Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Words of Heaven and Earth (Jn. 3:31-36)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 13th December 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation. (Note that this is the last session on the book of John for 2009).

Passage: John 3:31-36

John’s entire purpose in life was to bear witness for the Light and to lead people into the true light of Christ. He was very focused on the object of his worship. He did not have any personal ambition and did not try to please men. God prepared him for 30 years but he only testified for Christ for a year. It seemed like a waste but the value of life is not determined by others’ acceptance or rejection or by length of ministry, but by God. If a person is filled with the word of God, his life is full indeed. John the Baptist died after one year of ministry and Christ was crucified after 3.5 years of ministry. But the foundation they laid down is everlasting.

We need to discern the words from heaven and words from the earth. People who cannot discern will all religions and cultures to be the same. Christians who cannot discern will consider all systems and theology to be the same. It is not pleasing to God to just preach the gospel without any care to ground ourselves solidly in His word. We understand the word of God only through orthodox understanding, which is based on general principles of the Scriptures. This is important because humans are no longer neutral after the Fall. We cannot interpret with unaided mind. There is profound truth in the Bible. We need a master key to understand how different parts of the Bible fits together. It takes time to understand the big picture.

Wisdom is a lot more important than knowledge. If you are wise, you will have knowledge and discernment. But a person without wisdom does not have the principle to discern.

What is the master key? What principles determine the master key? How did John come to understand the principles? John found the master key from the conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus. The dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus and the dialogue between Jesus and Pontius Pilate is representative of dialogue between the word of God and human religion and politics.

In the dialogue with Nicodemus, Jesus talked about being born spiritually and Nicodemus thought about physical birth. The greatest religious leader was still trapped by things on earth. In the dialogue with Pilate, Jesus confessed He was the king of the Jews when Pilage asked Him. This statement seemed to be a threat to the Roman empire. But Jesus said He was born to be King and to testify of the truth and added that His kingdom is not of this world. So Pilate was limited by the concept of politics and kingdom on earth, but Jesus was talking about the kingdom of heaven. In these two dialogues, there is a sharp contrast between heaven and earth.

The book of John gives us master key to discern what is of heaven and what is of the earth. As we read the rest of the chapters we will indeed see the difference between heaven and earth.

The source is different and the quality is different. An intelligent person can tell the difference in essence. We are often deceived by superficial similarities, like similar nationalities or education background, and treat them all the same way.

Words from heaven are different from words from earth. Words from our mouth are important as they come from our heart and express the content of our soul.

The Apostle John said the one who comes from above is above all. What does it mean by above all? When we have a true understanding of the word of Christ as above all, we will know that nothing can be compared to it. Things of the earth can always be compared no matter how high they are. But Christ is above all, and His words are not something that can be compared within creation. Whatever that is on earth still belongs to earth. The one that comes from heaven give us the word of God.

Who is higher above all? Who is from the earth? That is the first principle. The one from above will have preaching that is pure, has eternal value and causes spiritual growth. The second principle is that the words from above come with pure motive. Whatever he has seen and heard he will bear witness. He affirms the truth with truthfulness. This is unlike those who affirm lies to make it sound truthful.

Hence the principle is firstly to set the source and secondly to affirm the value based on pure motive. This is similar to Confucius’ principle but the difference is that Confucius is a seeker of ancient truth and the prophets received revelation from God. And Jesus Christ transcends the prophets in that He testified of what He Himself experienced in heaven. This is called subjective truth. It is not the result of Him being told. And furthermore, He Himself is the Truth.

He is above all and He manifested the truth. Verse 32-33 records that nobody accepts Him, but those who accept Him has certified that God is truth. It sounds paradoxical to say nobody accepts Him and then declares about those who accept Him. It means that by ourselves we will never be able to accept Him. But by the inspiration of God we can believe. If you genuinely seeks, you will accept His word as truth. Jesus is the Truth and the witness to the truth. He proclaimed the eternal words of heaven to the earth. He is the way, the truth and the life. The Truth Himself introduced the truth to us. Thus He is most trustworthy. If we do not trust him, who then can we trust?

John 3:34 writes that God give Him the spirit without limit. Heb. 9:14 writes that Christ through the eternal Spirit offered Himself to God. Christ preached the truth with the Spirit. The words of heaven is of the spirit. This is the third principle.

The last principle is in John 3:35, i.e. the one who believes in Him have eternal life and God’s wrath remains in those who do note believe. There is a relationship between this principle of life and the word of God. In John 6:63, Jesus said, “the words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” This is absent from the other three gospels. The words of Christ are spirit and life. No other human words have spirit and give life. Peter understood this and said, “To whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”

So from the book of John we see that the words from heaven are the word of God, the word of Creator, they are spirit and they are life. When we accept the word of God, we affirm that God is true. It is a certification of God in our heart. And the Holy Spirit will be sealed in the hearts of those who believe.

