Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Work of John the Baptist (Jn. 1:10-13)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 11 January 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 1:10-13

All cultures, philosophies and religions in the world would always make the mistake of dualism, where there is battle (of perhaps equal power and status) between light and darkness. Unless you see the eternity of the One True God, it is impossible to have the true faith. Based on God’s revelation, we know that He is immutable, the only incontingent Eternal Being. He created all beings. The created beings, however, because of internal battle, think that the world is dualistic.

The idea of monoistheistic God guarantee true faith and is the foundation of true science. In 20th century, postmodernism denies the supremacy of reason and believe in things that concern the heart. So the pendulum swings and we see the emergence of pantheism and the revival of gnosticism.

Apostle John was sensitive to see the work of Satan in this area, i.e. the threat of gnosticism. When Christ came to earth, He was the true light shining into the whole world. Light shines into the darkness, darkness has not overcome it. Light shines in the darkness and darkness cannot overcome it. Hence it is not a dualistic world. Victory belongs to the light. When Jesus came into the world, the Eternal enters temporal history. The Unchanging enters the changing temporal world.

The ultimate victory is the cross. When Christ died on the cross, politics, philosophy, military, and all aspects of human civilization were in darkness. Christ sacrificed Himself facing all these on His own. When He resurrected, He had complete victory over darkness.

John wrote that in the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God (Jn. 1:1). The Word was not a principle in the created world. Logos was not in the created world or exists together with material world. He is with God, He is God’s will, and God Himself. He is Life Himself. He is Light. And this light is the life of man.

That God is Light, God is Life, God is Love, all these came from the words of the Apostle John. He is more concise than all cultures and commentaries of all the religious leaders. No religion would write it this way. But there is greatness in consistency of the gospel of John. He is greater than all religious and philosophers, west and east.

In verse 10, it said He came to His own world, but the world did not recognize Him. The world was created by Him, but the world rejected Him. But to those who believe, He gave them the right to be the children of God. This everlasting light is the life of men. It is the solution of darkness that illuminates every person.

In v.4-7, there was a person sent from God as a witness who brought others to the light. This is not found in any OT scriptures. The Bible never said God sent someone into the world. There are only two figures referred this way in Scripture. The first is Jesus Christ, the second is John the Baptist.

God sent His only Son into the world, and the Scripture also said John was a man sent from God. Why was John the Baptist said as one sent from God? The Old Testament did not prophesy about Peter, Paul or James or about how they would repent. These people heard of God during the midst of their lives. But not so for John the baptist. He was filled with Holy Spirit before he was born. His only purpose was to testify of the Light, not of himself. He was to bear witness that the Lord was light. He would not talk about himself and others would believe in the Light because of him, and become children of God.

The Old Testament prophesied about John the Baptist. At God’s appointed time, he was born. He was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was born. Elizabeth was old and could not have child. But God wanted John the Baptist to be born through her sexual relationship with Zachariah. When Mary had Jesus, she was a virgin and unmarried. Without sexual relationship, Jesus was born. The birth of John was the grace of God. But Christ’s birth was Grace Himself coming into the world. And there are many prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament.

Isa. 40 spoke about John the Baptist. The Jews knew Messiah would come. They studied the Scripture so that they could recognize Messiah when He came. When Jesus came, the Israelites had all sorts of thoughts about Messiah. They studied day and night about prophecies of Messiah. But they did not study about John the Baptist.

When they saw thousands of people came to be baptized by John the Baptist, they were puzzled how he could draw so much crowd. He was asked if he was the Messiah, the prophet, or Elijah. He said he was not. He said he was the voice of one in the desert to prepare the way for the Lord. Jewish scholar did not pay attention to this part of the Scripture.

When people thought he could be the Messiah, he told them correctly he was not. But he said he was the one who prepared the way for the Messiah. He was the pioneer of the Kingdom of God. But did the Messiah need someone to prepare the way for Him? Yes, this is the way God chose to work.

