Thursday, June 25, 2009

Miracle at Cana (Jn. 2:1-11)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 21 June 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 2:1-11

John 1 gives us a clearer understanding of our relationship with God. The chapter started with the Word of God. Verse 14 says the Word become flesh and dwelt among us. Verse 18 says nobody had ever seen God except the only Begotten Son, who is at the Father side, has made Him known. The last verse says the angels would ascend and descend upon the Son of Man. God is in heaven and men are on earth. What is the relationship between God and men?

The most important concept in Chinese culture is the vision that heaven and earth would be one. The greatest cultural achievement is when we can be united with heaven. But how could we achieve that since we are so fallen? Confucius said that the true gentlemen would seek after Logos, not just things on earth. This is a very high concept. In the 20th century, Mao Zedong said we would surely have victory over heaven. He even said more ridiculous stuff, such as it is enjoyable to fight against other people and against heaven. What is there to fight and what is the purpose? When men fight with themselves, with others, with nature and with God, there is great chaos. Mao had great ambition but his liberal concept resulted in the most decadent China during the cultural revolution.

John 1 shows that the grace of God far surpasses the achievement of sinner. Nathanael said 3 important things about Christ in one sentence which no other person ever did: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” Israelites had studied for thousands of years but have not acknowledged Christ that way. No other Pharisee called Jesus Rabbi other than Nicodemus. Angel Gabriel is the first one to mention Jesus is the Son of God. At the most important moment, Peter confessed that Jesus is Christ, the Son of God, representing believers of all ages. But Peter only made that conclusion after following Christ for a long time. In contrast, Nathanael made this confession in his first meeting with Jesus. More than that, he also called Jesus the King of Israel. This is not confessed by all other disciples and apostles. At the very first time of meeting Jesus, Nathanael displayed this threefold understanding of Christology.

So Nicodemus called Christ Rabbi. Peter confessed He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But nobody else had said He is the King of Israel. The Jews accused Him, not confessing him. It is Jesus’ own acknowledgement before Pilate that He was the King of Israel. So Jesus declared that Nathanael would see greater things than this. What is the greater thing? That Jesus is the Intermediary. He would see the Son of Man between heaven and earth as the Intermediary between God and men. Christ came from heaven to earth, God became Man, hence He is both God and Man. So Jesus is the only Intermediary between God and men. Christ came not to judge us but that we would be saved through Him. That is how John 1 ended. It bring about understanding that Jesus is the only Savior, the only Intermediary between heaven and earth. John was the youngest disciple but he wrote such an important teaching. Do not despise the youngest as they might become the greatest. Apart from people with high social status, Jesus also called a young man like John. He followed Christ when his memory was the clearest. He also lived the longest. When he wrote the gospel, Peter had died for 20 years. In his old age when he wrote the gospel of John, he was the only person worthy to defend Christianity in that era. This chapter 1 alone give us such profound understanding. John placed emphasis on Jesus as the Son of God, so he never recorded how Jesus was born. That is how he finished chapter 1.

There are 2 important events in John 2. The first relates to mercy and goodness, the second relates to righteousness and judgement. We see how God-Incarnate walked as man on earth. In the first incident, He helped others in need. In the second incident, he displayed His authority.

In the first incident, Jesus, His mother and His disciples were invited to a wedding and they went. It is a very simple description. It tells us that Jesus placed emphasis on wedding. The Chinese consider national interest and wedding as important matters. Chinese concept of an intellectual is a person who is concerned about profit and loss of the nation. The second important thing is a wedding. Marriage is important because family is the basic unit of a society. If you choose the wrong wife, you will have a difficult life. We are responsible to our parents, to ourselves and and to nation. And we cannot choose our parents, siblings, and children but we can choose our partner. A lot of people are great in many things, but bad at choosing partner.

Jesus Himself did not ignore wedding. He placed emphasis on family life. If Jesus is Lord of the family, there would be less unnecessary conflicts. Many people will seek Jesus for all sorts of things, except their love life. It shows how little we honor the Lord. Very often our will dictates our reason and our decision directs our prayer. Because of our own will, we make use of God. Our marriage is not blessed because from the beginning we have not allowed the His Lordship.

The gospel recorded only once Jesus coming to a wedding, and this wedding also contained the first miracle. The gospel recorded 35 miracles performed by Jesus. The first is not about calming the storm, healing the sick, resurrection of the dead, feeding the five thousand, but it was performed at the wedding. In His image and likeness He made man and woman, that man should not be alone so woman is created for him. The union of man and woman is not about conquering each other. The power of love can make us reject all temptation and enable us to let go of advantageous position. The purpose of love is to be one with the person we love. Such great emotions we cannot comprehend. When union is contained in a marriage, it becomes most glorious, most honorable. But if it is only for sexual desire, we become like animals.

Jesus’ mother was no ordinary person. She was a woman who cared for others’ needs. She would observe situation and was willing to help. In a few incidents, Mary’s feelings and thinking were really inspiring. God picked Mary to be the mother of Jesus because she was a person who truly honored the Lord and was willing to be humiliated to honor God. She would be with a child, but she was not married. She would conceive by the poewr of the Holy Spirit. She said her heart praised the Lord and she rejoiced in God her Savior. She took the humiliation. People would consider her a shame. It never happened in history that a woman would be pregnant without a man, how could people believe that her pregnancy was the will of God?

Women in general like to be praised. Few women are like Mary, who would rejoice in her humiliation. Simone said she would be hurt so much that it would be like a sword piercing her soul. She was submissive in sufferings. She had a son when she was still very young. People questioned who the father was. When Jesus was 12, He stayed in the temple and His parents lost Him, and finally found Him after a few days of frantic search. His response: “Why do you look for me? Don’t you know I must be in my Father’s house?” How would a father feel if his lost child reacted that way when he was found? People would be confused by that response. But Joseph knew he was not Jesus’ father. Mary knew that too. Jesus’ public response “Don’t you know I must be about My Father’s business?” would raise question about His questionable birth. Mary’s song “My soul glorifies in God” is considered a manifesto by early church fathers. It expressed deep spirituality that glorified God. She rejoiced in God in her humiliation.

In this incident, the wine ran out. Some people might start to criticize that the person who invited them to the wedding was not sincere. But Mary did not criticize. She was willing to help. A person who sees his / her own weaknesses when seeing others’ sufferings and failures is a good person. Why should we criticize when our brother is in weakness? Why do we think we are better? Or do we think that the suffering he goes through will be absent in our life? Do we then loudly spread the news? Mary is not like this. When she heard that the wine ran out, she did not go around spreading the news. Whenever she appeared she was ready to help. Cana is far from Nazareth, and there was no time and money to buy. Mary prayed. She went to Jesus. But Jesus is her son. She told him there is no more wine. And Jesus said, “Woman, what do I have to do with you?” This sounds really rude to speak to His mother that way. John’s gospel is unique in this way. This is the only part that speaks this way.

What is the meaning? We need to understand from theological angle. Jesus knew they ran out of wine. He came to the wedding not only because He honored family life, but He was also preparing to perform a miracle. He did not need Mary to tell Him. When God wants to perform miracles, humans have no part unless He passes the responsibility to us. That day, Jesus Christ manifested His divinity and power. We cannot join Divine Jesus and human Mary as co-workers in ministry. It is the work of God to be done by God only. Jesus and Mary could understand, but many people would be mistaken. Jesus knew He is God and Mary is a human. Mary also understood that she is a human being and Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit. She was reminded that Jesus was the Son of the Living God. Mary remembered, this is the Son of God, not her son. She had no part in the miracle. She was reminded of the words of angel. So she said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you.” She cooperated. Her spirituality is very great.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Calling of the 12 Disciples (Jn. 1:39-51)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 14 June 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 1:39-51

Christ prayed for the whole night before choosing His 12 disciples because this is a very important task. It is dangerous to appoint a pastor just because of his academic credentials. Jesus was cautious so He prayed the whole night. The selection of the disciples is important to the ministry of Christ. These people would be chosen to preach the gospel to the world.

Jesus did not call those from Jerusalem although all the religious experts were there. The principle is something reformed theology places emphasis on. It is not we who choose God. God chooses us in His sovereignty.

When Jesus said, “Come, follow Me” the disciples gave up all they had and followed Christ. They abandoned their worldly attachment and they followed Jesus never to turn back again. When Jesus chose His disciples, He called them individually. He did not call among the masses. This is a very important principle in ministry. Personal evangelism is a very fundamental method of ministry.

Even though Jesus did preach to the mass, He also ministered to individuals, like to Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. The gospel of John recorded in greater detail how Jesus called His disciples individually. He first called Andrew, who later brought Peter to Jesus. There are a lot of lessons to be learned. When John’s disciples asked Jesus where he stayed, and Jesus said “Come and see.” The Son of God was willing to share His life with people. A spiritual leader needs to influence people with his genuine lifestyle. Many leaders live mysterious life and use religious mysticism to draw a sense of distance. But not so with Christ. We can see in this passage how closely Jesus shared His life with His disciples. Jesus Christ is the greatest revelation of God and demonstrates the most humble sharing of life. He is the manifestation of God’s eternal will.

All that Jesus selected were from Galilee with the exception of Judas Iscariot. Why didn’t Jesus choose His disciples from the Greek intellectuals and the religious experts in Jerusalem? What kind of people are these Galileans? Are the graduates from seminaries today the same kind of people? Could it be that Jesus was not able to call the Pharisees or the great intellectuals? Not so. Later on Jesus did choose an intellectual like Paul, who was a Pharisee and well-versed with the Greek thoughts.

What are the differences between Jerusalem and Galilee? Jerusalem is the source of intellectuals which influenced the whole world for thousand of years. The western system was established from an integration of of the Jewish and Greek influence. The Greek philosophy was built upon people like Aristotle, Socrates and Plato.

