Thursday, April 5, 2012
MAUNDY THURSDAY SERMON TO THE CHURCHES
“What Would Grieve God Today?”
On this Maundy Thursday evening, I feel led to speak on ‘What would grieve God today?’
There are many instances in Scripture where God is mentioned as being grieved.
The Father’s Grief
In Genesis 6:5-6, we read of God the Father being grieved in His heart.
He “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth.”
One of the saddest moments in human history. The Flood was to follow years later.
The Son’s Grief
Then we read of the Son’s grief.
Praying at the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus became exceedingly sorrowful. He prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done”. And then being in agony, He prayed more earnestly, to the point that His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:41-42, 44).
Can we fathom what Jesus was going through? He would soon have the weight of the world’s sins upon His shoulders. Death on the cross was imminent.
But Jesus’ prayer to the Father in John 12:27-28, tells us a lot more. Jesus prayed, “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name.”
Here, Jesus gives us a glimpse into the eternal intimacy between the Triune Godhead. The Father would bruise the Son and “put Him to grief,” as prophesied in Isaiah 53:10. Yet, the Son would willingly lay down His life for the Father’s glory. Thereby putting Himself on course to endure the saddest and yet most profound moment in eternity – when the Triune Godhead would be broken for the very first time, as the Father turned His face away from a sin-laden Son hanging on the cross.
No wonder the ‘cup’ felt so hard to bear. Now imagine the actual crucifixion itself!
The Holy Spirit’s Grief
Finally, we read of the Holy Spirit’s grief.
Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29-32, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”
These are brief examples in the Bible on the Father, the Son and also the Holy Spirit ‘being grieved’. What would actually grieve God today?
Let me suggest 3 examples:
One – A Compromise Too Far?
On 16 March, this year, Philip Collins (not the musician) wrote a disturbing religious piece in The Times newspaper entitled, ‘The strife is not o’er. The battle may be lost’.
Collins observes that throughout history, the British Monarchy had to adapt itself to survive, especially when it was challenged or unpopular. That is why recent British Royals successfully adapted to the modern ‘celebrity’ age, transforming themselves into cultural icons. 750 million people in 74 countries tuned in to watch William & Kate’s wedding on TV, excluding the millions who watched it online.
But survival came with a price – the erosion of the monarchy’s political sovereignty through compromise. He says, “The very slow draining away of political power was, strangely enough, the salvation of the British Monarchy.” He then concludes, “The monarchy today has a new contract. So long as it does not matter, we (the British people) will cherish it.”
What Collins suggested next got me furious! The struggling Church of England should copy the monarchy – adapt and reinvent itself as a “national cultural institution”. After all, these days, fewer than 2% of British folks attend Anglican churches on Sundays. More church buildings are also being turned into “flats, bingo halls and curry houses” because of financial pressures. He also argues that the Church of England does not have much to lose, since in the first place, it emerged from political expediency under Henry VIII, and Anglican theology has not stood out as a result.
The church should ditch its core beliefs, including principled stance against such practices like gay marriage. By “going with the grain of English Society”, it may be popular with the British public again.
Then on March 21st, Frank Bruni wrote in the New York Times.
“If Catholicism is measured by obeisance to the pope, his cardinals and the letter of Vatican law, then Rick Santorum is the best Catholic to ever get this far in presidential politics.
He doesn’t just oppose abortion as a private matter of personal conscience. He has made that position a defining crusade.
He has promulgated the church’s formal prohibition against artificial birth control.
On homosexuality, premarital sex, pornography and more he trumpets that alignment as a testament to the steadfastness of his devotion, the integrity of his faith.
Yet, exit polling suggests that he lost the Catholic vote to Mitt Romney, a Mormon. In primary after primary, more Catholics have gravitated to Romney than to Santorum.
Because most American Catholics don’t share their appointed leaders’ qualms with the pill, condoms and such.
These Catholics look to the church not for exacting rules, but for a locus for their spirituality, with rituals and an iconography that feel familiar and thus comfortable.”
He concludes that Santorium’s particular Catholicism isn’t theirs. It’s the hierarchy’s. And his poor performance among Catholics should cause cardinals, bishops and the candidate himself to rethink the way they approach their religion.
Let me say this clearly. If the Church of England goes Collins’ way, as some American Episcopalian Churches have done, it will surely collapse. The faith of the Catholic Church in America will also surely collapse if the Catholic Church compromised with what Santorum stood on abortion and homosexuality. The glory of the Lord will leave!
