36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
A little over 300 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection, there was a misbehaving boy on the streets of Madaurus, which was a small city located in what is now Algeria in Northern Africa. His mom was a devote Christian who, according to Christian legends, wept and prayed for her son every night. As a youth, he led a hedonistic lifestyle, seeking pleasures of sex and hanging around with those who did. But, by the grace of God, he met God at the age of 31 and not only became a devout Christian, but also a Christian theologian, whose writings influenced the development of Western Christianity. He was St. Augustine of Hippo.
In his autobiographical work called Confessions, Augustine confesses how he identified the sin in him since as early as when he was 11 years old. He writes:
Your law, O Lord, punishes theft; and this law is so written in the hearts of men that not even the breaking of it blots it out. … Yet I chose to steal, and not because want drove me to it. … I stole things which I already had in plenty and of better quality. Nor had I any desire to enjoy the things I stole, but only the stealing of them and the sin. There was a pear tree near our vineyard, heavy with fruit, but fruit that was not particularly tempting either to look at or to taste. A group of young scoundrels, and I among them, went out to knock down the pears and carry them off late one night, for it was our bad habit to carry on our games in the streets till very late. We carried off an immense load of pears, not to eat – for we barely tasted them before throwing them to the pigs. Our only pleasure in doing it was that it was forbidden. Such was my heart, O God, such was my heart. … My soul was depraved, and hurled itself down from security in You into utter destruction, seeking no profit from wickedness but only to be wicked. (Confessions 2:4)
Augustine was one of the early church fathers who developed the concept of “original sin.” It is a Christian doctrine of humanity’s state of sin resulting from the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. As Dr. Wayne Grudem puts it, the result of this is that we are counted guilty because of Adam’s sin and that we have a sinful nature because of Adam’s sin. Augustine recognized this sinful nature in humanity, not only from his own experience, but also from the Scripture that declared it. In Genesis 6:5, it reads, “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” In Psalm 51:5, David said, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” In Romans 5:12, Paul said “When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned.” These are just a few of the many biblical evidences that support the idea of original sin. This doctrine continued to be of great importance in the Reformation era in the 1500’s by Martin Luther and John Calvin, and it is still a foundational Christian doctrine today.
Unfortunately, many Christians today have tuned out of the issues of sin. They have forgotten about the original sin altogether, and their view of sin has been diluted by the current liberal worldviews. That is why we see gay marriage and abortion being legalized. That is why some Christians avoid talking about sin and claim to be generally good people. Even our President, who calls himself a proud Presbyterian, said that he never asked God for forgiveness. He said that he likes to do the right thing where he doesn’t actually have to ask God for forgiveness. He obviously forgot about the passage in Isaiah 64:6 that says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” He must’ve also forgotten about 1 John 1:8, that says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” Admitting sin for forgiveness is the very first step toward becoming a Christian.
We have to be very sensitive to sin. God hates sin and the wages of sin is death! Paul cried out in Romans 7:24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” To diminish the reality of sin is to diminish the need of a savior. To reduce the seriousness of sin is to reduce the need for God’s grace. And, to live a life of sin is to provoke the wrath of God. God’s forgiveness is only available to those who recognize their sin, ask for forgiveness in the name of Jesus, and turn to God.
Church, are you forgiven? Do you acknowledge how wretched we all are in light of God’s absolute holiness? Can you fathom the amount of debt that God has forgiven you?
The Bible says that those who acknowledge their sinfulness before God will be forgiven. In Psalm 32:5, it reads, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD." And you forgave the guilt of my sin.” In order to be forgiven, we must first acknowledge that we are sinners.
So, if you acknowledge that you are a sinner and believe that Jesus forgave your debt, do you realize how much you’ve been forgiven? Jesus said that the way to find out how much you’ve been forgiven is by examining how much love you express to God. There was an incident during Jesus’s ministry where He taught this principle, and it is recorded in the latter part of Luke 7.
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman (presumably a prostitute) from that city heard that he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
The woman was overwhelmed with emotions because she knew how sinful she was. She knew that there was no way she could be saved unless God graciously forgave her. So when she heard that Jesus, the Son of God, who has the authority to forgive sins, was at the Pharisee’s house, she didn’t miss the chance. She took her expensive perfume, which was probably her most valued possession, and ran to where Jesus was. She knelt at his feet weeping, and while her tears were pouring out of eyes onto Jesus’s dusty feet, she wiped His feet with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. She didn’t hold anything back, but gave it all to Jesus.
But, of course, if there are those who are crazy for God, there are also those who sit back and criticize those who are crazy for God.
39 When the Pharisee, who had invited Jesus, saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” (As if he’s not!)
40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” (And this is not the fisherman and Apostle, Simon Peter, but a Pharisee with the same name) he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
Simon replied, “Go ahead, Teacher.” (Probably thinking, “uh oh, I’m in trouble.”)