In the last book of Old Testament, the last chapter, the last verse: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” (Mal. 4:5-6)

The Old Testament ended with this verse. The word “curse” ends The Old Testament. And the words of blessing ends the New Testament. The Old Testament reveals God’s judgement, holiness, justice and righteousness. The New Testament reveal God’s forgiveness, grace, salvation and gospel. The Old Testament ministry is to judge sin. The New Testament ministry is to forgive sin. The Old Testament tells us that God’s holiness is not to be made light of. The New Testament tells us that the grace of God overcomes His judgement and brings salvation.

The OT says God will send Elijah to bring revival. The revival is that the hearts of the children would turn to the fathers, and the fathers to the children so that judgment and curse would not come into the world. But who is Elijah?

Can we say like the Gentiles that Elijah is the reincarnated through John? It is not reincarnation. Christ Himself said, if you can receive this, John the Baptist is the Elijah to come.

We can compare the work of Elijah in the OT and of John the Baptist in the NT. Elijah is the greatest leader in the OT that brought revival in Israel and turned the nation back to God. John the Baptist is the greatest leader in the NT that prepared the people for the kingdom of God. He is the leader of revival in the NT for the coming of Christ. The work of Elijah was to prepare for the NT and the work of John the Baptist was to complete it. OT is symbolic.

There were times in OT, God called Jacob Israel. The word Israel means the crown prince of God. In NT, we understand that this is how we become the children of God. Surpass all systems of faith, that we can become children of the Most High. Why do we have such great privileges? Because we believe in Jesus Christ. Why do we believe? Because John the Baptist bore witness. And because of him, many turned to God.

How did Elijah in the OT revive Israel to become children of God? Similarly, compare to how John the Baptist brought people back to become children of God. Before the 20th century, the orthodox teaching drew the greatest crowd. In 20th century, the greatest crowd is in erroneous teaching. Orthodoxy should regain the mainstream and bring people to become the children of God once again.

In the OT, Elijah was the only orthodox prophet. Israelites were worshipping idols. Through political influence many people believed in false gods. Elijah once said to God that he was the only one left who worshipped God and yet people still wanted to kill him. But God told him that He had reserved 7000 remnants who had not worshipped Baal. Do not forget that our feelings of loneliness are often not correct. In the worst disasters, God could still reserve remnants who would worship Him.

Elijah felt lonely. He was not sure when his next meal would come. But he did not compromise. He would not bow to political leaders. He stayed faithful to Jehovah. Some preachers today would take easier lifestyle to get money from government, compromise their teaching and live very safe life. Elijah would reject this. He was ready to live in the wilderness. God provided for his daily provision. If Elijah just worshipped Baal, he would not face all those problems. He would have everything he needed, supported by national treasury.

But God provided for Elijah in another way. He was asked to go to a widow of Zeraphath. He was not asked to go to the rich, but the poor. In contrast, many preachers like to go to the rich. Those who bow down to the rich cannot be servants of God.

The widow feared God. Although she knew that was her last meal, she still obeyed and gave the first portion to Elijah. And she always had supply day by day because of her obedience. What God prepared for us is enough for the day. Sufficient is the difficulties of the day. But we always want things secure for many generations. God’s way is not like that.

At the appointed time, Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal. He would call upon God while they would call upon Baal, to prove who is the true God. When true and false prophet met, it is a very significant moment in the history of the kingdom of God. This is a very important principle in the Bible.

There were 400 false prophets, but only one true prophet. The servant of God took initiative to challenge the false prophets. This is very important. We should not just passively take the challenges of the world. We should actively challenge the world. Elijah displayed great boldness in challenging the false prophets. The false prophets were confident because they were the majority and had the political back-up and the people following them.

Following their usual ritual, they began praying. When they did not get any reply, they prayed more and more. Elijah challenged them that if their god did not answer, he must be a false god. People from orthodox churches pray very coldly. People from charismatic pray very emotionally and fervently. While it is not true that the colder the prayers, the more orthodox, it is also not true that the most fervent prayers are orthodox. Who pray the most fervently? Some people think it must Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. But it is probably the prophets of Baal in the OT. They prayed with ridiculous fervency.
Prayer is not about moving God. We pray so that God would change us. We do not pray to command God, but to discover and obey God’s will. Elijah prayed and there was drought for 3.5 years. He did not call for wealth and prosperity but for drought. How could he be the servant of God? His intention was not good. How many people would die in the drought? But that was Elijah’s attitude. He prayed according to God’s will. The king of Israel was an evil king. Through the influence of his wife, he set up idols and led Israel astray. So God raised Elijah to deal with this.

