Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Living Water Part 2 (Jn. 4:1-18)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 24 January 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 4:1-18

From Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, we see the deceit in human heart and the Lord’s wisdom. We see how personal ministry should be done in showing the grace of God and the needs of men.

That Christ came to earth is God’s greatest gift to humanity. In the conversation, the Samaritan woman had not discovered that Jesus is the gift of God. She did not realise how important that moment was. Other than this incident, she never met Jesus anymore. Apart from God’s grace, she would not have the opportunity to share a moment with Christ. Are we aware of the opportunities in our lives where we listen to the word of God?

Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink,…” (Jn.4:10) is very important reminder that we rely on God’s grace to live. We live our every single moment by the grace of God. Between life and death, there is only one line. It is not for us to decide when we live and when we die.

The Samaritan woman began to think after hearing this. Before that what was in her mind was that Jesus was a Jewish man and she was a Samaritan woman and they should not converse. Each time we try to share the gospel there will be conflict of concepts, cultures and dignity. It would seem that Jesus was at the losing end since He was thirsty and in need of water. But it is not Jesus who needed her, she needed Jesus. So often people think that the church need them and their money to build the church and increase the numbers. A sinner always reasons with his fallen mind that God needs him. But God is self-sufficient, self-existing, self-everlasting, and there is nothing we can add on to Him.

The question is who needs who. If we need God, we should come before Him and seek Him. But why is it that it is God’s Son who came to earth and went to Samaria, sat under the hot sun to wait for the Samaritan woman? This is the paradox of love. If Jesus did not convert the Samaritan woman, He had no loss. But if the Samaritan woman never met Jesus, her loss is great indeed. We need God forever. Even the air we breathe and the very function of our body is by His grace of sustainance. We receive His grace because of His love to us. Jesus came because the woman needed Him. He waited for her first under the hot sun.

When preaching the gospel, on surface it seems that you need the person we preach to since we seek him, but in reality it is the person who needs the gospel. When a person does not feel his need of salvation, he live passively.

Jesus continued, “… you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (Jn. 4:10) Here Jesus turned from being passive into active. When He asked for water He was passive. When He offered the living water He was active. When the Samaritan woman came around every day to draw water she was passive. When she started to ask for living water she was active. But she was still controlled by her own understanding.

She said, “You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” (Jn. 4:11-12)

In other words, she was skeptical of Jesus’ claim to give living water when just a while ago He was the one asking for a drink. The well is a special well. It is their cultural heritage since Jacob’s time. Even Jacob and his family was dependent on that well for a living. So Jesus’ offer of something greater, the living water, sounds unbelievable and she challenged if Jesus was greater than Jacob.

So here she was living a decadent life, but she could still talk loudly and criticise others and suppress others as she hid her sins. Often we are like that. Secretly we live a sinful life and we still criticise others.

When we try to minister to others and people trap us with their words, most of us just feel defeated and cannot minister further. Just because you have the heart and you like to preach the gospel does not mean you can preach well.

The Samaritan woman talked pragmatically. She had the rope and she could draw water and she doubted Jesus for talking about abstract thing like living water. Often Christians are criticised this way. They are criticised for talking about vague and abstract things in the sky while people have to face practical issues in life, they have to eat and work.

But Jesus’ answer to her is very unique. "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (Jn. 4:13-14) No other answer is better than His answer.

The woman started to think and asked for the living water. If you are able to draw out the need from the depths of heart, the person will become active.

When Jesus said to the Samaritan woman that grace must come after she saw the problem of sin. Jesus was most upright and a great gentleman. Everything He said was of the truth. And he speaks the truth in love. He asked, “go and call your husband and come back.” (Jn. 4:16) Here we see Jesus speaking to a woman and at a critical point He asked the woman to get the husband to participate the discussion. On one hand Jesus wanted to remind her of her problem.

The woman was very smart, she was able to have many husbands before. Now she was with the sixth one who was not her husband. Jesus did not say, “Call all your husbands.” But just say ‘call your husband’ and let her figure out which one. She replied, “I have no husband.”

Many people deceive the servants of God this way. Before God’s servant say they have no husband but they have a lot of affairs at the back. We often present half-truth, that is, just the good part of ourselves. And many preachers simply compromise. They do not care about congregation’s personal lives and morality as long as they still come to church.

Jesus then said the most important thing. He did not humiliate her. Church leaders and those who want to share the gospel often scare people away. We are not willing to be patient and as a result we mess up the whole thing. When we treat relative things with an absolute spirit, it can be destructive. We need wisdom and power to preach the word of God with love and patience. Jesus knew everything about the woman but He was very patient.

