Saturday, December 18, 2010

The People Debate Jesus Christ's Identity (Jn 7:25-36)

This is a personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermons on 14 and 28 November 2010 at the STEMI expository preaching held in True Way Presbyterian Church, Singapore. The sermons were preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 7:25-36

Jesus went to Jerusalem after his brothers had left. He did not go up with them but went after they had left because he knew God's appointed time for him very well. He was courageous, since he still went to the feast despite the opposition. Furthermore, he travelled to the feast on his own. Once he reached Jerusalem, he immediately went to teach in the temple.

People who heard him teaching then asked, 'Who is Christ really? Where did he come from?' Jesus then took this opportunity to tell them where he came from. While telling them, Jesus had no slightest hint of fear. Those who listened to him were then amazed, why in such danger Jesus still boldly appeared and taught in the temple.

Let's think about this. We all know how to play with our words according to our safety. For example, when we say, 'Be wise, be wise,' we are likely to say it when we are in fear. But if this is 'wisdom', then Jesus was very unwise, because he was in danger of being caught when he preached to the people. Yet he preached boldly, and this meant he was not afraid. He knew he was surrounded by danger, yet he would rather place emphasis on his Father's will than on his own safety.

Now when the public saw that Jesus was speaking boldly, they were astonished and tried to explain it in their own way: Perhaps the authorities had already known that Jesus was the Christ, so they let him preach in the open (v26). But this kind of explanation is totally wrong, because those who are stubborn in religion will not change their mind easily; they will use all kinds of methods to enforce their religion. This is the result of 'absolute' attitude in religion, brought about because religions deal with the absolutes. God is the absolute in a religion, and people will find it difficult to believe if they were told that they have believed in the wrong absolute for a long time. Moreover, those who insist that their absolute is true would have ensured that everybody else is excluded, because they have believed in the absolute. And the biggest problem comes if one trades the absolutes for the relatives.

This is what we see happening here. People were not sure if this person was the Christ, so they asked if this was really so. We can tell here that new believers are still quite immature in their spirit and faith. They have always believed that people can change, but they didn't realise that religious leaders are the hardest of all people to change their minds. If errors had been treated as absolutes, then they would hold on to them until the very end, to the extent of killing the person who told them that they were wrong.

So they were not sure if the authorities had concluded that Jesus was indeed the Christ. If this was really the case, they found it strange that they knew where Christ came from. They had always believed that when Christ came, nobody would know where he came from; if anyone knew where Christ came from, that person would not be Christ. This concept came from OT: 'The desired of all nation would suddenly appear in the synagogue,' i.e. nobody would have the opportunity to investigate his background. But Jesus did not appear suddenly. He appeared at the temple before, and they have researched his background. They knew his family, who they were, what they do for a living, and the region where he grew up. 'How can then this person be the Christ?' they wondered.*

And now they thought further: If this person was not the Christ, then who was he? This is a good challenge to everyone. CS Lewis once gave this kind of challenge to the entire world: 'If Jesus is not God, then who is he?' There are some categories that has to be considered. One is that he is a mentally unsound man, and another is that he is a conman and his disciples are people who have been deceived by him. However he did not show the signs of a mentally unsound person, and every time he said 'Truly truly I say to you ...' he did not deceive his listeners. And thus CS Lewis concluded that he is God because there is no other way to explain all that Jesus said and did.

This sort of apologetics is unique to CS Lewis - it is not defensive apologetics, but offensive apologetics. Many people today preach the gospel in a manner which causes it to be accepted readily by those who are weak and in need, but easily rejected by the intellectuals who like to think about challenging issues. In hierarchy:

  1. We believe because what Christianity teaches is true.

  2. However to those intellectuals who reject Christ we need to challenge them, 'Why do they not believe in Jesus Christ even though they agree that Christianity was true?'

  3. CS Lewis goes one step higher by asking his reader, 'Since you do not believe Jesus is God, then who is he?'

Nevertheless, 2000 years before CS Lewis went this way in apologetics, the Bible had already used it. We know this from v31 that says those who believed said, 'When the Christ comes, can he do more miracles than this person?' In other words, they challenged those who did not believe, 'You surely have not known this person called Jesus!' They came to this conclusion by first postulating that Christ had indeed come. Then they discussed the topic. They put aside all the facts on Jesus' background but considered his divine appearance and miraculous acts in the highest priority. Thus they concluded that Jesus was the Christ.