41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
Did you hear what Jesus said? Jesus said that her many sins have been forgiven, and that’s why she has shown Him much love. In other words, if we know that we have been forgiven much, then we would express much love to our Lord Jesus. Some would cry out their tears to Jesus, and some would fast and pray to Jesus. Some would kneel down and wash his feet, and some would serve His church in a heartbeat. Some would pour out the best they’ve got, and some would really give up a lot.
The opposite is also true. A person who is forgiven little shows only little love, and in the worst case, a person who is not forgiven shows no love. Some won’t even serve water to Jesus, and some won’t even say His name on campus. Some won’t even honor Jesus with a kiss on His cheek, and some won’t even worship Him every week. Some won’t even open a jar of olive oil for Him, and some won’t even give Him 10% out all that He has given them. It is because they have forgotten how much they’ve been forgiven.
To be clear, Jesus is NOT teaching us to sin more so that we may experience more of His forgiveness. Paul made it unequivocally clear in Romans 6:1-2 that we should NOT go on sinning so that grace may increase. Instead, Jesus is teaching us to acknowledge the magnitude of the sin that we already have. We have been forgiven the debt of not only 50 pieces of silver. We have been forgiven 500, 5,000, 5 million, no 5 billion pieces of silver. We are eternally indebted to Christ. And when we realize this, we can’t help but love God with all we got just like the woman in the story.
Church, we are sinners. We are sinners by nature and by nurture. We were bound for hell. But thankfully, God stepped in. It wasn't cheap for God to pardon our sin. He had to give up His son's precious life for ours. Knowing this, how can we sit back and not do anything to express our love to Him? How can we neglect loving the needy if we know that to love them is to love Jesus? How can we turn our eyes away from fundraisings like Walk with Compassion? When we consider Jesus's blood that covers our entire sin, it should compel us to go out and love others like crazy.
So, why don’t we do that starting today? Let’s remember how much we’ve been forgiven, and love God back with all we've got. Let's love Him with our worship, dedication, and works of charity. And let us continue to lead a life of gratitude expressed through such love toward our God and Lord, Yeshua Ha-Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah.
It is February 19th, 2017. Exactly 428 years ago this day, a Greek woman named Philothei was martyred at the age of 67. She was born in Athens in 1522 to a very distinguished and wealthy family. At the age of 14, she was married against her will to a noble, who mistreated her. When her husband died just 3 years later, at age 17, she returned home and spent much of her time in prayer, even though her parents insisted on her getting remarried. Her family wealth gave her the opportunity to do many charitable works, and hence gained much respect and love of the community as a teenager.
At the age of 27, Philothei’s parents died, and she was left with an extensive asset. Instead of living happily ever after with the wealth that she inherited, she chose the monastic life as a nun. At age 29, she established a women’s monastery under the patronage of St. Andrew. She helped other women get trained in handiwork, weaving, farming and cooking.
Philothei is mainly remembered for her abundant philanthropy. Besides building another monastery, she built hospices, homes for the elderly, and schools for the children of Athens. She also put much of her energy and resources in freeing the Greek slaves, and especially women, taken by Ottomans of the Turkish Empire. She offered shelter, hope, and care to the freed women, some of whom were pregnant.
Naturally, Philothei became the prime enemy for slave traders of both Greeks and Turks. Her monasteries were often ransacked, and her farming and agricultural programs destroyed. At one point, she was tracked down by the slave traders, beaten, and imprisoned. She was released shortly thereafter, but the hostility against her continued to grow. On October 3rd, 1588, four Turkish mercenaries broke into her monastery during the evening vigil service and beat her severely. She was bedridden as a result and died of her injuries on February 19th, 1589.
Philothei had all the wealth needed to live a comfortable Christian life. She could have stayed in her parent’s mansion, go to church on Sundays, and do some charity work on the side. She had the option to live a very comfortable life. But to her, as a true follower of Christ, that was not an option. Why? Why did she choose to live such a difficult life and die a martyr’s death?
It’s because she not only believed that Jesus was her Lord and Savior, but she also knew that what Jesus taught was absolutely true. She believed that the last will be first, and the first will be last. She believed that whoever wanted to save their life would lose it, but whoever gave up their life for Jesus would save it. She believed that to live is Christ and to die is gain. She believed that there would be a “Great Reversal” just ahead of her, so enjoying life for her own sake was not an option.
This is the very message that Jesus started off with in His Sermon on the Mount. He said,
“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
This was the word of Jesus recorded in Luke 6:20-26. There was no ambiguity in His message. There was no fine print in His terms and conditions. There was no uncertainty in His principle. Jesus’s message was clear: it was the Beatitudes, the “blessed sayings,” the principle that those who give up their lives for the sake of the Son of God are blessed now and for eternity. His principle also included that those who choose riches and comfort for one’s own sake will face eternal suffering, which can only be described as hell. It is Jesus’s guarantee that there will be a Great Reversal in the life of a person between now and the in the near future.