Jesus said, “You are right when you say you have no husband.” That is comforting. But He continued, “The fact is you had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” She had been exposed completely. She must acknowledge that He knew everything about her. Here she concluded that Christ must be a prophet. When people are awakened that way, then revival is possible.

When people find that you cannot be deceived, they will begin to listen to you. If your wisdom is not greater than the person you preach to, it is hard to succeed.

John 3 and 4 present two most important examples of personal evangelism.

To be continued…

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Living Water (Jn 4:1-14)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 17 January 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 4:1-14

In Jn 3, Jesus spoke to an educated, cultured and well-respected religious leader. In Jn 4, Jesus spoke to an immoral prostitute who is rejected by the society. Jesus debated with Nicodemus at night time instead of in the day time, and talked to the woman in broad day light rather than at night. In the Lord’s life, we see the greatest wisdom displayed in every detail of life.

In Jn 3, the religious leader approached Jesus and initiated a conversation. In Jn 4, Jesus approached the woman and initiated a conversation. In Jn 3, Nicodemus went home confused and did not understand. In Jn 4, the Samaritan woman not only understood but also brought the town to believe in Him. In Jn 3, Jesus was passive in that He was visited by Nicodemus. In Jn 4, Jesus was proactive, He went out to seek the lost.

The contrast of both situation shows that Christ met the need of all kinds of people. He not was able to meet the need of the intellectual and the well-respected but He could also reach out to the uneducated and the despised. He preached to the masses as well as ministered to individuals. He did not call His disciples from the masses, but called them individually one by one.

In Jn 4, Jesus went through Samaria although there was another way because He had a divine purpose. The disciples did not ask and just followed Him. Later on He just asked His disciples to go and buy food while He rested beside the well. At noon time, a woman came to the well. She would have been upset that there was a man sitting there. She did not come in the morning because there would be many other women. She tried to avoid the crowd because of her lifestyle and social status. She was a person everyone gossipped about.

This time she saw a Jewish man. A Jew would not talk to a Samaritan. So there was a tension. When the she came, she did not say a word. It was Jesus who first spoke. When we served in ministry, sometimes we cannot wait for others to come to us. Sometimes we have to go and reach out proactively. Jesus knew everything about this woman. Yet Jesus started the conversation in the wisest way, “Please give me some water to drink.” There is no better sentence than this. Jesus expressed that He honored her dignity and demonstrated that she still had something she could help others with. She had the rope and the bucket to lift the water to clench the thirsty.

If you despise the person you are preaching to, it would never work. The first strategy is to respect the person we are preaching to. All of us are worthless and full of sin before God. We are not worthy of His grace. But the gracious God sent us Jesus Christ, not born in a palace but humbly in a manger, full of empathy to our sufferings. Jesus laid His hands on the lepers and on the coffin of the dead. He got close to them, honoured them and recognised what they could contribute.
Chinese are quite stingy when it comes to honouring others. But Jesus respected the woman. There are many possible responses the woman could give, such as, “Are you really thirsty?” or “Get lost” or “Wait till I get back again.” But the response of this woman immediately brought to surface the conflicts of race and religion. She was very intelligent. She asked how could a man ask help from a woman, how could a Jew talk to a Samaritan.

Jesus is the Son of God. His answer is the best, “If you knew the gift of God and who is it that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you the living water.” It is a very gentle, firm and polite response. His words meant that He was the greatest gift from God. It is different from the water she could give. Even then whatever she could give is from God.

Although surprised by the answer, she had not changed her arrogant attitude by this time. She turned towards a psychological response. She demonstrated that she doubted His words, for He just asked for water earlier and now He claimed to be able to give the living water. She said He had nothing to draw from and the well was so deep. She also took pride in the fact that the well had historical value for it was the well their great ancestor Jacob himself drew from and relied on for living 1900 years back. She challenged if He was greater than Jacob and openly showed her scepticism of His credibility in saying He could give the livingi water.

Jesus’ answer was most excellent. Jesus’ response indicated that she might honour the 2000-year old well, but those that drink water from the well would be thirsty again, however those who drink the water He gives would never be thirsty again, for the water He gives will spring into eternal life. He did not indulge in foolish debate, but bring back to the root issue. Nothing Jesus said was wrong. But the woman had said nothing right so far.

At this point the woman was reminded of her problem because every day she needed to come to the well. Now she began to realise that it was not Jesus who needed her but she was the one who needed Jesus. So great was His message that it surpassed all human debate and wisdom. The woman recognised a need in her heart at this point.

