Friday, July 24, 2009

Jesus at the Temple Part 2 (Jn. 2:12-25)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 12 July 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 2:12-25

If a person has not experienced God’s justice and holiness, he will not treasure God’s grace. He will abuse the grace of God. Conversely, a person who only knows the wrath of God and not His love will find it hard to get close to God. We need to see both God’s righteousness and mercy. We have to first know God’s righteousness and discover that we have not been judged based on His righteous standard. We need to see that He has the right to judge us. He can have mercy on whom He would have mercy, compassion on whom He would have compassion.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He had vision, anxiety and action. A person’s vision is a response towards his understanding of God’s will. When God grants someone a vision, the person would respond to Him. The apostle Paul was given a vision and was moved with anxiety. The vision moved him into action. In this manner, our spirituality will be a living one. Today we see a lot of evil in the world but we are completely indifferent.

In the temple, there were many people who just did things according to their own ways. There were people sacrificing, praying, buying and selling. Suddenly somebody came and immediately chased people away. This person was Jesus. What authority did He have in doing this? We want to find the true meaning behind this incident. He said the temple is His Father’s house. Although that temple was built by Herod and was not pleasing to God, it was still the temple of God. This is a very important principle. When we see a bad church or a preacher and pastor who are not examplary, do not despise Christianity. The problem is not with Christianity, but is that all these people do not do the will of God.
That temple in Jerusalem was the largest Jewish temple ever built in history so a lot of people praised how great the temple was. But it failed because it was not built based on the revelation of God. And the motive of building was not to glorify God. It was based on the ambition of Herod to use the temple to deceive the Jews. A king of the Jews must be a descendent of King David. Herod is not the descendant of King David and not from the tribe of Judah. He was the descendant of Esau, an Edomite. Why was an Edomite be made a king to the Jews? Because at that time Israel was not an independent nation. They were directed by the Roman emperor. In the entire empire, there was one people that would not submit, the Jews. Roman emperor did not believe that he could not conquer them. So he sent an Edomite to be a king to rule over them. King Herod thought of a method to subdue the Jews. He knew that the Jews feared God. So he built a temple for them, a grand one which used very good materials and took decades to build, so that they would gradually forget that he was not from the right lineage and would recognise him as their king.

Jesus did not say, “This is King Herod’s temple” but said “This is My Father’s house.” Although it was built with wrong design and based on wrong motive, Jesus still looked at it as the temple of God. The purpose of a temple is still to worship God. Jesus would not allow the temple to be used for other purpose.

There were money changers, buyers and sellers. They were there to serve customers and give people convenience. The Bible says the temple is the place to pray. It is the altar for sacrifice; it is where the laws of God are taught. But now there were commerce and money exchanging. The temple was so large that tens of thousands of people could fit inside.

When Jesus entered the temple, He chased the sellers out. The first thing He did was to use a whip to chase the cattle out. He did not come in like a tourist taking pictures to appreciate the beauty of the temple. He is the Lord of the temple and He came in to judge. He was consumed with anger but He was most wise and controlled in His actions. Very often when we get angry, our mind is heating up as well and we lost control. Not so with the Lord Jesus.

The cattle could not run fast so the owners could still chase after them. He told those who sell doves to take the doves and get out of that place. Once doves fly they could not get it back, so He did not release the doves. A lot of these people relied on selling these animals for their livelihood. Jesus did not destroy their livelihood in His anger. So Jesus was still very wise and cool-minded even in His anger. When we get angry, it should not be to release our frustration.

When we see a lot of wrong things happening in the church today, we need our Lord to once again cleanse His temple. The Jews ought to be thankful when Christ cleared the temple since they could now quietly pray. But the religious leaders were instead angry with Him. They challenged what authority He had in doing it. The religious were no different from business groups. They most likely received profit from the sales. A person who surrender to profit is not a good leader. A great person looks beyond profit and loss. When a person treats profit and loss as the greatest goal, his judgement would be impeded.

Jesus replied, “Destroy this temple and I would raise it in three days.” This is very difficult to understand. He did not even give an explanation. He purposely conceal understanding from them. When they asked Him to prove His authority, they wanted Him to show a miracle. Those sellers went away when Jesus chased them away. They knew they were wrong. It was clear He did the right thing. But these Jews still challenged Him. So Jesus clearly told them that they were not the actual owners of the temple. King Herod built it out of wrong motive and spent a lot of money on it, but the religious leaders were worse in that they used it to make money. They have destroyed the function of the temple. They were not serving God. The most pitiful are those who think they are serving God but are actually going against Him. They are those who think they are preaching the word of God but in the end bring Christianity to shame.

