Monday, July 23, 2012

Easter Sunday: New Creation coming to a Planet near You!

The tomb is empty! Christ has risen from the grave. Startled with fear and doubt, the best theory His disciples could come up with was that they have seen a ghost! (Luke 24:37) So he shows them His very physical hands and feet, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones”.

Still they remain stunned in joy and amazement. Then Jesus gave them the ultimate evidence. “You’ve got anything here to eat?” And the risen Lord of the universe munched down a piece of broiled fish in front of their eyes (Luke 24:42). His resurrected body is capable of swallowing food neatly unlike those messy ghosts we find in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.

This is no phantom. He is back – with muscles, bones and a functioning stomach. All over the world, Christians celebrate the bodily resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday. It marks the end of Lent season of fasting, prayer and penance; and the beginning of Easter season that lasts for fifty days until Pentecost. Tom Wright wrote, “If Lent is a time to give things up; Easter ought to be a time to take things up.” If Lent is a season to let go of old habits, sins and attitudes that hinder our walk with God, what are the new and wholesome things we should pick up for Easter season?

That really depends on how we understand the meaning of Easter for us today.

When many people think of the resurrection, they think of life after death in heaven. Like those popular cartoon sketches of people floating around in fluffy clouds, wearing white gowns with a harp in their hand and a halo on their head. The idea is to escape from this physical world. Life on this earth is just a temporary transit station to a disembodied state of bliss somewhere else. And the danger of that is we can be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. It creates a mentality where we withdraw from life and passively wait for the afterlife. But the Christian hope of eternal life is not like that. It is not about running away from reality. Our ultimate future is a new heaven and a new earth. This world we live in will be renewed, transformed and restored. It won’t be abandoned or left to rot. So we look forward to a resurrection just like Jesus’ where we will be raised to life in an incorruptible and glorified body. (Not as a ghostly, floating apparition!)

What God has done in Christ on Easter morning, He would do on a cosmic scale for the entire creation, including us. There will be no more sorrow, sickness, decay or violence for God will wipe away every tear and restore all that is good. C.S. Lewis described the future redeemed world to be more substantial, more tangible and more solid than the world as we know it. The fullness of God's kingdom shall come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

So we can expect to be fruitful stewards of His renewed universe and worshipful priests who glorify and enjoy God’s presence for eternity. But while we wait for that glorious day, we can start practicing right now! In the meantime, we are to live today as if the future is already present. The way we go about our daily chores, prayers and worship are to be signposts pointing forward to what God’s reign in its future fullness would look like.

The church community is like a movie preview: We are to display some hints, glimpses or foretastes of the actual movie so people will look at us and go, “Wow! I want to see the complete show!” New Creation: Coming soon to a planet near you… If that is what Easter resurrection means, shall we not take up some new things that model (in small ways) the future kingdom of justice, love and hope? Now, how would that look like? Perhaps it could mean simple things like signing up for a new project that gets our hands dirty conserving the environment. Or maybe, getting involved in caring for the poor and the sick around us? Ever thought of spending some time and energy on a worthy social cause that promotes fairness and peace in our country? Surely the surprising reality of Easter Sunday ought to empower us to be witnesses of Christ’s death and resurrection the way it did for the early disciples. If the present creation and our bodies will not be forsaken but ultimately transformed, then we are to work here-and-now in anticipation of that final vision. Resurrection power is lived out in down-to-earth realities, grounded in the real world where we do business, as we cook in the kitchen, when we play with our children, study in schools, draw a painting, love and be loved, infusing everyday life with fresh spirituality and power. If Lent is a season for fasting, then perhaps Easter should be a season of celebrating the newness of life, the goodness of creation and the hope of future glory that may even include a hearty meal of broiled fish eaten to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection” (Romans 6:5)

Picture courtesy of Credo
Easter - Coming to a Planet Near You

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Thinking Theologically Conference 2012: The Work of the Holy Spirit


Thinking Theologically Conference (TTC) returns this year with an exciting topic and an all new venue! Happening over the Raya break, TTC is a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city for 4D3N of being equipped and fellowship with other Christians.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

Some say Christians have been guilty of ignoring Him and failing to be directed by Him in life and ministry. But how does He work? Where was He in the Old Testament time? Can we explain His activity if we do not fully understand His relationship to the other persons of the Trinitarian God?

