Tuesday, March 20, 2018

This Week's Schedule

◆Bible Studay and Prayer Meeting  3/21 (Wed)
  Morning Session (10:30 ~ 12:00), Evening Session (19:30~21:00)
  We are reding from the Gospel of John and have a time of prayer.

◆Friday Family Fellowship (FFF) 19:00~  
   FFF is an international fellowship gathering for sing, doing fun games, discussion on faith by English. Everyone is welcome! Now, FFF is not being held. Will start again in April. Please wait!
 Next Week's Schedule

◆Sunday Worship Service  March18th(Sun)
 1st service 9:00 ~ 9:50  2nd service 10:50 ~ 12:15
*Next week, we will have the joint service (10:50 ~12:15)only.
 Message "The Lost Sheep" from Matthew 18:10-14    Pastor Tomohiro SAKAI

*Sunday School 10:00 ~ 10:40 (4th Sunday is each group's meeting)
  Youth Class, International Youth Class, Elementary and Junior High Class,
  Adult Class, and Beginners Class are open. Let's read and learn the Bible together!
March 18, 2018 Message
Matthew 17:24-27  
Temple Tax

24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”25 “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”26 “From others,” Peter answered.“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”
 From next month, April, a new academic year begins. There are people who have graduated from school and will start working from April as a new member of society. In our church as well, there are brothers and sisters who are becoming new working men and women. We pray that, in your lives, from now on, as members of society, you will be guided and protected by the Lord.
 Becoming a working person is very different from student life. There are several difficulties, such as the interpersonal relationships in the workplace and having to learn to work professionally. However, as our Lord Jesus Christ is with us in any and every moment, it is my hope that you proceed to this new life as working professionals, with assurance.
 As working people, you will start to receive a salary as remuneration for your work. Of course, there are also those who work in their houses for their family or those who do volunteer work for free.
So, although we cannot say that work is equivalent to getting money, we can say that, in general, work is one of the means by which we earn income for living.
 And when we work and earn our income, there is something that we must pay from part of that income. That something is “taxes”.
"Paying taxes based on the law" is regarded as one of the obligations that Japanese citizens' have under the Constitution of Japan. Things that are important in our society, like public service operations, are being successfully maintained through the taxes paid by individuals and companies according to their income, and through other varieties of taxes such as the consumption tax.
The topic of today’s passage in Matthew 17:24 is about a tax called the Temple Tax. The text looks at whether or not Jesus will pay the prescribed tax.
How did Jesus and his disciples face the issue of taxes, which is very familiar to our situation today? Let us hear from the Bible’s Word today as we look at this passage.
 What kind of tax is this “Temple Tax” that is mentioned here? It is an offering based on the commandment that is written in the book of Exodus that says, “each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life”.
13 Each one who crosses over to those already counted is to give a half shekel,[c] according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs. This half shekel is an offering to the Lord. 14 All who cross over, those twenty years old or more, are to give an offering to the Lord. 15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.
This is one of the laws the Lord God gave to the Israelites through Moses. It orders that everyone 20 years old and above that cross over as part of the Israelite people must pay half a shekel as an offering to the Lord to atone for their lives.
Although there is a part that says that “the rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less”, it does not mean that an “unreasonably severe duty is being imposed on the poor”.
On the contrary, we can understand that the command is demonstrating the principle that “God’s law is equally applicable to both rich and poor; before God, every person, both rich and poor, have equal positions and rights.
In the English version we are reading, the New International Version, it specifies the amount as a “two-drachma temple tax”. However, in the Japanese version, it only says “temple tax”.
In reality, the Greek text of the New Testament only writes “2 drachma” (didraqumon), (the word “tax”, in particular, is not included). Why does it say 2 drachma then? It is because 2 drachma was the equivalent to half of a silver shekel in the currency that was circulating during Jesus’ time.
2 drachma was a 2-days wage for a common laborer (it has the same value as another currency called “Denarius”), and it was an obligation during that time to pay that amount every year as the temple tax.
 Since originally it was called a “dedication to the Lord”, it feels a bit strange for me to be calling it a “tax”. Although in today’s passage it becomes a discussion whether or not this tax should be paid, perhaps, Jesus was also raising the question on whether or not what was originally a thanksgiving offering to the Lord was now being treated as a compulsory “tax”. 
Now, the temple tax collectors ask Peter, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (v. 24). Jesus had been saying some extreme things that were overturning Traditional Judaism beliefs and common practices, and was being seen as behaving as though “it was okay not to obey the law” (although this was a misconception). That is probably why the doubt that “maybe he might not pay the temple tax that is a duty for the Israelite people” was raised.
I think that with that question, they also meant “is your teacher keeping his duty as member of the society?”
To that question Peter answers, “Yes, he does”, in other words, “Jesus pays the temple tax”. As Jesus’ disciple, Peter always closely watched his teacher Jesus and his conduct. That is why he was able to answer in Jesus’ behalf, saying, “Our teacher is someone who pays the temple tax, just as other people are paying.”
 In verse 25, when Peter walked into the house, Jesus starts the following conversation. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?
In those days, those who ruled collected taxes compulsorily from those who were ruled over. So, if you were the king’s child, and therefore part of the dominating class, you would not have the obligation to pay for taxes or tributes.

