Saturday, March 28, 2009

John Prepares the Way for the Lord (Jn. 1:24-28)

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

Passage: John 1:24-28

Pharisees sent people to talk to John because John drew a lot of crowd, so they were curious whether he was the Messiah. When asked if he was the Messiah, Elijah or the prophets, he said no to each of them. These 3 persons were the most important figures in the Old Testament. Unlike political campaigns, John would not use deception to draw the crowd. He would only tell the truth.

Asked who he was, he replied, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’’’ The desert is the remote place, away from the noise of the world. But today we like to hear the popular voices.

John was a witness of the truth. His purpose is only to glorify God. His calling was to make straight the crooked path and prepare the way for the Lord. To prepare the coming of the Lord, he preached repentance. But many people try to steal God’s glory for themselves. When we take away our arrogance, the Lord will come. Sinners must repent so that they will be forgiven and cleansed. Only those who have clean heart can see the Lord.

John the Baptist confessed he was not Messiah or Elijah, or the prophets. But the Pharisees were not satisfied with his answer. “Since you are not Messiah, Elijah nor the prophets, why are you baptizing?” When we interrogate someone, we have first assumed that we are right. When we try to persuade someone, we must have thought that we know more than others. The Scriptures did not say that only Messiah and Elijah and the prophets could baptize. In fact, the Scripture never talked about Messiah, Elijah or the prophets baptizing. There is no basis to question John the Baptist for baptizing. But strangely John the Baptist did not defend himself. We can judge the spirituality of a person by what he said. When our mouth speaks, we are introducing ourselves. We often make mistakes, but we think we know the truth and often criticize and judge others.

John the Baptist knew that he was obeying God’s command, not pleasing men. We will always make a lot of mistakes when we try to please others, do things for selfish motives or seek our own glory. John did everything for God and had no regret.

He replied that he baptized with water but He who came after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. The Pharisees felt that their position was threatened so they summoned men to question him. When we see the emergence of someone better than us, we feel threatened and find excuses to stop the other person from succeeding, hence become unable to appreciate the good in the other person. We hate the presence of threat, which gives us very uncomfortable feeling. When Christians start church, often times it is opposed by other Christians who feel threatened. This is how decadent we are.

Pharisees were afraid that the synagogues would become empty as people went to the desert to hear message that would prepare them for the coming of the Lord. They wanted to protect their past glory. Why are we happy when people treat us well? Why are we furious when people oppose us? That shows how self-centered we are, how we do not live by the truth. If we do not deny ourselves, we cannot follow Jesus Christ.

However, not only John the Baptist did not defend himself, he introduced the coming of the One greater than him. He was not interested in his own glory. Calmly he answered that there would be One coming after him.

When Christ came, there were only two choices for the Jews: to maintain tradition and destroy Christ, or let Christ take over and reform their tradition. When John the Baptist preached, immediately there was a conflict of culture. From the very beginning, the religious leaders already felt the threat. This is the tragedy of history. God was about to abandon the Jewish culture, and from that time onward the Scriptures (NT) are no longer written in Hebrews. From Jewish tradition’s point of view, this is unacceptable and could not be from God. The Jews saw themselves as God’s chosen people and Hebrews was their language. They kept maintaining their tradition. In their arrogance, they opposed the will of God. Because they receive the law, they think they are the most righteous, forgetting that God sees self-righteousness as the greatest sin. A truly spiritual person would not think himself spiritual.
When God gave the law to Israel, it is to let them understand how holy and righteous He is, so that they could know how unrighteous they were. Before God’s goodness, we should recognize our evil. The purpose of the Law is to help us understand sin. But not only did the Jews not recognize their sin, they think themselves better than others because they had the law. The law was given to reveal their yet they became proud instead. The prophets were sent to warn them and they persecuted and killed the prophets.

It is almost as if they are proud of having taken X-ray which show how cancerous they are. This is the fatal flaw of the Jews. John the Baptist called them the brood of vipers and asked how they could escape from the wrath to come. He warned them not to rely on the fact that they were descendants of Abraham, for God could raise descendants of Abraham from the stone, that if they did not repent they would never enter the kingdom of God. They must show fruits of repentance.

