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Genesis 14-15 Message

Genesis 14-15 Message

ABRAM IS CREDITED WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS
Genesis 15:1-21, Key verse: 15:6
“Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Today we read about Abram’s heroic and sacrificial rescue of lot in the battle of the kings, and how he again showed his priority system to give glory to God rather than to get rich. But most importantly, from the following chapter, we learn what made Abram right with God. It was not his impressive deeds, but that he believed the Lord. Today we can learn how we also can gain God’s credit. The message has three parts.

I. Abram and the war of the kings (Ch. 14)

Genesis chapter 14 seems to take a historical tangent, telling us about some conflict between regional kings. But we learn soon enough what it has to do with Abram. It seems the region consisted of many semi-independent city-states. The most important name in all these lists is Kedorlaomer. He was a king from the East who had made 5 other kings, including the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, subject to himself. Undoubtedly the five kings had to show their loyalty by sending Kedorlaomer a sum of money every year as tribute, gold and silver and whatever else. This situation went on for twelve years, but in the thirteenth year, it says, they rebelled. Probably, the five kings got together and decided that together they were strong enough that they had no need to keep paying the tribute to Kedorlaomer. When Kedorlaomer realized what had happened, he called together three of his allied kings to punish the five kings for their rebellion. They mounted an extensive campaign, defeating many other kings on the long journey to Canaan. It was turning out to be a very profitable expedition.

Finally, the four kings (including Kedorlaomer) faced the five kings (including the king) of Sodom in the valley of Siddim. There four kings defeated the five. In fact, they defeated them so decisively that some of the men from Sodom and Gomorrah fell into tar pits as they were running away. Then Kedorlaomer, not content to simply restore the previous status quo, seized and carried off all the goods and all the people from Sodom and Gomorrah as plunder. And that’s where the story begins to affect Abram. Lot and all his family and possessions were also carried off into captivity, because, as Chapter 14 verse 12 says, Lot was now living in Sodom.

Verse 13 says that someone who escaped came and reported these events to Abram. What was Abram’s response? Did he say, “Well, that’s what Lot deserved. He took the best of the land for himself and left me without even saying ‘thank you’ and went to live in that sinful place.” No, that’s not what Abram did. Instead, he called out the 318 trained men in his own house, called on his most powerful friends to help him, and went in pursuit of king Kedorlaomer to rescue selfish, unthankful Lot. And he succeeded. He and his allies defeated the king who had defeated five other kings and brought back all the goods and all the people, including Lot.

Wow! Abram could really exercise some military might when he made up his mind to. But the most amazing thing is that he did it not for any personal gain—he had no interest in getting involved in these political conflicts–but he did it to rescue one lost sheep. In this way Abram really has the image of the Good Shepherd. This is what we call unconditional love—love that does not remember how it’s been hurt and love that does not calculate how much it might lose. What an excellent example.

We might think it ironic that all the wealth Lot had tried to get a piece of by moving to Sodom, Abram ended up winning for himself as a result of trying to rescue Lot. So the next thing Abram might think was that this was the way God planned to start to make him a great nation.

But then, on the way back from defeating Kedorlaomer, Abram encountered an unexpected spiritual intervention. Two other rulers came out to meet him: first, the king of Sodom, and second, an unrelated king named Melchizedek, king of Salem, who was also a priest of the Most High God. Where he came from or how he became a priest of the one true God nobody can say. But what’s clear is that these two kings offer Abraham two very different choices about how to respond to his great victory.

Melchizedek brought Abram bread and wine to refresh his tired troops. Then he recited a blessing to Abraham, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” (14:19-20) Interestingly, this blessing did not praise Abram at all. It only says that he is blessed by God and that God was the one who gave his enemies into his hand. If Abram were a proud man, he might even get angry at this blessing, because it gives all the credit to God. But Abram accepted the humbling blessing, and proved he accepted it by giving Melchizedek a tenth of everything. This is the first tithe recorded in the Bible.

Then it was time to talk to the king of Sodom. Sodom gets right down to business: “Give me the people and keep the goods for yourself.” Of course, Sodom did not really have any chips to bargain with, because it was Abram who now had the right of conquest to everything. But he wanted to keep being king of Sodom, so he offered to let Abram keep the spoils if he would just give back the people. It sounds reasonable, and to be honest it would be a fair repayment to Abram for all his trouble in going to rescue Lot. But Abram refused to take anything at all! He gave up his own share of the spoils. Is he crazy? Why did he do it? It’s because, as he said in verses 22-24, “With raised hand I have sworn an oath to the Lord, God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth, that I will accept nothing belonging to you, not even a thread or the strap of a sandal, so that you will never be able to say, ‘I made Abram rich.’” Abram knew that you have to be very careful who you let give you money. Greedy people never, ever part with money without some strings attached. So Abram knew that this was not God’s way to make him a great nation. He couldn’t let a wicked king get any controlling interest in his life, because his life belonged to God.

Here we see Abram is one of a rare breed: someone who would rather listen to a person who humbles him than a person who can make him rich. What a great character quality. And Abram’s refusal to keep any of the spoils of victory proves his purity of intention in going to rescue Lot in the first place. I think the elements of Abram’s character in this chapter give us so much to meditate on, as well as a target to shoot for.

II. Abram’s struggle and credit. (15:1-6)

So, to summarize Chapter 14, we can say that, after winning a physical battle, Abram won an even greater spiritual victory, by overcoming the temptation to love material gain more than God. However, do you know what happens after we win a great victory of faith? We go back to our ordinary-looking life and all its aggravating problems. Perhaps Abram might have begun to have second thoughts about his decision of faith, feeling a sense of loss. “What have I done? Am I stupid?” God understood what was going on in Abram’s heart and took the initiative to come to him and give him his word. Let’s read verse 1. “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’”

The first thing God said to Abram was, “Don’t be afraid.” Why might Abram be afraid? He might be afraid because now that he had shown his power, he could no longer be just an anonymous nomad, avoiding the attention of his neighbors. Now he could never know which of his neighbors might feel threatened by his power and hatch a plot against him. Abram could be feeling very real fear, thinking his life was now on shaky ground. So God came to him and said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Why didn’t Abram have to be afraid? God says, “I am your shield, your very great reward.” God promised the greatest source of protection possible. God didn’t merely say, “I will shield you”; he said, “I am your shield.” Who could imagine that God would make himself someone’s shield? God also made himself the guarantee of a great reward for Abram. Do you like the word “reward”? Of course, everybody likes rewards. My credit card says it offers me great rewards, but so far it just seems to be putting me deeper in debt.

We’ve seen that after God called him to be a pilgrim in the promised land of Canaan, Abram lived a different lifestyle. He did not make decisions that maximized his immediate benefit. In fact, out of his commitment to principle, Abram did things that cost him a lot of potential profit; we can’t deny that in this world, money is both a shield and a reward. But God told Abram that all that was no matter, because God would be his shield and would guarantee his very great reward. So Abram didn’t have to worry about anything; he just had to stick to doing what was right before God. Do you trust God as your shield and very great reward? We can only make the holy decisions God wants us to if we trust God as our true shield and reward. Our true reward can only be God himself, because knowing him is the only thing that can fill the empty space in our heart. David expressed this in Psalm 16. He said, “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure.” (Ps 16:5)

When Abram heard this awesome assurance from God, “I am your shield, your very great reward,” he did something he never did before. Do you know what it is? He complained! Abram talked back to God! Up until now, Abram looked so quiet and patient, but now it looks like he finally reached his limit. Look at verses 2 and 3. “But Abram said, ‘Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?’ And Abram said, ‘You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.’”

As great as God’s assurance was, Abram couldn’t accept it; he was too discouraged. His life problem of childlessness had grown bigger and bigger in his own mind until he could no longer see beyond it. Abram said to God, “What can you give me?” He had gotten so fatalistic that he felt even God was limited in what he could do for him. Maybe he thought, “If God had given me children earlier, he could have helped me, but not anymore.” In this long-running issue of his childlessness, Abram had all but given up and decided that he would have to settle for a “second-class blessing”, making his household servant his heir. I guess Abram would even have been happy to make Lot his heir rather than Eliezer of Damascus; but Lot wasn’t interested.