Jesus is the Lord of the temple; he is the son of the heavenly Father. Therefore, if he acted according to the ways of the earthly kings, he would not have to pay for the temple tax.
However, Jesus says the following: “Then the children are exempt. But so that we may not cause offense…”
Here Jesus first clarifies that, in reality, he himself does not have the obligation to pay the temple tax; he is the Son of God. However, he also says that they should not make other people in this world stumble as a result of him not paying the temple tax.
In order for other people not to think “Why does that person not fulfill his duties as member of the society (community)?”, and to not cause unnecessary opposition and confusion, and also to contribute equally, as a human, towards the responsibilities of an actual member of the society, Jesus fulfilled the duty of paying the temple tax just like other people.
For us, followers of Christ, there are times when the question arises of how to face earthly traditions and cultures. In particular, I think that there are many things in our Japanese society that cannot be said to be rooted in Christian principles.
I think that, in today’s passage, by paying the temple tax, Jesus is being an example to us. He is showing us that people of faith naturally "fulfill their duties as members of society". However, it does not mean that you are to bend the important parts of the faith in order to be able to comply with the world and please the world.
Romans 12: 1-2 says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The phrase “Do not conform to the pattern of this world” means that we offer ourselves to God, that we decisively acknowledge, above all, that “we belong to God”, always making effort to resolutely guard the most important parts of our faith.
For example, those who are going into society as workers from now on might have times that they will have to work on Sunday, the Lord’s day.
Firstly, I ask from the bottom of my heart, place the Sunday service as a central point in your lives, making it number one instead of just a routine; as believers, make this something important. This is because being careful to keep the worship service of the Lord’s day shows that you are making your faith in the Lord God the most important thing in your life.
Therefore, as you change church attendance from something habitual to something conscious, make the effort you can to keep the Sunday worship service, and if possible, to keep other gatherings like our Wednesday prayer meetings as well.
Still, there are times where, due to circumstances such as our work, we are not able to attend the service. Since we do not work alone and are dependent on the circumstances of the workplace or the situation of our families, in that occasion, each person can pray and think on what is actually the best thing to do at that time.
 We should be able to properly administer these cases if we steadily hold on to the foundations, which is, “a life centered around the Lord’s service” and the acknowledgement that “Jesus is Lord”.
In whichever circumstance, let us not forget that “Jesus is Lord” and that we are not working for society or for companies or for people as if they are lords, but that we are God’s servants, already freed by God.
 To live as a Christian and at the same time fulfill responsibilities and duties as a member of society's community are compatible with one another, and should be compatible.
Being a Christian is not a reason to neglect the duties of a member of the society. I think that that is what Jesus is showing us in today’s passage, that being a Christian cannot be an excuse for disregarding the duties of a citizen.
 Now, after saying, “Let us not make them stumble”, Jesus continues:
 “Go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (v. 27)
There was a silver coin in the mouth of the fish that was caught. You might be feeling like it is some kind of weird magic trick or something. What does this mean?
What does “go to the lake and throw out your line” mean? Peter was a fisherman. So to Peter, the phrase “go to the lake and throw out your line” meant “do work”. In other words, Jesus said to Peter, “Go to work. Go back to work”.
The coin that was in the mouth of the fish was the compensation for the results Peter obtained from doing the job of fishing that was given him.
 “Open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” This phrase might also sound strange, but Jesus is saying, “give part of the reward you received as compensation for your work to God as his prescribed offering.”
A Christian, as he works, makes use of the gifts he was given, and part of the remuneration that he earns he returns to the Lord as an offering of thanksgiving.
Through the jobs we were given, I hope that we find our role in the world and fulfill our duties. In our work and in our everyday lives outside of work, there are many rough and difficult things.
However, we do not need to be afraid, for the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, who sends us from this place of worship to each of our homes and workplaces, will always be with us.
Being thankful for the gifts each of us were given and while we use those gifts, let us fulfill our roles through what each one of us can do, within the society in which we live in together.
We, as believers, look up only to Jesus Christ. At the same time, based on that faith, we would like to fulfill our responsibilities as members of the community we live in.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in doing such things, we were able to shine the light of Christ, even if just a little, as his disciples in this world?
Let us pray.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018
Beppu International Baptist Church