For Christians today there is still much confusion and uncertainty as seen in arguments over ‘spiritual phenomena’ like tongues-speaking and matters of guidance. Fundamentally, the question is, what is the relationship between the Christ and the Holy Spirit in Christianity? Do all Christians need to receive the Holy Spirit as a distinct experience in order to be better Christians?

All Christians will need to understand this and more, in order to know the work of God in their lives and to serve God and His church effectively. At TTC 2012, we will be working together as God's people, to learn of Him from the Bible and the theologians of the church in order to faithfully preach and minister Christ to the world.

Info & registration:

20-23 August 2012 (Raya break)

Rev. Robin Gan

Hotel Seri Malaysia, Bagan Lalang

About the Gospel Growth Fellowship

The Gospel Growth Fellowship (GGF) is a fellowship committed to glorifying God through the growth of Gospel-centred evangelical Christianity in the local church. We believe Christians should be passionate about the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Romans 1:1-6) and make it central inlife, thought and ministry.

It therefore serves the local church in several ways:

1.       Building its members up in a Gospel-centred biblical literacy: faithful to the text, theologically sound and interpreted accurately in Christ.

2.       Equipping members of the local church with the skills and thinking necessary for doing Gospel-centred word ministry.

3.       Encouraging Christians to be committed to Gospel-centred service and leadership of the church.

4.       Fostering mutual support amongst fellow-workers in Christ for perseverance inGospel-centred ministry.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Proclaiming The PeaceMaker

Proclaiming the Peacemaker

Peter Rowan's research Proclaiming the Peacemaker: The Malaysian church as agent of reconciliation in a multicultural society is now published by Regnum. Available at OMF at RM 90. His work has been a major influence in my own thinking and preaching on this theme. Here are some interesting comments from Dr Tony Lim (MBS) and Bishop Hwa Yung (Methodist Church):

Rowan throws down the gauntlet to the church in Malaysia to be an Agent of Reconciliation. I find persuasive his argument that reconciliation is a central and integrative theme in the theology of mission. Malaysian Christians need to respond to this challenge.
Dr Tony Lim, Dean, Malaysia Bible Seminary
This book may not be too welcomed by Malaysian Christians, not because it is wrong-headed, but because it so right and prophetic!
Bishop Hwa Yung, Methodist Church in Malaysia
With a history of racial violence and in recent years, low-level ethnic tensions, the themes of peaceful coexistence and social harmony are recurring ones in the discourse of Malaysian society. In such a context, this book looks at the role of the church as a reconciling agent, arguing that a reconciling presence within a divided society necessitates an ethos of peacemaking. With a combination of theological, historical and sociological perspectives, Rowan sets out to demonstrate that being an agent of reconciliation is linked to our effectiveness in bearing witness to an identity given by Christ.
This volume is persuasive in content, faithful in spirit both to Scripture and the needs of the hour and succeeds in being readable while sustaining a high academic standard in the service of a practical objective. I warmly commend this volume and its author.
Professor Stephen N  Williams, Union Theological College, Belfast
In this original and well-researched book, Dr Peter Rowan convincingly argues that the implementation of reconciliation is a key aspect of mission since it is central to theology of mission, and due to the socio-historical context  of Malaysia.
Professor Sebastian Kim,  York St John University

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Reason for God: The Knowledge of God

If you died and arrived at the gates of Heaven, what would you say to God to justify your lifelong atheism? Bertrand Russell: Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence. 

But Tim Keller says: “I don’t want to argue why God may exist. I want to demonstrate that you already know God does exist.” No matter what you say, belief in God is an unavoidable, basic belief that we cannot prove but cannot not know. We know God is there. That’s why even when we say life is meaningless; we simply can’t live that way. We are just repressing what we know (Romans 1)

Secular, urban young people are not amoral or relativistic. They have a finely honed sense of right and wrong. They care for human rights and the weak. They are against animal cruelty. They are against intolerance and bigotry. But these moral intuitions are free floating in thin air.

If there is no God, why is it wrong for bigger brained animals to trample on the weaker ones?” It seems that we hold humans guilty for violating the rights of other animals but not the lions or tigers for doing the same. Why the double standards?

And where do we get the idea of inalienable rights and equal dignity of all human beings? Polish poet Czelaw Milosz fears that underneath these noble words is an abyss, nothing but emptiness since their foundations were found in religion.

You Are Forbidden To Forbid

Moral Relativist: “No one should impose their moral views on others, because everyone has the right to find the truth inside her self”.

Aren’t there people in the world who are doing things you believe are wrong – things they should stop doing no matter what they personally believe about the correctness of their behavior? Everyone does. Doesn’t that mean that you do have some kind of moral standard that they should follow regardless of their individual convictions?