The Greek / Hellenistic culture produce a methodology to seek knowledge. The Hebrews produce a system of faith based upon revelation. The Hebrew tradition is about revelation. Hellenistic tradition is about methodology. The Hebrew tradition is about receiving sovereign will of God. Greek culture is about how to use the gift of God to discover nature. Hebrew tradition emphasises listening. The Hellenistic culture emphasises looking / seeing. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we have declaration like “HEAR O Israel, the Lord your God, the Lord is One.” When we listen the word of God, we receive faith. Believing comes from hearing. The Hellenistic culture is about seeing everything and then finding the one true God. So listening is the central of Hebrew culture while the Hellenistic culture gives us an understanding of methodology. The Greeks observe nature to find the truth. The Hebrews find faith by listening to the word of God. The former emphasises knowledge, the latter emphasises revelation. Chinese culture, Indian culture might be great, but they cannot be compared to the western culture. We see that there are a lot more Asian people who will go to the west to study than the other way round.

But what sort of people should be chosen to preach to the whole world? Who should be chosen to be a student in the school of Christ? Jesus did not choose Greek intellectuals or Hebrew experts, but He chose Galileans. Who is Peter? James? John? Why is it that apart from Judas, everyone is from Galilee, and even Judas was later abandoned?

The Pharisees linked religion with nationalism. They believed that God would send the Messiah to bring vengeance for His people. With selective perception, they are not able view issues objectively. When religion is enslaved by politics, it is very dangerous. Jesus would not choose these nationalistic people from Jerusalem. Jewish nationalism concept is very narrow, but the salvation Jesus accomplished is for all people of all nations. Isaiah said God’s temple would be a house of prayer for all nations. Revelation said that believers would come from all people, nations and tongues.

The Jews were not able to recognise the universal nature of the gospel. In their mind, the Messiah was a powerful political figure that would revive the whole nation of Israel, bring revenge and have victory over their enemies. The Pharisees were completely trapped. Jesus would not choose them. Out of 12 disciples, none of them were Pharisees. Intellectuals on the other hand have bias on certain schools of thought. So Christ chse people who were more simple-minded. Why Galileans? Because their fervency in seeking the truth was greater than anybody else. Among the audience who sought to hear John the Baptist, those who traveled the farthest were those from Galilee. They had to walk at least two days to get to the Jordan river. Jesus picked these simple, pure Galileans. Their religious knowledge could not compare with those Jews in Jerusalem but because they knew less, they also had less in-built misconception.

A lot of people never improve after learning theology because they think they already know. Many people continue to improve spiritually but their pastors stop growing. Those who have not studied theology think they do not know enough so they continue to learn. Yet those who have studied become unteachable. Often times it is easier to build a brand new building than to renovate an old one.

The first time John the Baptist saw the Pharisees coming, he called them the brood of vipers. John the Baptist and Jesus Christ voiced disappointment to these religious groups. Those who studied the Old Testament could not tell that Jesus was the Messiah. But the Galileans who were not trapped like the narrow-minded Jews nationalists were able to receive Jesus as the Messiah. They were not perfect but they were teachable.

The most important adjective in Hebrew culture is the word TRUE and the most important verb is the word LISTEN. They are to hear the true revelation of God and to listen to the true prophet, not the false one. When the Jews did not place emphasis on these two words, they equate spirituality with academics. They think spirituality is measured by how much they know. The harshest rebuke Jesus gave to them is that they are hypocrites. His disciples recognised that truly He is the Messiah because they were not constrained by narrow-mindedness of the Jews.

To the academics in Jerusalem, these Galileans were ignorant people. But from the eternal will of God, they are the chosen ones to preach the gospel to the whole world. But how did they recognise Jesus was the Messiah? Jesus did not come with military power and never even rode a horse. Horse is a mark of the battle. Jesus only rode an animal once, and that is not even the horse. Yet the Galileans knew Jesus was the Messiah because they had a pure conscience and they were influenced by John the Baptist who testified of Christ. They received John’s baptism. John the Baptist testified about Jesus is the Son of God and the Lamb of God. John taught of the glorious Christ and the humiliated Christ. So the disciples could see Jesus is the Messiah. They were not trapped in the wrong system.

As one by one came to Christ, Peter went to Jesus because he heard that Messiah had come. Jesus simply gave him a new name. Catholics believe that this indicates Peter is the foundation of the church. But this is not correct. Peter himself said WE are the living stone. The Church is an organic system where we are all the living stone. And Jesus is the chief cornerstone. When Peter confessed Christ, he represented all believers who confess He is the Son of the living God.

Next Phillip told Nathanael that they had the found the One whom the Moses and prophets wrote about. Nathanael did not believe initially but Phillip invited him to come and see Jesus. When he went, Jesus said, “Here is the true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Nathanael was surprised because nobody could make such a statement about someone he did not know. So Nathanael asked, “How do you know me?” Jesus said, “I have seen you when you are under the fig tree.” Jesus already saw him before he saw Jesus. While this seems to be no answer to his earlier question, the passage showed that immediately Nathanael knew that Jesus was true.

But why did Jesus’ words had such a big impact on Nathanael? The fig tree was actually very dense so it was very hard to see someone inside. But Christ could identify him inside the fig tree, and more than that, Jesus could see his heart. So Nathanael immediately declared, “Rabbi, You are Son of God, the King of Israel.” Nathanael made three important declarations all at once. In this regard, Nathanael is very special. When Nicodemus met Jesus, he only called Jesus Rabbi. Thomas called “My Lord and my God” when he met Jesus after His resurrection. The robber identified Christ as the King, “Remember me when you come in your kingdom.” But Nathanael confessed all three at once. When Jesus heard this, He assured Nathanael that because of his faith, he would see greater things than these. It means Christ would reveal more to him who believe. When you understand, God would give you more.

Christ said that he would see the heaven open and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. At the beginning of the book of John, the Word is in heaven. Later on in the chapter, Word became flesh and is on earth. At the end of this chapter, the Word is between heaven and earth, where the heaven open and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. This is very beautiful.

The Glorious and Suffering Christ (Jn. 1:34)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 7 June 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 1:34

Apart from Jesus Christ, John is the only person in the Bible who was referred to as sent from God. The Bible does not say that Abraham or Moses or Isaiah or Jeremiah were sent from God. But the Bible mentions once that John the Baptist was a man sent from God. He came that we might believe in Jesus. How do we believe John is sent from God and what does it mean?

We can find the true reason from the words of Jesus as well as the fact that John was filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. He was not filled with the Holy Spirit halfway through his life through some special experience or fervent seeking. John was filled with the Holy Spirit before he was even conscious. Therefore it is appropriate to consider him as someone sent from God. The Holy Spirit never left him since he was born, so for the rest of his life he bore witness for Christ. The content which John spoke of Jesus Christ became the foundation of faith in Jesus Chrsit in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, David witnessed of Christ in the Old Testament. Not that everything in David’s life was pleasing to God, but he understood Christology intimately. In his Psalms, we know a lot about Christ.

Although John the Baptist only witnessed for a brief time, about a year, he used all opportunities to speak of Christ. As he baptised thousands of people, he continued to wait for the One who would baptise with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist was observing carefully when Christ would come. When Jesus came to him to be baptised, he immediately felt unworthy because the Christ was Holy One. Jesus said they should fulfil all righteousness. Although He is the Son of God, He still fulfilled the word of God which requires anointing before beginning His priestly ministry on earth.

Christ’s baptism is different from all other baptisms. When He was baptised, the Holy Spirit came down from heaven as a dove. Heaven opened up and a voice from heaven proclaimed, “This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased”. This is the only time in the entire Bible where the Triune God appeared together. The Holy Spirit came to anoint Christ that He might be empowered in His ministry. And God the Father affirmed that He was pleased with Christ.

The concept of God is already within us when we were created. But our response towards God has always been either monotheistic or polytheistic. On one extreme, we have a religion where God is so far away that it is impossible to have relationship with Him. On the other extreme, some people consider almost everything to be God. Monotheism gives us the concept of a cold God while polytheism mixes up Creator with creation.

Christianity is neither monotheistic, polytheistic nor pantheistic, but believes in the Triune God. The doctrine of Trinity is implicit in the Old Testament. “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is One” (Deu. 6:4). But the Hebrew word used to refer to “God” is plural. Jesus Christ Himself commanded us to baptise believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The word “name” is singular, but there are 3 persons. When Jesus Christ was baptised, Father Son and Holy Spirit appeared together.

We will never understand Jesus as God if we only look at His appearance. The apostle Paul said we once judged Him according to His appearance, but we no longer do so now. The Holy Spirit came to bear witness of Christ so that we could understand He is not just another normal human being. The book of John had this phrase “the Only Begotten Son of God”, written about 60 years after John the Baptist passed away. Other than the angel speaking to Mary, John the Baptist was the first human being who understood. When he spoke of Christ, he used the most concise words to describe Him. The first is the Son of God, the second is the Lamb of God. When Christ was baptised, John said he knew this is the Son of God. When he was with his two disciples the next day, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God.”

John the Baptist’s testimony of Christ influenced his disciples and when they lived with Jesus, they affirmed that John’s testimony was true. It was further affirmed through His resurrection from the dead. Not long after these two testimonies, John was imprisoned and beheaded. In the shortest time, he had passed the most important message.

What is different about these two testimonies about Christ? The Son of God is the most glorious status. The Lamb of God is a very humiliating status. So John knew the glorious Christ and the suffering Christ. This is key in understanding Christology. Liberals would not take that Jesus died and rose from the dead. They just wanted to talk about His moral example, not His work of salvation. The liberals placed emphasis on His morality, not His lordship. The charismatics focus on the glorious and healing Christ, not the suffering One. But Martin Luther preached that we must know not only the glorious Christ, but also the suffering Christ. Paul said he was determined to know nothing except Christ and His cross, and that his temporal sufferings were nothing compared to the eternal glory. We will have a correct Christian understanding when we understand both. But we can see this declared from the testimony of John the Baptist.

