Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."
I've often heard that "I will believe in God once I see a miracle!" Actually, miracles cannot turn the hearts of people towards God. Back in the Old Testament days, the Pharaoh of Egypt witnessed many miracles, but his heart still didn't turn to God. His heart actually grew more hardened. It is the work of the Holy Spirit that truly make us repent from our hearts. The Gospel of John says that "When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment." Have you ever tried to clean a room in the darkness? No matter what you did, you'd think that the room is nice and clean, right? As soon as there's light, however, you'd see dust everywhere in the room. Why didn't you see the dust before? It's not because you couldn't see, but it's because there's no light. When people are in darkness, they cannot see their own darkness. Therefore, when Holy Spirit shines into our lives, we'd see our own darkness, and thus turn back to Jesus Christ.
Before God, the righteousness of men are merely a filthy rag; only Jesus Christ is the sunlight of righteousness. In the Bible, when people went before God, they were always fearful and trembling. If people cannot recognize the holiness of God, they cannot see how filthy they are inside. When the Holy Spirit shines inside us, we'd see that the Lord is holy and glorious, and we'd see how filthy we are inside. When Isaiah saw the Lord sitting high up on the throne, he said "Woe to me! ...I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips." Why did Isaiah specifically mention about his unclean lips? That's because he's a prophet, and he's supposed to speak the work of God. When he came before God and saw His holiness and righteousness, he'd realize that even though he thought he was the cleanest, before God he was merely a filthy rag.
People don't want to repent because they don't realize the severity of the judgment of God. The Lord said many times that that if we don't repent, we will face horrible judgment. When we see the painful outcome of judgment, our hearts will turn back to God and acknowledge that we need the savior. Today, we need to come before God, let the Holy Spirit shine inside us to see what our hearts really need, and we also must cultivate the fruit of repentance in our daily lives.
Pray with Pastor Tong
Lord, we ask that your Holy Spirit shine inside us. If there's any darkness or other things that displease you inside us, we ask that you shine insides so that we can turn back to you. May the precious blood of Jesus cover our sins so that our relationship with you may be restored. I thank you and I pray in the victorious name of Jesus, amen!
"But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying: 'We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.' For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'he has a demon,' The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' But wisdom is justified by her children."
This is a generation that does not understand the hearts of God: When we proclaim a message of repentance, they do not repent; when we proclaim the salvation of the Lord, they do not accept. This is because sins have numbed people's hearts to a point that they do not see their sins. The greatest weakness that one could have is not seeing one own weakness.
When David committed adultery and murdered Uriah, God sent Prophet Nathan to rebuke him. Nathan told him a story: A rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds, but a poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb that had his love and lay in his bosom. A day this rich man was throwing a feast, but he refused to take from his own flock and herd, and instead took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for his guests. David's anger was greatly aroused after hearing this story and told Nathan that this man shall surely die. Nathan replied to David, you are the man.
Many times we do not see our own sins and weaknesses. Sin is never just an outward actions; it is the self-centered attitude. Think about these: why do you always criticize others and argue with them? It is because you feel that you are right and they are wrong. Why do you look down on others? It is because you feel that others are not as good as you. This self-centered attitude often causes our hearts to be blind and overlook the fact that we are the cause of the problems. This is sins that Bible talks about.
Sins cause us to care only about ourselves and not others, which damages relationships; Sins cause us to not managing the natural environment according to God's will, which leads to pollutions; Sins cause us to be apart from God's grace, which cause us to live in anxieties and fears. We cannot enjoy true peace until the issue of sins is dealt with. In order to deal with sins, we need to turn back to God and not relying on our own efforts. As we face this corrupted world, we need wisdom from God to understand that only Jesus is the salvation and the Way. Only when we turn back to God we can be set free from the blindness of hearts. May the Spirit of God help us and enlighten us!
Pray with Pastor Tong
Dear Lord, I thank you, for you are a faithful God. May you open our eyes so that we may see the blindness and darkness in our hearts, and we will then turn to you. And as we cry out to you, you will cleanse us, enlighten us, and set us free. I thank you and I pray all these in the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!
Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.
The Lord says that "the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it." Note that "violence" means more than mere hardworking; it means to be aggressive and forceful. Violence in this context refers to strong desire. When one comes before God, he needs to be strongly desiring God's grace if he were to receive God's grace. Just like what the author of Psalm 42 says, "As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for you, O God." When a deer is thirty, it searches everywhere for water and would not give up regardless of distance or dangers. Some waters are very far from the deer, but when the deer smells the water it would run towards the water until it drinks from the water.
