Sunday, August 05, 2007

Humanity in Sin Part 20 – Have Faith in God’s Word

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev.Dr.Stephen Tong on 15th July 2007 in GRIIS in Indonesian and also by listening to the recording of the Mandarin preaching with English translation in Newton Life.

Passage: Genesis 17

When God gives a command, He also will give His promise. Each time God gives His promise, He will also give His command. In verse 1, God first promised that He is the Almighty God, then He gave His command to Abraham to walk as a perfect man before Him. That is the organic mutual relationship between the Creator and the created being. When we understand who God is, we would understand His command better and would be empowered to obey Him.

The first verse in Genesis 17, “Live before Me blameless.” is an existential statement. Existentialism of Soren Kierkegaard is inspired by this passage. Kierkegaard said, “To exist is to be oneself alone before God.” Brought to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul said that whatever we do, we should do it unto the Lord. This becomes the foundation of Christian ethic. We will have a bad work ethic if we do not think that we will be held responsible before God. We work not to be valuated by others, but by God alone.

We do not do something merely as past time or just to earn money or to please others, but we do it solemnly and accomplish our tasks before God. That is why only in places with Christian influence can we see the greatest products. The greatest music, the greatest art, most precise machinery and the best philosophical systems are all produced by countries influenced by the Reformation. They have the consciousness that they are living before God. They cannot do their work flippantly when they know that their works are inspected by God, the God Almighty, who demands perfection. It can all be traced back to Genesis 17:1 where God told Abraham to live blameless before Him. If we keep thinking about this, we will realize that it is no wonder the best products come from places with Christian influence.

After God said this to Abram, he bowed down before God and was silent because he knew God was solemn about it. God’s demand could be accomplished, but not by men’s strength. The abundance of the promises of God guarantees that we have the potential to fulfil His command.

Here God made a covenant with Abraham. There is a difference between covenant and promise. Promise is one-sided, but covenant involves two parties. From promise, God now entered into a covenant with Abraham. And this covenant is not only between God and Abraham, but with his descendants for generation unto generation unto eternity.

The sign of circumcision is the physical mark of the covenant to show that they are God’s people. This is the first time there is circumcision used as the sign of the covenant. From hence forth, there would be great segregation between those who are Abraham’s descendants and and those who are not. Those without the covenant mark are the Gentiles, and those with the mark are the covenant people.

Why is circumcision done on the 8th day? Why not earlier or later? Numbers like 3, 7, 12, 144 are important numbers with biblical symbols. The number 3 symbolizes heaven, like the Triune God and the praises to God that are always repeated thrice, “Holy, holy, holy.” The number 4 symbolizes the Earth, like the 4 seasons and 4 main directions (North, South, East and West). The number 7, which is the addition of 3 to 4, symbolizes that Heaven and earth be one, that is, the unity between God and man. The number 12, is the multiplication of 3 and 4. It is a special number, that is the number of the 12 tribes of Israelites in the Old Testament and 12 Apostles in the New Testament. Then 12x12 =144. And the book of Revelation has a special number 144x1000 =144000. All these are numbers with biblical meaning. But this is the first time God talks about a different number, that is the 8th day. Probably even Moses had no idea why circumcision must be done on the 8th day and just wrote what God told him.

After Moses recorded this, after 3500 years later men began to understand. In 1940, some doctors in the royal medical college in England found out that the platelets on 8th day is the highest number. After the 8th day, the platelet number will drop. So the 8th day is the best day to circumcise because the blood will clot the fastest. Often times we doubt the Bible when we think it is illogical. We do not live our lives in the fear of God. We should rather be patient and humble because our finite mind cannot understand God’s word.

Abraham was circumcised when he was 99 years old, and Ishmael when he was 13 years already. All the next generation would be circumcised on the 8th day. Circumcision is very painful. Two most sensitive parts of our body are the eyes and sex organ. God commanded the foreskin of the sexual organ be removed and because of His compasion, He commanded it to be done on the 8th day where it is least painful.

Why would God place the most complicated nerves on the eye and sexual organ? Sensitive nerves on our eyes ensure that our eyes will be protected fully. For the sexual organ, it enables humans to have the most sensitive enjoyment. Therefore, a person obedient to God’s will can enjoy the greatest physical pleasure. In contrast, when a person sin in opposition to God, his sexual organ might receive the most painful punishment. Because God is just. God gives us sexual organ, sexual function, and sexual freedom, and sexual enjoyment beyond that of all other animals. But God wants us to be constrained in this matter. Therefore, He commanded for a mark to be done on the sexual organ to signify that we are the people of God, the holy people. God wants this mark of covenant on our physical body.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul said baptism has taken the place of circumcision. Circumcision is done under God in the Old Testament, but baptism is done under the name of Triune God in the New Testament. In Old Testament, both adults and children were to be circumcised. In the New Testament, baptism is also for us and our children.

At 99 years old, Abraham and his son Ishmael were circumcised and Isaac was not yet born yet. But the promise of God is not to be fulfilled through Ishmael but through Isaac. God would enable Sarai to have a child. God promised to give Abram son through Sarai and commanded that she should no longer to call her Sarai, but Sarah, for God would bless her so that she will be a mother of kings and nations. Abram’s name was also changed to Abraham after this for he would be a father of many nations. This indicates a new status, with a new direction and purpose. It means to leave the old life and to start life anew.

