Our 18th Anniversary


We are, as a congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ, almost exactly eighteen years old today. We had our first worship service on 4th July 1999. This morning, as we celebrate our thanksgiving anniversary, we shall be enjoying our 937th morning service.

The 18th birthday is regarded as a most significant day in most modern cultures today. One who reaches his 18th birthday is said to have reached the “age of majority.” This is not the age of the majority of people in the world. Rather it is the age when a minor, who was hitherto of minority age, is no longer a minor! As Wikipedia puts it: “Age of majority pertains solely to the acquisition of control over one's person, decisions and actions, and the correlative termination of the legal authority of the parents (or guardian(s), in lieu of parent(s)) over the child’s person and affairs generally.” So in many countries, one who has reached the age of majority, is allowed to vote, to buy alcohol or to own a driving license. Thus the 18th birthday is often associated with freedom—freedom from parental control and freedom from societal restrictions.

Interestingly, however, eighteen is not a number usually associated with freedom in the Scriptures. In fact, in the Scripture it is more often associated with bondage. Now, bondage is not a subject that we will normally want to meditate on for anniversaries. But the remarkable thing about the number eighteen is that it is in a sense associated with the end rather than the beginning of bondage. The end of bondage is, in fact, freedom! Thus, a biblical study of the number eighteen need not be dark and negative.

So let’s look at the three significant references to “eighteen years” found in the Scriptures as we meditate on the Lord’s goodness over the last eighteen years.

1. Hope after
Eighteen Years
under a Lefthander

So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years. But when the children of Israel cried unto the LORD, the LORD raised them up a deliverer, Ehud the son of Gera, a Benjamite, a man lefthanded… (Jdg 3:14-15).

The children of Israel had, under the leadership of Joshua, conquered and settled into the Promised Land. However, the people soon turned away from the covenant and forsook the LORD to serve idols (Jdg 2:11ff). The LORD, being grieved and angered by their rebellion decided to maintain a remnant of the Canaanites in the land in order to “prove Israel, whether they will keep the way of the LORD to walk therein, as their fathers did keep it, or not” (Jdg 2:22).

This is a humbling strategy which shares the same motivation behind God’s allowing Satan to continue to do damage in his death throes after having his head crushed at the Cross (cf. Gen 3:15). It is also the reason why God deemed it necessary that His elect not be perfected in their regeneration but must struggle with the remnant of corruption in their journey to glory.

Nevertheless, the LORD raised judges to deliver the people out of oppression whenever they cried unto Him. The first of the judges was Othniel the son of Kenaz. Under his leadership, “the land had rest forty years” (Jdg 3:11). But sadly after Othniel died, the people “did evil again in the sight of the Lord,” and therefore “the LORD strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel” (v. 12).

Eglon would oppress Israel for the next eighteen years. It was only at the end of the eighteen years that the Lord raised up Ehud the son of Gera to deliver them in answer to their cries. Ehud, we may remember was the lefthanded judge who slew Eglon with a dagger.

What may we learn from this account? Well, we must be careful not to turn history into an allegory. The eighteen years of oppression under Eglon that Israel suffered has nothing to do with the eighteen years of PCC. But surely we have something to learn about the way that Ehud was used by the LORD to deliver the people after the eighteen years; and it is not that providentially, two lefthanded men played an indirect but significant role in the founding of PCC! It is, rather, that God chose to use a lefthanded man to deliver Israel. As Pastor Linus shows quite convincingly in his sermon 24 January 2016,—

“…a person like Ehud, who has to use his left hand in battle, would not be considered a natural choice for the task of delivering Israel. No one would naturally look up to him or choose to follow him. But he was God’s choice.”

The Lord has dealt with us very kindly in the last eighteen years despite our unworthiness. Through ups and downs, we have marched on with Christ as our King and the gates of hell could not hold us back. This is the reality. But some of us may, perhaps for various reasons, have a more dismissive assessment of the last eighteen years, and therefore harbour a sincere hope of better days ahead. Well, whatever it may be, let us understand that whoever the Lord will choose as undershepherds to lead us as a church will be in some ways be like Ehud. No, they will not necessarily be lefthanded, but they will necessarily be lacking and weak in one way or another. This is so that we may march on with eyes of faith not upon the undershepherds, but upon the Shepherd, the Man of God’s Righthand (Ps 80:17)!

2. Deliverance after Eighteen
Years Marked by a Vow

And that year they vexed and oppressed the children of Israel: eighteen years, all the children of Israel that were on the other side Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead (Jdg 10:8 )

Many years have transpired since Ehud judged Israel. Deborah and Barak, and Gideon have come and gone. Then there was a period of 45 years of relative peace and stability under the leadership of Tola and Jair (Jdg 10:1-4). But that interval would prove to be the calm before the storm, for almost as soon as Jair was buried (v. 5) did Israel plunge into a time of grotesque idolatry almost unheard of since the beginning, for we read in verse 6—

“And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him.”

Israel had become a melting pot of idols. It was almost as if she was vying to be the most idolatrous nation in the history of mankind. It is no wonder that the anger of the LORD burned so hot against Israel that He, as it were, sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites (Jdg 10:7). They would be thus vexed and oppressed for eighteen years!