When we think of the Son of God, we will think of honor, glory and the power of God. When we think about the Lamb of God, we think about Him being slaughtered and humiliated for our sin. Most people want to follow the glorious Christ. Very few are willing to go through the suffering life of Christ. But Paul said that if we die with Him we will resurrect and rule with Him. We want the resurrection yet we do not want the death. So we want a fake glory. This should not be the case. Humiliation comes before glory. Sufferings come before the crown. This is the general principle of the Bible. And Christ is an example for all generations.

When John saw the Holy Spirit coming down on Christ like a dove, he declared that Christ is the Son of God. When he saw the Son of God walking in the flesh, he said “Behold the Lamb of God.”

The Jews already knew that Messiah is the Son of God. But when Jesus was judged by the high priest, he was accused of blasphemy when He confessed He is the Son of God. It is not that there is no Jewish concept that Messiah is the Son of God, but it is because they could not accept that this Messiah is Jesus. In Psalms 2, God said, “You are My Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of Me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the world your possession. You will rule over them with an iron scepter.” The Israelites look at these verses and believe that the Messiah would rule over the world and would be politically powerful. This selective concept made them unable to look at the sufferings of Christ. They skipped over other parts of the Scriptures on the sufferings of the Messiah. When they read about the sufferings of the Messiah, they keep thinking it is referring to themselves.

The Ethiopian eunuch was not able to understand Isaiah 53 which spoke about the sufferings of the Messiah, and Phillip explained to him under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. John’s understanding of Christ is balanced. He saw both Christ’s glory and sufferings.

God has a Son. The Son of God is God. The Father is Divine hence the Son is also Divine. When the Son of God become Messiah, He became a living human being who is Divine, but the Jews believed that Messiah must come with military and religious power to represent Israel and to revive Israel.

The Jews had been praying for the Messiah to come. The Jewish leaders would never believe Jesus was the Messiah because He came from Nazareth but the Bible said He should come from Bethlehem. Also he was from Galilee, while the Old Testament said that Messiah would be in Jerusalem. But Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, though He was raised in Nazareth. The Jews did not understand the Bible enough to discern this. Jesus was indeed from the descendant of David, but this declaration never came from the confession of the Pharisees. It is the poor people who called Him the son of David. These religious leaders and political leaders could not recognise him. They said there was never a prophet from Nazareth and that no son of David came from Galilee. They judged from Jesus’ background and social status that He could not be the Messiah, and moreover He had no political and religious power.

But indeed He was the Messiah, God coming in the flesh. He was the true Messiah nobody recognised. But there were many false self-declared Messiahs. This caused a lot of trouble with religious department of the Jews. They always had to verify who is the true Messiah. They would think, “if Messiah comes, would he do more miracles than this one?” They were very confused. When they asked John the baptist if he was the Messiah, John confessed he was not the Messiah. Before the appointed time, Jesus did not declare Himself to be the Messiah publicly. He did not want the Pharisees to know. But He confessed to the poor, to the Samaritan.

He asked the Jews the most difficult question. He asked whether Christ was the Son of David, which was an obvious yes. He further asked, if Christ is the Son of David, how could He also be the Lord of David? A grandfather will not usually carry a grandson and call him, “My Lord.” But David said, “God said to my Lord” and this “my Lord” is David’s descendant. Jesus was pointing out to them that they did not understand God’s revelation. They could accept the glorious Christ, but not the suffering Christ. They could accept the divine Christ, but not the human Christ.

The Son of God came to earth and was born in a poor place, without financial and religious power. On one hand He is the Lamb of God, on the other hand He is the Son of God. Divinely He is most glorious. Humanly we can never comprehend His sufferings. Isaiah 53 started with the most ironical statement, “Who will believe our message? To whom has the arm of of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities. It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer…”

Who is this suffering Christ? The Jews believe it is the Israelites suffering under Hitler. But what the Bible teaches us is that Christ suffered God’s wrath for us. And John testified that He is the Son of God and the Lamb of God. When you look at the whole history of the Bible, it is His Story, the story of God. When you see the way God works in history, you will see that the central line is the salvation work of God through Christ.

God had killed an animal to clothe Adam and this is representative of Christ’s death in our stead. The Lamb of God took our sin. When Abraham was about to kill Isaac, a lamb appeared and was killed in Isaac’s place. The revelation of God progressively became clearer. In the passover, the blood of the lamb must be smeared on the door so that the angel of death might pass by the Israelites. It is a saving function, representing how God would save us. In the law of Moses, the lamb had to be sacrificed for our sin.

In the New Testament, when Jesus established the holy communion, He said, this is My blood. This shows that salvation comes by substitution.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pentacost Message 2009

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 31st May 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

The greatest gift God has given to the world is the gift of His one and only Son. The greatest gift God has given to the Church is the Holy Spirit. If God the Son never came, the world has no hope. If the Holy Spirit never came, there would be no Church.

God the Holy Spirit is our Comforter for all generations. We receive more abundant life because of the Holy Spirit. God the Son resurrected from the dead and accomplished salvation, and God the Spirit makes us understand the works of Christ through the inspiration of His Word. This is unique to Christianity. The faith of Christianity is the faith in the Triune God. It is not three Gods in three persons, not one God in one Person, but one God in three Persons.

There are always emergence of heretical teaching throughout the history of the Church. The first one is around interpretation of God, the second one around Christology and the third is around the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Once the concept of God is wrong, it is very difficult to turn around. It becomes heretical teaching in the most fundamental doctrine. The wrong understanding of God will lead to a wrong execution of religion, and eventually bring about a collapse in the entire lifestyle.

This is because God is the Centerpoint, the reason for all creation. God is the One that sustains the universe and inspires the truth. He is the Lord of salvation and the Source of understanding for the Church. The wrong understanding of revelation leads to wrong understanding of the truth.

The Church has spent many years debating on the doctrine of Trinity, Christology and the Holy Spirit. From the first to the third century, Christian faith was in the midst of great confusion as the church struggled to consolidate the doctrine of God. The first person to use the word Trinity is Tertullian, but Augustine is the first to write about the doctrine of the Triune God. The most important confession on Trinity is the Athanasian Creed. At the time of Athanasius, there was a presbyter Arius who did not believe in the Triune God. He considered Christ as a creature hence denying His divinity. If the Son was created, He is not equivalent to the Father.

The denial of Christ’s deity was already present in the gnostic thought in the first century. The Gnostics believed that Christ is the created Logos. God used the created Logos to create the world, but Logos is part of creation itself, the first created matter. Hence the world was created through Logos, and this introduces the concept of the highest God, and the created god, which is the Logos.

Athanasian Creed declares God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be equal in glory. If you believe in only one God and one Person, you are a unitarian. If you believe in many gods, you become a polytheist. Polytheists cannot segregate the Creator from the created world. So on one extreme is the believe of only one God in one Person, and the other extreme is polytheism (many gods), but only Christianity presents the Trinity.

When Christ entered synagogue at the start of His ministry, He opened the book of Isaiah and said the Spirit of God is upon Him. So God the Father anointed God the Son with God the Holy Spirit. At the end of His time on earth before His ascension, He gave the mandate to baptise believers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Son came forth from the Father, revealed the Father to believers, and went back to the Father so that the Holy Spirit would come to believers. So the teaching of the Triune God is abundant in the words of Christ, especially in the gospel of John.

This unique understanding of God in Christianity is absent from all other religions. The theology of Trinity is built upon the revelation of God, not on the reasoning power of men. The revelation of God is different from our understanding of His revelation. God is infinite and His truth surpasses reason. Our created reason is constrained, and moreover with the Fall, we cannot use our created and fallen reason to understand God’s revelation fully.

Does that mean we should despise reasoning power and neglect the responsibility of thinking? The thinking process of trichotomy, popularised by Watchman Nee, would go this path. Trichotomy believes that human is made of 3 parts, body, soul and spirit. The body is made up of senses, the soul of emotions, reason and will, and the spirit is part that can be in contact with God. Due to this view, reason is neglected and considered as something unspiritual, hence they cannot fulfil cultural mandate. The side effect is that many Christians abandon the use of reason to understand the Bible. It brings about a segregation from the world, causing people to think spiritual Christians do not use their mind and are against the intellectuals. As a result, Christians have no influence whatsoever in the society. They are not light in the world, but just light within the church. Inside the church, there are listeners but once outside the church, nobody listens to them.

In reformed understanding, reason should not be neglected nor worshiped, but should be brought back under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Similarly, our emotions are to be guided by the holy love of the Holy Spirit and our will to be guided by the Holy Spirit so that we are obedient to God’s will. Hence our faith is true when reason, will and emotions are brought back under God’s truth.

Reformed thinkers would use reason but not worship it. They should be most rational people but they are not to become rationalists. Reason is not God; it is one of the important faculty God has given to use for His glory. When our reason is under the guidance of God, it will fulfil its great potential. Indirectly the charismatics have gone through the same error. They make great intellectuals to keep using their emotions and discard their reasons. This should not be.

We can bring back to the altar of God the intelligent among us. We can use reason but not worship it, just as we can belong to a denomination but we cannot worship the denomination. We have political view and status but we cannot worship it. The question is not whether reason is useful or not. The important question is who is guiding our reason. Martin Luther said that reason has no loyalty. It is like a prostitute and its passion is fake. How frequently we hear arguments from opposing sides and our reasons continue to switch allegiance. That is how decadent our reason is.

