Our Fifteenth Anniversary

Today is our 15th Thanksgiving Anniversary as a branch of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you were present in our first worship service on 4th July 1999, you would, no doubt, see that a lot has changed since. For one, the babies who were born that year are all in their mid teens now. Can you guess who they are?

Fifteen is a somewhat insignificant year in the life of a child. When we think of a 14 year old, we see a young teen. When we think of a 16 year old, we see a maturing teenager. What about 15 year olds? Well, they are neither here nor there. They are aware that they are no longer young children, but they are also conscious that they not quite matured yet. I don’t remember very much of my 15th year either. It was the year I entered Upper Secondary in school. It was the year I started wearing long pants instead of shorts as part of my school uniform. But beyond that, I don’t remember much that is significant about that year.

The number 15 is also not very significant in the Scripture. But it reminds me of two things, which perhaps may be edifying for us to consider on this our 15th Anniversary.

Keeping the Feast

In the first place, the number 15 reminds me that as a redeemed people, we should dwell with one another in holiness, peace and joy. You see, in the Hebrew calendar, the 15th of Nisan is that the day that begins the Feast of Unleavened Bread. We can see this in Exodus 12:18, where the LORD says to the children of Israel through Moses—

“In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even.”

Now, the Passover was actually killed on the evening of the 14th Day, so the Feast of Unleavened Bread would actually begin only on the 15th day, and would last seven days (see Ex 12:15; check Keil & Delitzch, in loco).

What has the Feast of Unleavened Bread got to do with us? Well, the apostle Paul reminds us that “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” (1 Cor 5:7), and therefore we ought to “keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Cor 5:8). Paul, we must remember is not telling us that we must observe the ceremonial Feast of Unleavened Bread. As the ceremonial Passover found its fulfillment in the atonement of Christ, so the ceremonial Feast of Unleavened Bread must find its meaning today in the life of God’s people who are covered by the blood of Christ. In other words, we are to observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread by living a holy life as redeemed people.

We are to do so as individuals, as families and as a covenant community. Indeed, in the context of 1 Corinthians 5, Paul is speaking about the holiness of the church, the covenant community. He is urging the church to maintain church discipline:

9  I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11  But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12  For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?” (1 Cor 5:9-12).

Experience teaches us that when a Reformed congregation begins, there is usually a greater emphasis on church disciple. If the congregation is not careful, the zeal for reformation and purity can unintentionally backfire and create a hypocritical, legalistic atmosphere within the congregation where members feel an unexplainable pressure to conform to a perceived standard of behavior and decorum. This often results in unhappy departures by those who feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have been forced into unwilling or hypocritical conformity. PCC as a congregation, has I think, turned the corner and come out of this malady. There is now a general sense that those who are different in conduct and demeanor are more accepted by the rest of the church.

But at fifteen, a different danger confronts us. This is the danger of going in the opposite direction, wherein the members of the church become so fearful of hurting one another that we cease to admonish one another. I wonder if this was the problem in the Corinthian church which Paul was seeking to address as he compelled them to take disciplinary steps against the man who was in an immoral relationship with his step-mother.

No, I am not advocating that we judge one another. We certainly do not want to see a return to the days when a pervasive sense of suspicion and expectations make church life uncomfortable. But I long to see that as the church matures, we may be able to admonish one another in love without becoming offended by one another. Oh let us pray for one another that our guards will be torn down, and a sense of genuine love that does not fear to offend, and is not easily offended will characterize this communion of Christ.

Redeeming the Time

The second thing that the number 15 reminds me is that we must redeem the time for the days are evil. Remember the occasion in the life of King Hezekiah when he was “sick unto death” (Isa 38:1). When Hezekiah received warning from the prophet Isaiah that he was going to die, he humbled himself and sought the LORD earnestly. The LORD, being entreated of him, says through Isaiah:

“Thus saith the LORD, the God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears: behold, I will add unto thy days fifteen years” (Isa 38:5).

Hezekiah had an additional 15 years to live. We, on the other hand, have exhausted our 15 years and are at the threshold of entering into our 16th. But our responsibility is the same. Time is short. We have the responsibility to make use of the time that the LORD has given us, and to make use of it faithfully.

What did Hezekiah to do in the 15 years?  We are not told. It is possible that some of the things recorded in 2 Chronicles 32:27-33 were done during those 15 years. If so, Hezekiah would have accomplished much in those years. But for all his accomplishment, something was apparently lacking.

You see, fathers must always bear responsibility for the upbringing of their children. Fathers are not responsible for the sin of their children. But we cannot escape the fact that grotesque wickedness is often a result of parental neglect (cf. Prov 23:13-14; 29:15; 29:17). Sadly, history tells us that the son of Hezekiah, Manasseh was notoriously wicked. Was Manasseh already born when Hezekiah began his extra fifteen years? Some commentators think so, other think otherwise. 2 Kings 21:1 informs us that “Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign.” Does this include a period of vice-regency with Hezekiah? Many modern commentators think so based on archeological and historical calculations by Edwin R. Thiele. If so, then Manasseh was about ten years old when Hezekiah began his extra time, and was set as a vice-regent by Hezekiah two years later when he attained to twelve years of age. Otherwise, Manasseh would have been born about 3 years into the time.

Whatever the case, it is quite certain that Hezekiah would have sought to prepare Manasseh for the throne. What is not so certain is whether Hezekiah was able to spend much time and effort in the spiritual upbringing of Manasseh. I think he made an attempt earlier on so that Manasseh had some knowledge of the faith when Providence led him to repentance later in life (2 Chr 33:12-13). However, it appears that much of the time was spent preparing him to be a statesman (especially if there was indeed a vice-regency). If that is so, we are force to conclude that Hezekiah did not use his extra time as wisely as he should have. Indeed, the biblical records suggests that he did much more that was praiseworthy in the eyes of the Lord before the extra time, then during the extra time. This is poignant to consider.

What shall we learn from this? Shall we not learn that time is short and that one day we have to give an account of how we used the time that God has given us. Fifteen years have gone by for us. We thank God for what He has enabled us to accomplish individually and as a congregation in those years. But what will the next fifteen years be? Unless we begin to prayerfully consider and perhaps plan for what we hope to see happen in the next fifteen years, we may end up like Hezekiah, neglecting some very important responsibilities. Indeed, we may end up losing our children as we entertain ourselves or carry out projects that we feel are necessary and good for our reputation (cf. Rev 3:1).

Therefore, let us, beloved brethren, march on as a church purposefully seeking not our glory but the glory of our King. Let us not think of the future as if it will never end. Let us rather think of the years ahead as extra time that the Lord has graciously accorded to our care. Will we have more than 15 years? I hope so, but if we go forward with the attitude that we have the luxury of inexhaustible time, then we may be in for a rude shock when at the end of 15 years, we find ourselves regretting our failure to grasp the opportunity granted by the Lord.

On the other hand, if we will face the future purposefully with the attitude that it is a limited and extra time given to us to accomplish what we could not do in the last 15 years, we might by the grace of God look back with satisfaction our 30th anniversary. We might perhaps regale our history with gratitude to the Lord for the lessons He gave us through Hezekiah on this day.

—JJ Lim