Sunday, February 28, 2010

Prophet without Honour (Jn. 4:43-45)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 21 February 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 4:43-45

Many people made the wrong mistakes like the Samaritan woman. She lived the wrong way until Jesus came to save her. Likewise we all need the transforming power of Christ. If we rely on our wisdom, follow our desires and have our own selfish plans, in the end we will waste our entire life and accomplish nothing. We need to call upon the Lord to enter into our lives.

Jesus would have delayed His trip to Galilee a few days because of His trip to Samaria. It seemed like a waste a time but the purpose Christ came to earth is to lead the lost sheep back. It is a necessity that Christ went to Samaria, not because Christ needed it, but because the Samaritan woman needed Him. Without God, we will be moving around in circles, without goal and direction in life. Since Jesus entered into her life, this decadent woman became a blessing to the town.

In John 4:44 spoke about Jesus as the prophet without honour in his own hometown.

We need to respect ourselves before we can expect others to respect us. When others respect us, we also find it easier to respect ourselves. This is a moving force in the society. But there is one element we do not discover because of our sin, that is, we often judge others unjustly. We all want to be honoured by others but we do not want to honour others.

When you try to defend your own existence, indirectly you despise others you should not. Many religions teach how to treat yourself and others. Confucius teaches that what you do not want, we should do not do it to others. Jesus says to do to others what we want others to do to us. If we are not the one to make the first move, we are not worthy to enjoy the honour that come from others. This becomes the golden rule of the Bible which surpasses the rule of all other books.

The difference between Confucius and the saying of Jesus is that Confucius is passive while Jesus is active. The words of Jesus Christ is more profound. You should treat others the way you want others to treat you. This is the way to treat others and it is often difficult. Jesus Himself has pointed out something, the prophet has no honour in his own country. Jesus came as a human and lived among us and tasted human relationships. The people who are close to us might not know us that well and often do not respect us as much as others do.

The world was created by Him but the world knew Him not. Isaiah declared that the sheep and cattle knew its master, but God’s people did not know Him. God said His people did not honour Him. The greatest disrespect came in the way we treated Jesus when He came.

Christ said a prophet is without honour in his own country. If the foreign prophets are treated as prophets, should not the local prophets be treated as prophets too? Why are they not honoured as prophets? Elijah and Moses who appeared in the transfiguration are the two greatest representative figures of the Old Testament. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the prophets. But they both came from humble places.

Jesus went to Galilee, His own town where He was not honoured initially (Jn. 4:43-44). Jesus was raised in Galilee. Because no prophet came from Nazareth before, people assumed it would never happen. It was a horrifying self-constrained to think that the future must be like the past. We apply the unchangeability that belongs to God alone to everything else. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. There is no shadow of change with God. So when we say people cannot change we think they are the same yesterday today and forever. This is a faulty thinking.

One fault is being constrained by past concept, which is tradition. The second one is to draw conclusion without checking the facts. The Jews said there is no prophet from Galilee and they considered Jesus a Galilean. Actually Jesus was not a Galilean. He was from the tribe of Judah, a descendant of David. He is not related to Galilee but they were not willing to find out the truth. From their false knowledge they simply refused Him. He was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth.

When people dishonour Jesus, He did not retaliate but responded by winning the people in His own country. Some of the people from His town saw the things He did in Jerusalem, respected Him quietly and then brought that back to their own country. When He finally returned to Galilee, they welcome Him because they had seen all He did in Jerusalem. (John 4:45).

What did Jesus do in Jerusalem? He cleansed the temple and chased away all the money changers. As the Lord of the temple He cleansed His own temple. This is done with full confidence. So He won the honour of others.

Do not feel inferior when people disrespect you. Strive hard until you win their honour one day. Do not be a hero within your own room. Find and win a pasture so that your countrymen might honour you when they see what you have achieved. When the whole world respects you, the people in your home country cannot but honour you. Jesus had the most influence in the entire world but He had never left Judea.