If we believe in relativism, our reason has become like a prostitute. We agree with anything and everything. We need to have a stand. The stand is to take our reason to be submissive to the Word of God that we will only testify the truth. When the Spirit of Truth comes, it will remind us of what Christ had spoken to us. The Spirit awakens us and guides the direction of our thinking, that we will remember what Jesus has taught us. So the Spirit is not here to extinguish thinking, but to enable us to think properly.

God the Father sent God the Son that we might have life. The Father and Son sent the Holy Spirit that we might have life abundantly. God the Father prepared salvation, God the Son came in the flesh to complete salvation by purposely taking a decayable body to enter death and defeat death. When He truly died, it is not because of His sin, but because he took over our sin. So it is not a passive death, but an active death. He had the power to let go of His own life and to take it back. His resurrection is also active. He came voluntarily to earth, but did not lift up Himself. He willingly humbled Himself and God lifted Him up. This is how Christ is in contrast from Satan. Satan lifted himself up and was abandoned by God. Christ did it the other way round. He humbled Himself and God lifted Him up to the highest place and gave Him the Name above all names.

Jesus went to heaven so that the Spirit of truth would come in to live in the hearts of believers forever. God the Father breathed into Adam to give him life and God the Son breathed into his disciples to give them the promise of the Holy Spirit which is the mark spiritual life. Nobody else have the right to breath life into other people. God is God and man is man.

But is the Son really God? God the Father said to the Son, “Today I have begotten You.” This “Today” is in eternity. It is not in history, it is above history. So in all eternity Christ is begotten of the Father. He is the only begotten Son of God.

The Holy Spirit is not begotten, otherwise Jesus will not be the only begotten Son of God. But how is the Holy Spirit God if He is not begotten of God? How did He give new life if He is not God? How can he reveal truth to men? From the Bible clearly we know that the Holy Spirit is God.

The Holy Spirit proceeds from God. He is not begotten of the Father nor of the Son. But did He proceed from the Father or from the Son or both? In the 11th century, the church split over this doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The theology of Trinity and Christology were already past by the third century. In the 11th century, there was eastern and western Roman empire.

Western church believes that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. The Eastern church believes that it is only from the Father. Until today they are still separated over this issue. This is the first giant split. The second giant split was the reformation in 1517. The third time did not look so obvious, which was in 20th century when the charismatic spoke about the Holy Spirit.

The differences in the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is because the Eastern Orthodox followed Greek, while the Western follow Latin. Latin church fathers influenced Roman western church. Here Augustine’s works on Trinity influenced the Roman catholic church. His book says that the Holy Spirit were sent from God the Father and the Son. On this doctrine, following Augustine, the reformed theology’s stand is the same as the Roman Catholic. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, and is also the Spirit of Christ.

After God gave us His only begotten Son, the plan of salvation was completed. Before Christ ascended to heaven, He promised the Holy Spirit, who will help us remember what Christ said, comfort and protect us. This is Another Comforter. Since this is “Another”, this cannot be Christ Himself.

Christ said to His disciples that when the Holy Spirit come upon them, they would receive power to be His witnesses. He did not leave a single dollar for ministry and had not build a single church when He ascended. The work of God does not depend on men’s power, but on the Spirit of God. What is impossible with men is possible with God. May the Lord illuminate, inspire and guide us.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Baptism of Holy Spirit Part 7 (Jn. 1:24-28) - FINAL

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 24th May 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Jn. 1:24-28

The first descent of the Holy Spirit is in Jerusalem, the second in Samaria, third in the house of Cornelius in Judea, and the forth in Ephesus. After these four recordings, there is no more recording of the descent of the Holy Spirit on someone or on some church.

And then, after nearly 2000 years, we suddenly start to hear incidents of Holy Spirit’s descent. Could the descent of the Holy Spirit be the special privilege given to the past? Or could it be that the Holy Spirit has already come, so there is no need to come anymore? Which view is more biblical? The Apostle Paul no longer wrote about the Holy Spirit coming upon them. The word “baptism” of the Holy Spirit is also no longer mentioned. Before ascension, Jesus Christ promised the coming of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, it was not recorded they were “baptised” with the Holy Spirit, but that they were “filled” with the Holy Spirit. Are they different thing? The baptism, the filling, the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Jesus cleansed with the Holy Spirit. We know that once the Holy Spirit descends upon someone, He will never leave. It is promised in John 16:1-2. Do I prepare for the Holy Spirit to come by cleansing myself, or does the Holy Spirit cleanse me thus I become holy and clean? We are born in sin and have no power to cleanse ourselves. When we turn from sinner to saint, it cannot be from our power. It is by the elective grace of God. Hence the book of Timothy said that it is because of His election that we become clean. But who is the person who gave us the Holy Spirit? It is Jesus Christ who said “receive the Holy Spirit”. God uses His Word to cleanse us. God the Son cleanses us because He died for us and His precious blood cleanse us. God the Son also used the Holy Spirit to cleanse us. The only thing that can cleanse us is the Word, the blood and the Spirit, and nothing else. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live within us and make us clean. When a person receives the baptism of the Holy Spirit by Christ, the Spirit will forever dwell in his heart.

Hence Paul no longer need to tell the churches to receive the Holy Spirit. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit came into the Universal Church and forever would never leave. The Bible no longer writes about Holy Spirit baptism after that. He came once and for all for the Universal Church. What about descent of the Holy Spirit in Acts 8, 10 and 19? These represent the regions Jesus spoke about, i.e. Judea, Samaria and the ends of the world.

In the first incident in Jerusalem, there were no water baptism. Jesus Himself sent the apostles. 120 people were waiting for the promise. They were the first group called by Christ. None of them were baptised in the name of the Triune God. They were already disciples of Christ and none need laying of hands by apostles. Apostles were already there. None need preaching of the gospel since they already believed. So in this first incident, we see no gospel preaching, no laying of hands, and no baptism.

The second event was in Samaria. There was gospel preaching by evangelist Phillip. People believed and received water baptism. But they needed the apostles to come and lay hands on them to receive the Holy Spirit. This is a special incident. They have heard the gospel, believed and were baptised in Christ’s name. But they have not received the Holy Spirit though they have heard, believed and been baptised. So the Charismatics wanted to follow the same procedure to lay hands on people and get them baptised in the Holy Spirit. They seem to have a lot of power so a lot of Christians went there to get the laying of hands. Many churches get confused. Slowly, many people turn charismatic, including pastors. In Acts 8, it is the Apostles who laid hands, not just any believers. The Apostles were those who were directly appointed by Christ. So none of the believers today are apostles, despite their claim.

In the third incident, Acts 10 recorded about a group of people who have not heard the gospel, have not believed, have not been baptised in water. But they received the Holy Spirit. If the Charismatics’ procedure is correct, why does Acts 10 have different order? Many people develop a doctrine just based on a few verses. The situation in Chp 19 shows yet another different scenario. All the 4 incidents tell that the focal point is on how Christ baptised with the Holy Spirit.

The church in Samaria is not a true church because Phillip is not an apostle. He is not qualified to be called the foundation of the Church. Eph. 2:20 declared that the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. Eph 4:11 declared that God has given first of all apotles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Do we have teachers, pastors and evangelists? Yes. The latter three are different from the first two. The first two are the foundation of the Church. Why do we need a chief cornerstone then? Because only He (Christ) can bring the two foundation (the apostles and the prophets) together.

1 Cor. 12:28 say that in the Church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, …

These 3 are the most important verses in the New Testament where the apostles and prophets are mentioned. The Church is built upon this foundation. The commonality is that the apostles are first mentioned then the prophets. But chronologically prophets came first. The Old Testament is recorded by the prophets. The New Testament is recorded by the apostles.

The prophets generally never saw Jesus, except John the Baptist. Christ said that among those born of women there is none greater than John the Baptist. He died earlier than Christ so he did not see Christ going to the Cross. So he only saw Christ halfway. Hence the smallest in the kingdom of God is greater than he. Who are in the Kingdom of God? Those born of the Holy Spirit. The whole Old Testament is a shadow. The New Testament is the real thing. The Old Testament is like a photograph. When the real person come, the photograph is no longer important. What the prophets have not seen, the apostles have seen. So when the apostles preach Christ, it is not a prophecy, it is the fulfilment of the prophecy. One is prediction (prophets) and the other one is the fulfilment. The foundation (apostles and prophets) is the New Testament and the Old Testament revealed by God. Christ is the cornerstone. Why was the apostles always mentioned first? Because without the New Testament we can never understand the Old Testament. Without the teaching of the apostles, you cannot understand Christology taught in the Old Testament. The New Testament is the foundation of the Old Testament. The Old Testament implicitly contain the New Testament. But the New Testament completes the Old Testament. We understand the Old Testament is truly true because of the New Testament.

Until today, the Jews could not understand Isa 58 which talked about the Suffering Servant. When the eunuch from Euthopia could not understand this passage, it was Phillip who explained to him.

The Old Testament has no meaning if it were not about Jesus. The New Testament also has not value if it does not preach Christ. So we see that when the Holy Spirit came, they preached about Jesus. The focus of the New Testament is the Lamb to be slaughtered set from eternity. Christ is the cornerstone of this two walls. The Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. If the church is not built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, it cannot be accepted. When people believed and were baptised in water in Samaria, the Holy Spirit did not come upon them because Phillip was not an apostle. Does it matter? We do not have apostles today. Are we true church? We are. At that time the Bible had not yet been completed and the church set up by evangelist Phillip was not based on the Bible. They have the Old Testament, but without the New Testament it is impossible to explain the Old Testament. But Phillip understood. However the principle that the apostles must be the foundation of the church cannot be ignored. Although Phillip’s teaching was orthodox, it had to be affirmed by the apostles. Hence Peter laid hands on them and the Holy Spirit came upon them. The church in Samaria became orthodox after the apostles’ affirmation. Were they baptised in water again after the Holy Spirit come down? They were not. So we have to be very cautious regarding the ritual of baptism – do people ever need to be rebaptised? What about immersion versus sprinkling? Some churches insist in sprinkling for years. There are no depiction of immersion in wall painting in Rome. So the church has been sprinkling, and whoever changed it immersion is very bold.

