Monday, April 17, 2006

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

This is my personal summary of the Easter preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on 16th April 2006

Scriptures: 1 Cor.15:20-28, 53-58

Is Jesus Christ really the central figure of history? What status of significance does His resurrection have in the history of mankind?

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the culmination of all the promises in the Old Testament and the direction of all past history before that. It is also the fundamental point for all the history to come after as His resurrection moves mankind's history to its climax and sets the future direction for the history to come.

The cross of Jesus Christ cannot be eradicated from history. His suffering is a prelude to His glory. Through His death, He showed the truth of resurrection. Through His sufferings, He showed His glory. Jesus Christ's purpose to come to earth is to die and through His death He showed us that He could not die. John Owen made a profound statement regarding the death of Christ, “The death of Christ puts all deaths to death.”

The Scriptures prophesied and recorded Christ's birth, sufferings, death, resurrection, ascension and second coming as “kairos” that have been set by God in eternity. Kairos refers to the moments of history that have significant connection with the eternal will of God. They are unrepeatable moments that surpass mechanical process of time.

Jesus' death obtained forgiveness from our sin, and in His resurrection we are made righteous. So Jesus' death and resurrection are the two pillars which summarized the essence of the gospel, which is the Good News of God's forgiving grace to sinners.

Paul said, “But Christ has INDEED risen from the dead, the firstfruits of all those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor.15:20)

This statement sets Christianity apart from all other faiths. Christ alone has resurrected from the dead. No other founders of religion could claim that.

There have been two instances of resurrection in the Old Testament by prophet Elia and Elisha. There are also three instances of resurrection in the New Testament by Jesus Christ Himself. But all these resurrections are of a different nature from the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is truly the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep. The others who had been resurrected had to die again at later part of their lives but Jesus Christ never died anymore after His resurrection. In Revelation 1:18 He said, “I am the Living One. I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever.”

What is the significance of Christ being the firstfruits of all those who have fallen asleep? It means that there are more fruits to come. Who then will be the next fruits of those who have fallen asleep? You and me. All of us. This is the foundation of our eternal hope.

Since Christ's resurrection is true as the Scriptures testified, as Jesus Himself has testified, it means everything He said must be true and would come to pass. Apart from all the prophecies that have indeed been fulfilled, what else have He spoken to us?

We now need to pay attention to all other things He ever said. The Scriptures speak of creation, of Word-Incarnate, of Christ's crucifixion, of His resurrection, of the promise of the Holy Spirit, of the birth and growth of the Church, of the Last Days. So all the important themes have been consolidated one by one and we have our systematic theology on all those topics.

There are things that have been fulfilled up to Christ's resurrection. There are also things that have been fulfilled since Christ's resurrection. And there are things that are being fulfilled and still awaiting fulfillment right now. The whole history of mankind is directed towards a certain destination and the resurrection of Jesus Christ that becomes the foundation of hope for all the promises that are yet to be fulfilled.

If Christ was not raised from the dead, there is no justice and no hope in the world. But because He has risen we have sure foundation of hope to fight in this dark world until the end of times.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Learning to be Patient

This is my personal summary of the expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 5:7-11 on 9 April 2006

After rebuking the rich, James talks about patience. The organic relationship between the two themes is that we are often impatient because we are anxious of the rich. Patience is greatness as it takes a lot more effort and character to be patient than to be offensive. It is an expression of Christian courage as it is able to face disasters and withstand persecution. Jesus is the greatest example. He did not take any arms on earth but took all the sufferings. Not only was He not angry, but He expressed Himself as the Mediator to ask for forgiveness of those who offended Him.

Traditional theology talks about four sources of sufferings:

- Fallen world where thorns and thistles will become part of our natural problems. In this we need to learn to submit.
- Personal sins. We have to repent.
- Others and evil men who harm us. We need to learn wisdom to escape from them.
- Satan’s attack. We need to rely on God even more.

Victory comes when we understand the meaning and value of our sufferings. In Romans 5:3-5 Paul talks about our joy in sufferings because of our sure hope. So it is not the issue of solving our sufferings but it is more of how we understand the value of what we are going through.

Sufferings and wrong understanding of sufferings need to be separated. Is our sense of suffering a matter of degree or illusion? Often we are deceived by our feelings. We are so driven by our feelings so we have no freedom. Freedom is not in following our feelings but is in the Truth. The Truth sets us free.

We often want to be the master of our time which results in a frightening psychology that wants to be in control of everything. We cannot wait and want to force God to follow our will and timing. But there is a season for everything. Our impatience will not advance anything. If we do not learn to wait, we will fail all our lives.

Until when should we be patient? James says in verse 7 “until the Lord comes.” This is a very ‘cruel’ thing because we can never know when. It can be a lifetime or even beyond our life. It has been 2000 years since Christians waited for the Lord's second coming. Isn't it too much to ask us to be patient till the Lord comes? Well, if we are not waiting for Him to come back, what else are we waiting for? Is our hope in this world?

The End of the world is when Jesus comes back. The Bible says the Lord's coming is near. We can see this from two aspects:

Firstly, the world's history is at its last phase. No matter how long this last phase is, it is still the last phase and so the world is coming to an end.