It was only after the eighteen years were up that Israel began to cry unto the Lord for deliverance. The LORD had compassion on the people despite their rebellion. He raised up Jephthah.

The story of Jephthah is too lengthy and complicated to recount in this short article, but many of us will remember how he made a rash vow to sacrifice whatever came out of his house to meet him first if he returned victorious from fighting the Ammonites (Jdg 11:31). He ended up sacrificing his daughter. Now, whatever else we may say about the legality or the wisdom of the vow, one thing we must say is that Jephthah was a man of his word. He kept his vow to his own hurt in contrast to so many today, who have so little qualms about breaking or reneging their vows, whether they be marriage vows or ecclesiastical vows.

As we come to our 18th anniversary thanksgiving service and are reminded of how Jephthah was used of the Lord to deliver Israel out of Ammonitish oppression, let us seek to learn the right lesson from him. The right lesson is not, as many suppose, that we should not make rash vows. That is one of the lessons, but surely it is not the primary lesson, for otherwise there would at least be a hint of condemnation in the sacred Scriptures of what he did. But instead of that, we have an inspired commendation of Jepththah’s faith (Heb 11:32)! Perhaps then, the lesson for us is that of faith, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who swore to His own hurt for our salvation in the covenant of grace (cf. Ps 15:4).

Going forward, how should this faith find expression? Well, amongst other things, let us, walk by faith and not by sight. Let us have faith sufficient to keep that which we have promised, faith to walk according to our covenant responsibilities, and faith to believe that our hope in Christ is not in vain. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6).

This leads us to our final lesson:

3. Liberty in Christ
After Eighteen Years

“And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself. …16  And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?” (Lk 13:11, 16)

One of the ironies inherent in the subject of bondage and liberty is that what is regarded as free by one may be regarded as bondage by another. Think of the situation that Adam and Eve were in before the Fall. Were they free or were they in bondage? We know they were free! They were not in bondage to sin. They were free to live righteously before the face of God. However, Satan managed to persuade them otherwise. “Ye shall be as gods” he tells them (Gen 3:5). “Eat of the forbidden fruit and you will be free from the bondage of God; you will have your autonomy” He cajoled. Tragically, they did what they were misled to do, and they plunged themselves and all humanity descending from them by ordinary generation into sin.

I began this section with this little excursus because I wonder if there may be any who may actually feel that he has been under bondage for eighteen years, and is considering to heed the call for liberty of the ancient serpent. I trust not.

Nevertheless, we must be clear that as the woman, though “a daughter of Abraham” (Lk 13:16) was in bondage by a “spirit of infirmity” for eighteen years, so it is possible that some of us, though members of the covenant body may still be in the “bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23) after so many years. And just as the woman was gratuitously freed by the Lord Jesus Christ, so He alone can set us free.

But how can we be in bondage when we are Christian? To ask this question is to ask as the Jews did: “We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?” (Jn 8:33). The fact is that being part of the church visible is no guarantee of salvation. This is why we must never overemphasise on the glories of the church visible during church anniversaries!

What are some symptoms of one who is still in the bond of iniquity? Well, a love for the world, a hatred for God’s laws, a disinterest in the prosperity of the Church of Christ are some indications of unregeneracy given in the First Epistle of John (eg. 1 Jn 2:3, 9, 15; 4:7; 5:4 etc). In a church where the Law of God is not taught or emphasised, the possibility of a great multitude of professors of faith being workers of lawlessness (Mt 7:23) who will eventually be disowned by the Lord is greatly heightened. What about in the case of a Reformed or reforming church where the law of God is emphasised? I believe that in such churches, the opposite problem of legalism can be more menacing. Why? Because the natural man is fundamentally legalistic in his attitude. We have a tendency to feel that so long as we are doing our best we should be acceptable to God. But the problem, of course, is that our best can never be good enough. The only way by which we may be accepted of God is to be covered by the righteousness of Christ in justification. It is in this way that Christ delivers us from the guilt and bondage of sin and makes us acceptable to God. But where this doctrine is not given sufficient or proper emphasis, a haughty self-righteous and self-sufficient attitude that side-lines Christ can easily arise in the church. This was what happened amongst the Jews during the days of our Lord.

Thus, in this five hundredth anniversary of the Great Protestant Reformation, and our eighteenth anniversary as a branch of Christ, it is essential that we resolve never to leave off this great doctrine of justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. We need to return unashamedly to the basics. We need to persist to preach Christ and Him crucified uncompromisingly. We need to make sure that we understand what it is to walk by faith and not by sight. Only in this way can we be sure that we are truly walking in the freedom and love that Christ purchased for us.

Conclusion

Being eighteen as a church is somewhat different from being eighteen as an individual in the modern culture. We think of being liberated from childish restrictions when we reach eighteen as individuals. But being eighteen as a church behooves us to think of being shut up to Christ in every way that we may find true liberty in Him in our walk together as His body. This is really not very different from what we should do every year, but we can see how references to “eighteen years” in the Scripture has led us in a unique way to think of Christ our deliverer. Oh may our heavenly Father hear our cries as we seek to magnify the name of His Son, the King and Deliverer of this church for another year! Amen.

—JJ Lim