Is immersion more biblical than sprinkling? It was claimed that Jesus was immersed in water, that immersion represented our death and resurrection with Christ, and that the Greek word “baptizo” indicated immersion.

But the Bible only said Jesus came out of the water, it did not say He was immersed and His head came out of water. Using that phrase as a sole interpretation is not accurate. The idea that immersion represent death and burying with Christ is even more incorrect. The idea of burial was not Jewish custom. He was not buried in the ground, but in the cave. In the Bible, at least 17 mention of baptizo does not refer to immersion.

How about sprinkling? Those who believe say the Holy Spirit came from heaven to earth. Whether you are immersed and sprinkled, do not take it absolutely. And there is no need to rebaptise whether you are immersed or sprinkled. After the believers in Samaria received the Holy Spirit, they were not asked to be baptize in water again because they had been baptized in Jesus’ name.

In Acts 19, Paul asked what kind of baptism they receive, it was John’s baptism. Paul said John baptism is baptism unto repentance, but as John himself preached, they were to believed in Him who was to come after John, who is Jesus. So some people believe that Christians could be baptised twice if the first baptism was not sufficient. We should not be deceived. The baptism in the church of Ephesus was because they were not baptised in Christ’s name earlier, not because of the mode of baptism.

Now compare the third and forth descent of the Holy Spirit. When Peter was in the House of Cornelius, he was sent by God although initially he did not want to. In a vision, 3 times he was commanded to kill and eat those animals considered impure by the Law. If Peter ate, does that mean Peter changed because he used to obey the Law and he now disobeyed? Or does that mean God changed His mind regarding the Law He gave? He gave the Law and yet now He commanded Peter to eat the unclean animals. It is not that Peter or God that changed. God has used His power to change the unclean to become clean. This is where our lives are changed. When we understand the power of God, the only way is to obey.

Peter went and was astonished when he came to the house of Cornelius. Even his own people had departed from God’s Law, and yet these Gentiles truly had the fear of God. So Peter understood. The Great Commission already mandated him to go into all the world, and he had disobeyed Christ by only preaching to the Jews. So Peter was transformed and understood that God could make the unclean clean.

Peter was initially quite reluctant when he went. He told Cornelius’ household that he was not supposed to come because of the Law, but God commanded him to come. Cornelius highly regarded Peter and said he had vision from the angel to ask for Peter. He knew that the God of the Jews is the One True God and he knew that he had no part because he was a Gentile. A lot of children of Christians are not willing to listen to sermons but many non-Christians are waiting to hear because the Lord had made them clean.

Cornelius worshipped Peter once he saw him. Peter said, “Get up, I am a man myself.” This should be the attitude of a pastor. Peter started talking about tradition, but after that he started preaching Christ, not the Holy Spirit. In fact, he only mentioned the Holy Spirit once when he spoke about the power of Christ.

These people never heard of Jesus and were not yet baptized in water, but when Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit came upon them. Peter was astonished. It meant there is no difference between Jews and the Gentiles. So he baptised them in the name of Jesus too. Nobody should prevent them. Compared with the second descent, they have not heard, have not believed, have not been baptised. But once Peter spoke, the Holy Spirit came upon them. So they received the Holy Spirit first and then they were baptised in water. This is different from what the Charismatics claimed.

The similarity between the second and third incident is that they must first hear the gospel. Even before you express your faith, the Holy Spirit could come to you first. The grace of God is prior to human response. What about “believe, be baptised and you will be saved”? This is for the adults who did not believe earlier. Why we baptise infants (children of believers) before they believe? Because they are in the covenant of grace. Before creation of the world, we were not even in existence but we have been predestined. It is the principle of the grace of God.

The important thing is that because of the gospel we know God. If Christ has baptised use with the Holy Spirit, then we should be baptised in water too. The ritual of baptism itself is not important. Simon of sorcerer is one of those baptised in water but not saved.

Acts 19 is another different incident. The believers in Ephesus had heard the preaching from Apollos and received John’s baptism, but have not heard of the Holy Spirit. Paul said that is not enough. What is the difference of believing John and Jesus? Both preached repentance. John baptised with water, Jesus baptised with the Holy Spirit. John cannot cleanse but Jesus died for our sin. So they could not just stay with the baptism of John. They have to turn to Jesus. Paul said John had said to believe in the One to come after him. Paul rebaptised them. The believers in Ephesus were baptised earlier but not in the name of Jesus, and the preaching was not complete. The whole belief system was not accurate. They need to believe in Jesus, not John. So these believers were baptised twice.

But the Charismatics say the baptism received in the past is not enough, so we need another baptism. The problem is that the Samaria believers were never rebaptised. If we are baptised in the name of Jesus, we do not need to be rebaptised. It is not about much or little water and laying of hands. All 4 incidents are different. If we just use one incident to establish a system, it can become a heretical teaching.

Where is Ephesus? It is Asia Minor, farther away from Jerusalem than Samaria and the house of Cornelius. So it represents “the ends of the world”. So we have Jerusalem (Chp 2), Judea (Chp 10), Samaria (Chp 8) and ends of the world (Chp 19). During this time, so many churches were built, but there are only 4 recordings of the descent of the Holy Spirit to represent all.

The final question is, was Paul an apostle? He was, because he was directly appointed by Christ. He is a person who has seen Jesus personally and directly appointed by Christ. In this matter, he is of the same rank with all the other apostles. Paul understood this. He said he was the least of all apostles, but he was not lesser than the greatest apostle. Among those selected by Christ, he was the smallest.

Peter was not the apostle of the Gentiles. “To the ends of the world” is the work of Paul, the apostle of the Gentile. Since Paul is the apostle of the Gentile, and Cornelius was the first Gentile to believe, why did God not send Paul to them? This cannot be done because Peter is the greatest of the Apostles, and he must be the first to get the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles. This position cannot taken by Paul. But why not let Peter do the last one as well? This is to establish that God has specifically chosen Paul as the Apostle of the Gentile, together with Peter. So the 4 incidents show how the gospel is to be preached to all nations.

Must we speak in tongues? Acts 8 did not record speaking in tongues after they received the Holy Spirit. Must there be loud noise? It is not seen in Acts 8, 10 and 19. Is it necessary to have second baptism? Acts 8 showed that it is not necessary. But if you are not baptised in Christ name, you need to rebaptise, as shown in Acts 19. These 4 incidents enable us to see the whole principle.

What about the speaking in tongues? In Acts 2, these people spoke tongues of other nations so that people could understand the gospel. In Acts 10, these people could be understood, they were said to be praising God. In Acts 19, there were not only tongues but prophesying / preaching. But in all these incidents, never once there was a mention of speaking jibberish that people could not understand. And Acts 8 did not mention anything about tongues. So all these are not absolute. Do not establish absolute doctrines from one incident.

Finally, 1 Cor. 12:13 Paul talked about baptism of the Holy Spirit in past tense. It is already completed. This verse is the last verse in the New Testament that mentioned Holy Spirit baptism. After that it is no longer mentioned. When this is spoken, it is not a command, not a prediction of the future, but a reflection of the past. The Holy Universal Church has already been established in eternity. Those in the future would be brought back to the Day of Pentacost when the Holy Spirit came upon the Church. With the confidence of the truth, we can run the race.

Those who specialise in the preaching of the Holy Spirit knows nothing about the Holy Spirit. If we truly have the Holy Spirit, we have to live a holy lifestyle. We want to follow His guidance and produce fruits of the Spirit. He is a Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth. This concludes the series on the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

Baptism of Holy Spirit Part 6 (Jn. 1:24-28)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 17th May 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Jn. 1:24-28

The church in Jerusalem represented the universal church all over the world. But the church in Samaria did not have the Holy Spirit’s descent and cannot be considered part of the church. Although they believe in Jesus and have been baptised in the name of Christ, they still need to be affirmed by the apostles. Why do they still need the Apostles to lay hands on them? Why is it not enough that Phillip had done the work of evangelism and brought them to Christ? Does that mean we need another baptism after salvation? We cannot conclude simply just based on this passage.

In Acts 2, they were not baptised in the name of Jesus, yet the Holy Spirit descended an they received Holy Spirit baptism. We need to learn to see overall principles and differentiate right from wrong. We can also examine the differences in Acts 10 and 19.

When Peter was in the house of Joppa, he was praying and suddenly saw a vision. He was asked to eat what was not allowed in the Law. Was God trying to tempt him to see if he would succumb to it? Certainly not. The vision happened 3 times, and Peter kept saying he never ate anything impure. God said, “Do not call anything impure what God had made pure.” Does that mean God go back on His Word? Last time He forbade eating these unclean animals and now He allowed?

God’s Law is pure and God never changes. He created all things good, but why is it that later on there are clean and unclean animals? When our faith suddenly encounter this, what do we do? God knew that Peter was obedient to the tradition of the Jews. God said not to call anything unclean which He had made clean. In the past, these were unclean. But God had the power to clean what is unclean. This is something difficult for us to accept. God has not changed. But He had cleansed what is unclean, as He would change Peter. So we cannot follow tradition blindly as God is working. This is the most difficult lesson to learn.

Why would God reject the Jewish culture? Because they were just following the words. They believed that the truth of God would only remain with the Jews. But God willed the gospel to be preached throughout the world. In fact, by God’s providence, the New Testament was written in Greek. This is a true cultural revolution.