Matthew 16 : 13 ~ 20
“Who do you say I am?”

Peter Declares That Jesus Is the Messiah
13 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20 Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

Two weeks ago on January 28, we had a special evangelism service. During the service, we heard the international students sing hymns and listened to one brother 's testimony. And I’m sure you’ll agree it was a joyous and encouraging occasion for our faith.
Also, many people came to the “Food Bazaar” after service. There was a lot of good food prepared and everybody enjoyed good fellowship while partaking.
Through the international students' special worship hymns, we transcended nationality and language and partook in the joy of worshiping God together.
God gave us humans a multitude of languages
It's sometimes inconvenient when we have different languages.
But it's amazing that we can worship the same God even if we speak different languages. Let us once again thank God that we as a church are given this abundant fellowship that transcends nationality, language, and culture.
The brother talked about “Living as a Christian” in his testimony. He experienced difficult illness and many difficulties with friends. But also through the verse “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”(Romans 5:6), he was reminded that “Christ died for him” and that he “learned to trust in that love.”
The thing from his testimony that resounded with me the most was the phrase “Becoming a Christian is not about becoming holy or righteous, but is about choosing how to live.”
 Truly, becoming a Christian is not about “becoming saved at the moment of baptism and becoming a holy, righteous, and perfect person.” Rather, becoming a Christian means to “stop living a self-centered life and begin living a new God-centered life, in which Jesus Christ is Lord.”
This is a life in which we give thanks for God's love, which Jesus Christ showed us by dying on the cross. I think you can call this a new “path” in life for us.

The Japanese word for evangelism, 伝道, literally means “communicate the path.” Christian evangelism is just that, communicating the path. Telling people there's a true path. And that path is Jesus Christ.
Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) What we can do is tell people about Jesus, “the true path,” and show people that Jesus Christ is Lord through both our words and the way we live (our deeds).
Those that have believed that “Jesus Christ died on the cross for my sins” and that “Jesus is Lord” would thence resolve to walk in obedience to Jesus Christ. And to make their decision to “live a new life” public, they would then get baptized and join church.
More specifically, Christians join all of the visible and existing churches. Together with other Christians, our brothers and sisters in faith, we build up the one church. And by joining this one church, we live out our faith together while carrying out Jesus' teaching in John 13:34, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
I hope that more people would respond to Jesus Christ's grace and make the decision to walk together with Christ, that more would be given the desire to join Christ's living body, the church, and to serve the Lord as a member of that church. I pray there be as many such people as possible.
Now then, today we'll study from Matthew 16:13~20. Here, Peter confessed that “Jesus is the Messiah (savior).”
Listening to this passage, I would like us all to consider “how was Peter able to make such a confession?” and “what is a confession of faith?”
In verse 13, Jesus asked his disciples when they went to Caesarea Philippi “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
“Son of man” refers to Jesus Himself. This phrase was used in the Old Testament in the books of Daniel and Ezekiel when the prophets were being called by God.
Jesus Christ, who is God, probably referred to Himself as the “Son of man” to mean that God was born on Earth as a human.
Now, Jesus didn't immediately ask His disciples who they thought He was. Rather, He first asked them “Who do other people say the Son of Man is?” Why is this?
The disciples were always together with Jesus, so they should have known Him better than anyone. Wouldn't it have been appropriate to first ask the disciples “who do you say the Son of man is?”
The fact that “faith doesn't begin with yourself” is being emphasized here. “What do others say?” In other words, it means “listen to others and let them teach you.”
Ever since we are born, we are taught a great many things by others. Then eventually, we mature, begin to think for ourselves and make our own decisions.
However, before we are able to think for ourselves and make our own decisions, we must first listen to and be taught by other people, such as parents, teachers, and friends. The process of formulating thoughts and understanding does not begin from nothing.
Faith is the same. We came to church, and we came to know Christ because there was someone who first taught us and led us in this direction.
According to Luke chapter 2, when 12-year-old Jesus went to Jerusalem for Passover with His parents, He disappeared on the return trip.
It's written that when Jesus' parents noticed that He was missing, they returned to Jerusalem and “they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” (verse 26)
This was a scene from Jesus' childhood, where he sat among the teachers, listened to them, and then asked questions. Jesus was not teaching people here. Twelve-year-old Jesus was learning by listening to the teachers and asking them questions.
Even for us, it's very important to be ready to listen to others and let them teach us. We must not think to ourselves that “I already understand enough” or “my faith is already perfect.”
Even though as a pastor I’m tasked with preaching and spiritually leading the church, I, the pastor, still want to learn from you all. After all, there is actually a lot I can learn from everybody’s spiritual walk.

