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.


At 12:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

N.T.Wright explain that purpose of the law of Moses is to make us recognized our sins. Many things people by themselves didn't realize were sinful, expose under the law become clear of it's sinfulness.

That way once sins were bundled in one (under the law), Jesus could come and take care of at once. (instead of sins scattered around, it's collected as 'one')

I would say, that is almost similar to the practice of sacrament of confession, in Orthodox and Catholic church. A person should articulate his/her sin(s), repent, before one could receive absolution.

Because: There's no way God could forgive our sin(s) which we didn't acknowledge as sin(s).

At 7:13 PM, Anonymous John said...

I would like to share what i learn last 15 Jan 2009 (Singapore) (i afraid i'll forget about it when the transcript was posted) Dr Tong preached on John 1:18 "No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him."

Dr Tong gave a long treatment on the word "begotten" he say that he prefer the CUV & KJV version over the other bible versions which left out the word "begotten" and emphasized the important of the word.

As Dr Tong, carry on in his sermon.... these thoughts came to my mind which suggested that “only” is actually a better translation than “only begotten” ...

From my study bible
"the only Son from the Father. Jesus is the “Son of God,” not in the sense of being created or born (see John 1:3), but in the sense of being a Son who is exactly like his Father in all attributes, and in the sense of having a Father-Son relationship with God the Father. The Greek word underlying “only,” monogenēs, means “one of a kind, unique,” as in the case of Isaac, who is called Abraham's “one-of-a-kind” son in Heb. 11:17 (in contrast to Ishmael; cf. Gen. 22:2, 12, 16). Thus “only” is a better translation than “only begotten” (made familiar through its use in the kjv). On grace and truth, see note on John 1:16–17."

Hebrews 11:17 "....only son. Greek monogenēs; cf. Gen. 22:2, 12 (where it reads “your only son” in Hb., but “your beloved son” in the lxx). Although Abraham also had Ishmael (Gen. 16:4, 11–16) and other children (Gen. 25:1–2), this word designates Isaac as Abraham's unique son, the son who is “one of a kind,” his only heir and the only recipient of covenant promises (Gen. 21:12; 22:15–18; 25:5). raise him from the dead. Abraham expressed confidence that he would return with Isaac (Gen. 22:5; cf. v. 8). Hebrews makes a figurative analogy between resurrection and Isaac being saved from the sacrificial knife. Some interpreters perceive here an Isaac-Christ typology such as was common in the post-apostolic church fathers: as Isaac, Abraham's only son, was offered in sacrifice and “raised,” so Jesus, God's only Son, is sacrificed and raised. Others doubt that such typology is intended here (see note on Gen. 22:16–17). From ESV Study Bible

At 1:56 AM, Anonymous Thinker said...

Many times, i hope to ask Dr Tong question to clarify about his sermon. Does Dr Tong has an email address we can communicate with him?

At 10:24 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Given his crazy schedule, I don't think he has an email or the luxury of being contacted to clarify his sermon. The only way you can grab him is perhaps when he gets out of the Indonesian church at True Way Presby Church, around 7 pm. You can stalk him on the lift, that gives you one minute... or follow him into the car and sit with him in the car while he makes his way to Newton Life... that gives you 10 minutes. I did it once, and that is the only personal contact I ever had with him.

At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Thinker said...

That short period, he may want to rest or pray... moreover, i'm not sure if he allow me to sit in his car...

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Well, worth a try if you have burning question. He is pretty friendly and willing to engage with anybody who sincerely wants to learn. The challenge is to ask clear and concise questions. But if what you want is in-depth theological engagement, then I think you might want to look for other resources or channels that could give you the time.

At 7:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In response to John:
the Navarre Spanish has "the Only-begotten God" and comments as follows: some Greek manuscripts and some translations give "the Only-begotten Son" or "the Only-begotten". "The Only-begotten God" is preferable because it finds best support in codexes. Besides, although the meaning does not change substantially, this translation has a richer content because it again explicitly reveals Christ's divinity.

honestly, there's always danger in each generation of Protestant believers to 'reinvent the wheel'. thinking they are the best generation ever. But the next generation will do the same again. After many generations it will a totally different religion. But each one claim the name of Jesus. (like putting a BMW logo on a Kia automobile).

At 3:28 AM, Anonymous Jeffrey said...

Thinker, you may want to jot down all your questions until one day Rev Tong decides to do a Q&A. Meanwhile if you continue to follow the sermons some of your questions may 'dissolve' by its own. I find that through his intro he is usually able to summarise and clarify his previous sermon.

At 7:33 PM, Anonymous Thinker said...

thank you all for the inputs

At 9:27 PM, Anonymous John said...


The ESV, translate v18 as "No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known."

It is because the bible translators understand the Greek word underlying “only,” is monogenēs, means “one of a kind, unique,” Thus “only” is a better translation than “only begotten”.