Secondly, although we might not wait until that day, we will still have to account to God quite soon. The longest is our lifetime. And the outcome of our eternal destiny at the end of our life will be the same as the outcome when Jesus comes back the second time. After our death, no matter how much time elapse until Jesus’ second coming, there is nothing else we can do to alter the outcome.

The judges in the world might judge wrongly. But God will not judge wrongly. Romans 2:4 says His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance so we should not despise His patience. God is slow to anger but in the end He will come and judge righteously. The day will come when we will tremble before Him. Knowing the final Judgment will come, we should not be anxious when treated wrongly. Seeing so many injustices in the world and knowing the coming Judgment, we learn to be patient. It is in this solid foundation that our patience is built.

By the eyes of faith, we can see that our Lord's coming is near. Phil.4:5 says to let our gentleness be known to all because the Lord is near. Since we know that the grand event is coming, we should not be anxious and fighting over trivial issues. Our gentleness shows our eternal hope.

Many people instead are just jealous of those who are successful but never learn to see behind their jealousy how these people probably have persevered to achieve the success they have today. Comparison is a disease among us. We need to learn to turn all our grumbles in to thanksgiving and praise, our judgmental spirit into encouragement.

If we have a willing heart, every cross will be easier to bear. We often think it is too much because we feel too much. If we are willing because of love, it will be light. Suffering + willingness becomes enjoyment. But a little labor + unwillingness are hell.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Good Friday & Easter Gospel Rally 2006

There is a gospel rally on Good Friday 14th April by Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong in Indonesian language (details below)

Pengkhotbah :
Pdt. Dr. Stephen Tong
Oratorio dari GF Handel - Messiah Part II
Conductor :Ms. Eunice Tong
Pianis :Jusuf Himawan
Jumat Agung
14 April 2006 - pukul 16:30
Singapore Expo, Foyer 1 - Conference Hall A-F

Details on Easter message in Indonesian language is as follows:

Kebaktian Paskah
16 April 2006 - pukul 16:30
True Way Presbyterian Church 305
156B Stirling Road (sebelah Queenstown MRT)

Details on Easter message in Mandarin with English translation is as follows:

Easter Message
16 April 2006 - 7:30 pm
Newton Life Church (Near Newton MRT station)

Do come to commemorate our Lord's death & resurrection and invite your friends/relatives along. May God bless the preaching of His Word.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Is It Wrong To Be Rich?

This is my personal summary of the expository preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on James 5:1-6 on 2 April 2006

This passage talks very sternly about the danger of riches. It is a refutation against the prosperity theology. The Bible says that in the last days people will be sick of the Truth and will only listen to what they want to hear. As a result, a lot of false teaching is produces. We live in an era that takes great care of economic benefits. This passages give us very stern warning about God's judgment for the rich.

God is the God that gives grace and also is the God that punishes. We have to see both. Can we have the freedom to choose God's grace and refuse His punishment? God creates both light and darkness, gives grace and allows disasters.

From the temptation of Christ where the devil promised to give the world's kingdom to Him if He would worship the devil, we can see that a lot of prosperity in the world could come from the devil.

Therefore we cannot see things simplistically in dualistic manner where we attribute all wealth as blessings from God and all misfortune as from the devil. This is a very great obstacle to Christian understanding. God can give wealth and God can punish too. Likewise the devil can give wealth to trap people or inflict misfortune on people. So we need to learn to discern spiritual things. Today we have too much wrong understanding to be corrected.

The key to spiritual success is to determine in our heart that we seek only to please God. But often times we seek to please men, especially the rich ones. Therefore, a lot of the rich people are living in a very sad state because there are few people who would speak the truth genuinely to them and there are a lot of people who will get close to them and speak only to please them because of their wealth. Many of them lack very valuable things in life, that is, the opportunity to hear the Truth and friends who would faithfully point out their wrongs.

The passage here talks about God's judgment on the rich. It says that misery will come unto you because you have too much of what you do not need such that your possessions are rotting away. Is it wrong to be rich? What about David, Solomon and Abraham? Would God always curse the wealthy? Are we not encouraged to keep pursuing and developing our potential? Should we reject all opportunities for wealth development and just keep what we need per day? Human beings indeed are created with the fighting spirit such that we want to do better although we already have our basic needs fulfilled, because it is a challenge towards our potential. Therefore if we fight, we do not waste away our time, talents, opportunities, strength and ability so it is something to be desired.

The thing being condemned here is not the wealth, but it is the greed. But if we fight, aren't we desiring more? It is right to fight, but it is not right to be greedy. So what kind of spirituality should a Christian have?

There are 3 questions we ought to ask ourselves regarding wealth:

1. Where does the wealth come from? Is it from God or from the devil? The blessings of God do not bring bitterness but whatever devil gives comes with a lot of traps. So we need to discern carefully.

2. How do I acquire my wealth? We have to reflect upon ourselves by what methodology we get our wealth. It should not come by exploitation and illegal means.
3. How am I responsible before God and men over my wealth? So finally, if indeed God has given us wealth and we have acquired it by hard work and honest means, we ought to ask ourselves further what we should do with the wealth we have so that it will have meaning before God, bring values to others, and remembrance in history. We ought to use it to do good works of building faith, culture and education.