The disciples answered Jesus “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (verse 14)
The people thought highly of this man Jesus, taking Him for John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or other great prophets of the past. However, Elijah, Jeremiah, and John the Baptist were all humans, so nobody really understood the essence of who Jesus Christ was.
So then, Jesus asked His disciples “Who do you say I am?”(verse 15)
We humans lend others an ear and they then teach us. Furthermore, we subsequently formulate our own conclusions and respond accordingly.
 Peter responded “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” This was Peter’s confession of faith. Even if other people recognized Him as a great man, they could not comprehend that He was more than a man.

So how was Peter able to discern what others couldn’t?
17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.
In Judah at the time, people referred to humans as “flesh and blood.”
(In our Japanese “New Interconfessional Translation” Bibles, the phrase is translated as “human.” But in Greek Bibles, it is “flesh and blood,” much like the English translation.)
 God the Father is the one who enables us to believe that “He (Jesus) is the Messiah (Savior).” Humans cannot come to that conclusion by themselves. Faith that Jesus is Lord is not something that can be obtained through human effort or understanding.

Peter was able to confess “Jesus is the Savior” through God the Father, and we can do the same today. Through the power of the God of Trinity and the Holy Spirit, we can confess that “Jesus is Lord.” It is as written in 1 Corinthians 12:3, “no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.”
Now, Jesus asked “Who do you [all] say I am?” He did not say the singular “you,” but the plural “you.” Now why would Jesus say the plural “you?”
This shows that the confession of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” is simultaneously both an individual confession and one made together with other believers.
 When you make the confession “I believe in Jesus Christ,” you are in fact joining the “flock” of other believers that have made the same confession. This is the church, a gathering of people with the same confession of faith.
 Even today, Jesus is asking our church “who do you [all] say I am?” Let us be a flock that responds to that question with our words and our lives.
Let's take a look at the last verse of today's passage.
20 “Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.”
Don't you think this is a bit strange? Why would Jesus order his disciples to “not tell anyone?” I thought we have to tell others that “Jesus is Lord?”
The problem here lies in what kind of savior Peter and the disciples understood Jesus to be at this point in time.
In the following verses in Matthew 16:21~28, Jesus said that He will go to Jerusalem, suffer many things at the hands of the people, be killed, and be resurrected on the third day. Then Peter rebuked Jesus, saying “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”
 This means “There's no way our Lord will be killed!” In other words, in today’s passage, Matthew 16, Peter and the discples at this time were still imagining a “messiah that will bring military and political victory to Judah. ”
In order for the disciples to understand “in what way Jesus is the savior,” Jesus had to be crucified and resurrected.
We are obligated to spread the good news that “Jesus is Lord” to the world where we are. Nevertheless, we must never stop scrutinizing whether we “believe in the correct Jesus Christ of the Bible,” and whether or not we are “creating a messiah that conveniently fits our needs.”
No matter where we are in life, we must never lose our connection to our crucified and ressurected God, who hung and died on the cross for the atonement of our sins.
However, because each and every one of us is a weak human being, there is the constant danger that “our Lord Jesus Christ” is one we conveniently imagined for ourselves. Because we are not a perfect church (a perfect church simply doesn’t exist), there is a possibility that our church makes mistakes.
Nonetheless, let us live our faith in humbleness and seek the Holy Spirit’s help and leadership, so that we’d be able to believe in the correct Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible, and so that we’d be able to tell the world about Him.