Philothei took His Word seriously. She didn’t just confess that Jesus was her Lord and Savior. She lived out her faith knowing that the Lord’s assurance of this Great Reversal is coming. That is why she didn’t choose to enjoy her wealth even though she could. That is why she didn’t choose to be fed well even though she could. That is why she didn’t choose to live a life of laughter and pleasure even though she could. And that is why she didn’t choose to live a life of fame even though she could. Instead, she chose to live a life of poverty, humility, hunger, weeping and rejection, all for the glory of God.
How a Christian lives out his/her own life matters! Faith without works is dead! Such kind of faith without works will not make a person right with God. We are justified by works and not by faith alone (James 2:24). This is not at all incompatible with the gospel. We can never reach the holiness of God through our good works alone. We can never enter into God’s presence through charity works alone. Jesus’s blood is absolutely needed for the forgiveness of our insurmountable sin. At the same time, faith that does not express itself in good works is no faith at all. Faith that neglects the Lord’s command to love and serve one another is no faith at all. Faith that causes one to sin without remorse is no faith at all. Faith must be substantiated with good works.
And the good works that Jesus requires from us is often costly. He said that, if anyone wants to sue us and take our shirt, we must hand over our coat as well. He said that, if anyone forces us to go one mile, we must go with them two miles. He said that we must give to the one who asks us, and not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from us. He ultimately said that whoever wanted to be His disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. There is a steep cost to following Jesus.
Such kind of lifestyle that puts God and others first before us can cause us to be poor, both economically and theological. It can cause us to get hungry, both physically and spiritually. It can cause us to weep, both inwardly and outwardly. It can lead to a life of persecution for standing up for God’s principle. The cost of following Jesus can mean much discomfort in life.
But Jesus gives us hope today that these struggles are temporary! He promises that there will be a Great Reversal for believers who follow His way. The kingdom of God is already present in the poor, and He will turn hunger to satisfaction, weeping to laughing, and persecution to great reward in heaven. He promises that the struggle for the sake of the gospel in this life is miniscule compared to the much great blessings of God.
The converse is also true. Jesus gave a stern warning to his disciples, and He gives us the same warning today, that those who live mainly for themselves will find themselves in hell at the Great Reversal. Those who enjoy the comfort of the riches for themselves will no longer be comforted in hell. Those who seek to fill their own stomach and not care for others who starve will go hungry in hell. Those who laugh and neglect those who suffer will themselves mourn and weep in hell. Do not be deceived. Not everyone who calls Jesus, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of the Father who is in heaven.
Church, are you taking this seriously? Your eternal life is at stake if you think this is an empty threat of Jesus. In the times of Prophet Jeremiah, the believers convinced themselves that, despite their sinfulness, they were invincible against Babylon just because they had the Temple of the Lord. They were deceived, they continued to neglect the word of God, and they were eventually destroyed and enslaved as a consequence. In the same way, you are being deceived if you think you will be blessed after continually leading a life of sin and disobedience. The Great Reversal is just around the corner and each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
Church, it is time to refocus on our calling. It is time to refocus on the mission. It is time to refocus on God’s command, which is to love Him with all we got, and to love others as ourselves. The focus of our lives must be on God and others, not better grades for your own sake, not better college for your own sake, not better job for your own sake, and not better salary for your own sake. Those who sacrifice school work for the sake of the gospel will be blessed. Those who sacrifice their job for the sake God’s ministry will be blessed. And those who use whatever wealth they have for the glory of God, like Philothei, will be blessed. God’s eternal blessing completely outweighs the cost of our obedience.
As a church, we are participating in a fundraising called “Walk with Compassion.” The funds that we raise will be used to provide critical help to children with needs such as emergency medical care, surgery, clean water, toilets, hygiene, disaster relief, malaria prevention, and more. Participation in fundraisings like this is a chance for us to prove our loyalty to Jesus. Do you truly regard Jesus as your Lord, or do you just say it without following through? Are you going to deny yourselves and help the children through fundraising, or are you going to deny Christ and the needs of others? Are you willing to be obedient to your Lord? An opportunity is presented before you to help the children in need and glorify the name of Jesus.
So, let’s make a commitment. If you believe in the words of Jesus, if you believe that there will be a Great Reversal, if you believe that those who try to save their life will lose it, but those who lose their life for Jesus will find it, then I want you to say “Amen!”
And based on such belief, if you are committed to obeying Jesus through works of charity, I want you to stand up from where you are as a sign of commitment to the Lord. Stand up if you are committed to denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Him!
May the Lord bless us all, who are standing right now! May the Lord bless us all, who are committed to laying down our lives for sake of gospel! May the Lord bless us all, who pledge our allegiance to Yeshua Ha-Mashiach, Jesus the Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords. To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever! Amen!
17 One day while Jesus was teaching, some Pharisees and teachers of religious law were sitting nearby. (It seemed that these men showed up from every village in all Galilee and Judea, as well as from Jerusalem.) And the Lord’s healing power was strongly with Jesus.
Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Jesus ate nothing all that time and became very hungry.
Pastor Daniel Kim