God spoke to the house of Cornelius that he was a God-fearing man, God had heard his prayer and was pleased with his works. But he was a Gentile. So God asked him send men to look for Peter and God would send Peter to preach the gospel to them. But God would prepare Peter’s heart first. Apart from the vision, God also spoke to Peter to follow those people who were looking for him.

For the Samaritan church, once they believed, Peter and John went immediately to establish the church without delay. But they were still bound to preach to the Jews only. Hence to reach out to the Gentiles, God had to send Peter directly. Cornelius had feared the Lord for many years, what sort of person was he? He was a Greek. The Greeks had many mythical gods, who were not good moral example themselves. Later on they were influenced by the Jews who introduced to them the Jehovah God who is just and holy. So some Greeks became God-fearers. They prayed to God and tried to do good works and served the society. God was pleased with them. Cornelius was one of such people. God is just. He is not like the false Greek gods. His holiness and justice surpassed all the other idols.

The vision Peter received was to teach him that the gospel was also meant for the Gentiles. It is God who prepared the way. Peter obediently went with the men from Cornelius who came to see him. He started to preach at the house of Cornelius. What did he preach? Christ or the Holy Spirit? He spoke not of the Holy Spirit, but about how Christ died and resurrected, and how the gospel was to be preached to all the world. He said as a Jew he was not supposed to go to the Gentile, but he came to realize that God is just and showed no favoritism. Just as he said that, the Holy Spirit descended upon the people. This is the third recording of the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Why must the Spirit descend? In Acts 8 it is also Peter who laid hands on the Samaritan believers. In Acts 8, he went immediately. In Acts 10, he was compelled by God to go. But how did the Holy Spirit come? It was before preaching and before baptism, and without laying of hands. Peter was not even done speaking. So the procedure is not like what the Charismatic think. Every incident was different.

Peter was not the Apostle of the Gentiles. Paul was. But why is Peter sent instead? Paul had no such authority. Peter was recognized as the leader of the church. From the time of Adam until the coming of Jesus Christ, this is the first time the Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit. So it must be the most important apostle, Peter, who was sent for the task. Also why did they receive the Holy Spirit first before baptism? It is a mark of salvation, of God’s approval that salvation is meant for the Gentiles.

Phillip had no apostolic authority, so he waited for apostles to come and establish the church. It is not that the Holy Spirit baptism is another blessing. Ephesians 2:20 says that the church was built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone. The order has always been the same in the New Testament. The apostles always appear first before the prophets. Chronologically, the prophets came first. But the apostles came first because the New Testament is implicit in the Old Testament, and the New Testament fulfils the Old Testament. It is a system of truth.

The Church of Jerusalem did not need the apostles to establish because the apostles themselves were there. In Acts 10, the first Gentile church needs the presence of an apostle. In Acts 19, when Apollos went to preach in Ephesus, he was not an apostle and was himself not accurate on the central message. So Paul baptised them and the Spirit came upon them.

Acts 10 is special case when the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles, and they spoke in tongues but with understanding. The Spirit of truth reveal and lead us into all truth. May the Lord direct our understanding. (To be continued … )

Baptism of Holy Spirit Part 5 (Jn. 1:24-28)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 10th May 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Jn. 1:24-28

Acts 2, 8, 10 and 19 recorded about the descent of the Holy Spirit. What is the relationship between the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the descent of the Holy Spirit? In Acts 2, the descent of the Holy Spirit is also the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Other than Acts 2, there is no more baptism of the Holy Spirit. And other than the 4 instances on the descent of the Holy Spirit, there are no more other recordings on the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The 4 incidents where the Holy Spirit descended matched with the words of Jesus regarding the areas the gospel is to be preached, i.e. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the world. When Jesus proclaimed that they are to be His witnesses in these four regions, this is how the gospel spread in geographical manner.

Why was the second incident in Samaria, and the third come back to Judea (in the house of Cornelius)? Geographically the house of Cornelius was in Judea, but these people who received the Holy Spirit were not Jews. The gospel was to be preached first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. So Samaria came first. We can see how the will of God is accomplished in this manner.

In Jerusalem, what kind of people received the Holy Spirit baptism? Are they already believers? Have they been baptised? The most important among them are the apostles of Christ themselves. Together with the disciples, Mary the mother of Jesus too prayed to God through Christ. When the Holy Spirit came upon them, none of them had been baptised in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. None of them had been baptised in Jesus’ name either. Christ Himself baptised them with the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentacost. They received power when the Spirit came upon them. The disciples spoke in tongues to let people understand the gospel, that the gospel is not confined to the Jews. When we preach Christ, we will be united. When we preach ourselves, we will be broken up. This is the contrast of the Tower of Babel and the Day of Pentacost. The existence of tongues enable those who did not earlier understand to understand.

In Chapter 8, the Samaria believers had believed and been baptised in Jesus’ name. The Lord blessed Phillip’s ministry such that even sorcerer also believed and was baptised. It meant there are now churches outside Jerusalem. Apostles went there and simply asked if they have received the Holy Spirit. They have believed Jesus and been baptised. Does that mean that is not enough? Peter and John laid hands on them. It signified that the Church must have the Holy Spirit. This passage has been frequently misinterpreted that it is not sufficient to believe and be baptised in water, that we need the baptism of the Holy Spirit too. Many people feel that the church sermon is so boring, so they need some excitement. They follow this story in Acts 8 and presumed the apostles’ role to baptise people with the Holy Spirit. With great confidence, they think others do not have the Holy Spirit and they have the authority to lay hands and baptise people with the Holy Spirit.

But can we conclude just based on this verse? Is it true that the apostles are not happy that there are many Christians in Samaria, and went there to show that they are better because they could baptise them with the Holy Spirit?

Jesus Himself breathed and said to the disciples, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Are the disciples also imitating Christ, and hence the Charismatics followed the disciples? God the Father breathed in creation and Man became a living being. God the Son breathed the Spirit into us and gave us life. This act of breathing life is a mark of divinity. Only God could do this. In miracles which raised the dead, Elijah prayed to God, Elisha prayed to God. But God the Son simply commanded the dead to rise.

Similarly, in giving the Holy Spirit, Jesus simply breathed into His disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” We cannot use Acts 8 to justify that we can breathe Holy Spirit into people’s lives. The charismatics get more and more confused. They lay hands on people and they fall on the floor. But in the Bible, not a single instance did someone fall on the floor when they were laid hands on. The Holy Spirit only make people raise, not fall. He opens people’s eyes to see and understand, not to become confused. While all those happenings in the charismatic meetings might be genuinely supernatural, not all supernatural things are of the Holy Spirit. God has given us His Scriptures for us to differentiate right from wrong. We need to understand the pure and complete, reasonable will of God. God’s will is that we will get wisdom and come to the understanding of the truth in all consciousness.

If truly we need anointing, what authority do those people have? The Bible said it is the apostles who came to lay hands. Phillip was an evangelist and it was the Spirit of God who sent him to preach the gospel and to baptise. Even he did not lay hands on the believers to receive the Holy Spirit, it was John and Peter. Now do we think that what we have is not enough, and we need the Charismatics to come and lay hands on us? They assume the status of the apostles of the past and believe that their laying hands would give others power. This has damaged church teaching a lot.

What then is lacking in the church of Samaria? Eph. 2:20 gave us the answer. The church is built upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone. This phrase came later from the Apostle Paul. It was not the words of Peter. But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Peter and John went to establish the church in Samaria. The church in Samaria had no foundation. It must be built upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles. So once they heard that there were many believers in Samaria, Peter and John quickly went to establish it. The church of Jerusalem sent the best of the apostles themselves to go to Samaria. The principle of Antioch church is to send the best, the most important people. After Peter and John laid hands on the believers in Samaria, the church was established. In contrast, many churches today sent their second best to missions.

The church is most confused today. Many preachers who graduate from seminaries preach very logically but seem to have no power. But many people who do not understand theology seem to have a lot of power. But to lay hands, we need to ask – what authority do they have? Are they apostles? (To be continued …)

Baptism of Holy Spirit Part 4 (Jn. 1:24-28)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 3rd May 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 1:24-28

What is the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is it a ritual? Is it something we can see? Is it the Holy Spirit who baptizes?

God sent His Son Jesus Christ who used the Holy Spirit to cleanse us and to give us the salvation. All saints have been baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit to become part of the Universal Church. All in the Universal Church are saints and have been baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit. And it is not the Holy Spirit, but Jesus Christ who is the Baptizer. John the Baptist who baptized with water said that Christ would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Hence Christ, with the power of God, baptized those who are made in God’s likeness.

There are only 3 things that would make us clean: Word, blood and Spirit. That is, the truth, the blood of Christ and the Holy Spirit. If we do not accept that the Word became Christ, we have been deceived by Satan. We are also deceived when we misunderstand the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit gives us the Bible by inspiring the prophets and apostles to write the Word of God, and the Holy Spirit leads the Church into all truth. People who speak a lot about the Holy Spirit seem to be glorifying the Holy Spirit, but they segregate Him from the truth and His purpose of lifting up Christ. So instead of trusting in Christ, there is a constant talk about the Holy Spirit. The true purpose of the Holy Spirit’s coming has been lost. Yet when mainstream churches become smaller and smaller, they feel insecure and think that following charismatics is the only way to bring revival.

Since the reformation, reformed theology follows the path of Sola Scriptura. We believe the Holy Spirit is the Spirit that inspires the Bible, and He is willing to use the Bible to reveal God’s work. The Charismatics will deny this, saying that we should not constrain the Holy Spirit with the Bible, that in the Spirit there is freedom.