 The power of the Holy Spirit is what enables us to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord. Also, the Holy Spirit has the power to bring all of us, believers of the same God, together as brothers and sisters of one church.
We, brothers and sisters of this one church, all share in the confession of faith that “Jesus is Lord.” Let us all recognize this as the great grace that it truly is, and love and exhort each other.  Also, together as a flock, let us live this new week in thankfulness for the Lord’s grace and love.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Jan 21, 2018 Message 
                                                            Romans 5:12~21
                                                         “Through one man”

The words for the subject of today 's sermon that I choose, "through one man," are repeated throughout today' s Bible verses (Romans 5: 12 - 21).
Human history can be greatly changed and affected by only "one person." For example, there are many people in history who have made great contributions to improving the lives of mankind and technological progress by making big discoveries or new inventions.
Speaking of inventions, I tend to think of Thomas Edison, who was called the "King of the Invention." Due to "incandescent light bulbs," one of Edison’s inventions, artificial lights could be turned on in the dark night after the sun had set, and the night became brighter.
Because of electric lights, the world has changed a lot. Apparently, the person who first invented the light bulb was not actually Edison. But Edison was the one who put it into practical use and commercialized it. Therefore, although it seems to be true that the light bulb was not Edison’s invention, I still think that the influence of Edison cannot be denied.
Furthermore, when there is a big influence caused by a single person, not only can good impact occur, but bad influence can occur as well. It is possible that many people can experience difficulties and suffering because of one person.
For example, the influence of a leader from a country is great, so if a country’s leader makes a wrong decision, it may negatively affect the lives of many people. Also, the leaders of organizations, like that of a company, or the pastor of a church like me, are all in positions that can influence people.
Therefore, I'd like you all to pray for those individuals who are influential people in leading positions, including myself, to be aware of the influence we have over others as much as possible, in order to be able to faithfully fulfill the duties entrusted to us.
 Well, there is no one who denies that "a person called Jesus Christ had a great influence on human history."
Even if you are not a Christian, you should realize the influence of Jesus Christ, as it reflects the influence that Christianity has had on human history and still has on the world today.
Historically, Christians have made many mistakes. Therefore, some may say that the influence exerted by Christ is not only good, but rather has also had destructively bad influences such as religious war. That is a fact.
But for those who believe in Christ, it is only us, human beings, who commit mistakes and sin. As shown to us in the Bible, Jesus Christ never sinned.
Jesus is a person who himself does not sin, but instead who always forgives us for all of the sins that we humans commit.
The heading for today’s verses is "Adam and Christ." It can be said that Adam, the first man who was made by the Lord God, exerted a great influence on all humanity. If you say the name "Adam," what kind of image do you have?
In today’s verses it says that "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people " (verse 12). This "one man" is Adam. What was the crime committed by Adam?
 As it is told in Genesis chapters 2 to 3, the Lord God said, "You cannot take from this tree and eat" but Adam took and ate from the tree of good and evil knowledge. By disobeying the commandments of God, from that point on, human beings have been living away from God.
Actually, in Genesis, Adam's wife Eve was first seduced by a snake and ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Then Eve invited her husband Adam to eat from the tree and so Adam ate from the tree as well.
However, in today's verses Eve is not mentioned at all and it is said that "sin entered the world through one man (Adam)." I think that, as the first person to have been created, Adam was a person who was burdened with a very heavy destiny and responsibilities.
 "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man" (verse 12), "For if the many died by the trespass of the one man" (verse15),
 "By the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man " (verse 17), "For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners" (verse 19).
Do the words "by one man," that repeat like this (so often), mean that “the problem of human sins is all caused by one human being, Adam?”
In other words, the Bible is saying, "I am/We are not bad, because now we are suffering because of sins from long ago caused by someone called Adam?"
 My son is in the baseball club. In team sports like baseball, you can make a hit with good timing, or you can make a fine play with good defense, and the success of one player may bring victory to the team.
Conversely, you may not get the opportunity to hit, and the game will end right there. Or, I think that there are also often cases that someone loses the game due to a mistake being made.
In the case someone on the team makes a mistake, I think that usually the other members of the team do not blame the teammate who made a mistake. Rather, don’t teammates comfort and encourage the person who made a mistake?
Because no matter how many mistakes are made, no one makes the mistake on purpose. Because everyone is playing on the same team and they are friends with one another, and there is the possibility that you will make a mistake yourself the next time.