Abram’s reaction here gives us a great insight about how strong the grip of fatalism can grow in our own hearts. Though we might not like to admit it, when we’re really down we do have the attitude that not even God can do something to make things better. In some way, I think it’s good that Abram was finally discouraged enough to talk back to God. In this way, his faith problem could be brought out and healed. It’s good to interact with God honestly, knowing that our only hope is God’s answer.

And God did answer Abram. Look at verse 4. “Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.’” There was no limitation in God; in order to make Abram a great nation, God would indeed give him a son from his own body, no matter how old he was. When Abram earnestly struggled with God, God made his promise more clear.

In chapter 13, we saw how God gave Abram some “walking therapy” to help his spiritual discouragement. Now God gives Abram another “therapy session” to help him with his root spiritual problem. His root problem was that he was thinking too small thoughts about God. What was the cure? Let’s read verse 5. “He took him outside and said, ‘Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your offspring be.’” Maybe we can call it “astronomy therapy”. To fix his attitude, Abram needed to come out of his tent, come out of his small, self-pitying thoughts, and realize God’s majesty. What better way could there be than to look at the stars that God created in the night sky?

Do you like to look at the stars? How do you feel when you stand outside at night and put your head back and just stare until your eyes adjust and you start to see all those tiny lights pop into view one by one? In 1996 astronomers pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at a very small region of the sky where there are no visible stars, and left the camera shutter open for ten days. Some other astronomers thought this was a waste of valuable telescope time. But the resulting image, known as the Hubble Deep Field photograph, contained over 3000 never-before-seen galaxies. Not stars, galaxies. One galaxy like ours contains 100 billion stars. God told Abram, “count the stars—if you can.” 4000 years later, we still can’t count all the stars, because the more advanced our technology gets and the longer we look, the more we find. God said to Abram, “So shall your offspring be.” The point is not the exact number, but the unlimited power of God to fulfill his promise. God wants us to realize his majesty and the limitlessness of his power as Creator of the Universe. We have to know that God is the God who made 3000 galaxies in just one tiny spot of the sky that nobody ever even bothered to look at. Then we can begin to get over our self-centered thinking and focus on God’s glory. So when you’re stressed out during finals period, don’t take a web-surfing break; take an astronomy break.

What was Abram’s response to God showing him the stars? Let’s read verse 6. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” It looks like such a small thing, just one little verse. All it says is, “Abram believed the LORD.” After astronomy therapy, it just seemed silly to doubt that such a God would fail to make his promise come true in the best way. So Abram newly accepted God’s promise. He trusted that God would make it come true. His heart said “okay” to God and in one instant he had peace.

This was not a small event in Abram’s life, though it had no visible outward effects at all. The key verse says that on the basis of his faith, God credited Abram with righteousness. What does it mean to have righteousness? “Righteousness” is a very deep word in the Bible. It means much more than just human good behavior. It means having a right relationship with God, being loved and accepted in his sight, and not having any kind of condemnation hanging over us. If you have this, how happy will you be? How confident will you be? This righteousness is the most valuable thing a human being can possess. It’s true freedom.

But how can such righteousness be attained? Realistically, it sounds impossible. Obviously, we are sinners. Our guilty conscience torments us about the things we have done, selfish and filthy things, things that we can’t make any excuse for. Many people are even walking around with the guilt of having permanently damaged or destroyed other’s lives by their impulsive or irresponsible actions. What could the solution to this guilt problem be?

And then people make it worse, trying to solve the guilt of their sin by pretending and putting on a fake-show of being righteous. This is called self-righteousness, and it’s the surest way to block ourselves from receiving righteousness with God. Jesus had the harshest words for people like that. Jesus said such people were like whitewashed tombs—clean and sparkly on the outside, but inside full of rotten and decaying things.

The true answer to the righteousness problem is written right here in the key verse. “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Apostle Paul took this verse to be the very essence of the gospel. The authors of the New Testament teach us to understand the death of Jesus on a cross as being a perfect, sufficient sacrifice to atone for all our sins, and that through Christ, God will grant us forgiveness that releases us from all our guilt and gives us a right relationship with him totally freely. Paul said that God will credit us with righteousness in the same way he did for Abraham.

Our good deeds cannot impress God. There is nothing we can do for God that would make him owe us anything. This key verse is also significant because at this point, Abram’s faith is not accompanied by any outward action. God didn’t credit Abram with righteousness because he assembled an army and waged a victorious campaign to rescue his nephew; God credited him because he believed God. But Paul wrote in Romans 4:4-5, “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” Therefore, all we have to do is confess that we are inexcusable sinners and accept a right relationship with God as a free gift in Christ Jesus.

Then what? Does it mean that after that we can goof off and sin as much as we want to, because it’s all forgiven? No way. This great gift of righteousness puts us under obligation to put the gift to work, to do everything in our power to become holy and a source of blessing to others and abound more and more in good works. But we do it not as being threatened, or as trying to justify ourselves or impress others, but as seeking to become more and more like God, as people who have been given a totally new power source for being holy—namely, God’s unconditional, forgiving love. We can stop seeing God as the guy who is out to get us, and start to understand that he is totally committed to us in love, to help us grow and be made new in his image.

As a result of being credited with righteousness, what changed in Abram’s life? Outwardly, nothing. He still had no son. But the inner change was very great. Receiving the credit of righteousness from God, Abram could stand up tall as a justified human being. With a right relationship with God, fear and the sense of loss disappeared from his heart. He could go forward where before he was stuck.

Are you stuck? Maybe the problem is a lack of understanding God’s gift of righteousness.
It might not be easy for us to see that God is offering us a totally clear relationship with him, and that he just wants us to say, “okay.” But that’s the only starting point there is. And if we do that, we are a new creation; we can stand with our heads held high in the gift of righteousness in Jesus. Let’s read verse 6 again. “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

III. God reveals his plan (7-21)

Look at verse 7. “He also said to him, ‘I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.’” After helping Abram’s faith problem by having him look up at the stars, God now has him look around at his mission field again. After helping heal Abram’s bitterness, God now wants him to go beyond himself, go beyond the mere fact that he would have a son, and look to the larger ways God would use him as a blessing in the future, beyond his earthly life. He should remember the real reason he was in this land of Canaan. God said, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

At this statement, Abram once again engages God with a question. Look at verse 8. “But Abram said, ‘Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?’” Here, Abram is not expressing unbelief in God’s promise, but is seeking more assurance in it. When Abram despaired of having an heir, he had not been interested in the promised inheritance of land. But now his desire for God’s promise is growing and he wants to know more about it.

Again, God rewarded Abram’s spiritual desire. He had Abram prepare a ritual similar to what was used at that time to seal an alliance between kings. It was a covenant ceremony. It means that God wanted to conduct some serious business with Abram – to “cut a deal”, so to speak. It reminds us of the covenant ceremony Jesus gave his disciples the night before he died.

After setting up everything, cutting all those animals in half, Abram had to chase away the vultures so they wouldn’t come and eat up the sacrifice. Then, “As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.” In a vision, God would now reveal the future to Abram, the secret of how he would make his descendants into a great nation. The Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions.” (13-14)

God would not give Canaan to Abram’s descendants in an ordinary way. He would not do it by making Abram’s descendants grow progressively more and more powerful until they could take over the nation in their own strength. Quite the opposite: he would humble and crush them under the yoke of slavery, so they would know their own helplessness; and then God would reveal his glory through mighty works of deliverance that they could never forget. In this way, God would build up a nation not based on human achievement, but a nation of faith.

When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, God sent a smoking firepot with a blazing torch that passed between the sacrificial pieces. It was like God’s signature of the covenant. How amazing that Almighty God who created the universe would come to one person and even reveal his plans to him! This is how close God wants to be with his people, like personal friends with whom he shares his heart. Psalm 25:14 says, “The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.”