But true freedom, where the Spirit is, where the truth is, and when the Son of God sets you free, you are free indeed. So only in these 3 is there freedom. And these 3 cannot be segregated. So it is unbiblical to say the Holy Spirit’s freedom is beyond the Scriptures. When we look at phenomena, we are easily deceived. We have to understand the truth from the general principles of the Bible.

Jesus prophesied two main things about the future. The first is that the Holy Spirit will come soon. Second is that He Himself will come soon. These two future comings are promised by Christ. Both did not have their specific dates told. Christ did not say that the Holy Spirit would come in 10 days. He did not say He would come again after 2000 years. It is not good for Him to tell us the exact date because He wanted us to pray and be watchful. If we know when it is, we would be lazy until the last day. He said “soon”, but would not tell when. And history shows that it is not 10 days, but it has been 2000 years and He still has not come. He wants believers to be aware and always ready.

But why would He say “after a few days” regarding the coming of the Holy Spirit? Before Moses died, he once said prophesied that there would be a coming prophet among the Israelites. There was no date given. 1500 years later Jesus came and fulfilled that prophesy. Moses was not the last prophet, so he prophesied another prophet would come. The Old Testament is to prepare for the new. But the time ends with the Christians.

But Muslim do not believe this and claim that Jesus Himself promised another one to come, which is Mohammad. How is it explained that way? They would not use Acts 1, but they would use John 14. Here Jesus Himself prophesied the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was not only sent by God, but also by Christ. So all apostles would speak based on what Christ said. Jesus said He had to go so that the Holy Spirit would come, He is another Counselor. The Person of the Son is different from the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three different Persons of the Triune God. In Greek’s word, Parakletos means Comforter who is right beside. This Person will bring us to the truth. The Muslims believe this person is Mohammad. He will teach us to praise God. They believe that Jesus helped us understand God, but it is the last one (Mohammad) who bring us all into the truth to complete the religion of the world.

The Muslims believe the Bible records things of God, but not the entire Bible. They believe there are 104 books but 100 have been lost and it is impossible to find them back. 50 books are given to Adam, and the other 50 are given to Abraham, Methuselah, etc. After 100 books are lost, 4 remain. The first is Torah, the Book of Moses. The second is Sabhu, the Psalms of David. The third is Injil, the Gospels of Jesus. And the last one is the Quran. The one given later is more important than the first. Hence Psalms are more important than Torah. Gospels are more important than Psalms. And Quran is more important than the Gospels. They propose 96 errors in the Bible, so the 4 Gospels are not reliable. They believe in Jesus, in His gospels, but they believe that the gospels in the Bible are not the same as the original ones. Jesus promised that another Comforter, the word has the pronunciation similar to Mohammad. So they believe that Mohammad is the one promised by Christ.

When the Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the book of Acts, it was recorded that Christ said the Holy Spirit would come in a few days. So we could not accept that the Promised One is Mohammad who only came after 600 years.

In the book of Acts, we do see that the promise came to pass within a few days. So the baptism of the Holy Spirit was mentioned 7 times in the Bible, and the first 4 times were the same event, spoken by John the baptist. The second person to say this was Christ. The third person was Peter and the last person was Paul. John the Baptist spoke once and was recorded 4 times. Christ spoke of it as a future event. Peter and Paul spoke in past tense, refering to baptism of the Holy Spirit as a past event.

So the Baptizer is Christ, those who were baptized are all saints who were saved, and Christ uses the Holy Spirit to baptize us. It does not mean we are captured by the Holy Spirit, but it means we receive the saving grace. The coming of the Holy Spirit happened at Pentacost. It seemed like there are tongues of fire resting on them. Is this the incident Jesus referred to earlier? It must be, because apart from Acts 2, there are no other references in the Bible related to the incident after “a few days” spoken by Christ.

Moses refered to Jesus Christ before he died that another Prophet would come. The coming of Christ in history is for the fulfilment of salvation, after which, the coming of the Holy Spirit, we become saints and He guides the Church into all truth. This is God’s eternal plan, where God the Father, God the Son an God the Holy Spirit work together.

How many times did the Bible record the Spirit coming down? In the Old Testament, there are a few recording. The Holy Spirit would come for a time for a very specific purpose. Those receiving the anointing of the Spirit of God would become bold and spoke the words of God. They received inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But when the task was completed, the Spirit of God would return. When David sinned, he was afraid that God’s Spirit would leave him, recorded in Psalms 51. This is the difference between the Old and New Testament. In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit was promised to come to dwell in the hearts of believers forever.

In the Old Testament, the Spirit of God would come upon whom God chose to preach His Word. There are more than 6000 times mention of “Thus saith the Lord.” But when the Holy Spirit came, the day of Pentacost, the Spirit of God forever would live in the hearts of those who believe. After His resurrection, Jesus breathed into the lives of the believers, “receive the Holy Spirit.” Jesus just affirmed the way it was in the Old Testament. They were still to wait for the promise of the Holy Spirit at the Day of Pentacost.

How many times did the New Testament record the descent of the Holy Spirit? It is four times in four different places to different people. But why only 4 times and not more?

Is the descent of the Holy Spirit the same as the baptism of the Holy Spirit? If it is the same, why was the coming of the Holy Spirit not confined to just once in Jerusalem? Isn’t it supposed to come just once and for all?

To understand this, we can think about the Son of God’s coming as well. Only once the Word become flesh. But before He came in the flesh, He appeared before many times in the Old Testament, e.g. when Adam saw God in the garden of Eden, when Abraham met the Messenger of God, and when Moses saw the back of Jehovah. God the Son appeared many times. He appeared in the physical human form, but not in the flesh. So this is the appearance of God in humanly form, also called theophany. So it is not surprising that while the Bible said nobody has seen God, the Bible also said Moses saw God and Abraham spoke to God. They have seen God the Son, not God the Father. The Son of God came only once in the flesh, but appeared in humanly form many times.

In the same way, the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, only came once on the Day of Pentacost. That Day is the Birthday of the Church.

Christ only died once and resurrected once. He defeated death through His resurrection. He died to prove that He cannot die. In the book of Revelation He said he died, but now He is alive forevermore. In the first place, He is the Eternal One. So by coming in the flesh, He entered physical death. He came to die, to prove He had victory over death. If He never died, He would not be resurrected.

Jesus died at the day appointed by God. His birth was on the day appointed by God. It could not be sooner or later. This is the Day that the Lord has made. It was exactly 24 hours from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane, His 6 trials throughout the night, His crucifixion to the time His body was taken down. All these happened in 24 hours. The days of the Jews began from the moment the sun set. They do it this way because that is the way the Scripture said, “There was evening and there was morning.” God set darkness before the light so that we enjoy the light after the darkness.

As believers, we died and resurrected with Christ. But it did not mean Christ died and resurrect another time. The Holy Spirit brings us back to that day of Christ’s death where we died with Him. The effectiveness of His death last forever.

Similarly, Holy Spirit came only once on the day of Pentacost. He came and that was forever. Christ came as flesh once, but in the past (the Old Testament) He appeared many times. In the same way, the Holy Spirit came once, and in the future a few more times. There are 4 times the Spirit came down in the book of Acts: In Jerusalem (Acts 2), Samaria (Acts 8), the house of Cornelius (Acts 10), and Ephesus (Acts 19).

Why are there 4 incidents of the Holy Spirit’s descent in the book of Acts? Standard wise the Holy Spirit only came once. Acts 2 shows how the Holy Spirit came and united the Church. However, there are 3 regions that are representative of the whole world. Christ said they are to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to ends of the world. So the coming of the Holy Spirit is recorded 4 times to show that the Church started in Jerusalem, but it is to be universal. In Jerusalem, it was the first time the Spirit descended and it was where the Church was born. The other 3 times represented 3 other regions Jesus spoke of. Apart from these, the Bible did not record how Holy Spirit descended in all other places.

There are direct relationships in all these 4 incidents. But in all these 4 times, we also want to observe 4 differences: Whether there are gospel preaching, laying of hands, water baptism and speaking in tongues / signs and wonders.

The charismatics only emphasized one thing. They believe the baptism of the Holy Spirit is necessary as a second blessing to make us complete Christians. And this baptism is marked by the speaking in tongues. In the end, many churches follow this path.

Acts 8 seems to be the procedure the Charismatics follow. There were laying of hands, and the Holy Spirit descended upon the people. In Acts 2, about 120 people received the Holy Spirit baptism during the Day of Pentacost and they spoke in tongues. But the people who heard them spoke in tongues understood what was spoken. Those filled with the Holy Spirit want to preach the gospel; they were no longer thinking of their own lives and safety. When they preached, miracles happened. And people from 15 regions understood the gospel. The Spirit came not to proclaim Himself, but Christ.

Do not believe in those who keep talking about the Holy Spirit day and night, but believe those whom with the power of the Holy Spirit, keep preaching the gospel of Christ. Christ said the Holy Spirit comes to bear witness of Him. The Holy Spirit did not come to preach Himself, but to magnify Christ. Why was tongue given? It enabled the gospel to be preached, to prove that the gospel was not to be monopolised by the Jews. It is for all nations and languages. It is to enable those who do not understand to understand.

In contrast, Charismatics glorify personal experiences and tongues. It becomes the other way round. The tongues were not to enhance gospel preaching. Those who understand become confused. Is this the work of the Holy Spirit? When we boast of ourselves and praise our own name, we are creating the Tower of Babel. We want to tell the whole world that we are great. We keep building towers after towers. At financial crisis, everybody stopped. All these towers show us that we are the descendents of the builders of the Tower of Babel. God confused the tongues of the people because they are trying to build their own name. But on the day of Pentacost, they all preached Jesus and God blessed them. This is the first time there was unity in the Church.

There is no unity in the church because every church is preaching itself. When the church is preaching Christ, there will be unity. There will surely be breaking up when people preach themselves. There are very few people who truly understand reformed theology, even less who understand unity through the preaching of Christ. May God have mercy on us and revive us. Tongues are not meant to divide but to unite.

