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"What Would Grieve God Today?"

   
Tan Sri Francis Yeoh

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!

Zermatt Testimony

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.


Sin Grieves God, But He Loves Us Much More

Firstly, sin grieves God, but He loves us much much more.

It is profound truth that a good and benevolent God who created a perfect world would instead allow Himself to be grieved by it.

Donald Miller puts it this way in Searching For God Knows What, “If God is a perfect and loving Being, the most selfless thing He could do would be to create other beings to enjoy Him…If those creatures fell away from Him, the most selfless thing a perfect and loving Being could do would be to go and get them, to try to save them from the death that would take place in His absence” (p.122).

God is the author of everything perfect, but He also gave us free will. Which we used to spurn His love and friendship, thereby setting off a spiritual degeneration so evil, we became an affront to a Holy and Righteous God.

If the flood was the judgement that ended mankind, God would have been well within His right to do so. Perfect justice is warranted from a perfectly Just God. Sinful man must be punished. Otherwise, God would be negligent if He did not.

Having said this, God also loves us perfectly! There lies the dilemma, but not the paradox. A truly Righteous God is both loving and just at the same time!

The Father’s love for you and me opened that window of escape for Noah and his family through the Ark, thus ensuring human survival. We could see throughout all of human history, God was neither silent nor absent – invading human space to win us back. He engaged us, provided our needs and spoke to Moses face to face, “as a man speaks with his friend.” He courted our return, and promised redemption and reconciliation through faith in Him.

The Father also endured jibes and insults that we threw at Him. He was routinely saddened, hurt and heartbroken by our stubbornness, and by our insistence on sinning.

And routinely, the Father allowed us to endure suffering and pain, as means to chastise and discipline our obedience, and to induce our repentance from evil. Serving to remind us that we are all on borrowed time. Yet without fail, grieved as the Father was of our wrong doing, in all our trials and tribulations, He felt our pain. He heard our cries!

Coming back to what I said earlier, having made a way of escape for Noah, God must still make provisions to punish our sins. He must satisfy His justice. That is why, at the cross, maximum sentence upon all our wrong doing was pronounced, and Jesus stepped up to take our punishment.

Apostle Paul writes in Romans 3:25-26, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood – to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance He had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – He did it to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

Perfect Love, Perfect Justice!

By the way, are we not grateful that our Father does not compromise? If God selflessly loved, served and ultimately died for us, is He not benevolent, powerful and utterly credible? He did not compromise His Sovereignty but justified it.

If Jesus did not budge, went the hard way, faced the absolute horror of the cross, how dare we even consider compromising the church today – whether Church of England or not? Unless we really do not know Him. How foolish can we be to ride with ‘cleverly defunct’ philosophies and vain cultural constructs, instead of jumping into the arms of the Eternal Father and depend fully on His leading? Philip Collins does not seem to know this God.

Everything on this earth and in our lives will fade away and all will be proven hollow, except the abiding love and presence of God and the justice of the cross.

The More We Love, The More we Suffer & Grieve

My second Zermatt insight is that the more we love, the more we will suffer and grieve.

Another profound truth is that God allows suffering and pain to be an instrument to achieve His ultimate purpose of salvation for us, but also allows Himself to be subjected to the harsh and cruel conditions of this instrument.

The picture of Jesus hanging on a cross declaring God’s love to a condemned world is radical and out of this world. It smashes all our misnomers and inaccuracies about a God who is remote, unapproachable and uncaring; a cosmic dictator who does everything He pleases recklessly and at mankind’s expense.

The Jesus on the cross showed all of us that God suffers pain and willingly do so on our behalf! Which cosmic dictator would do that?

Jesus also sounded aloud that God suffers ‘our’ pain. That was the clearest sign of His identification with human miseries – whether deserved or undeserved. It goes against any notion of God being distant.

But let me take this argument one step further.

We know that God is Omniscient. Peter said in Acts 2:23 that the crucifixion was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.