But we are so used to the word "begotten" in our understanding between the relationship between Christ and the Father.. i not sure if this change will create a "totally different religion."

At 5:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try this to check 'which Christianity' are you ?
What's your theological worldview?

At 12:37 AM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Interesting and fun quiz, thanks! Covered quite a broad range of theological viewpoints, pretty surface-level but good enough to get a quick feel for quite a large segment of Christians. Not surprised with the result myself. =)

At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Book review of an interesting book:
American Babylon

In a sense, it's like St.Augustine's 'City of God', but in our modern context.

At 2:38 AM, Anonymous John said...

Thank Anon,

I now doing the interesting quiz,
but some questions ... i cannot really sure if right and wrong..for example, Q13 "Preaching the word is more important than worship"

To me preaching is part of worship, and the "most important" ....

Thank Mejlina, for the update of the new transcript

At 4:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To John,
there's no 'right' or 'wrong' in that quiz. Only to help find where one's denomination is.

To explain your question:
for most Protestant the answer will be "Yes" like you do.

But for Orthodox or Catholic or maybe Anglican/Lutheran who have Eucharist/holy communion in every mass will answer 'No'. These chuches believe that Eucharist is real body and blood of Jesus (literally). And they follow Jesus commandment 'Do this in remember of Me'.

Catholic church have mass every day (morning) but homily/sermon is only on Sunday service. A catholic must go to Sunday mass and Holy days, unless she/he is sick or for other valid reason. But daily mass is optional.

Ever wonder why Protestant churches have communion only once a month? It is because they don't have valid Priesthood. Thus no real Eucharist.
In fact in Protestant church there are only 2 sacraments instead of 7 sacraments because they don't have valid Priesthood.

At 10:38 PM, Blogger Mejlina Tjoa said...

Is that Catholic's viewpoint of the reason for Protestants' less frequent communion? I haven't heard of that before. Actually if there is no valid priesthood, it is not enough to just do less, but should do none.

From Protestants' viewpoint, it's not because there is no valid priesthood. It is more because frequency is not taken in absolute way.

At 12:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Mejlina,
I guess it's more of my logical deduction based on what each chuches believe. When one don't believe it's true body and blood of Jesus one won't put much priority on it.

Reformed church believed it's holy but not real body and blood of Jesus Christ.
Baptist went further, they believed it's just pure symbolic.

You might want to check what early Church Fathers believed about the Eucharist ?

btw. this article from Neuhaus: The One True Church explain the official viewpoint of Catholic church on ecclesial communities.

At 9:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

An honest assessment: The coming evangelical collapse (the Christian Science Monitor).

At 1:48 AM, Anonymous John said...

Hi Anon

My answer is not "Yes"

I came from a reformed background...what is inculded in our worship can be found in Westminster Confession of Faith

preaching, singing of psalms ,Lord's supper, prayer ...etc

all these elements are part of the public worship...

The RC has included extra-human elements , thus has broken the second commandments...(idol worship)

However, i find preaching to be the "most important" elements because it help to explain the other elements.. without which the congregation cannot fully understand or appreciate the other elements.

So preaching is not more important then worship because it is part of worship.

At 6:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the following are snippet from Scott Hahn's conversion story.
"Fulton Sheen once said, and I paraphrase, that there are not 100 people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, although there might be millions of people who hate what they mistakenly believe the Catholic Church to be and to teach. And thankfully I discovered I fell into the second category. Because for years I opposed the Catholic Church, and I worked hard to get Catholics to leave the Church. But I came to see through a lot of study and considerable prayer that the Roman Catholic Church is based in Scripture."

You could also google the following converts:
Francis Beckwith, Richard Neuhaus, Mark Shea, Marcus Grodi

In one of sermon in Live is worth Living Archbishop Fulton Sheen said (I paraphrase):
- Jesus said this is my body. And we believe it, thus we have Eucharist as real body and blood of Jesus. [he didn't say this symbolized my body]
- Jesus said to his disciples if you forgive sin it will be forgiven. And we believe it, thus we have Sacrament of Penance.
- Jesus said to Peter you are the rock and upon this rock I will build my church. And we believe it and thus we have Pope (and holy orders).

But Protestant pick and choose from bible which ones they like and which one they don't.

While I was still in reformed church, I followed the New Perspective of Paul (NPP) and FV (Federal Vision) movement that get into the Presbytery.

In the arguments, the only reason they could reject NPP/FV was saying it contradict with Westminster confession. But if using Bible itself, they can't reject that. (it could be interpreted both ways. but NPP/FV contradicts Westminster Confession)

My question is then, well what happen with the 'soli scriptura' then? Soli Scriptura when it's sufficient/convenience and using other resource when it's not ???

In Catholic, we have Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and Magisterium Teaching.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This blog list Reformed(Calvinist only) minister or seminarian who converted to Catholicism.
Reformed converts to Catholicism


Post a Comment

<< Home