Sunday, May 16, 2010

Christ's Resurrection Power (Jn. 5:19-24)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 9 May 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 5:19-24

The Jews condemned Jesus as a law breaker. Yet as the Apostle Peter said in the book of Acts, none of their ancestors had ever fulfilled the law. The Apostle James made it even clearer by saying that once we break one law, whether big or small, we have become law breakers.

In God’s eyes we are all law breakers. Many religious people turn out to be the greatest law breakers. Christ was not killed by the atheists. He was killed by people who thought they fervently worshiped God. Jesus said “Because I tell you the truth you want to kill Me.” This is the situation in chapter 5. They went after Jesus for the breaking of the Sabbath, for calling God His Father and equating Himself with God.

The day is not important, but the meaning is important. The days are relative. Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore people who take the Sabbath day as more important than man has made the relative absolute. Many religious people appear holy in their religious appearance, but deep within they are against God. Experts of the law who knew the law “thou shalt not kill” are those that wanted to kill Jesus most.

A mother does not stop working after giving birth. She rests from giving birth, but it is the beginning of nurturing. After God completes His work of creation, He starts His work of sustainance. Sabbath does not mean God stopped working all together.

Jesus continued to explain His relationship with the Father. The Son cannot do anything by Himself. He does what He sees the Father does. From the entire principle of the Bible, we see the intimate unity between the Son and the Father. When you see the Son, you see the Father. When you believe the Son, you believe the Father. “I and My Father are one.” This is great sharing but the Jews saw this as blasphemy because they were bound by their tradition.

The Father does the works of God. How can the Son do the same works by just looking at the Father? The Father has given the Son the authority. Should you then kill Him just because you do not think a human being should manifest the power of God? God has blessed Him. The power of the Son all came from the Father.

The angels see God at work but they do not do the works of God because they are not God. They can observe God’s works but they cannot do the same work. Only God can do what God does. When Jesus explained this they should have realised that Jesus is God. On the contrary they considered Jesus unrepentant.

There are 5 major works that are considered God’s works: creation, salvation (resurrection from the dead), revelation of truth and guidance into the truth, judgement and fulfilling the eternal will of God. Besides God there is no Creator, no Redeemer, no Revealer, no Judge of heaven and earth, no Fulfiller of the eternal will of God. Apart from Jesus, nobody can do that.

Jesus prayed, “Father, glorify Me with the glory I had with You before the world began.” He took part in the work of creation. For all that has been created through Him, and nothing has been created without Him. Christ is Creator, Savior, Revealer, Judge, and Fulfiller of the will of God. That is why He is God. Through Christ, God is willing to reveal the truth to us. Christ had victory over death, give us life and judge us. These are the marks of God. Those who are wise will be able to see the marks of God in Christ.

It is one thing to just take away a life, it is quite another to kill the Lord of life. The greatest courage of man is not to send man to moon, but to kill the Lord of life. Christ must be resurrected to show that He is the source of life and the power of death is subject to the power of His resurrection.

The Father loves the Son and shows Him what He does. He will show Him even greater works. The greater works is the fact that the Jews will kill Him and He will be resurrected.

All dictators in the world could only pronounce death on the living to show their power. But Jesus pronounced life on the dead. By His own will He can make people live. By His own will, He gave up His life. Jesus said many things that are never said by any other people in history. He did things no one else could do. The most special of all things is He died and rose again. This shows His eternity, magnamity and completeness. No one replace Christ.

The Father raises the dead by His own will, so the Son raises whom He wills to. Emperors can kill whom they wish. But the Son of God can resurrect the dead. The power of humanity is the power of destruction, not the power of salvation. What is so great about killing? It is the most shameful thing but humans always boast about this power of destruction. Kierkegaard said that men are born in sin, so the only power we have is the power to kill. They are all power to destroy, not power to build. So there is nothing to be proud of.

Among all Scriptures of religions of the world, only the Bible has record of resurrection from the dead. The true concept of resurrection in the Scripture started from Abraham. The reason Abraham is called the father of faith is that he lived before God by faith. He witnessed how Sarah had stopped menstruation for decades and still gave birth to Isaac as God promised. In this, Abraham had the experience of seeing God who create something out of nothing. There will be no existence without God’s creation from nothingness. The existence of God is self-existent everlasting life. All other existence came about because of God’s creation. Apart from God’s existence, all other existence are contingent.