But these people did not come to John the Baptist to repent, they came to interrogate him. John the Baptist said there would be one greater than Him who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Before John the Baptist, King David is the greatest prophet. Christ is the Son of God, the Holy One of God, the Anointed King, who would suffer and be pierced, and none of his bones would be broken. He would be resurrected and sit at the right hand of God. All these, Abraham, Moses and Joshua did not know. But David did. David is not a perfect person and he committed many grave sins in his life. But he is called the man after God’s heart. He was the one who truly understood the will of God pertaining Christ. In the Old Testament, we know much about Christ through David. John the Baptist is the second person who understood Christology very well. The difference is that David only prophesied Christ but John the Baptist witnessed Christ. David saw the coming Christ from afar.

Within a very short period of time, John the Baptist preached Christ very clearly. He declared Christ was from heaven and the Kingdom of God is near. When he saw Jesus walking towards him, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” When Adam sinned, God killed an animal to cloth him. When Israelites left Egypt, there was passover. In the wilderness, they sacrificed the lamb for the forgiveness of sin. With one sentence, John the Baptist summarized it all. Jesus Christ was the Messiah prophesied, the Lamb of God slain for the sin of the world. John is the prophet who used the least amount of time to preach the most concise content.

Isaiah, Ezekiel and Daniel took decades to preach. Similarly, Paul, Peter and James also preached for many years. But John the Baptist preached only a while and was beheaded after 1.5 year. He was very unique. Within shortest time, with the least words, he summarized Christology very concisely.

The Jews had wrong concepts of Messiah, so when Christ appeared, they could not recognize him. He had no political power, no soldiers, no academic qualifications. In their understanding of Christology, they could not accept him as the Messiah. But John the Baptist recognized Christ. There are people with a lot of comprehensive understanding of academics, but cannot escape from academics arena and seldom influence the culture of the world. But many people without academic background influence the world.

Baptism symbolizes repentance. It means to be cleansed. John said he baptized with water but Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit. His name is John the Baptist and it was his responsibility to baptize. But Jesus is the true Baptizer. The water symbolizes cleansing because water can only cleanse the outward body. The spirit cleanses the heart.

Does that mean that after we are baptized in water when we believe, we need to receive another baptism? John Wesley called this baptism the second blessing. By the 20th century, this thought had developed into a wrong concept. It became the Holy Spirit baptizing us, characterized by four special marks: healing, exorcism, tongues and miracles. The concept continued to evolve, and by 20th century there are new manifestations such as falling on the ground, shaking, and laughing which is also called the holy laughter. At the extremes, they made the sound of animals. All these are linked with the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

But according to the Scriptures, to be baptized with the Holy Spirit has no direct relation with all these signs. Firstly, it is Jesus who baptizes, not the Holy Spirit. Christ baptized with the Holy Spirit. The Bible never said Holy Spirit baptizes. Secondly, after a person has been cleansed with the Holy Spirit, he became a saint, he is sanctified. Charismatics believe that the Holy Spirit is the baptizer. The concept of holiness and baptism are therefore confused. Baptism of the Holy Spirit is only mentioned 7 times and it does not mean all these signs. It means holy living. (To be continued in April 09)


At 2:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It don't have to be 'law-gospel dialectic'. Check this article by Richard John Neuhaus: On Loving the Law of God

At 8:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

On concept of holiness, how about this one:
Abortion is a blessing and abortionists are doing holy work, says Anglican priest

At 1:25 AM, Anonymous John said...

Just came back from Stephen Tong meeting at Newton Life...

Today, I learn about the baptism of Christ is different from the baptism of John the Baptist... one is by water the other is by the Holy Spirit...

Christ's disciples also use water to baptize because they are human...unlike Christ who is the God-man, therefore only Christ used the Spirit to baptist us, which able to cleanse our inner most part of our being...

The Charismatics err in their doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit.... it is not the Holy Spirit who baptized us but Christ who using His Spirit to baptist us. One truly baptist by the Holy Spirit will naturally live a pure and holy life... many Charismatic pastor (ie Benny Hinn) are using their ministry for self gain....

The main purpose of the Baptism of the Spirit is to cleanse us.. (not speaking in tongues) Other than the Spirit, God also used His Word and Christ's blood to sanctify us...


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