Regardless of the days and years, let us just call it eternity, when we believe that God is Omnipotent, Omniscient and Omnipresent and He planned everything He said, then God must have already been suffering since the moment the plans were devised.

For Jesus, the actual physical pain of a gruesome death was realised at the cross. But for the Triune God, the mental and emotional pain and anguish of carrying the weight of human existence was as long as eternity. But I would guess, perhaps most ‘painful’ was the inconceivable weight that God had to carry for eternity – the anticipation of the eventual separation of the Triune Godhead at the cross. Omniscience do not make sufferings easier. They merely multiply the pain effect ‘infinitely’.

And at the cross, the infinitely intimate, eternally together and completely self-sufficient Triune Godhead was broken. What love and unity within the Godhead, and what willingness of the Trinity to suffer in unison for us!

If we love much, we sacrifice much. If we treasure most, we suffer most. God showed us His example.

Which should lead us to question in the context of Logos Hope II, our churches and our world at large, do we love in the manner that we are willing to suffer?

Is our love magnanimous and in view of eternity, as selfless as the Triune Godhead has demonstrated?

At The End Of Grief Comes Joy

Finally, the profound truth that we hold dear and believe with all our hearts is that after grief, comes joy. After the cross, Resurrection!

Isaiah 53:10 reads, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.”

In The Pleasures of God, John Piper say that the Father was pleased to bruise the Son, not so much in the suffering itself, but in the great success of what the Son would accomplish in His suffering. Namely, the reconciliation of mankind to God, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Similarly, the Father does not enjoy seeing us suffer or go through pain. We have instances in Scripture whereby God pours our His heart in agony when moved by our sufferings.

Nevertheless, it pleases Him to see what becomes of us through our challenges and difficulties, whether physical, mental, emotional or spiritual. That devoid of all sense of control and independence, and any notion of pride and self-centredness, we would draw nearer to Him in humility and in faith.

Or through the terrible ordeal of a dislocated shoulder, to be awakened to the sight of God’s glory in His suffering – so that we may learn to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Or to love as Christ has done, as compel by a love so amazing and so divine, it has to be expressed and shared. 

But of course, ultimately, to be so refined through suffering we would reflect His glory purely and clearly back to Him. That is worship.

Now, I have also gained through the pain, a greater sense of ‘perspective’. The severity of this pain of a dislocated shoulder, has somehow ‘overcome’ all other pains. Other pains do not seem as painful by comparison anymore. In this sense, my ‘pain threshold’ has also greatly increased in limits. Like all of you who have suffered in one way or another for Jesus and His Kingdom.

I guess one practical application relates to loving others. The more we love, the more we suffer. But the more we suffer, even more we could love. Pain helps us go beyond ourselves and stretches our threshold, especially for people we do not like or wish to get along.

Conclusion

Let me summarise. I have shared of what grieves God, but also highlighted that God never gives up on us. He never stops loving us, although it cost Him His Son’s life.

Therefore, it is fitting that we ask if we are at all like our Lord Jesus, loving selflessly and giving of ourselves sacrificially.

We should also ask if we are pain averse and fearful of suffering. Because if we wish to live beyond mediocrity and churchy-niceness, we need the fiery passion of Jesus’ love, and we must embrace the cross – hence, suffering.

And when we suffer for Christ’s sake, which we invariably will, we will see His glory. As Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8:17, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”

The Kingdom of God is always advancing and not retreating. We can be confident of this because Christ already has the victory and His Spirit is spurring us on. That is a big deal! All of us are now called to claim His promises and advance along with Him ‘together’ as one body, as one church!  Let us vow tonight never ever to grieve our Triune God again for tonight we are blessed with a glimpse of His love, a love so perfect only our Triune God can flood us with it.

Amen.

Speech by Tan Sri Francis Yeoh at the Pre-Easter Dinner to the Leaders and Elders of the Leading Churches in Malaysia, at The Ritz Carlton Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Maundy Thursday, 5 April 2012.



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