Good Friday Reflections: A Thorny Crown

Each year, dictionaries will select a Word of the Year to describe the main trending issue of the year. For 2020, I am predicting that it might well be coronavirus, for obvious reasons.

More accurately, it is the novel coronavirus; or a new strain of a virus whose thorny crown-like spikes earned it the label corona or crown. It was later upgraded to a disease status, Covid-19, the COronaVIrus Disease which originated in 2019.

After the initial finger pointing, there is now a greater call for nations to co-operate. It is becoming clearer that no one nation can fight this battle on her own. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted and disrupted everyone and everything on a global scale.

As noble and needed as this sounds, this is where conspiracy theories abound. Who exactly is WHO (the World Health Organisation) representing? Whose interests are being promoted? Is the new normal going to take us one step closer to the New World Order? Will we see a One World Government established in our lifetime?

In whatever form, the general consensus is that we must stand united against this thorny crown. For humanity to be saved, this coronavirus must die.

Another Thorny Crown

Being Good Friday, I revisited the trial and crucifixion of Jesus through the gospel accounts this morning. This year, what stood out for me was the mocking and ridiculing of Jesus. Whilst this piece of information is not new to me, the identification of the groups of people who mocked Him caught my attention.

Facing the Sanhedrin, Jesus was spat at, beaten, slapped and struck by His own people, the Jews (Matt 26:67). At the trial by Pilate, Jesus was scourged, beaten and mocked by the Roman soldiers, the Gentiles (Matt 27:27-31). As if to cover all bases, Scripture records another mocking where Jesus was treated with utter contempt – by Herod and his men of war (Luke 23:6-12). Herod, as we know from his family line, was a mix of both Jew and Gentile.

To top it all off, adding insult to injury, mocking Jesus’ kingship claim, a crown of thorns was wedged onto His head (Matt 27:29). It seemed that since Jesus was disrupting everyone and everything, He must be decisively dealt with and promptly put away. To restore normalcy, to save humanity, this thorny issue of Jesus must die.

To demonstrate the agreement of this decision on a ‘global’ scale, each and every people group (nation) was represented through the above mocking and rejection accounts – the Jews, the Gentiles, and even those in between. All stood as one against Jesus.

The Real Thorny Issue

In much the same way, we suppose that once humanity works together, we will win the battle against Covid-19 and other similar ills. Through this crisis, a new humanity will emerge – or so we are being told.

To the unsuspecting, this humanistic narrative is not new and has been declared in both obvious and not-as-obvious ways across the decades. The underlying message is simply: We are all the same, regardless of race or religion. It doesn’t matter which god you worship or what you believe. Let’s not fight but unite. At the end of the day, no one can save humanity except humanity itself.

However, the battle is not simply against the coronavirus. Hey, I am all for curbing and eradicating Covid-19, and soon. Yet, even when that happens, it will only be a matter of time before another issue surfaces.

What the world regards as the main issue is only the manifestation of the real thorny issue – sin.

Through this crisis, humanity hopes to come together as one. Even if that should take place, in whatever form, if sin is not dealt with, that unity will still be a sinful one of global proportions (eeks!). And the last time I read the Bible, sin only results in death (Rom 6:23).

The One with the Thorny Crown

The mocking and rejection of Jesus was foretold by the prophet, Isaiah. In describing the Messiah, the coming King and Saviour, he wrote,

“He is despised and rejected by men;
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”

Isaiah 53:3

In the next verses, we learn that the Messiah’s rejection was for a specific purpose:

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

After the mocking came the crucifixion. On the Cross, Jesus took upon Himself “the iniquity of us all”; yes, all. The suffering and sacrifice of the Messiah (the Christ) were not just for the Jews. These were extended to the Gentiles and everyone else in between. Where the judgment for sin demanded death, Jesus died in place of everyone that whosoever would believe in Him will receive life.