God wants to make such a relationship with us today in Jesus, a personal covenant relationship with him in which he himself is our shield and reward. Thankfully, chopping animals in half is no longer necessary, because Jesus’ blood of the covenant has already been shed for us. So let’s talk to God like Abram did, and listen to his words, seeking greater assurance in his promises. Let’s look up at the stars, and then look around at our mission field with eyes of faith.

May God bless you with his righteousness credited in your heart and to be the friend of God like Abram in this generation.

Genesis 6-7 Message

Genesis 6-7 Message

GOD’S JUDGMENT AND SALVATION
Genesis 6:1-7:24, Key Verse: 6:9
“This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”

In the book of Genesis we can find the spiritual principles behind everything else in the Bible. As the future potential of the chicken is contained in the egg, Genesis contains the seed of everything in the Bible. So far in Genesis we’ve seen that God created the earth and everything in it good, most of all human beings to be stewards of the earth. But man’s relationship with God was broken through Adam and Eve’s disobedience. Soon, sin bore fruit of death when Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy. This has given us so much insight about how the world became the way it is now, as well as insight about our own hearts’ condition.

Today through the story of the flood, we see the seed of the biblical principle of judgment and salvation. I’m sorry to say it’s not any easier of a passage than last week’s. Human beings filled the earth with so much wickedness until it brought God’s judgment, and God wiped out all life with a flood. It’s an awful thing to think about. But there is a bright ray of hope, as God preserves the human race through one man, Noah, who walked with God. I pray we can all learn from Noah the faith that can give us salvation even in the midst of judgment. The message has three parts.

I. God’s heart was deeply troubled (6:1-7)

In last week’s passage we saw how two distinct lines of human ancestry were separated out. The first was the descendants of Cain. They were responsible for many of the artistic and technological achievements of civilization. But they inherited from their forefather Cain his great pride, and like him they rejected their essential responsibility before God. The culmination of this development was shown in Lamech, who put himself in the place of God by taking revenge into his own hands. The second line was the descendants of Seth. When Genesis starts talking about Seth’s descendants, it says, “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord” (4:26). Among Seth’s descendants, there remained a few people who humbly walked with God. The greatest of them was Enoch, whose walk pleased God so much that he didn’t die like others; instead, God took him, at the young age of 365.

But in today’s passage we see that the human civilization of that time finally became utterly corrupted. How did it happen? Let’s read verses 1 and 2. “When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.” Here, the “sons of God” are often understood to refer to the faithful descendants of Seth. Then the “daughters of men” would refer to the offspring of the godless, self-sufficient Cain. Who are the “sons of God” today? In fact, we should consider ourselves sons and daughters of God. In Galatians 3:26 Paul wrote to the Christian believers, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

According to verse 2, what did the sons of God see? “That the daughters of men were beautiful.” You yourself at some point may have made a similar observation. Of course, women are beautiful; that’s impossible not to notice. The important point is how they responded to this observation. When a son of God saw that a daughter of man was beautiful, he should have said, “Wow, I hope she marries a godly man, and then they will both be so happy.” We need a holy concept about what’s “off limits” for me personally, and to keep that absolutely.

But the “sons of God” here did not have any such concept. It says that when the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, they married any of them they chose. This phrase seems to indicate taking multiple wives. So basically, they grabbed whoever they wanted based only on appearance. They didn’t respect or care about the souls of the women they took as wives. And when they got tired of their current wife or just felt the itch for something new, they took another wife. What they called “marriage” was nothing more than an arrangement for satisfying their physical desires. In Noah’s time, in the most important decision of earthly life, men followed only their flesh. This chapter shows what dark consequences that had for the world. If young men or women give their flesh desires priority in the way they choose to marry, it’s very dark for the future of the world.

Then how should we marry? We should seek to marry not mainly to please our flesh, but to have a suitable helper for the stewardship that God gave us, according to the pattern we saw in the Garden of Eden. Second, we should not be too proud to take advice from wise people who care about us. These days, many people are asking a computer program from an internet matchmaking service to tell them who to marry! How much better it is to listen to a mature person who really cares about me. Last and most importantly, once the marriage vow is made, at that point all calculations and second thoughts must be rejected from our mind; from that point the rest of one’s life must be given unconditionally to building up what the man and woman are together, as no longer two but one.

Look at verse 3. “Then the Lord said, ‘My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.’” The word “mortal” here is the same word as “flesh”. The people of that time were people of flesh. Probably they spent all their spare time trying to improve their bodies and taking selfies and sending them to each other to admire. When people persisted in living only for their flesh, God finally set a deadline—120 years. Nobody gets an infinite amount of time to repent of a sinful life; someday our time will be up.

In some ways the marriages between the sons of God and the daughters of men seemed to produce good results. Look at verse 4. “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” The offspring of these marriages were very impressive people. They were beautiful and mighty. It says these people were the heroes of old. They were not heroes in the sense we usually mean it, like someone who risks his life to rescue someone from a burning building is a hero. No, the Nephilim were just powerful, giant people, who gained impressive achievements for their own glory and oppressed the weak.

The family is the core unit of resistance against the corruption of the world. Last week, we saw how God counseled Cain about the necessity of struggling against sinful desires to master them. He said, “If you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” As a parent I feel the heavy responsibility of teaching this to my children. As we know, children learn from their parents’ actions much more than from their words. In Noah’s time, when parents followed their sinful desire in their marriage, they could not instill any spiritual strength in their children to fight against sin, and society had no defenses against ever-increasing corruption.

Verse 5 says, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” Notice that God was not just looking at the outward actions, but at the inner thoughts of the people of the world. Evil is not just an accident of circumstances or a bad environment. The true source of evil in the world is the evil thoughts inside people’s own hearts. As Jesus said, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside…” (Mk 7:21-23a)

The root of sin is in the human heart. But people’s sin doesn’t stay in their hearts; sooner or later, it comes out. Verse 11 says, “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence.” The corrupt motives in people’s hearts finally overflowed as violence. People think they can live a self-seeking, pleasure-seeking life peacefully, but it never works. A world of selfish desires will soon become a violent world.

What did God think when he looked down and saw humanity in such a condition? Look at verse 6. “The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.” God was not indifferent to how his greatest creations had debased themselves. He had created human beings for such a high purpose, and for beautiful fellowship with himself. When there was finally nothing left of that, he was deeply troubled. What a frightening contrast between Genesis chapter 1 and chapter 6. In chapter 1 we saw how when God created everything, he kept saying, “It was good,” “It was good,” and finally, “It was very good”. But now God’s heart is so troubled by what he sees on earth, he says, “I regret that I have made them.” So when we see the great sin of our world, we cannot be casual about it. We see how sin finally even made God sorry he made man.

Now, look at verse 7. “So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’” From today’s passage we learn that God who created the world is also the judge of the world. Sin cries out for God’s judgment, just as Abel’s blood called out from the ground. Despite all man’s achievements in civilization, technology, and culture, God finally did not see anything worth keeping. The wickedness of man became so great that finally there was no remedy except to wipe out everything and start over again.

I don’t know exactly how the times we live in compare to Noah’s time. But I’m sure there are many similarities. We know that the same sin that caused the early world to become so corrupted is also living in us, so we must be watchful. Jesus told us, “You are the salt of the earth”—that is, its preservative. May we have eyes to see God’s calling for us as sons of God, to make us a stronghold against the corruption of the world in this generation, especially in the way we establish families.

II. Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD (6:8-22)

The dark mood of this passage is totally altered by just one short sentence. Let’s read verse 8 together. “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” In the midst of a world totally overrun with wickedness that deeply troubled God’s heart, God’s heart found joy in one righteous man. Noah’s name means “comfort”. Noah’s father had said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the Lord has cursed.” Noah’s parents must have been so comforted when they saw their son living a holy life in their corrupt generation. But I think Noah comforted God’s heart most of all. Is God’s heart comforted by you? Does God look at this world and say, “Look all this terrible wickedness…but at least I’ve got someone like .” Ultimately, Noah was a recipient of God’s grace. Have you found favor in the eyes of the Lord? I like how it says Noah “found” favor with God, like the discovery of a great treasure. Jesus said, “Seek and you will find.” If you seek God’s favor, maybe you will find that in fact it was always there for you.

Let’s read verse 9. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.” It’s not easy to be blameless. It’s easy to take shortcuts and try to cheat or coast our way through life, at least sometimes. But Noah maintained the highest standard of integrity. In some ways Noah looks like an ordinary man with three sons, living an honest life. But when Noah walked faithfully with God, God was pleased, and Noah grew spiritually mature. Finally God could reveal his will and plan to Noah. But it was not easy to hear. Look at verse 13. “So God said to Noah, ‘I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them. I am surely going to destroy both them and the earth.’” Noah had to face the reality of God’s judgment coming on the world he was born and lived in his whole life. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

But God did not call Noah to face this news passively; God had a very important mission for Noah. Look at verses 14-17. “So make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in it and coat it with pitch inside and out. This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high. Make a roof for it, leaving below the roof an opening one cubit high all around. Put a door in the side of the ark and make lower, middle and upper decks. I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish.” Also, verses 19 and 21 say, “You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. … You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”

God had Noah use all his ingenuity and skill to build a really big boat, as long as 1.5 football fields, and also—don’t forget this part—pack a year’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner for all those animals. Of course, God could have made the boat for Noah; actually, God could have just scooped up Noah and his family and the animals in his hand, and held them there until the flood was over. But God wanted Noah to be active in working out his salvation, to exercise stewardship over the earth, and also to make a testimony to the people of the world.

This mission God had for Noah gave his life focus. People think that, since Noah is first mentioned at the age of 500, and then the flood comes at age 600, that building the ark took around a hundred years. At any rate, it was a huge undertaking. With his mission to build the ark, Noah had to have a different lifestyle than the people of his time. He couldn’t take much time for enjoying the products of his culture; he was preparing a vessel for the future. Surely the wicked people of Noah’s time must have cruelly mocked and ridiculed him for his ark-building. But Noah persevered. Though Noah’s mission was difficult, God faithfully provided for Noah everything he needed in his great building project. Most of all, God gave Noah a covenant promise to save his and his family’s life, and to make him the pioneer of a new world (18).

Building the ark was the visible expression of Noah’s faith in God. Hebrews 11:7 says, “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.” What is this “holy fear”? For us to have holy fear like Noah had means that we know what the consequences of sin really are—that going with the flow of sinful desires finally results in destruction. So like Noah, we can’t just senselessly follow the stream of culture and popular opinion. Our life is to be like building an ark of salvation. Peter called Noah a “preacher of righteousness.” (2Pe 2:5) It’s because Noah’s ark-building life was itself a powerful testimony against the evil of his time. What about our lives? Are we ready to be different enough for the sake of what is right, so that our life will be such a testimony? God always greatly uses even one person with holy fear.

Let’s read verse 22. “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” Noah’s obedience to the voice of God was thorough, not just an occasional effort here and there. Noah didn’t say, “I’ll just build an ark half the size God said; that should be plenty.” Rather, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” It doesn’t mean Noah was perfect. I’m pretty sure there were many mistakes, setbacks and frustrations in Noah’s life. But when Noah feared God and walked before him, in the end the summary of his life was that he had done what God wanted. May the summary of Noah’s life also be the summary of ours. Let’s read verse 9 again. “This is the account of Noah and his family. Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God.”

III. “Go into the ark.” (7:1-24)

Let’s read chapter 7 verse 1. “The Lord then said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation.’” After doing all the hard work of preparing the ark for so many years, Noah and his family and the animals had a place to go for shelter. I love the end of verse 16, where it says, “Then the Lord shut him in.” Ultimately, God himself took responsibility for protecting Noah from the waters of judgment. By God’s grace, Noah was found worthy to take a ride in the ark of salvation. Of course, God’s shutting the door also means that everyone else was shut out. The people of Noah’s time had not accepted his testimony, but gone on living their lives of flesh so carelessly. When they saw the rain start to fall, they may have changed their minds and wanted to go into the ark, but then it was too late. Jesus spoke about the people of Noah’s time, saying “People were eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage up to the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood came and destroyed them all.” (Lk 17:27) Finally, only eight people in all were saved from the floodwaters.

Did you ever try to imagine what such a flood would be like? Water is one of the most powerful forces of nature. When we see the result of even a moderate-sized flood or tsunami, we know that we have to respect the power of water. Then what about this flood? It was like nothing ever seen before or since. It says, “All the springs of the great deep burst forth, and the floodgates of the heavens were opened. And rain fell on the earth forty days and forty nights.” (11-12)

What was the result of such a torrent of water? “Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those with him in the ark.” (21-23) When the Bible talks about judgment, it is not exaggerating. This is the result of sin. Sin destroys everything. If don’t hate our sin, if we don’t fight against it with all our strength but wink at it and tolerate it, then we might wind up ourselves as agents of corruption. Sin brings desolation to the earth, and to our fellowship. The waters of judgment washed the earth for 150 days.

However, there were some who survived even this unprecedented destruction. Lastly, let’s look at chapter 7 verses 17 and 18. “For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water.” Thank God—the ark floated! It didn’t sink, but floated. Can you imagine Noah’s relief when he saw the ark was holding together, and not leaking, and when it began to gently bob up and down on the surface of the rising waters? It was the time for Noah’s work to be tested, and he passed, because he followed God’s instructions. The ark gently floating on top of the destructive flood waters is a picture of salvation in the midst of judgment.

We might wish that God had given us detailed, step-by-step building instructions as he did to Noah. Nonetheless, we should seek a clear conviction that we are following God’s word to build our lives as an ark of salvation for ourselves and the people we influence. When we have such an ark, the floodwaters that are causing destruction all around us will actually raise us up, and carry us safely to a new world.

Today the flood and Noah’s ark showed us the unchanging truth about sin and judgment, and also about the covenant of salvation God makes with one person who lives before him. What did Noah do? He built an ark in wicked times. May God bless you to find favor in the eyes of God, and may God bless your ark-building life.

Genesis 2 Message

Genesis 2 Message

GOD PLANTED A GARDEN
Genesis 2:4-25, Key verse: 2:8

“Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.”

In the creation story we studied in Genesis Chapter 1, the main focus is on the sovereignty and majesty of God as creator, and the nobility of human beings as made in God’s image. Chapter 2 has a different focus, looking more personally at the first human beings and how a personal, relational God took care of man, understanding all his needs. God also taught man how to use his freedom of choice to keep a right relationship with God.

So one good goal for us in studying this passage is to open our eyes and see how well God has taken care of us in the environment of our own lives. We may not have been born in the Garden of Eden. But the more we know God who took care of Adam and Eve, the more we see how thoughtful he actually is for our happiness.

The message has two parts.

First, man’s makeup and environment given by God.

Chapter 2 verse 4 is the first occurrence in Genesis of a sentence that starts with the words, “This is the account of.” This indicates the beginning of a new section of Genesis. There are 10 such sections in Genesis, all divided up with the same words. “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” Here there is even a new name for God than in Chapter 1. Here the word LORD stands for “Jehovah”, which is God’s covenant name or personal name. It indicates the covenant relationship God makes with human beings.

The first thing we see emphasized in this account is how incomplete God’s creation is without human beings. Look at verse 5. “Now no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up, for the Lord God had not sent rain on the earth and there was no one to work the ground…” The author almost sounds sad that “there was no one to work the ground.” Here we see described the world’s first recorded labor shortage. God made the earth with nearly infinite potential for development. Creation could not realize its full potential to display God’s glory without human beings to plan, to invest, to build, to nurture, to work.

