While Jesus was teaching, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman who was caught in adultery. In order to trap Jesus, they asked whether they can stone her or not. Instead of answering them Jesus said to them to stone her, but let the one who without sin stone at her first. This answer made them to think about themselves before stoning her. And by thinking about themselves, everyone had to leave the place because they knew that they were sinners, too. People tend to think about the size of sin and whether the sin is revealed or not. And that was the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (smaller and hidden sin).
After everyone left, Jesus told the woman 'I do not condemn you; go, from now on sin no more.' It shows two aspects of grace. One is preceding grace and the other is demanding grace. The only one who can condemn her was Jesus, yet he did not condemn. Instead he carried her sins to the cross. This is preceding grace. No condemn came first. Grace is not given as a condition. It was given first. But that was not the end. It was followed by from now on sin no more. It talks about the new life. The preceding grace was an invitation and motivation to the new life. That's what grace demands.
There are two kinds of grace, one is common grace which is given to everyone regardless of faith. The other is special grace comes through Jesus Christ. While we cannot reject the common grace, people can reject the special grace. In our texts there are two criminals crucified with Jesus. They look very similar in that they are crucified, yet their eternity is quite different. One received the grace and the other rejected it.
One of the criminals rejected grace because he was blind by his proud (self-conceit) he had as a descendant of Abraham. (We can conclude that he was a Jew who rebelled against the Rome with Barabas). Proud is the biggest enemy of grace. It makes reject or forget the grace. However, the other criminal received grace because he knew that he deserves the cross (self-awareness), and relied on Jesus. While the former commanded Jesus to save him, the latter pleaded Jesus only to remember him. And the latter was accepted Jesus.
We evaluate ourselves better than who we are and therefore grace fades away. However, we need to remind that we deserve nothing but the death on the cross. Then we will be able to open our eyes and learn that everything we have and enjoy is from God.
Grace is getting something we don't deserve (like eternal life), or not receiving what we deserve (like a punishment). Therefore, it is similar to forgiveness. And Jesus Christ prayed 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.'
This prayer is, in the first place, for the people who were executing Jesus and for those who urged Pontius Pilate to sentence to death. By praying for their forgiveness Jesus shows the size of God's grace. Also, the recipient of this prayer is extended to everyone who has sin. And we are included.
Although Jesus had the power to forgive, he prayed to God instead of declaring forgiveness. And the reason is because the recipients did not come to Jesus with faith. God's grace is open to everyone but at the same time, it is applicable to those who have faith. That's why Jesus did not declare their forgiveness. It requires us to have faith in Jesus.
And they needed to be forgiven because they were guilty for not knowing Jesus, despite of all the proofs. Their unbelief didn't come from their inability to understand, but it came from their rejection of faith. As we wait for Easter, let us carefully exam our hearts whether we are reluctant to know more and more about God or not.
1. This Friday we will sing a special song at the prayer night service.
2. Next Sunday is Easter and we will have corporate worship service at 11:00am.
In a journey of Christian faith, there are high moments and low moments. And in order for us to fight the good fight in these moments, it is helpful to remember one famous quote of Yogi Berra. "It ain't over till it's over."
In this last chapter of Nehemiah, we can learn three things that help us to fight the good fight. First is having the Word as our only standard! After the dedication ceremony people of Israel gathered again to listen to the Word. And they obeyed the Word, even though it was a hard decision.
When people experience a big event like a flood or a terror, it influences to every aspect of their lives. And I believe our faith is supposed to have that kind of influence in our lives. It is true when we look at Jesus' ministry. His preaching and ministry was not bound to religious matters. We see his life as an example of life instead of an example of religion.
When the people of Israel dedicate their wall of Jerusalem, their ceremony was mainly three parts. Purification, Marching, Sacrifices. And they purified the walls and gates which means the expansion of their faith to the living area. When they give sacrifices, their faith impacted to their financial area. We see these expansion in chapter 11 as well. The people of Israel were relocated not to achieve their certain goal, but to keep their faith.
They expanded their faith by focusing on people, by going beyond their obligation, and by devoting what they have. And their expanded faith brought joy to them.
The people of Israel gathered together on 24th day of the month (v.1). It was shortly after the feast. There, they repented their sins. It was initiated by the Word of God. What makes us to repent is nothing but the Word of God. Also, the Word must be preached to the humble and softened heart. Otherwise, people not repent but rebel. So in order for us to truly repent, we need to receive the Word with humble heart.
And this repent changes lives immediately. They separated themselves from the foreigners (v.2). It meant they intentionally broke the relationship with those who serve other gods, even thought it was costly. Then, they turned to God to worship.
Moreover, they made a covenant (v.38). And they made an oath, even binding themselves with a curse (10:29). Their repent wasn't a single event, but became a life-style. And true repentance must be continued throughout the life. It is not because our sins get bigger, but our awareness of our sin grows. And we become more desperate for the forgiveness of God, as we draw near to God.
We tend to get distracted after small achievement by the false impression that we achieved the purpose. However, purpose is not a goal. It's a bigger word. The goals and the achievements serve the purpose.
Nehemiah and the Israelites finished the rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. It was a great achievement. Yet, it wasn't their purpose. Their purpose was to live as people of God. And the wall was supposed to serve the purpose. That's why Nehemiah didn't go back to Persia, after the construction ended.
For the purpose, Nehemiah appointed two rulers who fear the God and love the people in chapter 7.
And in chapter 8, the people of Israel gathered to listen to the Word of God. With the desire, many people gathered, spent 6 hours to listening, responded 'Amen,' and understood the Word. That's what happened. And we should have the same desire for the Word of God.
When they understood the Word, they wept for their sins. But Nehemiah and Ezra talked to them, 'not to weep, but enjoy the festival' based on the Word. And they listened to it. Obedience should prevail over the emotion.
While rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem, Nehemiah encounters internal problem in the Jewish society which caused by the nobles and officials. They were not supposed to exact interest from poor brothers, but they took mortgages and interests and the poor Israelites were in danger of slavery. This was breaking their law in Leviticus 25:35-42. So Nehemiah asked them not only to fix the surface problem but also to change their hearts by saying, "Shouldn't you walk in the fear of our God?" What does it mean to walk in the fear of God?
We can find 4 things from chapter 5. 1, listening to the word of God(vv. 10-11). 2, giving up their own rights(v.14). 3, serving others when it is not obligated(v.16). 4, being content with only God's recognition(v.19). And Jesus Christ's life was a good example for this.
Then, how can we practically live in the fear of God, at work, school, and church? We should ponder and live out.
When enemies threat Nehemiah with mocking words (v.2-3), with terrorism (v.8), with the plan of assassination (6:2), with rumor (v.6-7), and with false prophesy (v.10-11), his reaction to that was two. First was prayer (4:4-5;9;6:9;14) and second was keep working (4:6;16-23;6:3;9;15).
As Christians, we should do this since we engage in a spiritual war in our lives. We should pray like Nehemiah did. His prayer was like a habit. So should be ours. Not only that we should keep moving. We need to learn and know the Word of God as a weapon to our battle. Prayer and the Word of God are the two things helping us to keep moving for the work of God.