A Parallel/Contrast between the sufferings, persecutions of the Jewish nation Israel during the time of Moses and the early (ancient) church in Jerusalem

By Al Ngu, New York                                                                                                                September 23, 2018

I want to pull a parallel between the sufferings and persecutions of the Jewish nation Israel during the time of Moses and the early (ancient) church in Jerusalem.

Israel’s Slavery in Egypt

To be real, the sufferings of Israel was predestined by God to have the children of Abraham to suffer in exile in a foreign nation as God told Abraham in a vision as He established a covenant with Abraham in a semi trance when the fire of God passed over the sacrifices. (Gen 15:12-16) [1]

And sure enough 3 million Jews suffered intensely in Egypt and they cried out to God, and God, in his timing, sent a deliverer/prophet, Moses to their rescue. And that culminated in the greatest miracle in the human civilization ever, the great Red Sea was parted as God sent a mighty east wind that blew all night for the 3 millions Jews to cross on dry sea bed, only to close it as Egyptian army chased them into the sea bed. Israel was delivered and Mariam led the women of Israel as they danced before the Lord and sang “The Lord mighty: The chariots of Egypt were thrown into the sea. Now, quick forward history to the church, what about the persecutions & sufferings of the church of Jesus Christ, the Son of God?

The Early Church Martyrdom

Since the resurrection of Christ at about 33 AD, the apostle Peter, James & John took over the reign of the church and led the church to some phenomenal growth both numerically and qualitatively. The most important part was the spirit of the early church was so strong and the foundation laid by especially Paul is phenomenal. The book of Acts exploded with the arrival of the Pentecost when 3000 men were converted in a single event after 300 men were filled and baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues. The church took off and tightly knitted communities were formed only to be the envy of the world, for they so loved one another, and shared all with everyone else. No one was in lack. The Lord was in their midst.

But under the Roman emperor of that time, both our greatest apostle, Paul, was martyred, and also Peter crucified, and John, James beheaded. There was a huge price to pay for Christ. Then came the ancient church forefathers who were powerful in their theology and loving the Lord and church, but were all martyred. Those included Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Ignatius, and a woman of mighty faith and intellect, Perpetua who was fed to the beast, as a nursing mother. The stories couldn’t be more dark and heart breaking as we plow through those years, as I read my seminary book-The Story of Christianity ’ by Justo Gonzalez.

To summarize right from the get go, Christians faced severe persecutions of the kind that modern churches in our 21st century has not seen or heard at all. Let me just spring to the final & worst persecution of the church. The Caesar of Roman Empire called Galerius started the final and worst persecution. Christians were labeled as rebels as they refused to join the Roman military. Galerius, in fear of the Christians refusing to join the army, and hence may even pull out of army in time of war, started pushing them to deny their faith. In 303 AD, he finally convinced the Augustus (Emperor) of the Roman Empire, Diocletian, to issue a new edict against Christians. He ordered that all Christian buildings and books to be destroyed, and as many Christians who refused to turn over their sacred writings (Bible), they were tortured and condemned to death. Throughout the empire houses where Christian met and sacred writings were being sent to the torch, and overzealous officials put Christians to death. There were resistance from Christians (rightfully) and caused disturbances in some areas, and Emperor Diocletian became convinced that Christians were conspiring against him. He reacted and has all the church leaders arrested and later all Christians must offer sacrifice to the gods. Thus was unleashed the most cruel of all the persecutions that the ancient church had to endure. Many Christians were encouraged to abandon their faith. (Does this sound similar in some ways in America today in a subtler one?) The rest were tortured with refined cruelty, and eventually killed in a variety of ways. A number of them took the sacred books and fled to Persia across the border. [2]

How did God intervene?

That’s my thesis of this reflection. In Moses time, God heard the cries of Israel, and sent Moses. People of Israel bowed when they heard Yahweh heard and responded. Exodus 3: The Lord said,I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering….. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” That response changed the entire trajectory of Israel and brought in the most thunderous awesome divine act of God, next to the crucifixion of Christ & resurrection. There is a visible and expressive tangible response from God and Israel were able to worship Him and bow down. To be truthful, I didn’t see any martyrdom of the Jewish population at that time, but only intense hardship in their labor to collect straw for the making of bricks.

The whole approach of God towards his people changed from the OT (Old Testament) to the NT (New Testament)

In the NT, the church is God’s people, the spiritual Israel. And when the ancient church in 300 AD went through the most terrifying martyrdom, the church cried out to the Lord Jesus and God the Father, Yahweh, God didn’t send a ‘Moses’ per se. God’s way seems to be more like “be strong and build up your inner man and that God may be glorified”. That’s why I believe Christians have a much higher calling and hence harder one compared to the OT’s Israel when all they needed to do was to obey and it will be well. The choice of the OT is simple and straightforward, but the NT people of God, the church, has a much harder route in following God and loving Him.