All churches face problems, especially financial ones. The Church of England is no different. I know because there is a church on Pangkor Island that has wooden Anglican church pews purchased in a ‘destroyed church remanants’ graveyard in England.
Like all churches, the Church of England must also be relevant today. However, the Christian church did not survive 2000 years by rejecting its founder – the Lord Jesus Christ, and His Divinity. Especially, considering Jesus is very much alive! Any attempt to remove Jesus’ headship, the cross and His truths from the Anglican Communion is sinful. Substituting Christ with some wishy-washy cultural construct will not only insult Him quite literally, it is foolish!
Let us be reminded that to the church in Laodicea in Revelations 3:14-16, our Lord Jesus says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
Nonetheless, God in His infinite grace and mercy has also raised up stalwarts in the Church of England the likes of Nicky Gumbel, Alister McGrath, N.T. Wright, Andrew White, Rico Tice, all servants of God committed to Jesus’ Lordship over the church, passionately living out the call to Christlikeness and radical discipleship, as epitomised by the late John Stott, one of the world’s most revered Anglican vicars.
Now, what is the state of our Malaysian churches today? Are we adapting well to present times – burning with passion for Christ or dangerously lukewarm? Are we steep in popularity contests – looking good in our window dressings, yet God’s glory has since left our churches?
Two – A Showboat Of Love
All of us are familiar with OM Ships ministry. In fact, many of us were at the fundraiser in JW Marriot Hotel 4 years ago, which raised the necessary funds to put Logos Hope II into sea.
When Logos Hope II was in Klang last October, I was invited on board to give a message to the 370+ Christian crew members. I shared that the ship was more than a floating bookshop offering great literature, it is a unique ‘showboat’ of His love, grace and favour, like Noah’s Ark. This close-knit community from the captain to the deckhand is a microcosm of what things could and would be like in heaven. Collectively, the ship’s community show the unity of Christ as a hyssop and a testimony. That is why many of us have put a lot of time, money and effort to back this wonderful ministry.
Few Sundays ago, Dr Moses Lee spoke at FGA and reflected on his 16 months serving on board Logos Hope II as the ship’s doctor. With his permission, I am highlighting some of his experiences.
Dr Lee did not paint a perpetual rosy picture on board the ship. Nor did he hide his struggles adapting to circumstances. For example, he admitted feeling disconcerted in the early months after joining the ship. Because in spite of his maturity and gifting, he was not asked to do other things like preaching, except to focus on being the ship’s doctor.
Dr Lee also highlighted the challenges of living in this small multicultural and multi-ethnic community. There was ignorance amongst shipmates and senior staff that resulted in prejudices, conflicts and even racial tensions. At times, folks behaved gracelessly towards one another, especially saying harsh and hurtful words. He retired from the ship’s ministry with many wounds, some that would take time to heal.
Let me make clear. I am not naďve. There will never be utopia on board Logos Hope II. I am not attacking the ship’s ministry either. On the contrary, I wish to affirm the good work done by both Dr Lee and Logos Hope II.
However, I also wish to point out, rightly or wrongly, whether it was Dr Lee’s own inadequacies or that of the ship’s believers, if there is showboating, prejudice or infighting driven by pride and self-centredness; if there is no love, humility and God’s grace; Jesus would be grieved! And I have no doubt, my beloved friend, George Verwer, the Founder of OM Ships would also be grieved.
On this note, can we honestly claim that our own churches and Christian organisations epitomise God’s love and grace?
Three – One In Spirit
The community on Logos Hope II is certainly a microcosm of the church at large. Needless to say, what happens to the church at large reverberates many times more.
The church is the body of believers in Christ. Throughout New Testament history, it has been a key pillar of moral uprightness, dignity and justice. And the driving force behind much human progress as well as the advancement of human societies. Dinesh D’Souza argues these truths convincingly in his book, What's So Great About Christianity?
Sadly, church history also makes difficult reading. The church has not always been consistent in being Christ-like. Instead, it habitually mirrored the imperfections of human nature. Much evil committed in human history was done so in the name of the ‘church’.
Imagine how mortified and sorrowful God must feel!
Similarly, it is sad that many Christians cannot get along. Churches and denominations have become dividing lines between God’s people.
When others observe Christians, they do get baffled by such common notions as ‘Catholics versus Protestants versus Orthodox’. They see ‘popularity contests’ between churches, antagonism between big and small fellowships, and frequent exchanges of insults and mockeries camouflaged as theological variances. If we are honest, we must admit that many Christians concertedly invent excuses to be apart. Preferring separation rather than working towards common goals as God intended for all believers – united in One Spirit.