This reminds me of Jesus own saying to his disciples: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Lk 10:2) Jesus is also talking about a labor shortage—a shortage of people to do the gospel work. Despite all the degradation and evil we see in the world, Jesus’ saying convinces me that there is potential in our time for doing incredible new things to bring God’s kingdom, leveraging the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. But if there is no one to work for Jesus, nothing will happen. If everyone is only struggling and worrying 18 hours a day for a little more material security, who will do the Lord’s work?

Well, at least we know how God solved this labor problem. Verse 7 says, “Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” What an interesting sort of creature God made! God took two steps to make a human being. The first was to form the man’s physical body. Strangely, he did not use any ingredients that were rare, valuable, or strong. He just used plain old dirt from the ground.

This tells us about the weakness and finiteness of our physical nature. We could imagine that we were made of gold or diamond, or at least steel or something, like a Transformer robot. But instead, we’re so squishy and easily injured, sick, or killed. And when we die, our body quickly returns to the dust from which it was taken.

But what a gift God bestowed on this humble jar of clay! It says that after he formed the man’s body, he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. We can say that this breath of life is how God put his own image in man, which we thought about last week. With the breath of God’s own life in us, we are not just a lump of clay, but what this verse calls a living soul, able to relate to God himself.

This creation process shows us that man has a dual nature; he is both a physical and a spiritual being. So we have to take care of our body and our spirit. They are both a part of our self. However, there is a great danger—the danger that we will live only to enjoy and improve our physical nature. The spiritual part of us is the part that relates us to God, because God is Spirit (Jn 4:24). Our physical life will definitely come to an end; only our spiritual life is able to give us true joy and a future with God. So living only for the nature that’s going to perish is a big mistake. Paul wrote, “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” (Gal 6:8) If we live only to please our flesh, if we do not maintain any spiritual life, we are not really a “living soul” as God intended.

This is how God made man in his internal self; now what did God do for the man in his external environment? Look at verse 8. “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.” God didn’t just dump the man at some random place on the big earth. Rather, he prepared one place specifically to be the man’s home. God planted a garden just for his favorite creation.

Do you like gardens? A garden is a place where the natural elements have been specially arranged and cultivated to be comfortable, beautiful and useful to people. This garden was planted in a land in the East named Eden. Scholars think the word “Eden” itself means “fruitful” or “pleasurable.” Verse 9 says “The Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” Do you like trees? A famous poem by Joyce Kilmer talks about the beauty of trees: “I think that I shall never see/ A poem lovely as a tree.” Sh. Matthew grew up and lived his life in the Morton Arboretum, full of trees. It might be really similar to the Garden of Eden.

What does this show us about God, that he did this for the man? It’s obvious that whoever plants such a garden for someone to live in really loves them and wants them to be happy. How thoughtful God was for the happiness of his human beings. God wanted the man to have a home where he felt loved and very well taken care of. This would be the power source for everything God had hope for the man to accomplish.

Verse 9 also mentions the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, which were planted in the middle of the garden. We will talk more about those in a minute. But it’s like we said, God didn’t create man only to be a physical creature; in the Garden of Eden, God also wanted man to deal with the spiritual issue of his relationship to God.

In verse 10 the description extends beyond the garden itself. It says there was a river that started in Eden and then flowed out and separated into four headwaters, running to distant regions of the earth. It shows that God intended the blessings he bestowed in the Garden of Eden to flow out and bring God’s kingdom to the whole world under man’s stewardship. Verses 11-14 shows that those lands contained hidden treasures—gold and onyx and aromatic resin—for man to find and utilize as he explored the world.

Verse 15 says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Do you think God gave man the Garden of Eden so he could just sit and sip mango smoothies and watch the world go by? No way! That would be too boring. If Adam had just wanted to sit on his blessings, he could never have found that gold and onyx and aromatic resin. As we learned from Chapter 1, God created human beings with purpose to be the stewards of the earth, saying: “Be fruitful and increase in number, and rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creatures that moves along the ground.” Maybe the Garden of Eden was a kind of example Adam could follow in cultivating the whole world and making it fruitful and beautiful. Adam was to take the blessings of his happy beginnings and multiply them to bring God’s kingdom.

For carrying out his mission, the Lord didn’t give Adam detailed instructions or lots of rules and regulations. He let him use his own abilities to figure out the best way to get a handle on his environment. Actually, that’s the definition of “stewardship”. Furthermore, God expressly gave Adam freedom to use all the resources God made. In verse 16 he said, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” God didn’t require Adam to fill out a report of how many apples, pears, and grapes he ate in the course of doing his work. What a wonderful freedom God gave man to use his potential to the full! As a new professor, I am personally so thankful for the freedom Lewis University to develop course material find my own best way to teach the computer science material to students. Such freedom really encourages us to see the possibilities in life positively. As we mature spiritually, seeing ourselves before God, we learn to think of ourselves more and more as a steward of our environment, and less and less as a victim of our life circumstances. That’s how God made it to be. Let’s think often about God’s generous and broad-minded provision, and be thankful.

The Lord didn’t give Adam many rules. But he gave him one very serious prohibition. Look at verse 17. “…but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” God made just one thing forbidden: to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God did not make it vague or confusing that very clear that the consequences of disobedience were certain death.

This always brings us back to the question: Why did God do this? Why did God put that tree in the Garden of Eden and make it possible for man to make such a terrible mistake, leading to so much misery and ruin—especially since God already knew what was going to happen?

I won’t pretend to have all the answers about this; I will just try to give the best reasons I know. I think God wanted a relationship with man that was based on love, on man’s willing choice to obey. For that, to make the freedom of choice meaningful, man had to have the ability even to break his relationship with God, though it carried the direst consequences. A choice without consequences is actually no choice at all.

I also think this negative command is an appropriate way for man to maintain a right relationship with God. We’ve seen how glorious God made human beings in his own image, as stewards of the earth. With such attributes, we might be tempted to think that we can be God. Such pride is a terrible, destructive force, as human history proves. Romans 1:21 says that people who refuse to glorify God and give thanks to him become foolish and dark in their hearts and minds. So God required the man to submit his own will in this one matter, to use his God-given freedom of choice to put himself under God in real obedience. This is the basis of us having a right relationship with God. For Adam, not eating the fruit of one tree was way for him to acknowledge that even with his abilities and freedom, he was not God.

When we think about maintaining our own relationship with God, it cannot just be a matter of “lip service.” Basically, we must give God the right to say “no” to us, as the way to acknowledge that God is God and we are not. Strong and able men, especially, need a safeguard against their pride growing and growing beyond all bounds. God doesn’t make us follow many complicated and burdensome regulations to please him. But he tests the attitude of our hearts.

Second, the origin and meaning of marriage (18-25)

Now everything was set up so well for the first man, Adam. Well, almost everything. “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’” It’s genuinely shocking, after hearing God say over and over again in Chapter 1, “It was good, it was good, it was good…it was very good,” and now we hear him say, “It is not good!” This reminds me that loneliness is a really serious life problem, not a good state for anyone to be in. We have a deep need for heart-to-heart companionship, and true friendship. It is not good for the man to be alone.

But notice it doesn’t say that Adam himself ever realized that he was lonely. This teaches us even more about God’s personal care for us—that he sees and anticipates our needs even before we ourselves are aware of them. For a long time I also did not realize I was lonely. Actually, I liked being alone. I still like being alone sometimes, but that’s not the same thing as loneliness.

I remember when God made me realize that I was lonely. It was the summer of 2002. All of my young friends in New Jersey UBF were getting ready to go on a tour up the East Coast, driving and visiting several places around New York and Boston. I really wanted to go with them. But instead, I had been invited to be one of the American delegates to the CIS international conference in Moscow. I said, “I don’t want to go to that foreign place just to shake hands and smile at a bunch of strangers speaking a language I don’t understand. I will be so lonely there.” That’s when I realized I was lonely. But I went to Moscow anyway, to honor the privilege of being invited as an international delegate. And what do you think happened on that trip to Russia? I was introduced to M. Anastasia, and we were engaged to be married on a tour bus in Moscow! God knew my loneliness problem better than I did and had prepared the solution in advance before I had any idea what was going on.