Why is it impossible (in practice) to be a moral relativist? Because we all have an unavoidable belief not only in moral values but also in moral obligation (shouldness)

Our conscience tells us not only what is right or wrong, it tells us there are standards outside of ourselves that evaluate our moral feelings. People who laugh at moral absolutes do not think racial genocide is just impractical or futile, but that it is wrong. We don’t care if those who did it sincerely felt they were doing something good.

Evolutionary psychology: People behave unselfishly survived in greater numbers than those who are selfish. Therefore altruistic genes get passed down and we feel it is ‘right’.

But if survival of our own tribe is all that matters, then the opposite response (hostility to people ‘outside’ our group) should be just as widely considered moral behavior. Why are we obligated to jump in a river to save a stranger or enemy? That kind of altruism should have died out long ago.

Maybe such selfless behavior brings indirect reciprocal benefits, but this can’t account for our motivation to do such acts when no one notices. It only describes our moral behavior, but it does not explain why we should behave like that.  

Reason For God: The Grand "Sez Who"?

The Star Trek Dilemma

Greg Koukl: "The Prime Directive of the Federation prohibits the crew of the Enterprise in Star Trek shows from interfering with alien civilizations. Moral standards are set internally, by one’s culture. What’s right for one society isn’t necessarily right for another. Since morality is relative all competing values are equally legitimate the crew of the Enterprise was forbidden to intrude."

But even secular anthropologists who saw no objective basis to judge other culture’s morality are compelled to promote women’s interests and oppose oppressive practices against women in the societies they studied. “When there is a choice between defending human rights and defending cultural relativism, anthropologists should choose to protect and promote human rights. We cannot be bystanders”, wrote Carolyn Fluehr-Lobban. But why? We cannot live without morality.

"That’s why even Captain Kirk ignored the Prime Directive so often. It wasn’t just good TV. It was good moral thinking."

Habermas: Despite their European origins, “human rights” now constitute the only language in which the opponents and victims of murderous regimes and civil wars can raise their voices against violence, repression and persecution all over the world. But where do they come from?

Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor gives some options:
1)      Human rights come from God because human beings are made in His image with sacred and inviolable dignity. But there are so many agnostics out there.
2)      Natural law: It fits with the way things are. But there is also violence in nature.
3)      We made them up in the interest of societies for the long run. But what if a majority decides it is not in their interest to grant human rights? Can’t we legislate it out of existence? Why give that right to an individual if it is not in the society’s interest?

Rights cannot be created – they must be discovered, or they are of no value. Dworkin: “The nerve of the sacred lies in the value we attach to a process or enterprise or project rather than to its results considered independently from how they were produced”.

Michael Perry, law professor responds: But who is ‘we’ here? The Nazis? The Jews? The conspicuous problem with Dworkin’s secular argument for rights is that he assumes a consensus among human agents that does not exist and never has existed.

If there is no God, there is no good reason to be kind and loving and work for peace. It’s will to power: Sez Who? In the absence of God, each legal system must ask: Who among us is qualified to declare ‘law’ that ought to be obeyed? Who can take His place? Apart from God, our moral preferences are just mere opinions about our favorite ice cream flavors. But we still live as though they exist. We cannot not know morality… Are we humans the moral freaks in an amoral world? Or if a premise (There is no God) leads to a conclusion you know is false (i.e. torturing babies is morally relative), then why not change the premise?

Keller: I’m not proving God’s existence to you but show that you already know he is there. We live as if it is better to seek peace instead of war, truth instead of lies and love instead of hate. But that only make sense if there is a Moral Lawgiver. How do you know something is crooked unless you know what straight means? It is dishonest to live as if He is there and yet fail to acknowledge Him and all that He has given us (want the benefit of having God without the cost of following him).   

The Reason for God: The Clues for God

It is one thing to say that there are no good reasons against believing the Christian faith. It is another to argue that there are sufficient reasons FOR believing it.

But what counts as ‘sufficient’ reason? Must it be proven rationally by logic? Must we experience God with our five senses? Or only what can be scientifically proven by experiments is true? Must the evidence for God be so bomb-proof irrefutable that almost everyone will see it?

Tim Keller questions strong rationalism: “How could you empirically prove that no one should believe something without empirical proof?” That’s ultimately a belief. AlvinPlantinga: The argument is like the drunk who insisted on looking for his lost car keys only under the streetlight because the light was better there. Or even worse: Because the keys would be hard to find in the dark, they must be under the light.