When religion is sustained by a system and purely by reason, maintained by profit and loss, the religion has lost God’s presence. Seminaries seldom have people with a true theological mind. Many seminaries need financial support, and they rely on charismatics so could not say anything against them. Many people are fervent for God before entering seminaries, but once they graduate they lose their fervor. Such words are not pleasing to hear by seminaries, but Christ came into the temple and said such words to the religious leaders.

He implied that if these religious leaders did not open the doors, those people could not enter and do business. Surely this had happened because the religious leaders allowed them. They were indeed destroying the temple of God. Jesus already hinted to them that they would kill Him. He was prepared to die. If He could not be killed, salvation could not happen. God could not die. So in order to die, He came in the flesh. He did not explain much, He simply declared that they could destroy this temple (His body) and He would raise it in three days. He meant that they could kill Him but He would resurrect in three days.

But they could not understand it. Why would they want to destroy the temple (built by Herod)? They had no finance to build it but at least they maintained it. They would never want to destroy the temple. They could not understand Jesus’ words. The word of God was full of mystery. It was spoken so that some people would never understand. And God would judge them in the end. Isaiah declared that they would hear but never understand, see but never perceive. These are the people who only want to make use of God from the depth of their heart. If you have religion but do not want to serve God you are worse than someone without a religion.

Those sellers came because of the religious leaders’ consent. When Jesus chased them away, they went away. They were obedient to Jesus. The Scripture did not say that any of them come back to challenge Jesus. But the religious leaders were forces behind all this commercial spirit. The true temple to be destroyed is the body of Jesus. He knew they would surely kill Him. On surface the temple might be there and they were maintaining it, but they would kill the true temple of God. Every year, Jesus cleared the temple. It meant they never changed. They invited those sellers back.

Had Jesus failed? They never changed year after year, so why bother too keep clearing the temple? If a preacher keeps preaching and people do not change, is that considered a failure? Jesus cleansed the temple every year. The first time He said, “Do not turn my Father’s house into a market.” The second time He said, “You converted my Father’s house into a robber’s den.” The temple of God has become a center for financial gain. The Scripture said, zeal for Your house consumed Me. He cared for His Father’s house. When the house of God become a den of robbers, it was Jesus who felt grieved, not the priests and the religious leaders. So all the disciples remember this. When Jesus declared He would raise the temple in three days, the disciples remembered His words when He was raised from the dead. But those people who were not interested in Jesus’ words and considered Him insane to claim to be able to rebuild it in three days.

The most important thing in the house of God is God’s sovereignty, the teaching of the Word of God, the Son of God who have given us redemption and the Holy Spirit who regenerate us to become children of God.

In the house of God, if we use it as a tool to profit ourselves, our Lord will be consumed with anger. But those religious leaders could not understand Him and considered Him insane. This is difficult even for the Son of God to preach, more so for us. Isaiah said, “Who will believe our report? Who wil receive what we hear? To whom shall the arm of God be revealed?”

The religious leaders did not care whether the temple is holy or not and kept destroying its function, and in the end they would destroy the true Temple, the Lord who came in the flesh. When the Jerusalem temple built by Herod was destroyed by Roman soldiers years later, they discovered that each stone was layered with gold, so they were commanded not to leave one stone upon another, which fulfilled the prophecy of Christ.

To be continued…

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Jesus at the Temple (Jn. 2:12-25)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 5 July 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 2:12-25

The true God is the God of mercy and compassion. He is also the God of justice. When Christ walked on earth, He demostrated both God’s compassion and justice. When we see a harmony between the two, we have a balanced understanding of God. Many people want to know God’s grace but not His justice.

John 1 told us that God came in the flesh. John 2 tells us how God reveal His grace and judgement. If we do not understand God’s justice, we will abuse His grace. When a person only knows God’s judgement and not His grace, he would not be able to approach God. Therefore the devil will always disturb us to one or the other extreme. Majority of people would want to know God’s grace but not His justice.

A lot of Christians blame God when facing difficulties. But many pagans fear their gods when they face difficulties. This abnormal religious phenomena come about because many pastors always preach about the love and mercy of God, but neglect His justice. People who keep hearing the goodness and kindness of God cannot accept it when they see God’s judgement. So we need to return to orthodox faith. God is to be feared and cannot to be mocked.