Does your heart desire God in the same way? A strong desire that makes you feels that you have to get hold of the Lord and be captivated by Him regardless of the price that you have to pay, just like that four men who carried a paralytic to Jesus. At first these four men could not get near to Jesus because many gathered at the house that Jesus was in. But their strong desire causes them to uncover the roof where Jesus was and let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying. The Lord saw their faith and healed that paralytic. When one comes before the Lord, he needs to have such desire, for the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, not by human's force but by the strong desire to come before God.
On the other hand, violence in this context also refers to denying oneself in order to enter the kingdom of God. Denying oneself means full submission to God and full obedience to His leading. The Lord says, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." It takes efforts to follow the Lord, not by our hardworking but by confessing our weaknesses and by fully submitting to Him thereby allowing Him to work on us. We need to come near to God and keep following Him, so that His wills can be done on us. Are we following God closely today? Or are we following God loosely today? Let us have the strong desire to closely follow our Lord!
Pray with Pastor Tong
Dear Lord, may you grant a deep desire in us, so that we would be willing to be captivated by you and follow you in our daily lives. Help us to obey you so that your will may be done. I thank you and pray all these in the mighty name of Jesus, Amen!
As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about who it is written: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you."
In this passage of scriptures, we see that Jesus did not downplay the value of John the Baptist because of his doubt, for John the Baptist is indeed sent by God to prepare the way of the Lord. The work of preparing the way of the Lord is not limited to John the Baptist only; every believer should also be preparing the way of the Lord. In Hebrews 12:13, "Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed." The principle of co-laboring with God is: Only God and God alone is able to work miracles. But nonetheless it is our responsibility to prepare the Way of the Lord, so that His works may flow without hindrance. How than, can we prepare the way for the Lord's work?
Firstly, we need to individually repent and return to God, for our sins are usually the biggest stumbling block of the Lord's work. God searches for a clean vessel to co-labor with Him whenever He starts to work. Paul said in 2 Timothy that "In a large house here are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work." We need to examine ourselves and seek the Lord's precious blood to cleanse us, so that He can use us.
Secondly, we need to corporately as a church understand that vessels are needed for revival. Revival needs to be prepared for, and the only way to prepare for revival is by fervent prayers. Once a groups of ministers visited Rev. Charles Spurgeon's church. After Rev. Spurgeon introduced the ministries of his church, he told them, "Let me show you the power generator of our church." They said to themselves, "What could be special about a church's power generator?" Just when they walked into the basement, they saw the basement filled with intercessors, and that is the secret to Spurgeon's church revival. Dear brothers and sisters, are you hungry for revival? If you are, you cannot just sit here and wait; you need to rise up and pray, or find a prayer partner and intercede for the church faithfully. We need to pray until revival comes. A prayerful pastor once said, "Prayer is like digging a hole, also like inserting an electric pole, also like installing the wires. Once the wires are fully installed, you are connected with God." Are you willing to pay the price of prayer?
Pray with Pastor Tong
Dear Lord, may you make us a vessel to be used by you. May you grant us the desire to prepare the way for your work in our daily lives, just like John the Baptist. May your grace flow from us without any hindrance. I thank you and pray all these in the victorious name of Jesus, Amen!
...When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.
John the Baptist is a prophet and a pioneer for Jesus in the wilderness. He prophesied on Jesus' ministry that "after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." When Jesus went to John the Baptist to be baptized, the Spirit of God revealed to John that Jesus is Messiah. When the Lord was baptized, John the Baptist saw that heaven was opened and the Spirit of God descending like a dove on Him. He knew very well who Jesus is, but he became doubtful as God did not rescue him from all the persecutions and trials that he was facing. Therefore he sent his disciples to ask Jesus, "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?" Likewise, many times we become doubtful of God as we face trials and enemy's attacks. Jesus did not answer that question with a simple "yes" or "no". Instead he told the disciples, ""Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor." In other words, Jesus was telling John the Baptist, "I am still seated on the throne!" Although John was in prison facing many trials, but the Lord still reign, signs and wonders are still happening. Maybe in the same manner God did not rescue you, but He has a higher will, a higher way.
In verse 6 the Lord reminds us that, "Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me." Many times we stumble when God did not respond to our needs according to our hope. Brothers and sisters, have you experienced in your prayer that God did not answer your prayer according to how you would like your prayer to be answered? When this happens, God is also testing us to see if we will stumble. May the Lord open our eyes, so we may see that he is seated on the throne. The fact that we are suffering does not mean that God is not in control. In reality the Lord still reign from His throne, and we need to submit ourselves into His working hands, and fix our eyes on Him, believing that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and His ways is higher than our ways. When the time is right, He will open a way for us.