Interestingly, God didn’t solve Adam’s loneliness problem right away. First, it says, God brought all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky to the man to see what he would name them. “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.” (19-20) It seems God wanted the man to investigate for himself and see firsthand whether any of the other creatures was able to be his suitable helper. Naming all the animals is no easy job. We can say that Adam was the first scientist. Naming things, distinguishing and classifying what exists, is the core of how man gains knowledge and control of the earth. It does seem like the Lord wanted the man to show that he could work hard before he let him marry.

In the end, Adam’s loneliness problem could only be solved by radical surgery. “So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.”

What made the woman different from the animals? Being made out of Adam, she bore the image of God as Adam did, as Genesis 1:27 indicates. But to show how close they were meant to be, God did not create the woman as a separate being in his image. She was Adam’s very own stuff. When God brought her to the man, he spontaneously composed the very first love poem. Let’s read Genesis 2:23 together: “The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’” Adam acknowledged the superiority of God’s solution to his loneliness problem.

The woman was suitable because unlike the animals, she was the man’s equal. That doesn’t mean she was the same as him in every way; on the contrary, in fact, it seemed like her personality, her preferences, and her areas of strength were exactly the opposite of Adam’s. But this complementary nature was the very thing that would make them such a powerful and effective team for taking care of the earth.

Verse 24 states that this act of God, of creating the woman and bringing her to the man, was what established the institution of marriage and its meaning. “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Why does he leave his father and mother, the strongest bond from the beginning of his life? Because it is God who made the man and the woman and brought them together. Marriage is not a human convention. God himself created the first family. The family is the unit of God’s mission and fruitfulness.

Many people are talking these days about what can save the broken American family. The family environment is meant to be like the Garden of Eden where new lives can grow under the loving umbrella of two parents. The unconditional love of two parents is what gives children the strength to go out and build the future. Everyone can agree that if the foundation of the family crumbles, it’s hard to find any source of hope for the future.

How can we save the family and the future? I think the secret is that prospective husbands and wives must accept their marriage partner as provided by God to be part of their very self. Accepting our marriage partner as “bone of our bones” and “flesh of our flesh” sounds very beautiful. But it’s not just a feeling of closeness; rather, it’s a decision to love the other as our own self. It means that the husband and wife no longer think of themselves in terms of their own separate interests. People might spend a lot of time before marriage thinking about whether they are compatible with this or that person. That’s not necessarily bad, if it’s centered on God’s purpose. But once the holy vow of marriage is spoken before God, the time for thinking about whether she pleases me or whether he is a good match for me, is over. Then it’s time to think only about how to build up what we are together, as a unit. Actually, those who cannot let go of their selfishness are not compatible with anybody.

Though the character, preferences, and personality of a husband and wife may be very different, their interest is now one in God’s purpose. So they willingly give of themselves to build up what the two of them are now as one unit. It sounds scary, and indeed it is serious. But when husband and wife have this attitude, the practical result is joy and love that only grows stronger over time. Their home can be a Garden of Eden-like environment for children and Jesus’ disciples, where they can be built up strong in love. They can overcome all kinds of human barriers and work together with a deep trust relationship. It’s what Paul calls “the mystery of Christ and the church”—the mystery of two becoming one, which many of us are blessed and called to experience through marriage.

If people do not live before God, of course, they have no such concept, only their own feelings and calculations. So they can divorce whenever the marriage becomes too painful, or even if they just get infatuated with somebody else. But those who make a vow of marriage before God are confessing that it is God who has created two to be one, bone of bones and flesh of flesh. Then there is only one rule that applies: “What God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Today we learned about the original paradise that God created for human beings to live in and be happy. Each of us longs for paradise deep in your heart. But because of sin we don’t know how to be happy. Many people have sought to recover this paradise by building a perfect society on earth. But their efforts have fallen so far short. But we should know that paradise is a gift from God, who cares for us. God is the one who gives us paradise in our heart when we know him and restore the right relationship with him.

May God bless you to know God’s goodness and live under his perfect provision, especially in marriage. And let’s pray together to restore the foundation of building God’s kingdom through marriages that are truly before God.

Mark Summary Message

Mark Summary Message

JESUS, THE SON OF GOD AND SERVANT OF ALL

Mark 1:1

“The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…”

Through last passage of Mark’s gospel, we learned that Jesus rose again and send his angel to the women. The angel gave them a mission to remind the disciples his promise. Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and two of his disciples who witnessed his resurrection, but the disciples still did not believe because of their lack of faith and stubborn refusal to believe. Yet when Jesus appeared, rebuked and gave them the mission command, they simply obeyed and God confirmed their work with signs just as he promised. Though we may be like the disciples, fearful and powerless, Jesus is giving us his world mission command. May God help us simply obey Jesus’ command! We may not be able to go out to all nations right now, but we can obey Jesus’ command by reaching out to our family and friends with the gospel of Jesus. When we simply obey, may God bless us with signs and wonders, healing the sick and driving out demons by the power of the Holy Spirit! May God bless us invite them to the upcoming Summer Bible Conference. May God bless this conference to be a heavenly banquet with abundant words of God. Amen!

Thank God for our study of Mark’s gospel over the past year. We began this study with the prayer topic to learn of Jesus, to meet him personally as our Messiah: our Savior and our King. Coming to the last study, what did you learn? I want to remind us of three things Mark’s gospel reveals about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God and the key verse of Mark’s gospel, 10:45. May God grant us one word of God through today’s passage.

I. Jesus, the Son of God.

First, Mark’s gospel reveals Jesus’ Messianic Identity (1:1; 9:7; 8:29; 11:9; 14:61-62; 15:39). Mark 1:1 again reads, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God…” Throughout his gospel, Mark records the testimonies of those around Jesus to help us know who he is. When Jesus first stepped out of obscurity in Nazareth and was baptized by John in the Jordan, God spoke: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (1:11). God was pleased to send us his beloved Son. He testified the same thing later on the transfiguration mountain, declaring: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” (9:7) God declared that Jesus is his beloved Son. His disciples should listen and follow.

Speaking of the disciples, their opinion matters most because they were the ones who followed Jesus and were with him always. Many people can put up an act on special occasions, but not all the time. Jesus wasn’t putting up an act. Jesus, after living with his disciples, asked their testimony: “‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah’” (8:29). They all agreed, weighing all they had learned and experienced, that Jesus is who claimed to be; the Messiah. Not only his disciples, but the crowds, who, upon seeing Jesus entering Jerusalem, were so sure of his identity as Messiah they spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road and welcomed him shouting: “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (11:9) His enemies could find no charge to hold against him, except that he is the Messiah (14:61-62). Even as Jesus was dying on the cross, having been betrayed and brutally treated, his loud cry stirred the heart of a hardened centurion, who testified clearly, “Surely this man was the Son of God (15:39)!” The confession of the Roman centurion is the third person’s testimony, which proved who Jesus truly is, the Son of God. Mark proved that Jesus is the Son of God by the Father God, by the Scriptures, by his disciples, by the people of Israel, by the miracles, even by the Roman centurion.

Yet, people did not accept Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, because he did not save himself, saying, “He saved others, but he cannot save himself. Let this Messiah, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” They would not accept Jesus because he did not come to save them from the Roman oppression. The Son of God; however, did not come save himself but others. Jesus came in order to save them from their sins.

The point of all this testimony is clear: In our world of pluralism and relativism, often we don’t know for sure who we are. Even people we trust sometimes fail us, as shown through recent police brutality cases. Yet in such a world we can be sure of one thing clearly: Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, who came into our world just as God had said he would.