Many were called to martyrdom in the early ancient church, and God seemed to be quiet

But when you hear from the lips of these martyrs, something break loose in your spirit as you know God is so real in their hearts and spirits. Justin martyr (the first bishop after apostle Peter/John) asked the church in Rome not to stop his journey to Rome to be martyred so as to give glory to our Lord. Perpetua [3] (Readings in Christian Theologian-Michael Reeves), a nursing mother, wrote in her Passion of Perpetua that she was ready to be sacrificed for the glory of God and she was fed to the beast. As all these atrocious murderous acts were condemning Christians, God finally tangibly acted. In 311 AD, God intervened in a quiet way, the emperor of Rome, Galerius became ill with painful disease and perhaps convinced by the Christians who said this was a punishment from God, grudgingly decided to change his policy, and in April 30, 311, Galerius proclaimed…to allow Christians once again to gather in their assemblies, as long as they do not interfere with public order. ……And in our tolerance, Christians will be required to pray to their god for us, for the public good, for themselves, so that the state may enjoy prosperity and they may live in peace. [4] Galerius died five days later. The Roman Empire was divided among Licenses, Maximinus Daia, Constantine and Manutius.

Then came the emergence of the savior of the Christendom of that time as Constantine began to emerge. Constantine was the emperor of the Western Roman Empire including Western Europe and the UK, where Galerius was the emperor of the eastern Roman Empire covering Israel and Jerusalem. Constantine, when least expected, gathered his armies in Gaul, crossed the Alps and marched on Rome, Maxiencius capital. Constantine conquered Rome. According to Christian chroniclers who knew Constantine, on the eve of the battle he had a revelation. Lactantius says that it was in a dream Constantine received the command to place a Christian symbol on the shields of his soldiers. The other chronicler, Eusebius, says that in the vision appeared in the sky, with the words “in this you shall conquer”. The symbol looked like the superimposition of the Greek letters chi and rho. Since these are the two letters f the name, “Christ”, this labarum could well have been a Christian symbol. At the end of 313 CE, after the edict of Milan, the persecutions ended.

Conclusion

God intervened and cursed the evil emperor and sent an emperor who would be converted to Christianity and brought the greatest expansion of the gospel in the early ancient foundations of the church. But that’s only after the martyrdom of a lot of Christians in most cruel way. I believe God’s work in this NT time is different from that of OT, and obviously the Son of God, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, came into the world and lit the whole world for a new baptism of fire with the final consummation on the death on the cross and his glorious resurrection. Our Lord was martyred himself too. This calls for a wisdom and heart preparation as we face persecutions in our 21st century.

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[1] 12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. 13 Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that for four hundred years your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your ancestors in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

[2] Gonzalez, Justo   The Story of Christianity Pg 121

[3] Kerr, Hugh Readings in Christian Thought   Pg 24-28

[4] Gonzalez, Justo   The Story of Christianity  Pg 124

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The Apostolic Fathers & their Martyrdom

I have been reading the History of Christianity by Gonzalez, Theologians You Should Know by Michael Reeves, and Readings in Christian Thoughts by Hugh Kerr as part of my Seminary course. I have been shocked and rudely awakened by such stark reality of persecutions and courage and conviction with faith for the early Apostolic Fathers to stand up against death and even being fed to the beasts under the 1st and 2nd century brutal regime of the Roman Empires. For refusing to renounce Jesus and hence to worship Caesar, Christians were beheaded, thrown to be devoured by the beasts, Christian leaders were all condemned to death. Peter was crucified upside down, Paul was beheaded, so was John. Then after the first tier Apostles, came the 2nd tier Apostolic Fathers (we call them), like Ignatius, Traneous, Justin Martyr, Polycarp, and even a young woman, Perpetua, all stood tall, and strong and affirmed commitment to the one God Jesus Christ and His Father, and hence were all killed and condemned.

