Saturday, June 20, 2009

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.

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