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.


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At 9:51 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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quite a heavy reading...


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