No one can be totally neutral when it comes to the question of God’s existence. All of us have a deep desire for Him to exist or not to exist. We all have vested interest in this.

But that does not mean we cannot discern whether a belief is better than another. Some beliefs are more reasonable than others, but all arguments are rationally avoidable in the end. Even scientific theories that are tested and accepted are open to revision or abandoned in light of a better model. They are not ‘proved’ in the strong rationalist sense.

Richard Swinburne: If God exists, we would expect the things we see today – that there is a universe at all, that scientific laws operate in it and that humans have consciousness and moral sense. If there is no God, you won’t expect any of these things. Belief in God offers a better explanation for what we experience daily than the alternatives. Bahnsen goes further: It’s the only view that does not make nonsense of the human experience.

Gargarin thinks there is no God because he couldn’t find Him in outer space. But that is like Hamlet (story character) searching the attic in his castle in hope of finding Shakespeare (author). We shouldn’t expect to prove God as if he were an object within our universe.

C.S. Lewis: I believe in God as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”. Look at what the sun shows us. Which belief has more ‘explanatory power’ to make sense of what we see in the world and in ourselves? These are the clues for God.

If God is the Author of everything, then we would find clues to His reality that He has written into the universe (including us). If we are made in God’s image as rational and personal beings, then we would expect some correspondence between His mind and ours.

But reason alone won’t be enough. The Author has written himself into the story as the main character in history when Jesus was born, crucified and rose from the dead. The ultimate evidence for God is Jesus Himself. He is the one we have to deal with.

So, what clues are there for God?

Alvin Plantinga argues that belief in God is properly basic so Christians do not have the burden to prove God. We don’t have to, but that doesn’t mean there are no good reasons for believing in God (if we want to). 

Sunday, July 08, 2012

The Urban Face of Mission


What does preaching Christ to the ends of the earth entail in the face of an urban age where more than 50% of our world live in urban centres that are more diverse and less evangelised than ever? That’s what this conference is about.

Solid Bible expositions from keynote speakers on God’s Word for the city and God’s church in the city

8 workshop electives to choose from on specific issues facing mission in the urban age

Q&A panel on “Mission in the 21st century”

Displays from leading mission agencies and institutions
Spotlight & prayer on different areas of mission today
Lunch & dinner provided

Standard RM180
Subsidised RM130 (GPM member)

03 7984 7361 (office hours)

Conference venue
Luther Centre
No. 6, Jalan Utara,
46200 Petaling Jaya,
Selangor, Malaysia.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Apostolic Preaching: Redemptive-Historical, Christ-Centered and Grace-Saturated

Sermon audio can be downloaded here. One of the great regrets in my life is not to have visited All Souls’ Church in London while I was there on holiday. I wanted to meet the late great Christian leader John Stott and perhaps hear this ‘living legend’ preach a sermon. You know, I’ve this strange hobby to visit well-known churches, do the tourist thing and take photos with pastors that I admire like John Piper, Greg Boyd, Don Carson and others. But I missed that opportunity with “Uncle John”. He has passed away July last year. The next best thing that I can do now is to download his sermon podcast. 

What about you? Have you ever wished you had the chance to hear a sermon by John Sung, the great revivalist? Or John Wesley? Or Charles Spurgeon? Have you wondered what it is like to hear them preach? Or better still, what is it like to hear an apostle preach? It’s not every day that you get to listen to a sermon by an apostle, right? In those days, they didn’t have a video cam or Youtube. So you can’t download their sermons even if you want to. But this morning in CDPC we have the privilege to see what an apostle’s preaching is like. In case you are wondering, I’m referring to the Apostle Paul’s preaching. In the passage we read just now, we have the first recorded sermon that Paul preached during his first missionary journey. So it’s wonderful that I get the chance to preach somebody else’s sermon this morning.  

From this Bible passage, we learn 3 things about what the apostle’s preaching is like:
1) The apostle’s preaching is redemptive-historical in its presentation of Christ
2) The apostle’s preaching is grace-driven in its application of Christ
3) The apostle’s preaching is gospel-centered in its proclamation of Christ

In other words, apostolic preaching is centered on and grounded in the person of Christ. Over the years, you may have heard from the CDPC pulpit about our commitment to be Christ-centered, to be Word-centered and to be gospel-of-grace-centered. Well, all of these ingredients are found in the apostle Paul’s preaching here. From his sermon, we can learn a great deal about how we can share the good news in a Christ-centered way, how we read the Bible in a Christ-centered way (esp Old Testament) and how that can transform us to live in a more Christ-centered way.

