Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Era of Salvation Has Come (Jn. 1:14-17)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 1 February 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 1:14-17

The gospel of John is very different from other books. It is technically unique and its content are very organically linked and consistent with the entire Bible.

The dynamic declaration in v.14 “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” is never spoken by any other religion. God’s way is completely different from the ways of man. All religious motives are man-centered and based on human needs. Therefore the only conclusion must be men in flesh seeking the truth. But here we see the Word (the Truth) become flesh. It is the other way round.

As sinners, we experience the impact of sin as we struggle in our lives. The sense of goodness drives many people to escape evil and find the truth. This is the reason religion will always exist. It can never be removed from humanity. In our existence, we need truth. The greatest lives lived have been those that that seek after truth.

Kierkegaard considered human lives in 3 stages: Ascetic, Ethics and Religiousity.

When we are young and shallow in our thoughts, we only think about things that have to do with our desires. When we mature, we think further and enter into responsibility and ethics. But this is not the final arena. If we do good based on that alone, we will still not satisfy ourselves. The greatest arena is that of religiousity where we deal not only with human relationships, but we start to think about our relationship with God. So in this process we seek after personal happiness, then ethics and finally we want to find peace with God.

We want to join ourselves with eternity and the truth. Without eternity, we have no value in this world. If we cannot preserve that value we have fought so hard for, there will be no meaning in all our struggles. Religion then becomes the most profound aspect, the climax of human achievement. From this angle, human beings seek after the truth.

Then suddenly John turned it upside down. It is actually the Word that seeks after us. It is opposite from our thinking that we seek after truth. When we seek the truth, we go into the world unknown to us, the unseen world. Truth is absolute, but we live in a relative world. Yet we seek after the absolute in a relative world. In a created world, we seek the Creator, who is not part of the created world. Often we are satisfied because we have gone through the process of seeking. No matter how noble, it can become despicable. A great religion could produce people who are more despicable than those who do not have religion. Once you think you have found the truth, you will become arrogant and hypocritical. Hence we understand why some people honor religion and others despise religion.

When John declare this, he was completely alone and had changed the entire scene. It is not us who seek after the Word, but the Word seeks after us. This is definitely not the conclusion of his own seeking and thinking. The only possibility is that God has revealed this to him and he recorded it.

The Word is not a creature but the Creator who made all things. Before coming in the flesh, the Word is eternal God who was with God. When God willed the creation, creation existed. When God wants to conclude the world, everything will end. The creation point is when time begins. The conclusion is when time ends. Created beings have to face the final judgment of God. There is progression between creation point and conclusion point, which is what we know as history. So God declared Himself the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Beginning and the End. The Creator God and His created world are two different things. The Absolute and relative are in two different realms.

In between the two points, God had created another point which became the connection between two realms. That is where it became possible for men to seek after the Word, as the Word had become flesh. This point is not only in history, but is also the center of history. It is the contact point where the temporal joins with eternity. We find meaning when within progression of time we discover the significant moment – decided by God – as connection to eternity. This is the Incarnation point.

So Christians see creation point, consummation point, as well as the Incarnation point. This is the intermediary between God and man. No religions are worthy to talk about this. All religions are but man-made and the greatest teachers are but sinners seeking after the truth but cannot find the actual source since the starting point is still as a sinner. When God became flesh, the sinless God came to save us. This is the only way.
Christ said if we believe in Him, we are believing God the Father who sent Him. But how do we know Christ is indeed the Son of God? Out of billions of people in the world ever lived, how do we know He is God-Incarnate?

When we can imitate something really well, we can confuse people. When fake items are all over the place, it is very hard to identify the real ones. Yet there are things that cannot be imitated. Apostle John gave 3 indications of genuinity: the grace He showed, the truth he spoke, and the glory He displayed. These three proofs that He is God. Nobody in this world has more grace than Christ. Nobody speaks the truth more than Christ. Nobody manifests graciousness, holiness, righteousness like Christ.

A person gives testimony about someone based on how much he knows about someone. John the Baptist testified concerning Christ. When he talked about the divinity of Christ, he cried out. When Christ talked about his own divinity, he also cried out. But we no longer do this. There are two ways of preaching. One way is by talking gently and another way is by shouting. A lot of reformed theologians preach very boring sermons. There is no life and spirit at all. But John cried out when testifying of Christ.

“This is the One whom I once told you.” “He who came after me surpassed me because He was before me.” “Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.” “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” “He must become greater, I must become smaller.”

These are all the teaching of the Old Testament. Within the shortest time John the Baptist transformed most lives to prepare for the coming of Christ. In limited life span, he preached eternal truth. He gave the most concise summary of the Old Testament prophecies and teaching to his generation. In this way he expressed his authority and shortly after he left the world and became the best example of a witness for all generation to come.