Similarly, a person who only knows God’s justice but not God’s love will be a stern and cold person. In John 2 we see both the mercy and justice of God. From verse 1-11, Jesus showed his concern about human marriage. With His infinity, He took care of our finiteness. Our Lord personally intervened when they were in the midst of difficulties. In our family lives, we see His blessings. He is our present help in our times of trouble.

The revelation of the OT and NT reveal both God’s justice and love. The order of revelation has been His justice first, then His love. God wants us to first know His authority, then His love. We see this in a teacher as well as parents. They need to establish their authority first. Once the children grow up, the children will see love behind all the sternness.

A person who understands God’s justice, when he understands God’s grace, will be most appreciative. In contrast, a person who only knows God’s grace, would blame God when he suddenly see God’s sternness. After the Fall, God first gave us the Law that we might know His justice, holiness and goodness. That way we might know how unclean, unrighteous and wicked we are. So when God gives us the salvation of Christ, we are grateful to see His grace.

But in John 2, the order is reversed. He manifested His grace, then His justice. When God deals with us, He first gives us grace, then judgement. When we preach the gospel today, we first tell them about God’s forgiveness of their sin. But when they reject, they will be subject to judgement. This is implicitly in the general principle of the Bible. Jesus showed both these attributes of God. The Lord of mercy is also the God of justice. He has the authority to judge and rebuke. After the miracle in Cana, we see the authority of God displayed in the temple through Christ.

He went to Jerusalem because it was the Passover. Since Jesus was born under the Law, He fulfilled the requirement of the Law. By obeying the requirement of the Law, He was circumcised on the 8th day, He was baptised, and He started His ministry when He was 30. Jesus went through Passover 4 times since He started His ministry. The recording in John 2 was His first visit with the status as the Messiah.

People went to Jerusalem during Passover to confess their sins and to be cleansed. The priest would sacrifice animals for the pardon of sin. Those who were poor could buy doves instead of cattle, showing that God did not discriminate the poor want all to come to Him. But Jesus did not bring any sacrifices to Jerusalem. He did not need to bring any animal to the priest. When He came to the world, He Himself was the Priest and the Sacrifice.

Jesus saw a lot of people buying and selling animals in the temple, making the temple a marketplace for making money. The sellers felt that they were serving these people since it would be very difficult to bring a cattle all the way to Jerusalem. So they provided convenience for the people. The way to differentiate between a good and a bad church is whether you hear the voice of God or the voice of money. Those who truly wanted to pray would feel quite disturbed while those who wanted convenience would like it.

Worship has to be done according to God’s design and requirement. In the Old Testament, the measurements of the temple were determined by God. When Aaron followed the people’s desire to make the golden calf, God was angry. In line with God’s anger, Moses was angry against the Israelites. But at the time of Moses, there was no temple built yet.

The first temple was built by Solomon, the son of David, built according to the measurements given by God. There was only one temple in the whole Israel. So while we have many churches, in reality there is only one Church. The church is not a building. It is the center of the entire world, where God is with His people. The temple is so holy that even the man after God’s own heart (David) was not allowed to build it because his hands had shed blood. This is something regretful for David when he was alive. So David prepared for Solomon his son to build it.

Solomon declared how God in His highest and His glory covered the temple. This is the first time in history someone mentioned the transcendence of God. The word ‘temple’ was first mentioned when Jacob had a dream. When he woke up he said this was the temple of God. There was not yet a temple when Jacob said that. So the first time ‘temple’ was mentioned, it did not refer to a building. It is a concept of how God is with His people.

When the glory of God left the temple, it became just a building. Christians need to bear this in mind. We need to fear that the lampstand would depart from us. But if we are obedient to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in spreading the gospel, God will be with us. It does not matter if people leave us, as long as the presence of God is with us.

Jeremiah said, “Do not say the temple of God, the temple of God, the temple of God.” Implicitly he was referring to the Triune God, like the way Isaiah declared “Holy, Holy, Holy” thrice in his vision. Jeremiah prophesied that the Lord God would give the temple to Nebucadnezar. The Israelites perceived Jeremiah as a traitor because of his prophecy as they did not believe that God would leave that temple. God was angry with His people and wanted to punish them. He would not accept their sacrifice and would leave the only temple in Israel. The Israelites were finally exiled and the temple was destroyed.