Before diving into that, let us set the stage first. Two Sundays ago, we met a racially mixed, missional and sacrificial church in Syrian Antioch where the gospel first reached Gentiles in large numbers. Unlike Jerusalem which was predominantly Jewish, the Antioch church reflected the ethnic and social diversity around them. You can get a clue of that by just looking at their gifted team of preachers and teachers here in Acts 13. There was Barnabas (a Levite landowner from Cyprus), Simeon called Niger (probably a black man), Lucius (a Roman from Cyrene in North Africa), Manaen (an aristocrat who grew up with king Herod Antipas himself) and last but not least, you have Paul (a converted rightwing, fundamentalist Pharisee). Believe me; you don’t get any more diverse than that!  

Previously these people would never get together under the same roof, but now they were crossing over ethnic boundaries to worship, fast and pray together. And when they do that, the Spirit of God spoke to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Almost every spiritual revival in the church begins with this pattern of humble prayer and obedience to the voice of the Holy Spirit. In 1973, a group of high-school students in Bario Sarawak got together at night to pray for hours after class. God sovereignly moved among them. They were overwhelmed by deep repentance followed by weeping. Revival broke out with a group of 20 or 30 people including some teachers. During school holidays, these young people went back to their village, took the fire of the Spirit with them, urging their families to repent from sin and witchcraft. There were signs and wonders. The Spirit conviction caused people to fall on their knees and cry out for days. As a result of this revival, the Kelabit tribe turned to God… including Idris Jala who is now a minister at the Prime Minister’s Department.

Last week, as a church, we took first steps to start our monthly corporate prayer meetings. As we gather to pray and seek the Lord, we learn to discern what He has called us to do. Everyone here is most welcome to join this corporate prayer meeting. Let us come as a family to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit corporately. Let us come expecting to see great things from God and attempting great things for God as well.

After the Antioch church had discerned the call of the Spirit, they sent off their best leaders, Paul and Barnabas, to ministry OUTSIDE the walls of the church… to boldly plant churches in cities where no one had gone before. In the first missionary journey, Paul and his companions went down to Seleucia and sailed to the island of Cyprus. When they reached Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in Jewish synagogues. They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos where an important governor came to know the Lord.

The journey continues north to Perga, Pamphylia and Pisidia. When Paul reached a synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia, the stage is set for the sermon that we have read a moment ago. This city called Antioch is not to be confused with the other Antioch in Syria which we saw earlier in Acts 11. The congregation was made up of both Jews who follow the Law of Moses as well as Gentiles god-fearers (that means they worship God and identified with biblical teachings in some ways but they did not fully convert to Second Temple Judaism). In those days, worship services would include Scripture readings followed by a message based on those texts from a respected teacher. Since Paul was a certified rabbi, it was not surprising that he was invited to stand up and speak. But what he said in his sermon was probably not what they had bargained for.

Which brings us to the first point about apostolic preaching: It is redemptive historical in its presentation of Christ.

Paul began his message by re-telling the story of Israel, the story of God’s redemption. It was God who chose their ancestors and made them grow in numbers. It was God who mightily brought them out of Egypt. It was God who put up patiently with their complaints in the desert. It was God who defeated the Canaanite nations and gave a land to His people. (400 years in Egypt plus 40 years in the wilderness plus about 10 years for the conquest of Canaan make up about 450 years.)

There is no surprise here. And his audience would look at him, nod their heads and go: “Yes, amen brother. Preach it. That’s who we are. That’s what our fathers did. That’s our story. See how gracious God has been to us.  ” 

So Paul went on: “After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. But the people asked for a king, so God gave them Saul and then king David: “a man after God’s own heart”. Again, it was God who sovereignly worked in history to do all these things. He’s in control. He chose them. He preserved them. He delivered them. He gave them the land. He gave them judges. He gave them kings. God is the source of every good thing that Israel has ever known.

You can see more nods and amens: “Yes, that’s who we are. That’s our story.”

And then, Paul drops the bombshell: “And from King David’s descendants, God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus just as he promised.” And their jaws dropped.

In other words, the entire history of Israel is a preparation for the coming of Jesus just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the promised Messiah. In fact, all the stories in the Old Testament (about Abraham, Moses, Rahab, Samson, David) are pointing to one big Story of Christ coming to rescue us. Every story whispers His name.