Do not be deceived. Only Jesus can save from the devastation and destruction of sin and bring about a new humanity of eternal significance and promise. Any other attempt will fail. The world may seek to capitalise on the present crown-like virus for all to stand as one. But Christians know that it is only through faith in Jesus that we can all be truly one in Him.

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28

Conclusion

This Good Friday, though our hearts go out to the many who have suffered and are suffering in and through the Covid-19 pandemic, it is the vicarious suffering and death of Jesus Christ that we must not forget. As much as we are thankful for good government and practical measures in these times, our hope continues to be in God through the salvific work of Jesus upon the Cross.

Sure, read the news and be updated about the Covid-19 situation. But let us not allow this thorny crown-like virus to detract us from Jesus, the One who wore the thorny crown and bore the terrible Cross on our behalf.

Christmas Reflections: Did Jesus Ever Celebrate His Birthday?

Source: http://pixgood.com/happy-birthday-jesus-cake.html
Source: http://pixgood.com/happy-birthday-jesus-cake.html

“Did Jesus ever celebrate His birthday?”

I know this is a rather odd question but I beg your indulgence. It’s Christmas Day and I was reminded (again) that Jesus was not born on 25 December; and if one would engage in some clever detective work through the Scriptures, the astute student of the Word would know that it was sometime in September.

Sounds nice and revelatory, impressive even. But then, I can’t help but wonder, “You mean to say that the early church fathers and leaders did not know this at all?” Who did the calculations, who made the assumptions, and who approved 25 December? Oh right, the Bible as we know it today was not compiled yet. But were not the gospels in circulation already? And if Jesus’ birth was really in September, surely oral tradition would have attested to that. What’s more, could not Jesus’ family and relatives provide verification? Would not His disciples know their Master’s birthday, having spent three years with him? Surely, they must have cut at least one birthday cake with Him.

That prompted me to google, “How do Jews celebrate birthdays?” Since Jesus was a Jew, this would be the most natural place to start that I may have an idea of how important birthdays are to Jews and how they are celebrated.

To my surprise, this is what I found on http://www.ritualwell.org…

The Encyclopedia Judaica could not be more blunt: “The celebration of birthdays is unknown in traditional Jewish ritual.”

The tradition also holds that your birth alone is not as significant as the way you live your life. After all, King Solomon is thought to have said, “The day of death is better than the day of one’s birth (Ecclesiastes 7:1).

As a midrash explains, ‘When a person is born, it is not known what he will be like when grown and what his deeds will be whether righteous or wicked, good, or evil. When he dies, however, if he departs with a good name and leaves the world in peace, people should rejoice.” With that in mind, traditional communities are more likely to mark the anniversary of a revered leader’s death than his birth.

I stand guided and corrected (for I am no Jewish scholar) but if this is indeed accurate, then would it not be safe to assume that Jesus never celebrated His birthday in the way we are accustomed to in Western and secular influence? As I have learnt from Dr Michael Brown (askdrbrown.org), we need to see Jesus through Jewish lenses because Jesus was a Jew. We cannot and must not impose our own cultural biases on Him or the Scriptures (which is primarily a Jewish document).

Now, if Jesus did not celebrate His birthday, why do we make such a big hooha over it? Don’t get me wrong! I am thankful that God sent His Son, that Jesus was born (whichever month or day that was). Yet, consistent with Eccl 7:1 and the explanation of the midrash, it is the death of Jesus that is more significant than His birth. For if Jesus had not been obedient until the point of death, His birth – and I write this with utmost reverence and respect – would have meant much less. A wise man, a great teacher, a compassionate friend, a miracle worker He still would have been. But we would still be in our sins in dire need of the perfect Sacrifice and Saviour.

Perhaps that explains why I have been not been feeling very “Christmassy” of late. It could be a sign of age, or I’m just plain tired of all the hype and commercialism of the season. And no, I am not one of those who refuse to celebrate Christmas because it’s the wrong date or a pagan festival disguised in Christian garb. I just don’t think we should go overboard with this Christmas thingy.