We must work hard, strive, do our best, be able to take sufferings and fight to the end. Do not be a Christian who just to reaps the harvest and make use of the promises of God as if He is your servant. In every prayer we should seek God’s glory. Our Lord deserves to be honoured. We need to fight for our own dignity that people who look down on us will also honour us, that eventually the Lord’s name might be honoured because of us.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Living Water Part 4 (Jn. 4:27-45)

John 4:27-45

Your life will not be a waste if you realise the potential God has given you. The Samaritan woman married the wrong man and did the wrong job. Her potential did not match what she was doing.

When we preach the gospel, often instead of convincing people we are convinced by them. Instead of using God’s Word to reveal their sin, they reveal the sin of the churches. We give up too fast.

In contrast, the Samaritan was honest to confess that Jesus Christ revealed all her sins. Although her life was in a mess, she had religious hope and was waiting for the Messiah. She is a very unique person. In the Bible there were three prophets who turned the masses towards God, they are Elijah, Jonah and John the Baptist. This woman is the forth one that the brought the masses to Christ with her powerful testimony.

When Jesus went to the town the people wanted Him to stay with them. He stayed there for two days. In these two days, Jesus did all He was supposed to do. It was hard for the disciples to understand Christ’s decision in talking with a Samaritan woman and then stayed in Samaria which had cultural and religious conflict with the Jews. But this is a necessary event in history. After this incident, Jesus never went back to Samaria again. This is the only moment, an important historic moment for the Samaritans. His conversation with the Samaritan woman was something that has to happen.

We need to learn to discern important moments like that and not waste our time. We need to postpone other things and know how to sacrifice when an important moment comes.

In the whole gospel, there are a few instances Jesus praised Samaritans as being better than the Jews. When the ten lepers were healed, only one came back to give thanks to God and he was a Samaritan. So Jesus asked where the other nine were. Then Jesus also told the parable of the good Samaritan, who was merciful and willing to give compared to the priest and the Levite who simply passed by. Jesus demonstrated that not only God’s chosen nation Israel need the gospel but one day all nations shall be blessed by the gospel.

Jesus was willing to stay where the Gentiles are. What is your attitude towards the Gentiles?

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

The Living Water Part 3 (Jn. 4:19-34)

John 4:19-34

The woman knew Jesus was no ordinary man when He told her the detail of her life. She tried to divert the conversation but Jesus brought always brought the conversation back to the root issue. She diverted again to their religious differences when Jesus exposed her personal life. She indicated that the Samaritans had their own views and likewise Jewish had their own beliefs. you Jews have your own beliefs. Jews believed they must worship in Jerusalem but the Samaritans worshiped on the mountains.

Jesus answered her in a very different way. Samaritan woman’s view is dualistic, it is ‘either-or’. When coming to the crossroad, we tend to have an either-or mentality. To the Samaritan woman, either they followed the Jewish way or just did it their own way. Prophet Elijah had never been to Jerusalem but God listened to his prayer. Isn’t that the arrogance of the Jews to insist that worship must be in Jerusalem? In the Old Testament, Moses represented the law and Elijah represented the prophets. Isaiah and Jeremiah wrote so much yet Elijah as the representation of the prophets never wrote a single book. Elijah had never been to Jerusalem, and he lived where the Samaritans were worshiping. So are the Samaritans wrong?

Jesus’ reply to the woman was not ‘either-or’, but ‘neither-nor’. Jesus replied that the time is coming come and has come when the worshipers of God will neither worship in mountain nor in Jerusalem, but they will worship in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:21-23). This worship transcends the boundary of space and time. In matter of worship, we should not confuse with tradition and human boundaries. Further, true religion must be based on the truth, not just sincerity. Sincerity does not represent the truth. Many people are faithful to what they consider the truth which is actually not the truth.

Apart from ‘neither-nor’ concept, Jesus also spoke about ‘already and not yet’ concept. He said the time is coming and has now come. Jesus has come the first time, so the kingdom of God has indeed come. And Jesus has not come the second time, so the kingdom of God is yet to come. Between first and second coming is the ‘now and not yet’ realm in which we are now living. The kingdom indeed has come but has not yet reached its fullness. Why did explain such profound concept to this woman despised by the society? Her problem was not so much her understanding as it was her flesh.