And John the Baptist represents all these heroes of the faith when he says: “Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. Look for Him who is to come after me. He must increase, and we must decrease.” In many ways, these heroes are our role models but if we reduce them to just role models and say “Be brave like David. Be faithful like Abraham. Be strong like Samson”, if we do that, we miss the point of the story. Because more often than not, they are not very faithful or strong or brave, are they? Neither are we. That’s why God’s progressive revelation in history reaches its climax, its goal, its destiny, its culmination in His gift of salvation in Jesus. We need a Savior. We need a Hero to fly to our rescue, crash through the walls and carry us home.

A few weeks ago, I watched the movie Sixth Sense for the second time. It was a bit sad, but it’s a wonderfully crafted story about a child psychologist Dr Crowe trying to help a six year old boy who claims that he could see spirits of dead people around him. The boy doesn’t understand his ‘sixth sense’ and he’s constantly afraid of what he sees. So the story is about how Dr Crowe tries to reach out and heal him. Was he sick or abused? Was he playing tricks? When I watched it the first time in 1999, I was totally blind-sided by the unexpected twist at the end of the movie. There were crucial clues, puzzles and hints all over the place but I didn’t see it until the truth is finally revealed at the end. It caught me by surprise and then everything takes on a new dimension. A lot of people experience that and say, “Man, I must go back and watch it again!” It’s like a good mystery novel that when you found out what the solution was at the end, you will have flash backs: “Oh ya hor! That explains everything. Why didn’t I see that before? The clues are so obvious. I should have seen that coming at the start.” So you had to watch the movie again… and this time, it’s a whole different movie because you knew the ending.  

In the same way, there are many stories in the Bible, but every story tells one Grand Story about God in Christ loving, redeeming and saving His people. Every page is about Jesus. He is like the final clue to a puzzle that lets you discover a fresh and unexpected way to read the Bible. With Jesus, everything takes on a whole new dimension.  

How does it work? How can we read the Old Testament in a Christ-centered way?

Well, Paul’s sermon gave us some clues: There is the theme of Old Testament promise that finds its fulfillment in New Testament. “The New Testament is concealed in the OT, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament”. So Paul quotes from Psalm 2, Psalm 16 and Isaiah 55 to show them that “What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us by raising up Jesus”. His point is this: Because God raised Jesus from the dead, to an incorruptible life, and installed Him as the anointed king, the begotten ‘Son of God’; He can now fulfil all the promises of an everlasting Davidic kingdom and all the promises of salvation to the Gentiles. In fact, these promises are now being fulfilled in Paul’s own generation with his mission to the nations.

We can also trace how the theme of kingship develops along biblical history… How God is the king who established a covenant with Israel. But the people demanded a human king just like the pagan nations around them. So God gave them Saul who started out well, but he ended up in disobedience and defeat. Then God gave them King David, a man after God’s own heart, and established an everlasting dynasty with his descendants. But most of these human kings fail, abuse their power and turn to idols. And the kingdom fell into exile.

So where can we find an answer to this unresolved tension? Where can we find the perfect king? How will the kingdom be restored? The Old Testament storyline has loose ends, unsolved mysteries which cannot be resolved unless and until we reach its climax when the perfect King, Jesus, comes and sits on David’s throne forever.

We can also read the Old Testament Christocentric-ly by seeing King David himself as a type or symbol of Christ. He was a humble shepherd boy from Bethlehem anointed as king. That sets a pattern foreshadowing, prefiguring the greater Son of David who was also born in little Bethlehem and humbled Himself to the cross before claiming His crown. There are similarities, but there are also contrasts. Unlike David who fell into abuse of power, adultery and murder; the true Son of David was a man completely, perfectly and utterly after God’s own heart. David died and stayed in the grave but Jesus rose again.

That’s why the apostle’s sermon is redemptive-historical in its presentation of Christ. It sees the whole sweep of salvation history as a preparation for His coming.

The second point about apostolic preaching is: It is grace driven in its application of Christ.

The Buddhist society president in my college last time once told me that Buddhism teaches salvation by self-reliance. Even Buddha cannot save you. You can meditate on his moral example and seek to be like him. But you should not trust in anyone else to save you. You must develop wise actions, right thinking and skillful living for yourself. No one can do it for you. Self-reliance is the key. 

