Saturday, November 28, 2009

Light Enters into Darkness (Jn. 3:19-21)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 22nd November 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 3:19-21

In this age Christianity face challenges from many fronts which were not existent during the Reformation, e.g. evolution, deism, existentialism, logical positivism and postmodernism. We need to recognise the tricks of the enemy in this age to appreciate the difficulties the church is facing. And we need to find the truth implicit in the Bible as the weapon sufficient to meet the challenges of the age.

John faced the challenges of his era alone when he was old. Back then there were four main challenges. The first one is political persecution.

During the Roman occupation only the Jews stubbornly would not call Caesar lord. They had very strong nationalism which could not be subdued by the Romans. In the end the Romans compromised and allowed Jews to be the only people who were exempted from calling Caesar Lord. The Jews were allowed religious freedom. They called Jehovah Lord. The Roman empire was not interested because Jehovah was invisible. But when the Christian Jews started to call Jesus Lord, it became an issue and Christians were persecuted.

The second challenge was philosophy. Roman empire was influenced by Greek philosophy. The intellectuals despised the Christians. Thirdly, the church also faced deception from false religion. The gnostics presented false gospels and used many prominent Christian names as the title of their gospels. They started before Paul was dead which Paul had denounced in his epistles. But they continued to spread their teaching after Paul’s death. John was one person fighting for the truth in his old age. Hence many terms in the gospel he wrote were absent from the rest. He wrote about love, life, light, Son of God which the other three gospels seldom mentioned. His writings were significant in bringing the church into deeper and fuller understanding.

Christians believe in one God, the eternal, victorious, good God, who is full of light. This view is unlike the gnostics who believe in a dualistic universe where light and darkness takes one equal status.

We do not have the capacity to understand everything our Lord has taught. But when challenges come, we ask what the Lord has taught about this to enable us to have victory over the challenges. And we are reminded of His teaching. Hence we are to hold on fast to the truth that has been passed on to us. The Word of God is so profound that it is sufficient to answer our questions. It is the masterkey that enables us to face challenges that we cannot face with our own strength. Therefore it is very critical to hold on to the Scripture as the truth and revelation from God. The last challenge of extra-biblical revelation is therefore the most dangerous as it destroys the foundation on which we stand.

John did not compromise and was very stern towards the heretics. After v.18, John placed focus on light and darkness which is different from the Gnostic view.

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." (Jn. 3:19-21)

He tells us about the monotheistic Light. It is active and dynamic. It has influence. It invades. Light enters into darkness. Darkness does not enter into light. After 400 years, Augustine gave us an important teaching. Light exists and darkness is the absence of light. Righteousness is an object but unrighteousness is the absence of righteousness. In dualistic view, both light and darkness have the same status. But in Augustine’s view, they do not have the same status. Sin is the falling short of glory of God. It is the situation when glory is absent.

John 3:19 implies that the world has no light therefore it needs the light to shine into it. When the light shines, it comes to influence, illuminate and change the world. When Jesus proclaims we are the light of the world, implicitly there are three principles: (1) the world is dark so our existence has value because we are the light of the world, (2) Christians need to live dynamic not passive life to influence instead of constantly being influenced by the world and (3) we need to be self-sacrificing moment by moment to bless others. When the candle is burning giving light it is actually burning itself.

What does it mean when the Bible say God is light? It says the light will go into darkness and influence all that is dark. It will never be influenced by darkness. Light can chase away darkness.

What is the relationship between light and darkness?

There are a few possibilities: (1) Light chase darkness so darkness runs away, (2) darkness hides because it is afraid of the light, (3) darkness is destoyed by the light.

If darkness escapes when light comes, is it escaping at the same speed of light? If light is faster than darkness, what is the space of light and darkness interaction? If darkness is faster than light, what is the gap between the light and darkness? If they are the same speed, then wherever light comes darknes disappears at the same time. This is closer to Augustine’s view. He believed that darkness is the absence of light. Hence sin is where the glory of God is absent. Sin cannot then be considered as an object.

If darkness hides when light comes, where does it hide? If darkness is destroyed, then does darkness exist in the first place? Where is its existence?
It is similar to the concept of life and death. Isa. 25:8 writes that death is swallowed up by life. Life will swallow up death. In the same way darkness has been swallowed by light. There is no turning around when life swallows up death. We know what kind of resurrected body we will have when we witness the resurrected body of Christ.