If the true prophet would not point out the truth, many religious people would obey the false prophets. If the true prophet has no courage to obey the will of God, the generation would move away from God.

When it came to Elijah’s turn to pray, he asked the Israel to come to him. And he asked them to put a lot of water on the sacrifice. This prophet could have been killed. Water was so precious. He was responsible for the drought and still asked for water to be wasted. But he was so powerful that whether king or people, none could stand in his way. When you are truly obedient to the will of God, you may have strong enemies all around you but the power of God is upon you.

After pouring the water, Elijah brought the Israelites to come towards him and he prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that God would affirm that He was really God, and affirmed that he was God’s servant. He did not ask for wealth, prosperity, his own safety, but for the will of God to be done. Such prayer was pleasing to God. With this simple sentence, the fire from heaven just came down and ate up the whole sacrifice. Israelites found this miraculous because he put water, not oil, and yet the sacrifice was burnt. Things that are impossible are possible before God.

So the people started crying out that Jehovah was God. Elijah had said, if Baal was God worship him, but if Jehovah is God, return to Him. Religious freedom is not just worshiping anything we want. True religious freedom is escaping false teaching and worshiping true God.

The Israelites awoke and returned to God. They seized the prophets of Baal and killed them. All 400 of them could not escape. Elijah was the prophet that killed most false prophets. The whole nation returned to God. The hearts of children returned to the fathers, the fathers to the children.

God sent similar person to the world in the NT. This person had the same spirit and attitude as Elijah. The most famous thing about Elijah was the spirit that move people’s hearts. That spirit inspired Elisha later. This same spirit inspired John the Baptist in the NT. He fulfilled the last portion of the book of Malachi.

John gave the most concise and precise thoughts that bore witness about Jesus Christ. Who is Christ? John said Christ was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. From the time Adam was chased out of the garden of Eden, God prepared garments from animals’ skin. Afterwards, Christ was represented figuratively as Christ the Passover Lamb throughout the OT. And John’s own words summarized that Jesus was the Lamb.

John was born 6 months before Christ. He prepared the way before Christ. If he started at 30 years old like Christ, he would have prepared for 6 months before Christ started his ministry. He said he was the friend of the Bridegroom. The Bridegroom is the key actor. He said he was not even worthy to untie his sandals. He said Christ would become greater than he. He said he baptized with water but Christ baptized with the Holy Spirit.

When we believe in Jesus, John the Baptist fulfilled the ministry of Elijah, turning us to God and we become the children of God by faith. Elijah and John the Baptist did the same work to establish the relationship between God and His children. In the OT, Israel nation turned to God. In the NT, believers become children of God because of the testimony of John the Baptist.

Those who are born of God, are not the fruits of the will of men, not children of the flesh, but of God. So chapter 1 of John prepares us to understand how we became children of God. When we have the light of God, we are born of the Spirit. Jesus is the only Begotten Son of God, through Him we become the many children of God. Because of the witness of John the Baptist, we have come to Christ. Christ is the Firstborn, we are the siblings, the other children. He is the only Begotten, Eternal Son. Heb 2 say we are brothers with Christ, that is, we are siblings of Christ. This is marvellous. In the OT, we see this new status took over the status of Jacob. He was no longer called Jacob, but Israel, which means the crown prince of God. We have become chldren of God and turned to the Father. Rom. 8 says we have received the spirit of sonship, calling Him Abba Father.

Unless we are born of the Holy Spirit, we cannot see God and cannot enter the kingdom of God. This is not about physical birth, or man’s will or desire, but it is spiritual birth. But many people do not understand and use their own experience to constrain the will of God. So Nicodemus could not understand. When Bible talks about spiritual things, many people understand in physical way. We must return back to God. We are born of the Spirit, of the Word, from the gospel. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

Have we come before the Lord today? Is our heart with the Father? May the Lord grant us true repentance that we might truly turn to God. That our hearts might delight in God’s ways.