Pray with Pastor Tong
Dear Lord, we pray that you would rescue us from our difficult situations as we fix our eyes on you. But in the meanwhile, open our eyes so that we may know your heart, and understand that you are seated on the throne regardless of the outcome of our prayers. I thank you and pray all these in the victorious name of Jesus, Amen!
He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
The Lord said, "He who receives you receives me". This verse shows how close our relationship with the Lord is. We are one with the Lord. Paul said clearly, "And he is the head of the body, the church". That's why the Lord says that whoever receives a believer also receives Him.
On the flip side, when one persecutes believers, one persecutes Jesus. Paul was on the road to Damascus. He was on his way to persecute Christians. When on the road, he was flashed by a great light. A voice said to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Paul was bewildered, and asked, "Who are you, Lord?" The Lord said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." From this we should know the close relationship we have with the Lord. That's why it is said that we are the pupil of God's eye. How would you react if someone touch your pupil? Painful. Similarly, if anyone touches believers, it is as if he touches the Lord, because we are one with the Lord. If you understand this truth, you will understand how precious we are to the Lord. On the other hand, our responsibilities are great as well. If someone receives us, they receives the Lord. By the same token, if they see us, don't they see the Lord?
Is there image of the Lord on us that can be shown to others? Will others see the love, forgiveness, and joy of Jesus Christ through our lives? When one receives us, it is as if they receive Jesus Christ. They should also see the image of Jesus on us.
On the other hand, the Lord mentioned reward of receiving. When we receive a prophet,we will receive the prophet's reward. When we receive a righteous man, we will receive the righteous man's reward. May the Lord help us to see the importance of receiving others. When we receive brothers and sisters, it is as if we receive Jesus Christ. Of course, we are not running forward just because of rewards. May God let us have merciful hearts to see who are in need and to service them willingly, because we understand that to serve them is to serve the Lord. This is the lesson that the Lord gave us in order to help us live by the Lord's mercy and love every day.
Prayer with Pastor Tong Liu
Lord, we thank you. We love, because you loved us first. We serve, because you served us first. We welcome, because you welcomed us first. May you put mercy and love in us so that we see the needs of people around us, and are glad to receive them. I thank you and I pray in the victorious name of Jesus, amen!
...And anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Carrying cross is a lesson in sacrifice. Sacrifice does not require us to follow a mountain of unattainable, unfollowable laws. Neither does it ask us to go into monasteries deep into mountains to live a life of asceticism. Sacrifice is not those outwardly behavior. One can live an ascetic life in a monastery for decades, and yet still be too proud of himself. That's not a lesson in sacrifice.
Many years ago, I resigned my meteorological work to spend full time preach gospels. At first I felt very spiritual, indeed I was feeling proud. In the end, God placed me in a small rural town where I couldn't do anything. By then, I went back to God humbly admitting that I indeed was unable to do anything. So "sacrifice ourselves" is not about outward behavior. Because no matter how wonderful our outward behavior is, we could still be very self centered. "Sacrifice ourselves" is about our attitude, whether for the sake of the Lord, we are willing to remove anything that prevents God's work, so that the glorious life of Jesus Christ can manifest in ourselves. To learn the lesson of sacrifice, one first need the willingness to allow God to do His work on oneself. We always ask God for the heart of Love. But how to increase our heart of Love? It is to put someone we are uncomfortable by our side to train us, so that we have more love of God flowing within.
A brother once testified that he was very impatient. He constantly asked God to deal with his impatience. In the end, God prepared him a secretary who was slow and patient. Thank God, he knew that this was what God wanted him to learn. So he accepted it with gladness. We believe that God give tremendous blessings to those whom God used greatly. Indeed, God give them tremendous blessings. However, what we don't see are many failures, tear, and pains that they endured. The reason that they were used by God was because they had repsectful, obediant hearts, willing to learn the lessons that God gave them.
There is a movie named "Forever Faithful." In the movie, there were Christians in jail whom, inspite of not able to feed themselves adequately, gave their food to others. I was very touched. I truly understood that those Christians were not born with loving hearts, neither were they born with the understanding of love. It was because they totally humbled themselves to God, willing to sacrifice themselves. As for Christians, to be God's disciples is to let Jesus be our Lord completely. It is easy to say that we are following the Lord, but are we willing to follow in our hearts? May the Lord help us to have willing hearts, and to willingly take lessons from Him. May we follow God not only in words but also in action!
Prayer with Pastor Tong Liu
Lord, we thank you because you loved us and sacrificed for us first. May you help us in our daily lives so that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for you. May your sacrificial love flow through us so that all those around us can experience this precious love. I thank you and I pray in the victorious name of Jesus, amen!