That’s very different from the Christian idea of grace. In many ways, Jesus is also our supreme example to follow. He cared for the sick and the poor, so should we. He welcomed the outcasts, so should we. He forgave His enemies, so should we. We really should. But if that is all we say about Jesus, then that is not the gospel. It’s good advice. It may even be good instruction. But it’s not good news.

Imagine the people of a kingdom seeking refuge and protection in their king’s fortress. Imagine the fortress looks like Helm’s Deep in LOTR. They are under siege from hordes of enemy trolls, goblins and orcs outside ready to storm the gates. And the king rides out with his army to meet them in battle. People are huddled up inside, waiting anxiously for the outcome. Then, a royal messenger comes in and says to them, “The walls have been breached, we need you guys to take up weapons and join the war”. That is not good news. Your response is to fight for your life. It’s good advice, but it’s not good news.

But if the king’s herald, the messenger rushes in, swings wide the door and says, “The king has won! He has defeated our enemies. You are all safe now”. That’s good news! What would be your response? Take up the sword? Run for your life? No, your only response is to rejoice and be thankful for the victory the king has won. Now you are saved. Now you can go home to your family. You may even help the king to clean up any surviving enemies who tried to get away. But the decisive battle has been won. It’s not about what you can do but about what the King has done. Your only response is to trust Him with your life.

That’s how Paul preached the “message of salvation”. It is not about you can contribute to your salvation, but about what the King has done. So he proclaimed the kerygma, the facts of the Jesus’ death and resurrection as fulfillment of God’s plan.

In verse 26 -32, he says: The people and rulers in Jerusalem conspired against Jesus and falsely condemned Him to death. So, how can a crucified Messiah be God’s chosen King? But God was not taken by surprise. In fact, it happened exactly as the prophets have said. What the bad guys did was horrible and sinful. But the evil actions of Herod, Judas Iscariot, Pontius Pilate and all the people involved in the crucifixion of Jesus actually fulfilled the Scriptures that were read out in synagogues every Saturday. Men may do their worst but God is still in control. He’s sovereign. Unknowingly, they are carrying out all that was written about Jesus. And that’s not the end. God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day. It’s God’s seal of approval, His sign of vindication that Jesus is indeed the victorious, anointed King. This is good news: What God promised, he has fulfilled by raising Jesus from the grave.

Then verse 38 says: Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 

Pastor Andy Wilson says it well: “The law cannot save us, but the gospel can. Of course, this is not to say that the law is a bad thing. On the contrary, as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12) The problem with the law is not the law itself. We are the problem. The reason why the law cannot save us is because we cannot meet its righteous requirements. The law tells us what God requires from us. The gospel tells us what God has accomplished for us.” Through faith in Christ, God freely forgives our violations against the law. And through trusting in the finished work of Christ, God freely declares us righteous (justify us) with the righteousness that he requires in the law. That’s grace.

There’s a story about a man who always feels guilty because he’s not sharing the gospel with others. He doesn’t share the gospel because he’s afraid of what others may think. And he’s afraid of what others think because he’s not sure that God accepts him. In fact, he thinks God hates him. Why? Because he is not sharing the gospel… So it’s like a vicious cycle that spirals down and down. Until the day a pastor tells him the good news that God loves you because of what Christ has done. It has nothing to do with your performance. You can’t make Him love you more. You can’t make Him love you any less.

For the first time, he gets it in his heart. Not just in his head. “God loves me so I don’t need to fear what others think. I’m so joyful. So I must tell others what God has done.”
A week later, someone asks the pastor: “What did you tell that guy? He’s going around happily telling everyone about the gospel.”  

The pastor said: “I told him he didn’t have to”.

So are we still expected to obey the law? Answer: Yes and no!

Yes, the law still has a crucial role for us as the revelation of God’s will. It tells us how God expects us to live because now, we have been set free from sin to become slaves of God and slaves of righteousness. We are liberated so that we may belong to Christ and bear fruit.

But no, our motive to obey is not to justify ourselves or earn acceptance from God. It’s not out of fear that if I don’t, I’d get bad karma. It’s not out of pride that I want to be more skillful at life than others. We do the right thing motivated by a living relationship with Christ. Not because we have to, out of mere obligation, but because we want to, out of joy. The gospel frees us to obey Christ out of love. And Love is a more powerful motivation than fear or pride.

It’s not a self-salvation project. The question is not “What would Jesus do? (WWJD)” but “What has Jesus done for you?” (WHJDFY)

The final point about apostolic preaching is: It is gospel centered in its proclamation of Christ.