I have heard of the persecutions and even martyrdom of men and women of faith in the early church, but this is my first time going deep, up close, reading the actual stories themselves in my books. Facing the reality of death face to face in such unnatural, frightful, condemning way, really spooked me to and think what went through the minds of these forefathers? Ignatius begged his church in Rome to let him be martyred for the glory of Christ and be more like Christ. Perpetua turned down 3 times the begging from her father to renounce Christ for the sake of her new born baby, and her father and family. She wrote a powerful letter called Perpetua Passion which described all the incidents leading to the final death. That’s even for a woman of faith, not the top apostolic leaders. What a woman of strong faith and conviction, the Lord bless her.
My mind goes what made them to be so strong? Justin Martyr fought against heresy that sought to dilute and change the content of orthodoxy like what we face with numerous heretic teachings to day among some churches. Why did they so willingly die for Christ? When we Christians today struggle to even keep our faith strong and intact, and indeed sadly, many young millennials have drifted away from the orthodoxy and purity of our faith and doctrines. The pertinent ones are like in the name of social justice, homosexuality, that have sadly torn the churches apart. We need more Justin Martyrs, Ignatius, Ignarous, who defended the orthodoxy of the Canon, the Word, so mightily with strong intellectual might and faith in Christ. We need the passion of Christ flowing through our lives.
Surely the ultimate sacrifice of these martres of the early church put us in 21st century christians to shame as we are bothered with little, in comparison, trials. May God arise and Jesus mightily shines in our lives, books, sermons, and teachings. Amen.

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Is it God/Christ or Gospel who breaks down barriers in our life?

 

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God’s holy calling

5/19/2018  Saturday

Today I read: 1 Tim 2 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus,

This means that God saved & called Timothy to a holy calling because of God’s own purpose and grace which God gave in Christ Jesus before the ages began!

The most important words here are “God’s Purpose” and “”God’s Grace” before the ages began. This is incredible because first of all my calling is holy. It’s not for self gratification, honor. It’s not about the need to preach, the need to be loved and honored by our congregation, buts it about the holiness of God. It’s interesting to see that the call of God upon our lives (the servants of God like pastors etc.) is labelled holy. It’s not called mercy calling, not righteous calling, not compassionate calling or even love calling, though all good and great on their own, it’s not about them. It’s described as holy calling. Why? Because God is holy. In numerous times, God says “because the Lord your God is holy”. He said that repeatedly. He never called himself otherwise by one word, as far as I remember. Therefore beware that our calling is holy. It’s on sacred ground. Not some worldly ground, not some intellectual debate or emotional swing ground. Its holy, and sacred.

Secondly, it’s God’s purpose. His plans for you specifically. For me. Tailored made just for me, just for you. It is not a general call, but a specific call. Not something God just wings it. Remember the purpose was created before the foundation of the world. It really humbles me, makes me trembles. How can anyone argue against predestination? I love to be reformed. Before the world was started or the whole universe for that matter, because God uses the word “ages”. However that means exactly. Need Greek! 🙂 So stop wandering around wondering what to do. I have been wondering and despaired with church plant, but this really encouraged me, he has a purpose, and not a cliche word a purpose, but its a purpose specifically for me before the ages! That should hit a home run.

Thirdly, it’s God’s grace. Oh, how I live this word. The grace of God that brought me through. It’s the grace of God that He showered his love upon me and called me “son”. It’s the grace of God when Jesus my Lord was crucified on the cross and bled for me. So God called me because of his grace. There is no way I could have been a pastor and honored to have planted 2 successful churches, and that’s by his grace. Nothing of me, except he uses me with what He has endowed me with. And that’s the case with all the famed pastors and preaches too, no exception. It’s not something I have worked at and earned, but its something he gave to me though I don’t deserve it.

Amen

 

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An evening with Tim & Kathy Keller-NYC April 2018

4/3/18 Tuesday Evening with the Kellers April 3, 2018 7-9 pm

IMG_20180403_211655.jpgA 20,000 people church (The Village Church) in Dallas’ pastor, Ps Matt Chandler said there is only one Tim Keller…and our Greek Prof Paul Jeong said, not everyone is a Tim Keller, don’t aim and compare with him, you will be disappointed.  And wow, yes, we the 3rd Cohort RTS students got invited to spend an evening in his apartment. It was an amazing evening with Tim & Kathy Keller in their apartment in Roosevelt Island, a prime nice area, with us the 3rd Cohort students from RTS-NYC. For a guy like me who has preached from his sermons, used his books for teaching and sharing, and  the fact that he is such a famous preacher/pastor/writer, it makes it real special to get invited to spend an evening with these great pillars of the evangelical world in America today. Tim Keller is such a well known and respected writer/thinker/preacher/pastor for American evangelical world, his graciousness and humility and learnedness are very appealing. He wrote “The Reason for God” which was published and became the New York Times Best Seller #1. He is also the pastor of a 5,000 people church in Manhattan, Redeemer, and the Chairman of City to City in helping and training church planters like us all over New York, and the world too. He teaches us Intro to Pastoral/Theology, and also “Christianity in the Secular Age” with Prof jame sHunter. I personally enjoyed very much his class on calvinism, Reformed Theology, it was so good, and we asked so many questions! When asked what’s his greatest pride in his work? He said that that his kids love him, and the church loves him. Wow, not the best seller books,  nor the strong Manhattan church that draws pastors from all over the world to investigate his success but just the personal part of that! He is living out what CS Lewis said as the biggest desire of mankind that is to be loved and to love. Amen! And we heard that he called his 39 years old son every Sunday night and go through the book “Knowing God” by JI Packer blew me away. I can only envy him on that! We heard that Tim used to take each son out for dinner one on one once a week or something, to communicate and talk with them. OMG, I wish I had learnt this 15 years ago! I would have a different family now!