So, what kind of attitude should we take against the fact that sin entered the world due to the sins committed by Adam, the first person made by God?
I will read the full sentence from verse 12 once more.
"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned"
It is written as "because all sinned." It is not written that “we are also charged with the responsibility of the crime committed by Adam.”
Paul also writes in Romans 3: 23-24,
“23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
It was not only the responsibility of Adam alone that death spanned to everyone. The message of the Bible tells us "Everyone has committed sin through Adam."
It is not about the degree to which we can accept mistakes made by other teammates in a sports game by saying "because they are our friends" and "because they are the same as us," it is because "we all sinned through Adam."
Is not this unacceptable to us? "If someone has committed a crime, that is the responsibility of the person, nothing to do with me." It is normal to think so.
 However, the Bible says that the events in which sin entered into human beings through Adam are not related to “me, myself,” rather it is “the problem of my sin” itself.
As we hear the story of Adam through the Bible, who was the first man created and, as it were, humanity's representative, it is urged that we superimpose Adam and Adam’s crime on ourselves.
 The Adam we "meet" through the Bible is not just a stranger to us, an unrelated person to us, he is exactly ourselves.
 So, are today’s verses telling us, "because the sin that entered the world through a man named Adam is also the sin that we have committed, we still suffer now under the influence of that sin?"
Does this mean that since "Adam's sin is your sin, you should give up?" Of course that is not the case.
Let's take a look at verse 15.
"But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!"
There is certainly a reality in the world that we can only say is "sin." Thinking thoroughly about ourselves, the Bible tells us that through Adam, "I," ourselves have also sinned.
Also, there are sins that we think other people have committed that are actually also relevant to us. However, the Bible tells us that the gifts of God's grace are far superior to the sin that is overflowing in our world.
2 Corinthians 4: 14 – 15 says:
14 because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.
 Jesus Christ is God who became human, and is completely human while at the same time completely God. Through this one person, Jesus Christ, we gain true life.
Jesus Christ our God accepted our sins as “his own.”
No matter how many sins we have, what a great grace it is that we are "brought justification" (verse 16) through the grace of Jesus Christ!
 The Bible does not tell us to "accept the sin of Adam, for us, an unrelated person, and to live with the sorrow of that sin on our backs."
Instead, know that the Bible is telling us "the gift of Jesus Christ’s grace is given to us without charge, and if we appreciate that blessing, we can accept the sin of others as our own sin."
The gift of God's grace does not compare with sin. Christians face the sad fact that "sin entered the world through one man." While both human beings and God face this sad fact, at the same time, we can also live with the greater hope that "that sin has been forgiven."
And if the Adam that we meet through the Bible can become someone who is so closely related to ourselves, just how deep will our relationships become with other people who we are actually meeting in our daily lives?
The church is a place where we live with other people, as those who are tied together by the grace of Christ. Christians belong to the church which is the body of Christ. To belong to the church is to become a "family member" of the church.
And since the church is the body of Christ, we are to become part of that body. To be part of the body, just as each part of our own bodies have a role, we each have our part, or role, in the church that is headed by Christ.
While each one of us plays a role as part of the body, we are dedicating service to God. Perhaps there are people who think, "even if you say so, I cannot do much."
But that is not true. There are gifts that are only meant for one person or individual, ways in which only that one person can serve, ways to serve God. There is surely a way of service that only that person can do.
For example, even if it is difficult to attend the worship service, supporting your church by prayer at home, praying for other brothers and sisters, encouraging others through fellowship, doing these kind of services can also be the utmost possible service you can do.
The service that we Christians do in the church, and also dedicate our lives to, is to serve others. And therefore, Christians serve God through serving others.
45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10: 45).
In John chapter 13 the disciples told us that Jesus himself washed the feet of his disciples and said, "14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet." (John 13: 14).
 Can we also serve each other by trying to wash each other’s feet? As I meditated on today’s verses from Romans, I felt that the order "as Jesus washed the disciples' feet, we should wash one another’s feet" was the Lord telling us to "live by accepting the sins and mistakes of other people and supporting each other."
Wherever you go, humans may be the ones that can only think about their own profit. But the gift of God's grace, that is not comparable to sin, is pouring richly to us and to many people. With this grace, we are sure to treasure others and serve others.
 Let us pray that all of us who have built the same church together, playing our roles as part of the body, cherishing each other, praying for each other, enriching the gifts of the grace of God, can live in rich relationships with one another where we can accept the pain and sins, and joy of others as our own.
Let us pray.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