This simply means that Paul offered the gospel to all sorts of people. He spoke to both Jews and God-fearing Gentiles. He needs to bring the gospel to the Jews first because salvation is from the Jews. It is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. But the gospel is not confined to any ethnic group. It has to be proclaimed to the Gentiles too, to the outsiders, to all who will hear it.

From this point on, the book of Acts will focus on Paul fulfilling his mission as the apostle to the Gentiles. And Paul sees his calling as a fulfillment of biblical promise in Isaiah: “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” The church today has the same mission to bring the light of Christ’s salvation to the ends of the earth.

But when the gospel is applied, it’s like a double edged sword that cuts both ways. There will be two kinds of responses: Faith and unbelief. Some would reject Christ because they were offended to hear that they could not be freed from sin and guilt by following the law of Moses. But others believed and rejoiced in the good news that hope is in what Christ has done for them. Verse 48 says: When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. Our human responsibility is to believe, to rejoice, to embrace and to trust in Christ. But having said that, there is divine sovereignty behind that choice: God is the one who appoints. It’s easier to understand if the Bible says “Those who believed were appointed for eternal life”. But it actually says: Those who were appointed for eternal life believed. They believed because they were appointed to eternal life.  

It’s a great mystery: How do we hold together the biblical balance of human responsibility and divine sovereignty? Christians have gone back and forth on this for ages so we probably can’t settle it in 5 minutes.

But I would like to share how God’s sovereignty in our salvation can be precious to us personally. 20 years ago, I heard the gospel and decided to trust in Christ. At that time, there were other classmates who heard the same message and yet they ignored or rejected Christ. I remember holding a small booklet “The Four Spiritual Laws”, thinking to myself, “This message makes all the difference in the world. But why did I believe while others don’t? What made that crucial difference?”

Is it because I see my need for Christ while they don’t? But, why?
Is it because I am more sensitive and receptive to the Holy Spirit while they are not?
Is it because I am more humble to recognize my sins while they are too proud to admit it? 
Is it because I was smarter to understand stuffs while they are so blur?

If I say yes, that means somehow, somewhere, there is something in me that is better than others. And that made all the difference. But that can’t be true. I’m no different from those who rejected the gospel.

If you look back on your own encounter with Christ, you’d find the same answer: No, we are not any better than anyone else. We were also insensitive to the Spirit and slow to understand. We too were once filled with pride and self-sufficiency. Our hearts were cold and hard like stone unless and until the Holy Spirit melts our hearts with His love. Our spiritual eyes were blind until He opens up our eyes so that we can see the beauty of Christ. Our wills are bound by chains until He set us free so we can run to Him. In other words, behind our choice and our decision is God’s sovereign grace. His grace triumphs over all our resistance.    

And that’s part of our SIMPLE DNA: E is for Embrace Reformed Theology. That means: Salvation belongs to the Lord. It’s not about me. I don’t deserve any credit. But it’s the unconditional, never-give-up, sovereign grace of God that made all the difference.

And that’s precious beyond words. It’s a powerful driving motivation for our mission, for our love for the city and families and our worship because it is only by God’s grace that our efforts can bear any fruit. Left to ourselves, no one would believe. But because all who have been appointed to eternal life will believe, there is hope when things are difficult. When people seem not to care and results are discouraging and opposition is intense, our encouragement to press on is in the sovereign grace of God.

There was great success as a result of Paul’s gospel centered-sermon. Many believed but others opposed his message. So Paul and Barnabas moved on to another city. But not before they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them. What does that mean? The Jews at that time would do that when they were leaving a Gentile city. They would shake the dust from their feet as a symbol of cleansing themselves from the impurity of sinners. So it’s very ironic that Paul is doing it to them as a way of saying: The Jews who rejected Jesus had become spiritual outcasts while the Gentiles who respond in faith to Christ were now part of God’s people. The true Israel is reconstituted around the risen King Jesus. We are now part of this covenant community.

For Paul, even opposition against the Gentile mission is a fulfillment of Habakkuk 1:5 – Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: ‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’

Friends, God is something new in our day that nobody would have believed a hundred years ago. The gospel is reaching people groups which had previously never known Christ. Especially in regions that are considered poor and marginalized.    

How can we be partners in God’s global, inclusive mission? How can CDPC bring the gospel to those outside? Take care that we do not harden our hearts with unbelief. Take care that we do not become a stumbling block to the gospel through pride and indifference. Take care that we do not perish by scoffing at the grace found in Christ alone.

Let us pray. 

Picture is courtesy of Jesuswalk and Unbound Bible