What is wrong with us?
Again, I am not naďve. I know that all believers are wired differently. There are genuine differences in opinions and preferences amongst us – even in this room. There is a level of diversity that comes with our make-up, including our experiences and theological development. That is why churches and denominations have spawned. Even Apostle Paul said that a body has many members.
But Paul also said in Ephesians 4 that because we are in Christ Jesus and baptised into One Spirit, we work as one body to the glory of God. In spite of our diversity, we reflect Christ as one!
My beloved friends, do we honestly seek the unity of Christ in the midst of diversity? Or are we just playing church, advancing our own self-interests, protecting our ‘little spheres of influence’, and feeding on fears and ignorance? Do we invent reasons to disunite, whilst missing the loveless, judgemental and unforgiving spirit that stares right back at us if we care to look ourselves in the mirror?
Two summers ago, my family and I were led by my spiritual guardian Rev. David Pawson to visit the seven churches recorded in the book of Revelations. We visited the Sacred Grotto of Revelation in Patmos, where Apostle John supposedly received the book of Revelations. So moved by the occasion, we wanted to pray in the cave, led by David – even thanking the Lord for the faithfulness of the Apostle John.
But we were prevented from doing so by the Orthodox Church representative in charge. Could you imagine that? When did the church become restrictor of access to the Lord? (I am not just speaking of the Orthodox Church!) Were we ever given monopolies over the things of God – the Sacred Grotto and whatever else?
If the Lord searched our hearts this moment, will He be grieved by any hint of divisive spirit in this room?
If there is a manner befitting the Spirit of sacrifice as demonstrated at Calvary, let it emanate from the all the shepherds’ hearts in this room. Unity begins with us – it starts here, in this very room on this very night!
It Isn’t Easy
Bringing up these 3 examples, I merely highlighted just how much and how easy we grieve God. We make a habit of it! Like Jesus’ disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, who barely stayed awake to keep watch and to pray with their Master.
I know that all too well for myself.
That is why I am so grateful that through a painful ordeal recently, God woke me up to some truths about His grief, in the light of the crucifixion. I have spoken previously about his pain and ordeal like many but I could not fathom how painful it truly is!
In early February, I was in Switzerland and took a few days out to ski on the famous Swiss Alps in Zermatt.
As an experienced skier, I love tackling more challenging ski runs. On this particular ski run, I decided on a detour and skied on an unmarked path. Along this unmarked path were three warnings signs in German, which I foolishly ignored. To my horror, this path quickly became treacherous with huge bums and very icy, I shot through the icy bums, landed upon the surface on my right shoulder and immediately dislocating it.
I was in excruciating pain and felt nauseous. A dislocated shoulder is perhaps one of the worst physical pains on this earth. It causes serious damage to ligaments, muscles and nerves. But because of the pain, I was also made aware of Jesus’ own dislocated shoulders.
Jesus’ Dislocated Shoulders
Alexander Metherell, a renowned physician, has written extensively on the historical, archaeological and medical data concerning the crucifixion of Jesus.
He claims that when Jesus was hanging on the cross, with nails driven through his wrists and feet, we can determine with simple mathematical equations that “…his arms would have immediately been stretched, probably about six inches in length, and both shoulders would have become dislocated.”
This dislocation of Jesus’ shoulders was also prophesied a thousand years before the cross, in Psalm 22, “…My bones are out of joint”.
On Zermatt, I really cried and prayed that God would heal me instantly. If not, kill me there and then. Having gone off the beaten path, there were no other skiers around. I had to crawl my way back to the main ski run in order to seek help. 1 ˝ hours later, I finally received treatment in the hospital. 1˝ hours too long for my ability to tolerate this pain. The word ‘excruciating’ pain found a whole new meaning to me.
But Jesus hung on the cross for 6 hours without relief. We also know that the crucifixion followed right after Jesus was beaten and tortured senselessly, and abused beyond recognition. Furthermore, if His already brutalised body was not heavy enough to add strain and stress on his dislocated shoulders, the sins of the world – yours and mine – were laid upon them.
I am not trying to be morbid by talking about dislocated shoulders. But I do want to use it as a ‘lens’ to help us gain a fresh insight into why God the Father would make such a public display of His Son on the cross, and why the Son would willingly accept the terrible sacrifice.
Let me briefly expound on three insights.