After the Israelites returned from exile, the younger ones were glad to see the temple rebuilt but the older people mourned as they remembered the old glorious days where the temple was so grand. Later on, after the Roman occupation the Jews had no more temple but Herod built one for them. The politician used religious means to bind the conscience of the people. Herod built one grand temple which took 46 years. After he finished building it, he thought the Jews would remember him. It was built not by the people of God, but by the enemy of the Jews. But the Jews used it anyway and worshipped in that temple. But they forget that the design was wrong, the motive was wrong. It was not built not based on the will of God. But the Jews still worshipped there, including Jesus.

Why did Jesus go there? He did not go to compromise with Herod. He went to restore the correct order. So is the temple built by Herod still considered the temple of God? The general principle is that the temple of God is not a building, but it is where God’s presence is with His people. When people praised the temple built by Herod, Jesus said not one stone would be left on another. He prophesied that the temple would be destroyed. Indeed when the Romans destroyed that temple, they made sure not one stone was left on another. (To be continued … )

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

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev. Dr. Stephen Tong on 28 June 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 2:1-11

Jesus Christ is God Incarnate. In the flesh, He demonstrated the power of God. Christ never married when He became man on earth because He was God. But He was very concerned about human needs. Marriage was institution established by God. God wants men to have holy love in marriage. Human marriage symbolises the church’s relationship with Christ, and man’s relationship with God. For women, marriage is the most glorious day in their lives. Men are usually not as concerned about wedding.

In this event, problem arose during the wedding and people could not do anything about it. They did not have experience. But there are many things in life which we only do once, like marriage, so we cannot rely on experience and have to listen to advice. Many people criticise others but end up in the same decadent life. They never think that what happen to others would ever happen to them.

Without experience, how can you learn? First, by being attentive to how others do it and learn from them. Some young people are overly confident and overly ambitious. So they have setbacks and disappointment which are not necessary. In Rom. 12 it says not to look at yourself too highly, but according to the measure of faith God has given you. A lot of young people cannot take sufferings. And parents protect and spoil them. This is very dangerous. Even the Son of God did not have this privilege to be kept from adversity when walking on earth.

People tend to look at their failure through what they have done and failed, but God look at our failure through what we have not achieved. God spoke to Joshua that he was already old but still have not conquered many lands.

Mary realised there was problem during the wedding. She never criticised but wanted to help. Most people criticise more than help. Mary was kind-hearted. She approached Jesus and He said, “Woman, what do I have to do with you?” Mary felt a lot of contradiction within her. Each time Jesus spoke something, it was like a sword piercing her heart. This is her son, and this is God. She submitted to God’s sovereignty to do things in His own timing. Mary did not serve her own ego. She rejoiced in God. She said to the servants, “Do whatever He says to you.” This is similar to what God the Father said during Christ’s baptism, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” That is what they have to do: to listen to Jesus. But many people serve their ego and want to take charge. In the Old Testament incident when Naaman was asked by the prophet Elisha to wash in the river Jordan seven times to cure himself of leprosy, a little servant girl advised Naaman to just follow the prophet’s. The general submitted and was cured of his leprosy. We need to learn to see the authority of God higher than the authority of men.

Jesus’ time came. There were 6 big jars of water which was used to wash hands. The water level kept dropping each time people washed. So the servants were asked to refill it with water. After they filled the jar with water, they were asked to take the water out and serve the guests with it. Jesus asked them to drink water used for washing hands. This seemed very uncivilised and discourteous.

A lot of times what God wants us to do does not make sense to our reason. We think our reason is the truth. It might not be. We think the dirty water will always be dirty. But God can transform something unclean to become clean. We cannot see it as always unclean. God can transform Saul into Paul. We should not use our pre-conceived notion to judge God’s works. We cannot judge what God has changed using our own reason. It is like the incident of Paul. God has transformed him who persecuted Christians to become a Christian. We are so conservative we refuse to change our minds. But God allows His ministry to be given into the hands of such people so that our mindsets will change.

How could the dirty water be used to serve the guests? But Jesus transformed the water into the best wine. This is His power of transformation. We see everything as unclean, but God can transform it. So history changes and the glory of God shines. When they followed Jesus’ instruction to bring the water to the guests, it tasted wine. The master of the banquet called the bridegroom and asked why he brought the best wine last. The custom at that time was to give the best and then slowly give something lesser and lesser than the best.

This custom reflect the way we treat people. Initially we smile and treat strangers with courtesy, and we show our temper to people we are familiar with. But we should treat people better and better as we change. In the Bible, darkness come before the night. Sunset is the beginning of everything, and sunrise is when we start enjoying the second half of the day. But today we define a day as morning first, then night.

Mary submitted. Jesus performed the miracle. The effect is that the disciples put their faith in Him.