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Doreen & I standing in front of this shelf of books of Tim Keller which are neatly catalogued. Amazing the number of good books that he has read. I get regular update of kindle books that he recommends in twitter, and I am barely 10% through. LOL.

 

 

 

IMG_20180403_223034_883.jpgOur fellow students from 3rd Cohort had been a blast, we dived in and studied hard.And Tim told us that the professors like us as we are motivated to put our learning into our ministry. He said they usually teach the undergraduates or the PhD students who don’t seem to have a minis

FB_IMG_1522811948641.jpgtry right on, unlike us. And the professors feel we are more hungry and wanting to put into practice and that makes them excited. (And of course, this is New York city!!–this is me 🙂 )

 

Here is Kathy Keller with the cohort students that evening. Such a transparent and strong firm character who supports Tim in the ministry. A lovely godly woman. She co-writes books with Tim.FB_IMG_1522812024096.jpg

 

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Jesus riding on a donkey-Palm Sunday (Matt 21)

Jesus chose a donkey to ride into Jerusalem in his final “big” appearance before his crucifixion on the cross is a powerful message to us today. What’s most powerful to me is the fact Jesus was proclaimed as the King of Israel as the people shouted Hosanna to him which means to the kIng who saves us. What’s so radically non conforming to the world’s view and perception, Jesus , on one hand, proclaimed as the King of Israel, chose not to ride into the capital city as a King, but chose to ride into the city on a ridiculously humble donkey! Not on a chariot with horses, and a herald blowing trumpet. That is so radically different. 

But the result He achieved far exceeded the accomplishment of any emperor on earth including Julius Ceaser of that largest empire at that time. What I get is that Jesus is rooting for the underdog. He is with the contrite in heart. He gives hope to you if you are downhearted, he is our comforter, and our hope. But this has to be anchored solidly in Christ, and not in our day dreaming. Because its easy to position ourselves as the recipient of such. But there is an element of our trying hard, our effort to reach that. Nevertheless, its amazing how Jesus established his kingdom via seemingly weakness, and not strength. So cheer up and look to the suffering King!

The last thing is Jesus is the King! Do you accept him as a blessing ? Or a King? Or are you the king of your own life. But now, as Christian, Jesus is the boss of your life. Come Lord Jesus!

 

 

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Calvin-the Theologian by J I Packer

 

J I Packer’s—“Calvin the Theologian” (by J I Packer)

These are the big points of take away I got from reading JI Packer’s writing on Calvin. Indeed very inspiring & God anointed or what he calls as “unction”. Love to be shaped and molded by his teaching.

  • For the latter part of his life and a century after his death John Calvin was the most influential man in the world, in the sense that his ideas were making more history than those of anyone else during that period.—This is very inspiring. Amazing thinker who loves the Lord.
  • Calvin’s doctrine of the state as a servant of God that established the ideal of constitutional representative government and led to the explicit acknowledgment of the rights and liberties of subjects.
  • He produced the most fundamental ingredients in post-Renaissance Western Civilization.
  • Common grace, operating through conscience, law, and civil government, constantly restrains the full outworking of human corruption, and moves ungodly men to social and cultural enterprises of abiding worth.
  • Each man is responsible to God for his won choices, and that God works out His purposes through intelligent action on man’s part.—WOW!
  • Calvin’s writings breathe more of the spirit of awe and adoration in the realized presence of almighty God.
  • Calvin has unction. Read him, and he brings you into the presence of the God before whom he stood. He is one of the few who have written of God in a way that makes their readers worship.
  • Calvin is the one to make the complete adequacy of Christ’s saving work explicit—to present Christ as prophet, teaching his people by his word and Spirit; priest, securing their salvation by his blood-shedding and intercession; and King, ruling, not them only, but the hole created order for their sake; thus, by His threefold ministry, compassing their whole salvation.
  • God’s sovereignty is absolute, that history was imply the temporal outworking of His eternal plan, that some had been unconditionally chosen for salvation while the rest had been reprobated.
  • The Calvinist is the man who sees God behind all phenomena, and in all that occurs recognizes the hand of God, working out His will.

 

 

 

 

 

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