Second, Mark’s gospel reveals Jesus’ Messianic Authority (1:15; 1:22; et. al. ). Mark introduced his gospel saying: “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” Why good news? When Barack Obama was elected president on a campaign of “Change,” many young people across the country rallied to him, because we want change. We’re tired of the anemic politicking that hurts more than helps. For 8 years President Obama tried to change things, but he was powerless in many ways to affect real change. His popularity has tanked. But what about Jesus? Mark clearly revealed that Jesus’ authority and power to bring change is not anemic or weak even though he looked humble. His message and preaching was, “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.” (1:15), The kingdom of God was proclaimed with authority and power that rattled the entrenched religious monopoly (1:22; 11:14-15). His authority drove out demons (1:27; 5:8-9; 7:29; 9:25), liberating those in bondage to Satan’s power. He used his authority and power to heal the sick: cleansing lepers (1:42), opening the deaf ear and loosening the mute tongue (3:5), restoring sight to the blind (8:25; 10:52). Jesus cared for women and children (1:30-31; 5:29; 7:29), regardless of their healthcare plan. You want to talk about natural disaster recovery? Jesus has authority to calm the winds and the waves (4:39-41). Jesus’ authority forgives sins (2:10), freeing us from guilt and reconciling us to God. Jesus even demonstrated power to raise the dead (5:41-42), and he himself was proved to be the Son of God with power by his resurrection from the dead (16:6; Ro 1:4).

Jesus’ coming into this world as Messiah is good news of great joy for all peoples of all nations, because his title of Messiah isn’t just a title or more of the same. Our Messiah Jesus has all authority and power (Mt 28:18-20), and he is working mightily with those who simply believe and obey even until today proclaiming the truth and power of his kingdom (16:20). There is no valley too deep or mountain too high. All of history is leading to his triumphant return (chapter 13), where all will be revealed and every tear will be wiped and every sorrow ended because death is defeated. Jesus’ coming is the greatest news because he has authority to do just as he promises in our lives, in our families, our community, our world.

Third, Mark’s gospel reveals the power of confessing Jesus as Messiah (8:35; 16:16). What is it that Jesus calls us to do in response to his coming and his identity? First he calls us to believe in him by confessing. Mark and Peter build their gospel up to a climax at Peter’s confession in chapter 8. Jesus tells them to follow him, denying themselves, taking up their cross. Jesus promises that those who lose their lives for Him and the gospel will save it (8:35). In Mark 16:16 Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” What is it we believe and how should we express it? Paul clarifies in Romans 10:9-10, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” For Peter, this confession was the beginning point of a whole new life in the kingdom of his Messiah Jesus. Those who are baptized into Jesus are making this confession. It is not enough to know him as Messiah; he calls us to confess and follow him. May God bless each one of us to confess that Jesus is the Savior who came to save us from all our sins and problems of life. When we cry out to him, he will come and save us because he is our Superman. Amen!

II. Jesus is the servant of God.
Have you ever met someone who said, “When I grow up, I want to be a servant.” Servantship is not something we naturally aspire to. Rather, we naturally pursue greatness, fame, notoriety, recognition, promotion, leadership, authority, and power. Of course, there is a petty side to our nature in which we just want to be a small person, quietly ignored: “Leave me alone.” Jesus told his disciples to pursue greatness, but not in the world’s way. The world’s way is to exalt oneself, often by defeating or ruling over others. Our market economy thrives on defeating the competition. Politicians often try to make their opponent look bad, even evil. Let’s review what Jesus taught about true greatness and how Jesus showed it. May we grow to be more like Jesus as his true followers.

Once Jesus’ disciples argued with a topic, “Who is the greatest?” as they walked along the road. Jesus used it as a teaching moment. He sat down with his Twelve disciples and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mk 9:35). Not long after that, James and John asked Jesus if they could have the seats on Jesus’ right and left in his glory. The other ten disciples became indignant with James and John. Jesus said to them all: “Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and…exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.”

In the world, people in high position have many secretaries and servants like maids, butlers, chauffeurs and even body guards. They don’t have time to do menial chores. One time a famous Christian author came and spoke at our church. She was surprised to see our ministry leaders setting up tables and chairs though her speaking topic was on Servant Leadership. On the first day I came to UBF in 1986, I met a man who was mopping the floor. I thought that he was a janitor but I saw him again delivering Sunday message. He was Dr. John Jun who was the director of Korean UBF. Another time, one middle aged man was boiling ramen noodle for a freshman in a college. Later, I found that he was a judge in a federal court. These people kept me coming to meet such servants for more than 29 years.

There is a saying, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Jesus cared for people. He tended the sick. As we know, it is not easy to take care of sick people. One nurse said, “Even nurses, whose professional job is taking care of sick people, usually sick of taking care of sick people.” Some of them have to change patients’ soiled clothes and even underwear. They have to feed them, talk to them, mostly listening to their rambling stories or trivial details or complaints.

Let’s think about Jesus, the servant of all. Jesus didn’t just talk about being a slave of all. He actually served people. He didn’t just preach to others or tell his disciples, “Do this. Do that!” Jesus set the example. Jesus washed their dirty feet. Jesus bore with their weaknesses and dullness with patient teaching.

Jesus served the sick. One time he helped Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who was sick in bed with a fever. Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up. Maybe it took 5 minutes, or maybe he spent one hour holding her hand and talking and praying with her. Jesus loved and helped her very personally. A man with leprosy came to Jesus saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” To touch this man would make Jesus unclean in the Jewish society. Also, it could put Jesus at risk of getting sick himself. Even to avoid passing common colds we wash our hands a lot. Jesus touched the leper saying, “I am willing. Be clean!” Jesus said to a paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Then he healed the man so that he could walk. Jesus spent time to listen to the life testimony of a woman with a 12-year bleeding disease. Jesus took a blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. He spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, two times, until the blind man was healed. Another blind man named Bartimaeus called out to Jesus. People told him to be quiet. But Jesus stopped and called him. Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has healed you,” and the blind man immediately received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Jesus healed many people tormented by evil spirits. Perhaps the most extreme example was the man named Legion, who lived among the tombs. This man would cry out and cut himself with stones. Jesus drove the demons out of him into a herd of pigs and restored the man’s sanity. Have you ever tried to help or make friends with a person who has mental illness? A desperate father could not help his son. So he came to Jesus disciples and Jesus saying, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” “If you can?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” The man exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” Jesus commanded the evil spirit out of the boy, and the boy collapsed as if dead. But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.

Jesus served hungry people. Though Jesus had no money, he prayed and fed them all with bread and fish. Jesus served large crowds of people, sometimes healing them, but most of the time teaching them the word of God. Jesus ministered to their tired and aimless souls.

Jesus’ serving life was not only to the demanding crowds. Jesus also served his disciples patiently. Jesus invested his most precious time on earth to teach, to preach, to heal the sick, to drive out demons. Yet Jesus’ serving did not stop there. Jesus explained, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus explained that he came to serve, and not only to serve, but to give his life as a ransom for many. In this way, Jesus served so many more people through his death.

Jesus is telling this to his disciples because he wants his disciples to be true leaders by being a servant until they can serve all, all kinds of people. So it is true measure of greatness in the sight of God; how many people do I serve? If we do not serve anyone, what would people call us? We have all experienced the joy of serving others in some way. We have also experienced the burden and agony of serving others. When you are hungry or tired or after hard work it is difficult to serve others. Rather, we want to be served with food or conveniences or even with words of praise even though that is just a lip service.
Yet, how did Jesus serve at the time of suffering? Jesus warned the women, not to weep for him but for the God’s impending judgment for the sin of the nation. He asked John to take care of his mother as his own. While going through excruciating pain on the cross, Jesus had a Bible study with one of robbers and prayed for the evil people to be forgiven. The life of Jesus’ servantship makes me humble and enlightening. In my life of faith, God has been sending me all kinds of people. In the light of this passage, it is truly God’s blessing for me to serve and grow in the servantship of Jesus. Amen.