But the Cross and death of Jesus Christ is totally different. I have always declared that every believer must have a fresh revelation of the Cross over and over again. Without His death, where would we be? Without His shed blood, our sins would only be covered but not washed away. Without His broken body, there would not have been a new and living way into the presence of God! Paul never wrote about Jesus’ birth but always gloried in His Cross and determined to preach Jesus and Him crucified. Yes, I would gladly mark and celebrate the death of Jesus Christ … more than His birth.

Thanks for reading this little Christmas reflection. For sure, Christmas, with all its traditions and inaccuracies, is here to stay; as will the fat man in the red suit and Christians who still insist on wearing his signature hat (Santa? No Santa?). And yes, I am still open and available to preach at Christmas services and outreaches.

Blessed Christmas!

Him We Preach

At a personal retreat in December 2012, I had a very strong leading to read Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. What was later impressed upon my heart was that this would be the book I am to hold on to throughout 2013. I’m still not certain if it meant for me to teach a Bible Study on this book, or to preach expositorily through this book. All I know is that three words stood out from Col 1:28 which would determine the focus of my preaching: “Him we preach”. Yes, the Lord made it very clear that I must preach Jesus. Not that I have not been doing that, but I believe the instruction [and reminder] was for me to keep doing that, without compromise, and never veer from preaching Jesus at all, nor to preach ‘another Jesus’ (2 Cor 11:4).

That was last year. Now, maybe I’m being a little over-sensitive but I can’t help but wonder if the Lord is trying to get my attention to remind me once again through a few articles these few days.

Take for example, “Sex Symbols Who Speak In Tongues” by Michael Brown (Charisma Magazine). Brown makes a valid observation that there are many today who profess faith in Jesus Christ but do not live holy lives. This, he attributes to the gospel of “self”.  Brown’s word to preachers?: “It’s time to say to say goodbye to this watered-down, sin-excusing, so-called gospel that offers everything and calls for nothing. It’s time to get back to the cross and back to the truth. Otherwise, as America collapses in a heap of amoral ruin, the soft preachers of America will be largely to blame.” (emphasis mine) Have Christians in Singapore bought into the gospel of “self” too? Perhaps not to such an extent as in America but we are certainly headed in that direction.

I was reminded of another article I read some time back, entitled “The Curse of Motivational Speaking” by Conrad Mbewe. The author observes, and accurately too, “Sadly, motivational speaking has become the staple diet of many evangelical pulpits. The message being heard is, “God has put the potential in you and all you need to do is believe in yourself to unlock that potential. Have a grand vision and live out that vision. You must be a man or woman of destiny and the sky will be the limit for you. Don’t let your past failures get in your way of success. Look beyond them, as Jesus looked beyond the cross and thus overcame it. You are the head and not the tail.”” All these sound really good and biblical even; but is this what a relationship with God is all about? Mbewe’s “chief quarrel with motivational speaking is that it reduces God to a means rather than an end.” As much as I want to motivate and inspire others, I have to agree with Mbewe and pray I never resort to such a tactic to draw an audience. Mbewe’s challenge to preachers?:We need to return to the good old gospel that truly gives life to the dead and sets men and women free. Like Paul of old, every truly evangelical pulpit must sound out the clear message of ‘repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’ (Acts 20:21). Let us get rid of this curse of motivational speaking!” (emphasis mine)

This evening, thanks to a dear sister, Lee Grady’s article “The Secret of Becoming a Prophetic Preacher” was shared on Facebook. I identified immediately with Grady when he wrote, “On many occasions after speaking in a church or conference, I would sulk. I battled constant discouragement and wondered if my words had hit the mark. Did I preach OK? Did the message sink in?” Yes, I struggle with this too, rationalising that it is just my desire to do my best for God, when in truth, it was my prideful heart seeking attention and affirmation. Drawing from the Jericho account in Joshua 6, Grady shares three parallels between preaching and the blowing of the ram’s horns (shofar). I won’t spoil the fun for you by revealing the three points so you can go read it for yourself. But for the preacher in me, the following statements resounded strongly:

  1. What we need in today’s pulpits is less scripted sparkle and more messy, raw, honest, tear-stained pleas from broken men and women who are aflame with the Holy Spirit.”
  2. “What God is looking for is not one big sensational sermon but a lifetime of faithful preaching. He wants consistency, not fireworks.”
  3. “Today we need preachers who are willing to faithfully speak God’s Word with no hope of fame or fortune. If you truly want all the credit to go to Jesus, you won’t worry about your performance or your applause. Just do your job.”

I am so privileged to be able to teach the Bible and to speak, as it were, the oracles of God. I never want to take this for granted nor to abuse this great honour the Lord has bestowed upon me by His grace. Sure, it’s nice to be complimented and encouraged when a good message is delivered. Sure, it’s nice to be invited to various congregations, and then to be invited back again. Sure, it’s nice to be looked up to, to be consulted, to be described as one who preaches with anointing and revelation. Question is, Would I compromise Jesus for all these?

Praying for Preachers
Covenant Vision Christian Church: Prayer Powerhouse 4 Feb 2013

Against this backdrop, I was so thankful two nights ago when the Prayer Leader called for the church to pray for preachers, that we would stay true to the Word and be bold to declare the Truth without compromise. As prayers were being lifted up for us and on our behalf, the only words I heard ringing within me were, “Preach Jesus! Preach Jesus! Preach Jesus!”

“Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Col 1:28

Related Article: Two Cross Words From My Wife

I’m Surrounded!

Have you ever felt totally and utterly overwhelmed before? You try to keep your head above the water but your mind is just cramped full of details and questions. Try as you might to escape these thoughts, there just seems to be no way out. You are crying out for answers and all you experience is this oppressive sense of the entire room closing in on you! All too soon, you are surrounded and hemmed in by fear and anxiety.

That must have been how Gehazi, felt too when he went for a morning walk with Elisha, only to see the city entirely surrounded by the Syrian army! Immediately, he says to Elisha, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” It must have been a scary sight! They were totally surrounded by horses and chariots. And it would only be a matter of time before the army closed in on them. However, whilst Gehazi saw and reacted in the natural, Elisha saw something else in the spiritual, and coolly replied, Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 2 Kings 6:16

Gehazi must have wondered, “Hello?! It’s just the two of us. Who else is with us? If we don’t start running, we are dead ducks!” At the request of Elisha, the Lord opened Gehazi’s spiritual eyes and the young man couldn’t believe what he saw … he was still surrounded, but this time, by a far greater number of the Lord’s army, horses and chariots blazing with fire! (2 Kings 6:17)

Whether you are an executive braving the corporate jungle, or a homemaker trying your best to keep your house and children in order, you know what I am talking about. There are just those days when you feel totally surrounded and overwhelmed by the ridiculous demands and pressures of life. You look at the “Syrian army” around you and are so tempted to say, “It’s no use! I’m totally surrounded. I might as well give up!” DON’T!

The enemy wants to keep you in the natural, but you need to understand that the battle is in the spiritual. If your eyes are continually fixed on the problem, it will appear larger and larger until it consumes you! Do you not see that this is the ploy of the enemy? He wants to surround you, to besiege you, to starve you, to weaken you and finally, to kill you.

“‘For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” Isaiah 54:10

Instead, ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see! Ask Him to reveal the truth of His presence and protection over and around you. In Psalm 125:1&2, the psalmist declares, “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds His people from this time forth and forever.” (emphasis mine) In Zech 2:5, God Himself declares, “I will be a wall of fire all around [Jerusalem], and I will be the glory in her midst.” YES, people of God, YOU ARE SURROUNDED … not by the enemy … but by the power, by the presence, by the abundance, by the grace, by the love of God!