December 24, 2017 Christmas Worship Service Sermon 
Matthew 1:18 25
God with Us
Merry Christmas everyone!
Today is the day we celebrate Christmas and remember how Christ was born and came into this world.
I am truly grateful that we can all gather for this Christmas service and give thanks for God the Father sending His only begotten Son to us.
And I also pray that many people will gather tonight for the candle service and celebrate the birth of our savior Jesus together.
We just saw the Christmas playChristmas Bell (original title:”Christmas Bell”. It's a story about a church with a bell that rings when somebody presents the greatest gift.
The rich and the king appeared in the play, saying I'll be the one to make the bell ring! Then they with enthusiasm presented expensive gifts such as jewels, treasures, and even the king's crown.
However, even when they presented things that were precious in human’s eyes, the church bell did not ring. In the end, the bell rang when one boy (Mark) quietly offered a silver coin and prayed.
The bell rang not because of the silver coin, but because their kindness (that they showed to the woman collapsed in the snow) and because of their genuine hearts (they offered what they had to God with humility).
When I saw the affluent people getting all confident they'll ring the bell, I feel like I saw myself in them. Why is that? It's because I felt I too would say the same thing, God, I'm doing my best, so please answer me!
Also, having watched the play, I realized the things I think I do for God are not actually for God, but rather I want to gain other people’s favor by doing deeds where people can see.
Through this play, I was once again reminded that God is pleased with the kind of humility that says I'm only doing what I must. This is all I am able to offer.
One thing we must never forget during Christmas is that the one who gave the greatest gift was God Himself. If God had appeared in that play, the one to ring the bell would've been God Himself, no doubt.
That is because God Himself gave the greatest gift to us humans. That gift is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God's greatest gift to us humans.