There is a story of heaven and hell. God gave the same kinds of delicious food to people both in heaven and in hell with one condition that they can eat using the long spoon in hand. People in hell were try to gather and eat food only for and by themselves but could not eat any with the long spoon, while people in heaven feeding each other. Let’s taste the kingdom of God through serving each other with the love of Christ. Amen!

Through Mark’s gospel study, we learned who Jesus is. Jesus is the Son of God with authority and power. The Son of God is the Promised Messiah who displayed his authority and power in grace, love and sacrifice. This is truly good news of great joy for all people of all nations. When we cry out to him by faith, he will save us. Also the Son of God did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus showed how we can also be great not in the world’s view but in the sight of God. May God bless each one of us to serve each other and one more kinds of people so that we grow in God’s greatness! Amen!

Mark 10:21 – Message

Mark 10:21 – Message

HOW TO INHERIT ETERNAL LIFE

Mark 10:17-31 Key Verse: 10:21

“Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”

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Through last Sunday’s passage, Jesus taught that we must be like a little child in order to enter the kingdom of God. Like a little child, we must come to Jesus, just as we are, for his blessing. We must simply accept God’s message and messenger, Jesus, rather than justifying our sins through complicated excuses. God blesses those who have an absolute faith in him as a match maker. Jesus blesses all who come to him like a child, accepting Jesus’ teaching with eager desire of learning mind, pure-heart, simple and absolute faith. May God give each one of us faith in Him who created heavens and the earth, and ordains a marriage! May God bless us to be like little children so that we can enter the kingdom of God! Amen!

In today’s passage Jesus teaches how to have eternal life. Everyone wants to have eternal life. The Spanish explorer Juan Ponce De Leon sailed to Florida in 1513 looking for the fountain of youth. It was rumored that anyone who drank from or bathed in this fountain would remain young forever. But he did not find it and died. Ironically, these days, Florida is a popular residence for retired people. Like Leon, we all long for eternal life; it is a God-given desire (Ec 3:11b). If we have eternal life, we have everything, even if we are penniless. But if we don’t have eternal life we have nothing, even if we have a big bank account. Having eternal life means everything to us. The question is how to obtain it. Today’s passage contrasts a rich young man and Jesus’ disciples. The rich man knew that eternal life is valuable and desperately wanted. But practically, wealth in this world seemed more valuable. He failed to give this up, and could not follow Jesus and have eternal life. On the other hand, Jesus’ disciples left everything to follow him. This is a core requirement of discipleship. Jesus assured them that they had eternal life. Let’s learn from Jesus how we can have eternal life. May God bless each one of us one word of God through today’s passage. Amen!

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Mark 9:37 – Message

Mark 9:37 – Message

WELCOME A LITTLE CHILD IN JESUS’ NAME

Mark 9:30-50 Key Verse: 9:37

“Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

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Through last Sunday’s passage, we learn how to overcome unbelief. One father brought a son who was possessed by a deaf and mute demon. The disciples could not heal the boy but argued with the teachers of the law. Jesus lamented, saying, “Oh, unbelieving generation!” Jesus saw it as a generation problem of unbelief. Jesus helped the father to keep his faith to the end, overcoming unbelief. We are also living in an unbelieving generation. God wants us to have faith in him to the end, overcoming personal doubt due to people or hard situations and/or trials in life. God wants us to help one person to have faith in him by sharing the words of God and depending on God through prayer. In this way we can overcome our own unbelief and unbelieving generation; thus, render glory to God. Amen!

In this week, I have repented of my sins of unbelief deeper and mistakes I have made. I realized that often I did not believe in Jesus’ power and tried in my own power. Instead of following the way of Christ, I trusted in my own way. I had faith in favorable circumstances, and it seemed working great at the beginning but no work of God in the end. Only when I despaired in my ability or due to impossible situation, I came to God with earnest heart in prayer, trusting him to the end. Then God shows himself, mysteriously working. May God continue to help me to depend on Jesus through prayer and experience the power of Jesus. Amen!

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John 12:24 – Message

John 12:24 – Message

A KERNEL OF WHEAT

John 12:20-36 KV: 24

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Thank God that through last week’s message we could learn the heart of King David for God and the summary of the entire book of Psalms. It was a warning to keep ourselves planted near the living water at all times to grow strong in the word of God.

This week’s message is the message from Jesus to the people right before his arrest and crucifixion. It is not a rallying cry like in Braveheart but Jesus gives them a principle to live as kernels of wheat that falls to the ground and dies so that many others may live. This isn’t just Jesus’ motto but it is the parable that best exemplifies his life and the life of a Christian. Let us go into the Bible and learn from Jesus how our lives can be kernels of wheat and die to produce many seeds for the glory of God.

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Psalm 1:2 – Message

Psalm 1:2 – Message

BE BLESSED

Psalm 1:1-6 Key Verse 1:2

“…but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.”

When I look back last year, 2014, I could not but give thanks to God for blessings for each one of our members in one way or another, inside and out. Now, each one of our members is praying to find a direction in God for 2015. I have prayed that God may give each a key verse 2015 and wanted to find a passage, explaining why it is important to choose the word of God or guided by the word of God. As we attended Sunday worship service in Chicago UBF last week, God inspired me with Psalm 1. May God bless us with this passage. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Psalms mean songs or praises, which are written in poetic expressions or prayers with musical notes. Most Psalms are written by David, especially when he was in trouble as well as in victory; sometimes pouring out his heart with tears, often complaining to God, and sometimes giving thanks to God, enabling him to overcome times of trials and hardship or to see things in God’s perspective or in His sovereign plan. Psalm 1 is like the prelude or summary of all Psalms. This passage teaches how a person can be blessed by God. Apparently the author tells a warning first. May God grant us one word of God, thus be blessed by God in 2015 Again. Amen!

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Philippeans 4:4 – Message

Philippeans 4:4 – Message

Philippians 4:1-23

Key Verse: 4:4

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

The major theme of Philippians is to know Christ and to grow in his likeness. Thus far, Paul testified that he had a clear life goal to know Christ and that he pressed on toward that goal. In doing so, he fought against two enemies: legalism and antinomianism. Paul didn’t turn to the left or to the right but pursued Christ with all his heart and strength. It was possible because he had hope in heaven for the Second Coming of Jesus. His mind was not bound by earthly things. Rather, he lived as a citizen of heaven. Now, in chapter 4, he exhorted the Philippians with practical teachings about how to live in this world as citizens of heaven until Jesus comes again. There are many important things we should learn in this passage. One of them is to rejoice in the Lord. This is one of the main themes of Philippians. A characteristic of citizens of heaven is rejoicing in the Lord always. But it is not easy to rejoice always. There are many joy robbers who try to take away our joy, including conflicts between coworkers, anxiety, impurities, greed, and so on. Frankly speaking, it is hard to rejoice in the real world. So many painful things happen. Unexpected tragedy and hardship seems to be waiting right around the corner. People are afraid to rejoice. How can we rejoice always? In this passage we can find four exhortations that guide us to rejoice always.

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Matthew 1:23 – Christmas Message

Matthew 1:23 – Christmas Message

Matthew 1:18-25 Key Verse: 1:23

“‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”

In the last Sunday’s passage, we learned that Jesus took three of his disciples and was transfigured to a glorious image, dazzling white like sun shining right in front of them. Jesus showed the disciples his glorious image in order to plant the glorious hope of God’s kingdom in their hearts so that they could focus on rewards not earthly but heavenly. Though Peter was still talking about earthly things at that time, this glorious image he saw on the mountain was imprinted in him. When Peter had the hope of the glorious God’s kingdom and heavenly rewards, he could preach the gospel of Jesus with the power of the Holy Spirit. He could overcome all kinds of sufferings and hardships, and his faith was refined by fire of persecutions to be a pure gold. Thus he became the foundation of the first church of Jesus Christ. Let us focus our eyes on Jesus and see this glorious image. May God bless each one of us to have the hope of the glorious kingdom of God where we will live forever, so that we work hard for the eternal rewards which will last forever. Amen.

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