On one hand, Jesus gave her the most important truth, on the other hand He exposed her decadent life. Jesus did not despise her just because of her low social status. In the prostitute Jesus saw His grace and gave her hope. He waited personally for her and led her towards the truth.

After Jesus explained this, she diverted the topic again. Whenever she was about to understand, she always changed the topic. Jesus would corner her and brought her back to the topic.

A paradox we often neglect is that we always thinks of ideal and looks towards the future but on the other hand we forget that this future is really coming to pass and in our waiting process we reveal our laziness and skepticism. We preserve our lofty ideals but think it is so far away, so time passes by and we accomplish nothing. Do we really believe? We wait and we do not think it will be today so we do nothing. For example, we believe that one day we will die and face the judgement of God, but we just do not think it will happen today. Somehow we subconsciously think tomorrow will come tomorrow but tomorrow will never become today. If we truly believe that tomorrow will one day become today, we will live with deep consciousness of the future and live circumspectly today in view of what we believe tomorrow will be.

Christian religion is realised within the domain of space and time which is verifiable in history, unlike myths with its unverifiable ‘once upon a time’. Jesus is God and eternal but He became incarnate and was born within time and space. But when we worship God in spirit and in truth and accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, our worship and acceptance of Him transcends time and space. This worship has eternal value. With eternal faith, we accept the historical facts of Christ which happened within time and space. So Jesus explained that God is Spirit, not confined withint time and space, hence we have to worship Him in spirit and in truth (Jn. 4:24).

When woman heard that, for the very last time she tried to divert the conversation again. Jesus would not let her go. She said, “I know that the Messiah is coming and when He come He will explain everything to us.” (Jn. 4;25) She meant that there was no point debating. She had her own culture and the Jews had theirs, so just wait for the Messiah to come and let the debate finish there and then. But when would the Messiah come? She could not tell. So it was one way to escape the conversation.

Jesus declared to her, “I who speak to you am He.” (Jn. 4:26). Are we really looking for the Messiah or are we just trying to excuse ourselves? But Jesus made that last statement to challenge her. The visit of Christ terminates all religious searches.

At that moment she pondered. If He was not the Messiah, how could He know about her past? She thought the Messiah had not come, but He declared He was already here speaking to her. When she heard this, she left behind her water jar. It indicates a change of mind where she no longer cares as much about her physical needs because all her spiritual filth had been discovered.

The disciples came back and wondered why He was talking to a woman. They did not dare to ask him. Neither do they dare to ask what they spoke in broad day light. The disciples were puzzled because they were asked to go and buy food whilst He spoke to a woman, and now He was not eating. Jesus replied, “my food is to do the will of Him who sent me and finish His work.” (Jn. 4:34) Physical food is not the most important but to fulfil the will of heaven is the most important food.

All the tactics of this intelligent woman did not work because Jesus could scan through her heart. There is penetrating power in the gospel. Only then you can lead a person to the gospel.

Upon repentance, the woman immediately evangelised. She did not wait and understood the significance of that existential moment. The time is now. She immediately went and preached. The woman ran back and called out to the people in town, “There is a man who tells me all my past deeds. Could he be the Christ?” (Jn. 4:29). Whit that simple sentence, all the people in the town came forward to meet Jesus. Why did these people come forward? It was because there was honest repentance and she declared to everyone how she lived, encouraged people to become curious about Jesus. This is the right way to evangelise. Many people who preach want people to see how great they are and cover all their sins. On the other hand the Samaritan spoke as a sinner and urged others to come and see Christ for who He is. There is honesty, courage, sincerity and power in her preaching.

After this conversation with Jesus, her entire life has been transformed. She was once a prostitute, now a preacher focused on God’s kingdom. We certainly should not despise those who are rejected by society or those who seem to have no achievement. Whatever men see as useless, God can use mightily.