For the first time, God told Abram that the promised seed is not Ishmael but will be from Sarah’s womb. Abram was quite impatient at this time because he had heard God saying ‘your descendants’ many times for many years. Scripture said, Abraham fell face down but he laughed within his heart. He was nearly 100 years old and Sarah was 90 and her menstruation had stopped.

At this point, Abraham showed his unbelief. God sees our cynicism. We need to beware of our reaction before God. A lot of time people bind God with their unbelief. This is something horrifying. Abraham’s response to God’s promise was to take it as a joke. This is the moment where he faltered in his faith. It tells us that the father of faith sometimes also lacked faith. We call him the father of all who has faith. But at this time he laughed at God’s promise.

He said to God, may Ishmael live before you. In his heart, he had intended to give up hope, thinking that since God did not give him a child for so long, and he had had a son through his wife’s maid, then let it be so and there was no need to bother about God’s promise anymore. But God rejected his suggestion and insisted that his legal wife Sarah would give birth to a son and God would establish a covenant with him.

It does not mean God will compromise or lower His standard just because we doubt Him and persist in unbelief. The will of God is eternal. The plan of God cannot change so God would not accept Abraham’s suggestion.

When we encounter difficulty with the word of God, we often want to lower the standard . This is a great problem today. Many liberals cannot accept special revelation. So they want to redefine what special revelation is. They cannot accept that a virgin can have child so they change the term to become young woman. They cannot accept resurrection so they lower the standard to say that it means spiritually they live forever. These people who have no faith because they are limited by reason, because of their evil and unbelief, often lower the standard of the truth of God and use substandard method to re-explain God’s Word. Do we think we can solve our understanding difficulty in this way? God cannot accept our method. If we cannot believe, it is our own fault. But when we have difficulty, we often first assume the difficulty is not because of us, but because of God. We say that the problem is not from us but from the Word of God. But we need to return to the Scripture.

The two most important principles in the Bible are the sinners are made righteous by faith and the just shall live by faith. The first faith enable us to turn from the status of a sinner into a righteous person. This is salvation. This is new life. We have become a righteous person to live before God. But how to do we live? It is still the same way, by faith. This is the second principle, the righteous shall live by faith. We continue to live life by faith based on the fact that the our new life is received by faith.

We have been born in sin and we will die in sin. When we believe in the Son of God, we become righteous. In the same principle of faith, we are to live a righteous life. Abraham is made righteous by faith. Paul said he was made righteous before the circumcision. The law was not yet given. It was only given to Moses abour 430 years later. Hence Abraham was not made righteous because of circumcision and obedience to the Law. Hence we are saved by faith and we live by faith. Implicitly this principle of faith is found in Genesis. Abraham, on behalf of all who have faith, became the father of faith.

However, there were moments where his faith was shaken. When our spirituality is low, we find it difficult to believe. Sometimes we do not have confidence in God’s promises. When God gives His promise, Abraham laughed as he did not believe that he could still have child at 100 years old. But God did not take back His promise. Ishmael is not to take the place of promise. Abraham’s true descendant would be through Sarah.

It is normal to have doubt because men are weak and sinful. But we need to learn and train ourselves to serve God with faith since our youth. God is the God of promises and He is the God who is pleased with those who live by faith. A lot of God’s plan occurs late according to men’s timing. But we still need to be faithful and wait. Jesus only started His ministry when He was 30 years old. Moses began when he was 80 years old. Isaac, the child of promise, was born 14 years after Ishmael. It all seemed small and slow. Christianity itself began with very humble beginning, from the manger to the cross. But as God is Almighty, it will keep growing. Phil.4:13 says I can do all things through God who strengthens me.

We need to have patience to wait in faith. How is our ministry like? Is it done in faith? God is a living God. He will fulfil the desire of those who have faith to wait on His promises. And God still accomplished His plan when Abraham doubted Him. He continues His work and increases our faith so that we can see that He is indeed the living Almighty God.


At 3:32 AM, Blogger Abel N. said...

Wow, Mejlina, thanks for the 'complete sermon'. This one is at least twice in length compared to your typical sermon summaries. And the content is all of importance.

Guess you applied what was stated in this sermon: "do it solemnly and accomplish our task before God" :)

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Oh, you are welcome. My personal selection is involved, hence the disclaimer above that it is not an official transcript. I tend to exclude personal testimonies & stories, or repeated content, so the summary length varies.

At 11:40 AM, Blogger Abel N. said...

Why would God place the most complicated nerves on the eye and sexual organ? Sensitive nerves on our eyes ensure that our eyes will be protected fully. For the sexual organ, it enables humans to have the most sensitive enjoyment. Therefore, a person obedient to God’s will can enjoy the greatest physical pleasure.

Apostle Paul said about some people didn't get marriage in order to serve kingdom of God. And Jesus clearly said that in heaven there won't be any marriage. But at other instance Jesus said if someone lost his wife, children,etc. In next life he will gain 100 fold. Isn't that contradictory?

Once I read Billy Graham said, if marriage is required to make you happy, God will make it happen in heaven. But I thought he oversimplified the case. (it contradict with what Jesus said)

Tim Keller explained it in a much better way. He said, now we only have 5 senses. But in our resurrected body, we will have 1000s senses. It is unimaginable for us now how that situation will be. There won't be any marriage, but we will have something much better than that. Thus we will be able to stand against our covetousness.


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