This passage allows us to appreciate how the situation turned around. The woman now responded, “Give me the living water so that I don’t have to keep coming here to draw water.” Once she recognised her need, Jesus said the most important sentence, “Call your husband and come back here.” When she heard that she was shocked, she said, “I have no husband.”

To be continued…

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Eternal Life in the Son (Jn. 3:31-36)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 10 January 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 3:31-36

The last part of chapter 3 of John tells us that the words from heaven are different from the words from the earth. The words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus are not what a religious leader wants to hear. But Nicodemus was humble to learn from Jesus. Surely he would have left in shame but Jesus would not speak things that are pleasing to human ears.

“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God givves the Spirit without limit.” (Jn. 3:31,34) This is a unique passage in the Bible. We see a lot of precious gems. He is above all things. He came from above. He see things in eternity and bear witness in the temporal world. This is the highest status and surpasses all manner of description. But suddenly the passage said people would not accept His testimony (Jn. 3:32). Is the problem with Him or His listeners? The passsage tells us how ignorant, arrogant and self-centered we are as sinners. We often respond wrongly to God’s revelation.

Just because we do not accept His testimony does not mean that His testimony is not the truth. His existence is independent of whether you believe Him or not. Whether you accept or reject Him does not affect His testimony. When we do not know Him, that is our own problem. When we know Him, it comes about because of His power to change us. We are changeable, how can we change the Unchangeable One? Only the Unchangeable has the power to change us. Atheists never recognise themselves as finite in the process of change. They never understand God as the Eternal One above all.

The man who accepted His testimony certify that God is truth (Jn. 3:33). This tells us that when Christians believe they are certified with the testimony of God. This is valuable. All other values come from people who do not have the foundation of value in the first place. They think that just because they assume things have value they will automatically have value. They think that just because they believe God did not exist, God would automatically not exist. But in the end they will find that all they hang on to is emptiness.

Those who receive the testimony of Jesus also receives the enlightenment of the Spirit, the affirmation of God, the illumination of the truth. It is sad indeed when a person rejects the testimony of God. They assume their own existence is real and God’s existence is not real. But this is not true. The last part of passage (Jn. 3:35-36) tells us that those who reject Him do not have the Son and the Father. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life for God’s wrath remains on him.

We should think in such a way that as sinners, we are already destined for hell, therefore we need to believe in Jesus so that we can be saved. It is not the other way round that we are threatened to hell because we do not believe. This is likened to the situation where we are sick and we need medicine to be healed. It is not that we are forced to take the medicine of we will be threatened with death. Similarly, the gospel does not threaten us with death. We are perishing because of our sin. The wages of sin is death. And the gospel offers us the way of salvation. It is not so much about giving you a freedom of choice or a threat but just displaying the fact and giving you the solution.

Because of God’s compassion, He sent His Son to die for our sin. He intervened in history, demonstrated His supernatural grace in natural world, and this not a neutral choice for your wrong response will determine your eternal destiny.

The most frightening thing is not to be unaware of how frightening you are. The most dangerous situation is living in danger and not being aware of that. Those who live under God’s grace know that they live under grace. But the self-righteous living under the wrath of God are not aware of it until the terror of the great Judgement comes. Only when the Holy Spirit revives one’s fallen conscience could a sinner repent and turn to God. It is not so much his freedom of choice.

The masterkey is in one Person, the Son of God. He is the key to eternity. When you reject His witness and redemptive power, you are walking towards death. When you accept His witness, His truth and His salvation, you will move from living under the wrath of God to living under the grace of God.

Do we think it does not matter if we are not awakened year after year? We are numb and miscalculate the tolerance of God. Sometimes we think our achievements are our own. And because God is patient and we often consider His tolerance something to be taken advantage of so we do all kinds of evil things. But in fact we can only say that we are not able to take the judgement of God and God is gracious to give us time to repent. Only in this way could our lives be lifted up to greater honor. We are simply saving up the wrath of God if we continue to make light of His tolerance. Who can stand before Him when He judges some day?

The most important human response is that towards Christ. God sent Him from heaven and give Him the Spirit without limit. If we believe in Him we have eternal life, else God’s wrath remains on us. When we understand the qualitative and quantitative difference between what is of heaven and of the earth, we will find the masterkey for chapter 4. Christ is the masterkey. Because we do not understand the value of Jesus Christ, we crucified Him. Yet through this God accomplished His salvation.