Because the deeds of men are evil they love darkness rather than light. It is unnatural for darkness to reject light. In nature, wherever there is light darkness would surrender. But spiritually, Jesus (the Light) was rejected by men who lived in darkness because the deeds of men were evil. When shines light upon the hearts of those who are doing evil, they would hate the light. Will we escape when light shines upon us?

Those who do good deeds would come to the light so that it may be plainly seen that what they do have been done through God. In the end Jesus, the Light of men, was crucified. But darkness could not overcome light. He was resurrected on the third day. On the Last Judgement, the light of God will swallow up darkness. All unrighteousness would be corrected.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Reason God Sent His Son (Jn. 3:17)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 1st November 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 3:17

Moses lifted up the bronze snake in the desert and all the victims of snake bites would be healed by looking at that snake. This became a representation of how Jesus would die for us as a sinless person. The Jews never understood the message of salvation in this event. Jesus used this example to parallel how the Son of Man must be lifted up to bring the saving grace leading to eternal life. Those who believe in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.

These are the last words of Jesus to Nicodemus. Verse 16 onwards was written by John.

John 3:17 records that God had sent His Son into the world not to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. Between God and man there is an Intermediary. It was man’s initiative to go against the commandment of God by eating the forbiden fruit, hence death is the doing of man. But it was God who initiated the reconciliation. God did not forsake man. It is man who forsakes God. If God does not rebuild this relationship, we can never return to God. He sent His only Son into the world. This is a very important verse in the doctrine of salvation. God wants to save us, not to judge us.

The Old Testament reveals the covenant of judgement and the New Testament the covenant of grace. God sent His Son not to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. From the context of this verse, we see the true motive of morality. It is to do the will of God with great conscience. It is not just a matter of behavior, but of motives. The state of your heart is more important than what you have actually done. If you do good but your heart is evil God will not be pleased. God wants our heart because all our actions come from our heart. In this verse, we also see the motive of God. We see the heart of God. He is always actively good. With the most holy and pure motive He gave us His Son. When we understand this, we will realise how evil we have been in our motives. The appearance of Christ in history demonstrates the goodness of God. Christ had come not to criticise, not to judge, but to save.

There are people who are always criticising and finding fault with others. By pinpointing others’ errors, people want to establish their self-righteousness. There are many capable people in the world but very few great ones. Many can identify errors, but find it difficult to tolerate. It is easy tell others what is wrong but it is hard to bring those in error back to the truth. This is not only about the doctrine of salvation, it is an important reminder for us to become like Jesus. How would you respond to a church or a pastor or a congregation that is not good? Why do you say it is not good? Inwardly you already have a standard by which you measure. But is your standard valid? Is this standard borrowed from others or you figure it out yourself?

We need to learn so that wherever we are we can contribute instead of criticise, we can sacrifice rather than demand. When a person has more demand than sacrifice, he will be arrogant. When a person sacrifices more than he criticises he will be considered a great person full of love. Nowadays many people simply go around judging others but forgeting that they themselves are part of the problem too. For example, people who complain of unclean environment but are also contributing to pollution. So they are not worthy to judge.

Jesus left His throne in heaven above and was born in a manger. He did not contribute to any problem. He did not by His coming make the world worse. He is sinless. But despite that He did not come to judge either. Instead, He came to save the world.

The world needs peace, love, goodness, mercy and compassion. Your arrogant judgement and criticism do not help. Men’s weaknesses do not need your judgement. When you look around the world and you understand why your Lord has come, you will change. People are bitter because they have no love. And Jesus is worthy to judge, and yet He did not judge, instead He came to save.

All of us make the same mistake. We have greater power to judge than to contribute. A person that criticise others for being dump usually are guilty of the same mistakes. Remember that when you oppose God, His solution is to send His Son to die for you so that you can be reconciled to Him. Today which of us will sacrifice our son so that our enemies will be reconciled to God? We can see how unwilling we are to sacrifice ourselves.

What is the point of simply judging? The world will not become better by simply listening to our judgement. How much have you contributed to your own family? What have you done to your community? What have you done for your church? If you only seek to be served, you are like the devil, and yet you expect people to serve like Christ. God did not send His son to condemn the world but to save the world through Him. Are you willing to follow the example of Jesus wherever you are? Sacrifice yourself that others might be blessed because of you.