God gave us the savior Jesus Christ as a present. Let us all grow daily in our thankfulness for this great grace.
Today, during our Christmas service, let us read Matthew 1:18 25 and listen to what the Bible has to say about the birth of Jesus, God's greatest gift to us.
Chapter 1 verse 18
18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
Mary and Joseph were engaged. At the time in Judah, it was the custom for the parents and marriage intermediaries to decide someone's future marriage partner from a young age.
And then, when the two reach a certain age, they would give their consent to marriage. Once they consent, the two are officially engaged. The period of engagement was one year.
This period of engagement was treated the same as actual marriage. They only didn't live together yet. Joseph and Mary were in the middle of their engagement period.
During this time, it was found out that Mary was pregnant through the Holy Spirit. (v18) she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. This was done not simply to paint Jesus Christ's birth as miraculous and dramatic.
 She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. This means that human will, human decisions, and human effort had no bearing on the birth of the savior.
It was not through humans, but through God’s decision to “save humanity” that the savior Jesus Christ was born. This is reflected in the verse She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
In addition, while Jesus Christ was born as a human, the fact that Mary was “pregnant through the Holy Spirit” also supports the important Christian belief that “Jesus was God and was God since the creation of the Earth.”
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
It is not that “Jesus was a human at first but then became God after dying on the cross and resurrecting.”
Jesus Christ was God before He was born as the Son of Man. And Jesus remained God while He was in a human body from the time He was born and until He finally died on the cross. This truth is reflected in the phrase “She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.
At any rate, the pregnancy caused problems for Joseph and Mary. The discovery of pregnancy before the two were officially married was a trial for them. According to the law, Mary may have been found guilty of adultery.
I think Joseph may have been desperately thinking “What should I do…”
The Japanese Bible says “Joseph was a righteous man” in verse 19. The English translation says “faithful to the law.” At the time, “righteousness” meant faithfully following the law.
But he wasn’t just righteous in form, but he was faithful to the essence of the law and to God’s will. The law’s essence and God’s will meant to “show others kindness and compassion.”
If he had exposed the out-of-wedlock pregnancy to the public, Mary would have been stoned.
Deuteronomy 23:1
  If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house,
Joseph had the option of exposing Mary to the public and letting her be stoned to death. However, he also had the option of giving her a certificate of divorce and keeping the matter secret, thus saving Mary’s life.
To get through this difficult situation, Joseph decided “this is the only option.” That’s when the Lord’s angel appeared to Joseph in a dream.
 “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” (verse 20)
The Lord’s angel said “Do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife…” “To take” here means to “go from engagement to official marriage.”
 “Do not be afraid.” From the angel’s words, we know that Joseph was afraid as he made the decision. Now what did Joseph fear?
First, the fact that “She was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.Who would believe something like that? Joseph himself probably did not believe that at first. We humans need courage to decide to believe someone. We also worry “what will we do if our trust is betrayed…”
However, he heard from the angel that “what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This meant that “that child is an important entity loved by God, and you have the important task of being that child’s father.”
This would be a difficult and scary situation for most people. But Joseph was told by the angel that he was now to “live together with Mary and the child that was to be born.”
Another thing that Joseph probably feared was accepting Mary and the child (Jesus) inside her, “accepting strangers as his own.” In other words, he feared living together with someone else.
He feared the sudden change of going from living alone to accepting and living together with a stranger. After all, it’s difficult to live with someone whose personality and ways of thinking are different.
Marrying Mary and living together with her and the child in her would be a very big change in lifestyle. Joseph was compelled by the voice of the Lord’s angel to surrender himself, obey the voice of God and “live together with a stranger.”
The angel continued to say “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
 “Jesus” comes from the Hebrew “Yeshua.” The name means “God is salvation” or God will save.” And how will God save us? Let’s see in verse 23.
 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
 “God with us.” Our God Jesus Christ will save us by “being with us.”
God is not promising that He will solve and take away all the troubles and pains we experience in life, and not in ways that we can see directly. He does not promise to save us in the ways that we hope.
God promises to “be with us.” In such a way, God will save us. By “being with us,” He will save us.
 “Be with us” means to “always” be with us. Let’s look at the end of the book of Matthew.
Matthew 28:20
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The God Emmanuel will always be with us. He is not a god that helps us when He feels like it, or only occasionally shows His face, but He is a god that is always with us.
Psalm 23:4
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
No matter the circumstances, if God is together with us, then we will not be afraid. Because the Lord is with us, we need not fear everything that happens in life, we need not fear accepting and living together with someone. We can have peace.
I think that Joseph was afraid of living together with Mary and the new life inside her (that was conceived through the Holy Spirit). For God as well, even if it wasn’t fear, it must’ve been a difficult decision to send His only son Jesus Christ to be born on Earth and to entrust His life to humans.
God gave His only son Jesus Christ to humanity because He loved humanity intensely. God Himself had made the decision to be born as a human and then “live together” with humans.
 “To live together” is to take utmost concern for someone, to share in their pains and joys, and to spend your time on that person.
Being together with someone is actually difficult. It might be easier for us to just be alone. However, God told us to “accept others and live together with them.”
By being “with us,” God took away our fears and gave us humans salvation. Having received salvation, this Christmas season let us resolve to “accept and live together with the people that are put in our lives.
 And what does “others” practically mean for us? Who “others” refers to varies from person to person. Even if they are not close family or spouses, these “others” become involved with us in many ways and then we live together with them. This is especially true of the brothers and sisters in one church.
Today on Christmas day, let us reaffirm our decision to “live together,” to “accept and live together” with those that are put in our lives.
And let us all remember with great joy and thankfulness the birth of Jesus Christ, our God who is with us.