Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Psalm 99: Worship is Responding to God's Holiness

KEY TEXT: Psalms 99:1-3, 5 The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake! The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he!...Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!

KEY THOT: The word "holy" in Hebrew is qadosh. It carries the idea of moral purity and excellence--a sense that God is totally unlike anything or anyone on earth because He is high and exalted "over all the peoples.". God sits "enthroned upon the cherubim". It is this attribute of holiness as something totally unlike anything experienced on earth that creates a sense of awe and fear. While God's love draws us near because we are familiar with that, His holiness keeps him apart from us--because it is like a devouring fire that will consume us if we draw too near. So, the psalmist calls for appropriate response from his created order: "let the peoples tremble!" and "let the earth quake!" (v.1).  More importantly, the awesomeness of God's holiness will cause us to fall down at his feet to worship Him: "exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool" (v.5).

Until we have fully grasped that God is holy and therefore awesome, we may confuse worship with sentimentality. While God's love may cause us to draw near to him in intimacy, it is God's holiness that can inspire us to truly worship Him. Worship in Hebrew (shachah) is literally "bowing down" at his footstool. The holiness of God will not make us stand and run towards him--but it will cause us to stop and fall down at his feet.

There is much focus in contemporary worship songs on God's love. While this may create a sense of intimacy with God, it is not the same as worship. The songs that truly inspire worship focuses on God's holiness and awesome majesty. The psalmist describes the holiness of God in terms of God's reign and rule: "the Lord reigns... He sits enthroned upon the cherubim" (v.1). And his holiness is expressed in executing justice and righteousness on earth: "The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob" (v.4). 

When we focus on God's holiness, we declare He is infinitely differently and separate from His creation because He is totally unlike anything or anyone we have known on earth. We can only response to this awesome God by bowing down in worship.

Father, deliver us from sentimentality in worship but fill us with a sense of awe and fear of the holy God who is high and exalted and seated on his throne in the heavens. Amen.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Exodus 24:15-18 Manifestation of God's Glory

KEY TEXT: Exodus 24:16-18 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. 

KEY THOT: The glory of the Lord manifested itself in the OT as a tangible and visible presence: "The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel" (vv.16-17). It was a localized manifestation of an omnipresent God. 

While we affirm the truth that God is present everywhere, but there is also a sense in which He can manifest His presence somewhere. Just as on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit manifested His presence in a tangible way in a specific house: "a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:2-4).When the Spirit descended on the 120 disciples in the upper room, only they experienced the glory of God in a tangible way, but not people outside the house. The manifestation of God's glory is often an awesome event, just like on Mount Sinai--localised and dramatic in its effects.

While we do not want to turn specific historical events into theological norms, nevertheless we must accept that Scripture teaches that the local manifestation of the glory of God is dramatic and visible, often accompanied by signs and wonders. It didn't just happen on the day of Pentecost and ceased subsequently. Rather, this was repeated throughout the first decades of of the church history as recorded in the NT:
  • Hebrews 2:3-4 It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. 
  • Acts 2:42-43 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
  • Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. 
  • Acts 5:14-16 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
  • Acts 10:44-46 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.
  • Acts 16:25-26 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened.
If these events happened only in the Book of Acts, then one can conclude that we should not expect them to continue. But church history has chronicled a story of dramatic expansion of early Christianity that was often accompanied by dramatic manifestation of God's glory with accompanying conversions, signs and wonders--right up to this present generation. It is occurring too often in church history to be dismissed as a "once-off, never-to-be-repeated" event. The reason it is no longer normal is because the church has become nominal. 

The manifestation of God's glory is sometime called "revival". In the case of Israel in the wilderness, the glory of God never departed from them--they had on-going revival. 

So revival should not be  is not be an anomaly. Revival is simply a restoration of nominal Christianity to normal Christianity. Whenever the Spirit of God is free to move, it moves in dramatic and often supernatural way. After all, we have a supernatural God! We should expect nothing less.

Father, thank You for Your glory manifested among Your people. May Your Spirit bring revival to restore nominal Christianity to normal Christianity again. Amen.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Matthew 5:38-48 Love Surrenders Its Rights

KEY TEXT: Matthew 5:38-39, 43-45 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.'  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil... You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust"

KEY THOT: True love is not about asserting our rights. Instead, it is about giving up our rights in order to fulfill our responsibilities. Love is not about asserting our right to justice or love. Instead, it is about giving to others their rights: returning good for evil, and love for hate. It's only when we adopt this attitude of surrendering our rights rather than asserting our rights that we are behaving like true sons and daughters of God our Father. For our Father makes his sun to rise on evil and good people and sends rain on the just and the unjust. Love is not selective as to whom it will bless because love is not a reward for good behaviour but a response of a loving character.   

Here again, Jesus re-interprets the OT law of justice (lex talionis, law of retaliation) and the law of love (love your neighbour) in the spirit in which God intended it to be applied, viz., focusing on fulfilling our responsibility to give justice and love to others rather than asserting our right to get justice and love for ourselves. The natural and human way is asserting our rights, but the divine way is surrendering our rights. Jesus not only teaches this principle of surrender but his entire life is a demonstration of this principle: "though [Jesus] was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant,  being born in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7).

Jesus surrendered his divine rights as God to take on the responsibilities of a lowly human slave (Greek: doulos=slave), a person and position without rights but only responsibilities. If we are to be like Christ, we ought to adopt the same attitude of surrendering our rights to fulfill our responsibilities. It's only in surrendering our earthly rights that we will receive the heavenly love and justice from God our Father: "Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:9-11).

Father, deliver us from the need to assert our rights so that we may receive from You true love and justice to fulfill our responsibilities to show love and justice to others as true sons and daughters of Father-God. Amen.