At 1:57 AM, Anonymous stemiregular said...

My word!!! How did you guys manage to translate word by word what Rev Tong said over the pulpit?!!

At 10:53 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Through practice and with the help of technology. It's not exactly word-by-word, some thoughts were reorganized.

At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I put comment for this posting, but somehow it landed on older posting.


At 1:31 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Not very sure if I understood the passage as I get confused in the end if he is for or against orthodoxy. Seems to be saying that from human point of view, heretics or orthodox are pretty relative stuffs. However I'm glad that at least churches have stopped doing physical violence on one another in the name of orthodoxy. Church history is quite a sobering thing and every tradition has had its dark scars.

At 3:07 AM, Anonymous stemiregular said...

Was wondering if you have any tips. I can never get a quarter of what you have here from those sessions into my notebook. Thanks in advance.

At 11:07 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Mmmm... Guess there's element of natural ability + practice + good methodology. I like to write & have gotten used to taking sermon notes many years before I started listening to Rev. Tong. And I've done Rev. Tong's sermons for 4 years, so pretty much I've gotten used to his style & can sometimes write some points ahead of his preaching. So at the moment, I have a good ground to start with.

On methodology, some tips here:

1. Concentrate. If you want as much transcript as possible, just keep writing, don't look at him. If you are better at typing than writing, use your laptop or handheld.

2. In Newton Life it's actually preached twice (in Chinese & English), so you have some lead time to pick up what you miss. I took notes the moment he spoke in Chinese & confirm with the English translation.

3. Write in points, short-forms, not full sentences -- good enough for you to understand the content. You can tidy up in proper grammar and expressions later on.

4. Buy the MP3 series and listen again. I usually only need to listen once though & finish the first draft on the spot.

All said, this is not hard science, so nothing is substitute to practice. All the best and when you are confident enough, let me know if you like to help transcribe as well. =P

At 3:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

is it possible for summary the sermon in point form, the important online and the implications for us.. it think it will benefits some of us and easily for us to remember, than reading the whole transcript

At 3:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like to share what what Dr Tong pointed out vividly (no sure is it in this sermon or the previous one) that John the baptist has never perform one miracle in his life, yet God has used him to turn many to God.. later Dr Tong used the parable of Rich man and Lazarus to bring across the point that miracles cannot convert anyone.. It is proven by the raising up of another Lazarus, the bible recorded that the enemies of Christ wanted to killed Jesus and Lazarus after seeing the miracle.. O how foolish are those churches who rely mainly on miracles to bring in more coverts !

At 12:36 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Oh it is certainly much easier for me to do it in point forms and summary version. But my understanding is that most readers would like the transcripts, as that is closer to listening to Rev. Tong firsthand, especially those who don't get to listen to him personally.

Putting in point forms or brief summary would involve a greater level of personal interpretation on my part. If I have enough readers requesting for it, I can change the transcript to a more concised form.

At 3:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

(who commented on Orthodoxy)

Of course he's for Orthodoxy. If you click the link (Heretics), the quote was from first paragraph of chapter I. Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy
(actually that link lead to the whole book. it was written exactly early 20th century. As Rev.Tong mention as the time where it started deviating from 'orthodoxy')

Just an advice, it's not fair to judge ancient people with "today's standard", lest we are just like the 'liberals'. They should be judge by those days standard. If you did so, you'll find most of those 'dark scars' were not really that bad.

with exceptions maybe the era of reformation where the priests, bishops and most catholic leaders were morally corrupts. But they were those people who needs to be reformed not the original christian teaching. that's topic for other discussion.

As comparison, two hundreds years from now, how do you think the Christians will judge these generations? Will they see us just like we judge the Christians who support slavery? or holocaust?

At 3:09 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Thanks for the advice. Makes sense. Who know how future generation would look at us. While though, God has His own standard that never changes and eventually that is what matters.

Still, who knows what that is? All I know is the more I learn the more I see what I don't know.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Tee said...

Hi Mejlina

Just couldn't help noticing that the prophecy of John the Baptist in Isaiah is actually in chapter 40.

Hope you are well.


At 10:43 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Thanks Elijah. I have corrected it.


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