I know it’s not easy when you are in the midst of a trying time and everything seems to be closing in on you. In the narrowness of that moment, call on the LORD and ask Him to open your eyes that you may have the right perspective to be strong in Him. Learn from the psalmist who said, “I called on the LORD in distress; the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place. The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psalm 118:6&7, italics mine.)

Indeed, if God is for you, who can be against you (Rom 8:31)? Do you not know that the battle is not yours to fight, but the Lord’s? Do you not know that the heavens have been opened over you, that every spiritual resource has now been made available to you in Christ? Do you not know that whatever the enemy throws at you, absolutely nothing can separate you from the love of God? If not, then ask the Lord to open your eyes that you may see!

As God’s children, the safest and most secure place is in the Father’s arms, where we are constantly surrounded by His everlasting love.

My dear friend, no matter how tough a situation (or a person) may be, nothing is too difficult for the one who places his trust in God. Pray for the Lord to open your spiritual eyes to see Him for who He truly is and that you, being wrapped in Christ and His righteousness, are totally safe in His arms because He surrounds you completely. And then, walk in the freedom and victory He has already secured for you by the precious blood and through the completed work of Jesus Christ upon the cross!

Two Cross Words From My Wife

It’s always nice to receive a message from my wife.  And one day, in an email simply entitled “Preach the Cross”, she sent me two Cross words from her Oswald Chambers devotional …

“If we get away from dwelling on the tragedy of God on the Cross in our preaching, our preaching produces nothing. It will not transmit the energy of God to man; it may be interesting, but it will have no power.”

“Never build your case for forgiveness on the idea that God is our Father and He will forgive us because He loves us. That contradicts the revealed truth of God in Jesus Christ. It makes the Cross unnecessary…God forgives sins only because of the death of Christ.”

In a day where shallow preaching abound, these words are so timely that the depth of our Christian faith can once again be centred and rooted in the work of the Cross.  For sure, many have moved away from the Cross, or have transformed the Cross into a symbol of blessing and prosperity to suit selfish wants and desires.  How scandalous!  And if I do not constantly hold before me the vision of the Cross, upon which Jesus suffered and died, I can also commit the same mistake.

What a wonderful reminder from a preacher’s wife!  What an encouragement too, to know that Serene desires that my preaching be as effective as it can be.  Not merely based on great communication skills, dramatic deliveries or humorous anecdotes, but firmly grounded upon the Cross of Jesus Christ!

Related Article: Him We Preach

More Than These

When I researched and wrote my term paper “The Theology of the Cross”, I realised that Jesus went through more than pain and humiliation when He went to the Cross.

Jesus understood the devastation of one forsaken by the Father, even for a moment.  Not willing that anyone should have to experience that, He endured that.  And if anyone knew what God’s wrath was really like, Jesus did.  That sinners would not need to encounter that, He willingly offered Himself as that perfect sacrifice and substitute.

That blew my mind!  More than all the physical pain and the emotional torment – as if that wasn’t enough – Jesus endured these when He endured the Cross.  This song was the result of the revelation that the Spirit brought into my heart.

Did He pray against the nails
That would hold Him to the cross?
Did He fight against the pain
He would suffer for the lost?
Did He cry out for the lies
They would make against His name?
Did He bleed the drops of sweat
As He thought about the shame?

Chorus:
More than these
The Lamb of God endured
Forsaken by the Father
So that I could be restored
More than these
He saw the wrath of God
Willingly He took my place
And bore the judgment of the Lord

Did He tremble as He prayed
For the cup to be removed?
Did He struggle in His heart
For His given right to choose?
Did He have to walk the way
As the Father’s only Son
Did He question as He said
“Not my will but Yours be done”?

© Words & Music by Henson Lim
31 Dec 2004