Using His life force, God can resurrect the dead. The concept of creation and resurrection come from the Bible. The birth of Isaac testified of God’s creative power. Then God said to sacrifice Isaac. The existing life will now be dead. God already told Abraham that his descendants will come from Isaac. Before Isaac grew up, he was to be sacrificed already. But why would Abraham obey and sacrifice Isaac? Because he believed that if God could create something out of nothing, surely God could raise the dead. His faith tell him that God will raise Isaac again. If he never killed him, he would never see the resurrection power of God. But since Abraham had seen it in faith, he did not need to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham knew God would resurrect Isaac. And there is a lamb that was sacrificed in place of Isaac.

In 2000 years, from the day Isaac was offered as a sacrifice to the time Jesus was resurrected from the dead, there were three records of resurrection in the Old Testament. Two miracles were performed by by Elijah and Elisha. But they did not resurrect by their own will and power. The third incident happened to a corpse that touched the bones of Elisha and the dead man was resurrected.

After Christ ascended to heaven, there were two other incidents of resurrection recorded in the New Testament. The first one was Dorcas who was resurrected by Peter’s prayer, and Eutychus by Paul’s prayer. In all these instances, the dead were resurrected by the power of God.

Jesus Himself resurrected three persons, Lazarus, a little girl and the boy of a widow. While the prophets and apostles only resurrected one person each, Jesus resurrected three people. This is the mark of God. Also, while the prophets and apostles prayed to God, Jesus did not need to pray but simply commanded the dead to come back to life. By His own will, He resurrected. His power of resurrection come forth from His Word because He is God.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

True Meaning of Sabbath (Jn. 5:17-18)

This is my personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 2 May 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

John 5:17-18

The Jews found three faults with Jesus: He broke the Sabbath, He called God His Father, and equated Himself with God. To them, He was guilty of blasphemy, He had trampled the Jewish tradition and despised the law of Moses.

The first mistake of the Jews was to assume the Son of God was a normal human being. The second was to assume the position of a judge in place of God. This is what religious leaders often do. In order to judge another person, they have absolutised themselves and have made themselves like God. They do not recognise that they are mere human beings. They hated Jesuss and wanted to kill Him.

People go against those they hate in three ways, i.e. using political power, judicial power and religious power. The strongest is religious power. Our fear towards others are dependent on the powers they have. Generally people will withdraw if they are weaker. Fervency for truth can give tremendous courage for one to stand up. Hence if faith is not based on truth revealed by God, religious zeal can be the most horrifying. In trying to defend religious zeal or supervision, religious people are the most daring murderers as they act based on conviction.

Jesus wanted to use the situation to correct the Jews’ wrong understanding of the Sabbath. They believed that Sabbath means God has stopped working. For thousands of years, they never understand what Sabbath truly means. They think it means to idle for 24 hours. Jesus answered, “My Father is always at work to this day, so I too, am working.” When religion makes relative things absolute, the wrong concepts will take over the place of the truth of God. In wrong concepts we will bind ourselves in a state where we cannot accept the truth. This is the situation of the Jews when Jesus was with them. Jesus knew He would eventually be killed by the Jews. He showed the hypocricy of the Jews who would rescue their camel which fell into the pit on Sabbath day instead of waiting another day.

What works did God do after the Sabbath day? Did not the Bible say God rested on the Sabbath? On the seventh day, God stopped His work of creation. But He began His work of sustainance and providence. He also began His work of salvation when men fell into sin to restore men into a right relationship with Himself. Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath? Because the person needed help. Sabbath is about recovery and resurrection.

True Sabbath is reconciliation with God, the rest that comes from being at peace with God. So Sabbath is not resting from all work. God said to the Israelites, “For 40 years they tempted Me, so I swear, they will never enter My rest.” It means they will never enjoy the peace with God. The true Sabbath is salvation where we are made right to be at peace with God once more. Isaiah said God said the Israelites did not understand the Sabbath, but arrogantly think they are better than anybody else.

God sent His Son who healed on Sabbath day, to show His work of salvation, His reconcilitation to bring His creation into the true Sabbath. The person was sick 38 years so he had observed Sabbath ritually but never had rest. The true Sabbath concept is not literal concept of rest which binds the Jews. It is the concept that will liberate people from bondage.

Jesus did not retreat His words, but spoke even more boldly. He said the Son did what the Father has asked Him to do. He reminded the Jews that they need to know the source of the command before judging. Jesus said the Son sees what the Father does and does what the Father does, and the Father will show Him even greater things. The Jews were still hardened. What does the “greater things” refer to? It refers to Christ’s power to judge the world. This is the task that not one of the descendant of Adam can do. God give greater tasks to Jesus than anyone in the history of mankind.

Having blaming Jesus for what He did on that Sabbath day, what would the Jews think if He did greater things? We need to understand God’s revelation to us in Christ. The Father judges nobody but entrusts all judgement to the Son. This is a mystery. The power to judge is linked with the resurrection. Why?

To be continued…