But the tongues of the Charismatics bring confusion and end up in preaching their own experience. As a result, many people start to think that Christians are crazy.

In chapter 2, before and after the descent of the Holy Spirit, nobody was baptised in water because these people had believed earlier. But in Samaria, there were a lot of sorceries, so those who turned away and believed in Christ were baptised. Phillip was able to convert many people in a land filled with sorcery. But Phillip is not an apostle so he was not authorized to establish a church. Hence Peter and John were sent to establish his work. So the believers were asked if they believed in Christ, and they said they did by the preaching of Phillip. Then they were asked if they had received the Holy Spirit, and they said not yet. So the apostles prayed for them and the Holy Spirit came upon them. So the Charismatics took this as a procedure. We need to be baptized in water but it is not enough, we also need to be baptized with the Holy Spirit. How is it done? By the laying fo hands, like what the apostles did. So they believe Christians today lack this last step.

Is that procedure meant to be prescriptive? In Acts 10, when the Holy Spirit came, the people had not believed and had not been baptised yet. When Peter was still speaking halfway, the Holy Spirit just came upon them. They have not heard the gospel or even been baptised with water. Why is it that in Acts 10 the Holy Spirit came before water baptism? And why is it that in Acts 19, the believers who had been baptised by John were re-baptised in Jesus’ name?

In Samaria, Phillip is not an apostle, so his preaching and baptism were not enough, so he needed apostles to come. So the charismatics teach that tongues and water baptism are not enough, there must be laying of hands to get Holy Spirit baptism or else we are not complete Christians. Since the charismatics are not apostles, what authority do they have to lay hands for people to get Holy Spirit baptism if even Phillip had no authority to do it? Then the charismatics also anoint apostles. But these are self-ordained apostles. The true apostles are those who are directly selected by Christ. These are the people who have the right to lay hands to release the power. Imitation of the preaching of the Bible is not the same as the actual teaching itself. May we be built upon strong foundation. But what about our churches today? We have no living apostles as well. Are our churches truly established then? (To be continued…)

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Baptism of Holy Spirit Part 3 (Jn. 1:24-28)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 26th April 2009 in Newton Life. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: Jn. 1:24-28

When the Holy Spirit cleanses us, we can truly be cleansed. The Holy Father sent the Holy Son to use the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. We are sanctified because of what God has done.

There are 7 mentions of the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the Scripture: 4 times in the Gospels, twice in the book of Acts and once in the book of Corinthians.

All 4 gospels were the mention by John the Baptist. The fifth time were said by the Lord Jesus Himself. The fifth mention is very important, because the Lord Jesus Himself affirmed that He baptized with the Holy Spirit. He affirmed that John testified the truth. He also told them when that would happen. In the book of Acts, He told His disciples that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Once He affirmed that, He ascended to heaven. The Holy Spirit came upon them after 10 days. With the power of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were empowered to become His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria to the ends of the world.

How should we understand the baptism of the Holy Spirit? Is it the same as the descending of the Holy Spirit? Why is the church so confused today? They paralleled the baptism of the Holy Spirit with speaking in tongues. An important principle is that baptism is to cleanse. Only Jesus Christ did not need to be cleansed. Even John the Baptist acknowledged that he needed to be baptized by Christ. Jesus Christ said they had to fulfil the righteousness of God. Based on the rituals required by the Law, a priest can only be anointed when he is 30 years old. Both Jesus and John waited until they were 30 before starting ministry. And a priest needs to be cleansed. But Jesus Christ does not need to be cleansed. God revealed to John that the Man on whom Holy Spirit descend upon was the Man who would baptize with the Holy Spirit.

Did John know Jesus before? If he did not, he would not have been able to declare He was the Lamb of God. But his understanding of Christ was based on the Old Testament. He knew that Christ was the Son of God, the Lamb of God who died for the sin of the world. He knew both His divinity and humanity. But he was only limited to these two concepts. The third concept which John did not know earlier, also what all earlier prophets did not know, was that Christ is the Savior who would sanctify all humankind. John never knew Jesus in this way. God sent John into this world, and told him that that Man on whom the Spirit descended would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Heaven opened when He was baptized and God the Father declared “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased, listen to Him.” Only Christ could turn a sinner into a saint. All Christians have been cleansed and sanctified. That was a breakthrough from the Old Testament, the beginning of the new era.
On the day of Pentacost, the Church was born, Christ used the Spirit to cleanse the Church. Historically, this event was very significant. When Christ was crucified, it was an appointed time in eternity. The day of Pentacost was also a day appointed by God in eternity. It was the day the Church of Christ was established. They are set apart as holy. The day Jesus was crucified was the day never to be repeated. Likewise the day of Pentacost when the Holy Spirit came upon us was the day never to be repeated. It is God’s eternal plan actualized in history.

What does it mean to share in the death of Christ? His death is once and for all an all-effective sacrifice. What is the relationship between the day we are saved and the day Christ died? The day we are saved is the day when the effect of that day of His death become real in our lives. At the moment of salvation, we share in the death of Christ. It does not mean Christ died all over again. It was a historical past. But we enter into His death, and become united with Him. If we unite with Him in His death, we will also share with Him in His resurrection. The death of Christ surpasses history. It continually remains effective throughout history. All believers in future generations will share in His death.

Just as the one-time death of Christ continues to be effectual across history, the descent of the Holy Spirit also continues to become effectual throughout history. On that particular day, the coming of the Holy Spirit cleanses all generation of saints. So when I receive Holy Spirit in a particular day in my life, in the same way like the death of Christ, that descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentacost becomes effective in my life. John the Baptist’s words have been recorded four times, that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. On the fifth time, Jesus Christ said they would receive the Holy Spirit in a few days. Since then, there is no more mention of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit had descended for all generations in all nations who would come to faith. In these 5 mentions, it was in future tense.

Other than these 5 mentions, there are 2 more mentions of the Holy Spirit baptism. There the past tense was used. It was in Acts 11. It was not about something to happen in the future, but something that happened already in Acts 1. It is based on their memory in the past. In the book of Corinthians, Paul said we are all baptized with the same Spirit. It is also a past.

It is not biblical for us to say that the Holy Spirit would come upon us. Interpretation can be very unbiblical when it is merely based on appearances. When the Pentacostals/Charismatics grow in numbers, many think that it is because they have the Holy Spirit. Many evangelicals follow the charismatics in the end. While the reformed path is narrow, it is the right way to go. Reformed movement is a challenge, a battle, an invitation to return to the whole counsel of God. It is not something imaginative or emotional. It is faith founded on firm ground.

We need to look at the baptism of the Holy Spirit from general principles of the Bible. Christ’s death and resurrection enable us to be justified. The baptism of the Holy Spirit allows us to be cleansed. The Holy Spirit baptism is not initiated by the Holy Spirit, but by Christ. Christ is the Baptizer. Christ was sent to earth by the Father. The Father initiated the sending of Christ to earth. But Christ initiated Holy Spirit baptism. On that day of Pentacost, Christ collectively sanctified and baptized the Church. Many believers were not born yet. But in our own experience, it is a certain day the Holy Spirit comes to our life. It brings us to share in the collective experience. Bible did not use the future tense, but the past tense, that we are all already baptized.

If the Holy Spirit baptism is that important like the charismatics claim, why is it that most of the Epistles never mention it? Other than the 7 instances, the Bible is silent about this. It is not that it is unimportant, but that it is already completed. The charismatics rarely preaches the essence of the gospel; they often preach their own activities. They hardly talk about Christ’s death and resurrection. They divide conversion and Holy Spirit baptism into two separate events.

Where did this theology come from? John Wesley said that it is not enough for Christians to be saved, but they need a second blessing to enable them to live a victorious life. This 18th century view influenced the 20th century. The charismatics looked at salvation as the first blessing, and the second blessing is the receiving of the Holy Spirit. This interpretation is also taken from the healing by Jesus where the blind was touched the second time to fully see. Hence the charismatics and pentacostals believe they have received the second blessings so they are superior to other churches. They believe the second blessing gives believers power and the mark of that power is the ability to speak in tongues. And they usually take the Pentacost event to support their claim.

From the 60s to the 80s, they started forcing people to speak in tongues. Many people feel pressured to speak in tongues. Gradually these people become comfortable. It became an experience and an arrogance. Then there is a general belief that those who have the Holy Spirit speak in tongues and those that do not have do not speak in tongues. A lot of churches follow this path, not only general Christians, but even elders and pastors too.

From 1905 to 1960, or the period of the first wave, the charismatics get established. The second wave is from 1960 to 1980 where charismatism went into other denominations and influenced deacons, elders, bishops and pastors. In the 1990s, become a movement. Churches become no longer conservative. Leaders determine whether their doors would be open to charismatic movement. They see it as a tool they can use to grow the church. Hence Reformed movement must arise and be courageous to develop a group of people who would be steadfast in the faith.

This idea of second blessing causes people to seek after a second spiritual experience after conversion. Charismatic churches grow but their interpretation is not firm. They do not have strong theology, but their theology is based on over-confidence.

They categorized tongues into two categories. Tongue is a gift as well as the only mark of baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit distribute all other gifts as He pleases, but all who are baptized in the Holy Spirit will receive the gift of tongues. They will refer to the Pentacost event to support this view. But if we read carefully, during that day of Pentacost, the gift of tongues enable the the scattered Jews to understand in their own language. Because of these tongues, those who do not understand now understand. In contrast, many people who speak in tongues today have no idea what they are speaking.

In the book of Acts, 4 instances were recorded where the Holy Spirit descended, does that mean the Holy Spirit baptism happened all 4 times? (To be continued ...)