sin, who does not judge or punish anyone, or cast anyone in the fire of hell. But the Bible presents the true and living God, who hates those who do wrong, who is angry with the wicked every day (Psalm 5:5: 7:11).

Sinful man cannot clean himself to enter the holy presence of God. His only refuge is the Lord Jesus, the Holy Son of God. God’s children are accepted in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:16). He is their hiding place. It is only by the blood of Jesus that they find courage to enter into the Holiest, in the very presence of the holy God.

If we have repented and turned to Christ by faith we have the unspeakable priviledge of calling God “our Father.” Yet let us remember that since God is holy, we must always approach him with fear and a deep sense of adoration. The Bible commands us, “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is holy” (Psalm (99:5); and again, “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy” (Revelations 15:4).

Since God our Father is holy, we should make it our primary ambition to emulate him in holiness. The apostle Peter exhorts us, “Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15, 16).

1 May 2015

Faith: Active or Passive?

(Gospel e-Letter - May 2015)

Is faith an active or passive principle? Does faith rest or work? Does it receive or give? I think that faith could be both active and passive, depending on the particular circumstances.

Faith is an attitude of confidence, reliance and trust in another person. A patient lying on the operation table trusts the doctor if he does nothing and lets himself in the hands of the surgeon. Here faith is passive. Following surgery, the same patient will show trust in his physician only if he obeys his advice and takes the medicines as prescribed. Now faith is active.

To take another example, picture a poor beggar sitting on the sidewalk. A rich man stops in front of him, reaches in his pocket and hands out some money. The beggar shows trust in the generosity of this man by simply receiving the gift, without attempting to pay or earn it in any way. Here faith does not work, it simply receives.

But faith must work actively in other circumstance if it is genuine. Does an athlete really believe in his coach if he ignores his advice? Of course not! He trusts him only if he obeys his instructions and does what he is told!

The same applies in our relation to God. He finds us in abject spiritual poverty. The Bible describes God’s people as those “who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness” (Romans 5:17). The faith by which a person is justified does not attempt to work or earn righteousness (Romans 4:5); faith simply receives God’s precious gift!

But grace does more! God shows favour to his people by forgiving them freely and by taking them under his care to transform them into the image of his Son. He is their master, teacher and coach. By grace God “trains us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:12). Now faith cannot be passive! It listens to God and actively follows his commandments, it prays and struggles against temptations, and it eagerly performs good works to help others and please God. In the Christian life, faith is synonymous to obedience. What really matters is “faith working through love” (Gal 5:6).

Both aspects – passive and active – characterise genuine, saving faith. By faith a person rests on Christ and receives the gift of salvation for which he did not work. But works he never ceases to do for his faith in his Lord is real.

1 April 2015

I Thirst!

(Gospel e-Letter - April 2015)

The cry Jesus uttered from the cross briefly before he died, ‘I thirst!’ testifies to his true humanity. Jesus is the eternal Son of God, yet he also became human just like us, except for sin, and as a man he experienced suffering and pain.

He had not taken any drink for several hours; he was also exposed to the elements and bled from the wounds in his body as he hang on the cruel cross. No wonder he cried out, I thirst!

During his public ministry Jesus said, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become min him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13). What a paradox! He who promised to give living water to others now had parched lips; he who created the waters was now pleading for a drink!

His agony and thirst were necessary to obtain our redemption.
  • He humbled himself that he may lift us up with him to glory (Philippians 2:8).
  • He became poor that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9).
  • He became sin for us that we might become righteous in him (2 Corinthians 5:21).
  • He was cursed that we might be blessed (Galatians 3:13).
  • He experience darkness to bring us to light (Matthew 27:45).
  • He suffered thirst that we might receive the water of eternal life (John 19:28).
Yet even at this dark moment of suffering and humilation, we behold a ray of glory. When Jesus expressed his thirst, the Roman soldiers brought him some vinegar to drink. Unwittingly they were fulfilling a messianic prophecy. ‘My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaw (Palm 22:15); and again, ‘for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink’ (Psalm 69:22).

The fulfillment of this prophecy, as well as many others, testify that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah promised by God in the Holy Scriptures. Jesus is truly the Son of God, the Saviour of the World.

He who once suffered thirst is now in heaven and he pours showers of blessings and grace on all who believe in him. “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:37, 38).

If your life is dry and empty, come to Jesus. He will give you the Holy Spirit that you may know God and satisfy your soul with his love.