The last part of John 3:35 writes that God’s wrath remains on him who does not believe in Christ. He might not know it but it is horrifying. On the other hand, the acceptance, belief and obedience to the word of God will bring joy. His word is truth and the truth will make you free. This joy cannot be bought with anything else.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Spirit of True Ministry (Jn.3:29-36)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 6th December 2009 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 3:29-36

Jesus said that of all those born of women there had not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist. If Jesus had not mentioned this, we would not realise how great John is. But Christ also said that he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (John the Baptist). This is because John the Baptist ended the Old Testament era and prepared the people for the coming of Christ which started the a new era in history. John was later beheaded and Christ was crucified. The New Testament started this way.

John was very clear of his calling from the very beginning. To the one who told him that his ministry was threatened because Jesus was attracting more disciples than him, he replied:

“A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of Him” The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.” (Jn. 3:27-30)

This tells us the energy necessary to serve in ministry. The kind of words that were told to John could often cause conflicts among co-workers. But John was clear of his position and could calmly respond to that. This passage also teaches us how we should respond to other people’s successes.

When one realises that his existence is threatened and someone succeeds not according to his expectation, one can easily become a judge. But who are we to judge? John’s statement “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven” teaches us that everything we have is from God and we are not worthy to receive anything. But it is easy to fall into the trap where we subconsciously credit all we have as something we deserve.

Among church leaders, the level of politics are often not that different from secular world. On one hand, they appear humble and on the other hand they steal glory from God and declare themselves as great. They are willing to go up but not willing to step down. They want to continue in their own pleasure and cannot be displeased. They think it is not right for their position in ministry to go downhill. They do all they can to prevent perceived competitors. When this kind of unnecessary pain clouds your ministry, your ministry has lost its meaning because gradually you fail to glorify God and edify men.

John’s ministry is based on pure motives. When someone told him these words, he said if it is not from heaven no one can receive anything. Hence whatever he had is according to God’s will and his ambition is irrelevant. When God takes back what He has given us, we need to submit in thanksgiving. This is how Job’s attitude was different from his wife when they lost all their children and possessions.

Many people do not see God’s glory but boast of what they have. That is not true ministry. True ministry is taking God as God and men as men. It is only by His grace that we have impacted lives and produced results. We will be accountable for our errors and sins. But we give thanks to God for all the good that has happened. We are just His vessels. When we offer everything to God, we need to realise that we are not worthy to offer anything and everything we could offer belongs to Him in the first place.

John said to the man who spoke to him that he could bear testimony that John himself told him from the start that he was not the Christ. He had a pure motive from the very beginning. He understood his position in the big picture and his mission in history.

When God uses you, we need to serve faithfully. When his time comes for us to step down we should do so. So we need to be faithful to our service and know when to step down. Often people just know how to step up but not step down.

John said Jesus is the true bridegroom and he is a friend of the bridegroom. He did not take the glory from Christ and rejoiced when Christ was glorified. The epistle of Paul also depicts the relationship between Christ and the Church as that of a husband and wife. When everyone was turning their attention to Jesus, John said that his joy was now complete. He was indeed great.

Ministry is not about displaying your talents. The simplest definition is whether by life or by death, Christ be magnified in our life. John the Baptist truly lived this way. This is the last recorded verse. Apart from the occasion when he asked his disciples to go to Jesus and asked if he was the Messiah, there was no more record of John’s words. His words of doubt shows us that even the greatest man of God had his time of weakness.

But God would not break the bruised reed. Jesus said to John’s disciples to go back and tell John that “the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the ppor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of Me” (Matt. 11:5-6). Even Mother Theresa admitted in one of her writing that she had doubted the existence of God before. This becomes words of comfort for the rest of us who struggle in our journey of faith.

The last portion of John’s words, “He must become greater; I must become less.” But why is it a must? Why must John become smaller? Why must Christ become greater? Eventually, John would be imprisoned and beheaded. He did become smaller and Christ became greater. It was something he was prepared to face. He went downhill willingly. And Christ was lifted up.

When we become less and insignificant, do not despair because it is according to God’s will. We should not boast because we have a share in ministry, it is because God gives us opportunity to serve. The same thing will happen with or without our contribution. We should not take credit. We need to know our position and know when to go up and to come down. In this way our ministry will be blessed in God’s eyes.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Christmas Gospel Rally 2009 (Indonesian)

Christmas Gospel Rally 2009 (Mandarin)