The miracles performed by Jesus was the key consideration for these people who had believed. They considered them carefully because if the real Christ were to come later, surely he could not perform more miracles than Jesus; Jesus had performed the most miracles among all religious leaders in history. This [heavy consideration on miracles] is due to the fact that the Jews have true miracles (Other religions/people group do have strange phenomena, but they are not miracles). When Moses performed the miracle of turning Aaron's staff into a serpent in front of Pharaoh, Pharaoh's magicians responded by doing the same thing, but Aaron's staff swallowed their staffs. This showed that only Moses' miracles were the true miracles, because his serpent's life could swallow death.

Miracles are not just strange phenomena; they are marks revealed by the God of life, they are the signs of God. The Jews remembered the fact that their ancestors saw many miracles performed by the prophets in OT: Moses, Joshua, the judges, Elijah (7 miracles), Elisha (14 miracles), etc. All these proved that God is real. But all these people's miracles combined do not exceed Jesus' miracles, a fact that have been analysed by many serious academia at that time (Note: The 4 books of the gospel combined recorded at least 35 miracles performed by Jesus). So those who believed thought, there was no need to wait anymore for the Messiah. Jesus must be the Messiah.

To the contrary, the Pharisees were blinded. They were like a man in his own blind spot, unable to see the light but his own shadow. They first considered Jesus' background and then, thinking they knew where he came from, brushed aside his divinity and miracles. This kind of narrow-minded thinking with an absolutist attitude was the reason why they were trapped in their old understanding.

As such, they decided to go to arrest Jesus. However no one could do so even though their decree/command was clear, support for their decision had been secured (even through bribes), and manpower was enough. This was so because Jesus' time had not come. In the same way, we too need not fear persecutions because if the time has not come, we will not die. There is no need for anxiety, fear, worry or even anger. However, this verse does not say that Jesus will not be captured or he will not die. It simply tells us that nobody captured Jesus because back then his time had not yet come. This time/hour, is an hour that God the Father has set, and is the only hour that has been set by Him; there is no other day that has been set by God for His Son to be sacrificed for the sins of mankind.

Jesus also said some other important statements, 'I came from my Father,' 'You don't know me so you don't know my Father,' and 'Whatever I said to you came from the Father.' Although most of the people knew whom he was born to (Joseph and Mary), this was the wrong thing to know; they had misunderstood the point - Jesus was referring to his home in heaven when he said these statements. Now when he was talking about his going, he was talking about this same place. John 16:28 said it very clearly, 'I came from the Father into the earth, and I will leave the earth to go to the Father.'

In contrast, none of other religious leaders could accomplish this kind of 'bidirectional declaration [of origin and destination]:'

Confucius wanted to bring us to a great place, but where that great place was, he did not know. He said ' 未知生,焉知死。'(I don't know about birth, how do i know about death?) He could only tell us how to lead our life on earth, nothing more. He did not know where he came from and where he was going to.

Sakyamuni wanted to bring us to the western Nirvana. But if you asked him, 'Have you been there?' his answer would be 'No I have not. Let's go there together then we'll know. ' He could tell us how it would be like. But that knowledge did not come from being at Nirvana, it came from his enlightenment. So Sakyamuni taught from his enlightenment, but did not say its source and where he came from.

Mohammed promised he would bring us to a good place next to the Lord God. But he himself had not been there before and he had never told us where he came from.

Neither could Zoroaster [tell us where he came from].

So all of them made declarations that are one-sided. Regarding their origin, at the most those leaders said that they were born of their parents. But Jesus never said that he was born of his parents. When Jesus spoke of Mary (his mother) he said 2 things which are uniquely-Jesus:

  1. 'Woman, what have I got to do with this?' (At the wedding in Cana – John 2:4)

  2. 'Who are my mother and my brothers? ... Whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother' (When his mother and his brothers came while he was teaching the crowd – Mark 3:33-35)

From the human perspective, when he was young, Jesus obeyed his parents at home in Nazareth. With regards to his human responsibility, he fulfilled his responsibility by asking the apostle John to take care of Mary when he was going to die on the cross. From the divine perspective, Mary was a being created in the image of God but Jesus was the only son of God, the Creator of all beings.

In summary, none of the religious leaders declared where they came from and where they were going to. Only Jesus Christ proclaimed both his origin ('I came from the Father') and his destination ('I will ... to go to the Father.'). He was the only one who told us clearly where he came from and where he was going to, i.e. Jesus declared both. John 3 has also told us that who is from above speaks of things above, and who is from the earth, speaks of things on earth. Therefore there is a qualitative difference between Jesus and all other religious leaders.

So the people started to mutter all those things about Jesus. He knew about it too. This is analogous to us today, as we tend to depend on what others said about somebody. However, the best source of knowledge is the first source. Therefore do not depend on what others said about something/somebody, make sure you also study him/her/it from his/her/itself on your own.