Apostle John did not start by talking about salvation or saving grace of God but by affirming the divinity of Christ. He began by manifestation of the eternal One in temporal world. If you don’t understand the divine glory of Christ, you would not be able to appreciate His temporal existence on earth.

John the Baptist declared that the one who came after him was before him. In this, he spoke of the eternity and pre-existence of Christ. This is very profound yet very simple. There were people without academic training, that did not understand that the Old Testament pointed to Jesus Christ. But with John’s testimony, many people came to the knowledge of Christ.

John’s testimony is a very unique testimony. Within history he pointed out eternity. Today, a lot of testimonies are about personal healings. But in the Scripture it is a noun, not a verb. The original intent of ‘testimony’ is a noun, or a witness as a position, an identity. So when John bore testimony, he is acting as a witness. His words are confusing because John were born before Christ, yet John said Christ was before him. To understand, we must surpass history and look into eternity. If we want to know Him whom we believe, we need to see him as the one from eternity. We cannot understand him from temporal world. This is the New Testament method which John opened our eyes to see.

John the Baptist died half a year after Jesus started his ministry. When he said “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”, Jesus was not crucified yet. John the Baptist was not present at Christ’s crucifixion as he already died. But he saw this with the eyes of faith and prophesied that Christ would die.

God sent John the Baptist to testify of the pre-existence of Christ and his sufferings. If Christ was a mere man who was executed because he was revolutionary, there is nothing special. At the most, we would feel respectful and admire him because he was unjustly treated though he was so good. But when we realize that the Crucified One is not just a human being, but the Pre-existent God, then we see a far greater meaning in His sufferings.

The Eternal One has come to die such a cruel death because He had left the throne of glory and willingly came to the world and suffered from manger to the cross. Within history He showed us the way to God. We would truly worship and honor Him when we can see this.

John’s testimony started from the pre-existence of God. In the latter portion, he gave second and third testimony. He added organic collection of how God planned His work of salvation. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Physically Christ came after John the Baptist, but He is eternal God before incarnation. This is how we see how great and precious His grace is.

The Scripture said that from His abundant grace, we have received grace upon grace. This tells us that the grace of God gives us abundant life. In Jn. 10:10 Jesus Himself said He had come that they might have life and have it abundantly. From the fulness of His grace we receive blessings one after another. He is full of grace and truth. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only. He brought for us the grace from heaven so we can live very abundant life.

There are 4 instances in Scripture that talks about the progression of abundant life: grace upon grace (Jn 1), faith to faith (Rom 1), strength to strength (Ps. 84) and glory to glory (2 Cor. 3). These 4 different progression of abundant life are promises of God for us in Jesus Christ, so that we not only have new life, but keep progressing in abundant life. Every one of us have different rate of progression and level of spirituality. Some have faith, but little progression. But we ought to progress – from faith to faith, strength to strength, grace to grace and glory to glory – so that we escape poverty into abundant life. With our abundance we can share with those in need. When a person has abundant life, he is not tired but will continue to serve untiringly. The more he serves, the more he reflects the glory of God.

Is your faith growing? Does it grow into greater abundance? Did the grace you receive continue to lead into more grace? Do you continue to have increased strength to serve the Lord?

For most of us, our right hand is stronger than our left hand. That is because our right hand does a lot more work than left hand. In physics, the more strength you exert, the less energy you have. But in principle of life, the more strength you exert, the stronger you become.

One type of Christians are very lazy and only enjoy life. The other type work very hard and have difficult and tough life. But the Bible gives supernatural principle to those who are obedient. The more you sacrifice, God would preserve you even more. In the end, none will become poor because they give to the glory of God. God will provide their needs. Nobody become more unhealthy because they work hard. The more we exercise, the fitter we become. If we seek God’s will, if we put strength into this, He gives us more strength.

John declared that the Word has become flesh and that the law would pass. So the era of salvation has come. In verse 17, it says that the law was given through Moses but grace comes through Jesus Christ.

John the Baptist was the last prophet who prophesied about Christ. He closed OT and started NT. Jesus said the prophets prophesy until John, because all the prophecies pointed to Christ. The last one was John the Baptist. And then Christ came. Of all prophets, none had seen Jesus except John the Baptist. So among those born of women none was greater than John the Baptist. Yet, immediately Jesus said but the least in the Kingdom of God is greater than he. This is because by faith we have become the children of God through Christ.

In the law of Moses we receive Judgement. In Christ we receive salvation. Moses is the important representation of the Old Testament, so that we know God is holy, righteous and good. When he recorded the law, we know that we cannot fulfil it by ourselves. We see discover how sinful we are when we see His holiness and righteousness. We see our evil when we see God’s goodness. The law shows but does not solve our problem.

The true solution comes from salvation in Christ. Grace and truth comes from Jesus Christ. This is the declaration of the era of forgiveness, the salvation of Jesus Christ, so we no longer depend on the law. By the saving grace of Christ, we can come to God.