Jesus next said that his time was short and he was going away, and where he went people could not come. This is very mysterious, and the Jews must have thought, 'Why are you so arrogant? We cannot go to where you go?! He is already in danger, yet he is still boasting! What kind of place is that, he will go to and we cannot go? The Greeks say very difficult things to understand, just like what this guy said. Can it be that he is going to where the Jews are scattered among the Greeks and teach them?' The Jews really could not accept what Jesus said. They had never realised that Jesus respected the Jewish law too. However they also acknowledged that what Jesus said was really of some substance, not just an empty talk. So they assumed that Jesus understood nobody here would accept what he said, and therefore would like to go to the Dispersion** to find people who would believe what he said.


There is a reason why we need the gospel of Luke. English has 16 tenses, Chinese only has 1, but Greek has 64 tenses. This shows that the Greek are much more sensitive to time and order than other people groups. The Jews too are not sensitive enough to time and order. So God chose Luke, a Gentile, to reveal the specific details regarding Jesus' birth. Luke recorded the latter in chronological order, something that the other 3 books of the gospel did not. The former also recorded something that latter missed out: the birthplace of Jesus Christ. Luke did so very clearly that we may know for sure that Jesus was indeed born in Betlehem (Judea), not Nazareth (Galilee).

This helps us see that the Jews were wrong when we read John 7:40-52.


Dispersion: Places where after the exile the Jews were scattered and settled down.


Note that Jesus ever said something very important, 'I came not to bring peace, but to bring divisions' (Luke 12:51). Even though Jesus is called the 'Prince of Peace' (Isa 9:6), Jesus came not to bring peace, but division. This division can also be seen when we share the gospel. A family may have a member embracing the gospel and persecuted by his own family as a result (but later on the whole family may believe too). In the general populace too, some will accept the gospel and some will reject it. Otherwise, if peace continues then everybody will go to hell.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Promise of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 7:37-44)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 5 December 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 7:37-44

On the last day of the festival, Jesus stood at the synagogue and spoke in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” (v.37-38). This is abundant life. As Christians we should be full of vitality like the living water – constantly overflowing. Dead water is stagnant and does not flow. When we come to church every Sunday to hear the Word of God, when we give our testimony, is it fresh like the living water?

This verse is one of the most important words of Jesus which relates to the giving of the Holy Spirit. God’s greatest gift to the world is the gift of His one and only Son. And the Son’s greatest gift to His church is the Holy Spirit. As the next verse (v.39) explains, Jesus was talking about the Spirit, whom Jesus would give after he resurrected from the dead. This is the first instance He gave the promise of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus resurrected from the dead, He breathed into His disciples and said “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is the prelude before the descent of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentacost. Jeesus said before that unless He went away the Holy Spirit could not come down. The Holy Spirit is a distinct Person from the Son. Jesus clearly stated that He would send “Another” Counselor, which means another distinct Person. The Son went back to the Father, and together the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentacost, which became the birthday of the Church.

Jesuss resurrection from the dead confirms that He is the Son of God. His ascension to heaven confirms His glory. Thus we see both the humiliation and the glory of Christ. The Holy Spirit was not given earlier because Jesus had not yet been glorified (v.40). Before His ascension, He told His disciples not to leave Jerusalem despite having given them the Great Commission to go to the end of the world. This seems contradictory but the key is to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them (Acts 1:8) so that they were empowered to preach the Word.

There is a wrong teaching that teaches that the Spirit is Jesus Himself, thus Trinity only exists after incarnation. In that sense, God Himself went through change of His being. However, in Acts 2, after the Pentacost Peter preached and spoke about receiving the promise of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descended to work in hearts and open their eyes to see that Jesus is Lord. It was not talking about the Spirit that did not exist earlier, but the promise God gave some time ago.

On hearing Jesus’ words about the living water, there were various responses. The first response was that Jesus is the Prophet (v.42). Jesus is not just a prophet, but THE prophet. He is the prophet spoken by Moses that God would raise a prophet like him from among the people (Deu. 18:15). However, Jesus is the Prophet like no other as He is the only Son of God who came to accomplish the salvation of mankind. There are two kinds that are sent by God. One is plural, the other is singular. The only singular one is Jesus Christ, the only Son of God. All the others are created ones and we do not worship them, including the angels. But we worship Christ.

The second response from the people is that He is the Christ. The last response is one of doubt. People questioned how Christ could be from Galilee. They were confused. Jesus was not bothered and did not explain either. A wise person would only deal with matter of wisdom. People started arguing with one another and Jesus let them debate.

In another passage, Jesus said He did not come to bring peace but division, such that people’s enemies will be from his own households. Faith can cause division and tension in the closest relationships. Often God allows people to come to the understanding of the truth through differing opinions. But God promises that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who were called according to His purpose.