Saturday, January 22, 2011

Jesus' Judgement on the Jews (Jn. 8:21-30)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 16 January 2011 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 8:21-30

Other than Nicodemus the gospels record no other Pharisees who seek the truth. Man is not what he thinks or what he eats, but man is what he reacts before God.

Jesus said three things to the Jews who rejected Him: He is going away, they will look for Him but they cannot find him, and they will die in their sins (Jn. 8:21). These are very stern statements of judgement.

They believed they were right because they had the law of Moses, they were the chosen race and they were the recipients of the tradition from the prophets who receive the revelation from God. If Jesus did not agree with them, it must be Jesus’ problem and not theirs. They had first assumed they were not at fault. Religions are most dangerous. An honest atheist is closer to God than a hypocritical religious leader.

The Jews could not understand Jesus’ words of judgement against them and thought they would seek Him and could not find Him because He would commit suicide. Jesus explained that they were from below but He is from above. They are from this world but He is not from this world (Jn. 8:23), and that they would die in their sin. What is of earth cannot understand heaven that is why they could not understand Him.

After Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, John said the one who comes from above is above all. The one who comes from heaven speaks from above. The one from below speak of the things on earth. This explains the qualitative difference between heaven and earth.

God create all things. He is above all things. All other people from the earth. But Christ is different. He came from above, full of grace and truth. From the beginning, John testified of Christ. The law was given through Moses. Salvation came from Jesus. The whole Old Testament is God’s covenant with Israel and it shows how sinful we are. The Old Testament judges our sin. The New Testament saves us from sin. Paul said in Rom. 6:23 that the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ. If you understand this, and understand the qualitative different between heavenly and earthly sources, you understand the general principle of the Bible.

Where is Jesus going? He is going to the Father. The Father is the Source of Life, the One who gives eternal life and salvation through Jesus Christ, and set us free from the curse of the law. Jesus came from the Father and was going back to the Father.

The Jews could not understand. Jesus said He had many things to say in judgement of them, and then added that the Father who sent Him is true (Jn. 8:26). The key point is that if they believe in the Father, they will believe He is the Christ, and immediately they will kneel in repentance in hearing the words of Christ. However the Jews did not believe and therefore could not accept Jesus’ words.

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me.” (Jn. 8:28)

This is the second time the phrase “lifted up the Son of Man” emerges in the gospel of John. The death of Jesus Christ is different from all other people’s death. We see a great man by how he dies. The moment of death is the the moment of great grief, and is a true introduction of his character.

But is that true when Jesus died the Jews knew He is the Christ. In Acts 2, Peter preached about Christ and Him crucified and the people were cut to the heart and asked what they should do to be saved. And Peter said to repent and be baptised and 3000 people believed in that day. The Jews recognised Him as Christ when He died.

The way Christ expressed Himself when he was dying is very different from a sinner. Compare the words He said when he was dying with all others and you will recognise Him as Christ. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.” “Truly I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.” “Mother behold your son.” “Behold your mother.” When Jesus died, He expressed the highest love, His divinity and humanity together. Hence Jesus said when you lifted up the Son of Man, you will know I am the Christ.

Then Jesus said: “The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.” Even as he spoke, many believed in him. (Jn. 8:29-30)

It is most blessed to lead people to Christ. John the Baptist did not perform a single miracle, people believe because whatever he testified of Christ is true. In John 8, Jesus said the Father is with Him because He always does what pleases the Father and because of that many people believed in Him.

People do not believe because we do not do things that please the Lord. If the things I do pleases God, people will believe. Many people preach one thing and live another way. If a preacher does what He preaches, what he does pleases the Lord and he will lead many to the Lord.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Unbelief of the Jewish leaders (John 7:45-8:11)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 12 December 2010 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 7:45-8:11

Some divisions arise because of Jesus. Jesus said: “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34) He came to cause strife among you, in your family, between parents and children, and between daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law.

Disagreements occur because of the truth. When opinions are taken as absolute truth, they are used to substitute faith. These convictions become a religious dogma. When you make absolute your opinions that are relative, you will cause conflicts and have more prejudice against others. Those who have different opinions are considered heretics and are to be sidelined.

The Jews received the law of God. They thought they were the sole agent of God and sole representative of heaven. People whose opinions differed from them were considered heretics. They thought Jesus was a heretic. His views were completely different from the Jews’ understanding. They thought they could not be wrong because God loved them so much and gave them the law. They rejected the Son of God. His own people did not welcome him. They considered him a false prophet. They sent guards to arrest him. The guards were more objective and neutral when listening to Jesus. They came to a completely different conclusion from the Jews.

When the guards didn’t arrest Jesus, the Jews questioned their loyalty. The guards said they didn’t arrest him because no one ever spoke the way he did. This was a unique statement. They were good at listening. People who are not good at listening will think that everything that has been said is the same. When Jesus said certain words that no one had ever spoken, those who were familiar with the old words that had been spoken and who looked forward to the new words would acknowledge Jesus. They were responsible. They were able to make a judgment on history. They could acknowledge new things. They were intelligent. They told the Pharisees no one had spoken like him and they could not arrest him. Some people think if one is given money, one will do anything and become a pawn. But when they realise their limitations, they look for other ways to accomplish their aims.

Jesus was not arrested because his time had not yet come. The Bible recorded this many times. When your time has not yet come, you don’t have to fear death. When the time has come, you don’t need to run away because you need not fear death. Jesus came to the world to die. We want to escape to save our life and continue living in peace. Jesus was willing to die for us and leave his heavenly home.

How did the Pharisees respond? They cursed the guards for not understanding the Law. When people do not understand, you have to teach them. When parents see that children do not understand, they would not let them die. Teachers shouldn’t curse their students when they don’t understand. Officials shouldn’t despise the masses. The Pharisees were not only stubborn, but they also no longer respected human beings. Everyone wants his own authority to be the final one. One of their own, Nicodemus, who once went to see Jesus at night, recorded in John 3, was different from the Pharisees. He had his own thoughts. When everybody despised Jesus, he realised there was something about Jesus he could not achieve. He told Jesus, Rabbi, we know this, all the miracles you have done, if God was not with you, no one could have performed the miracles that you did. Nicodemus, like the soldiers, saw something new in Jesus, his fresh speech of his time. Without God, no one could perform these miracles.

He longed after Jesus and sought after him. But Jesus did not say he did not expect a Pharisee to be so good as to give such an answer. Jesus told him: “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus was intelligent yet he did not understand what Jesus said. So he asked how could he be born again. He asked according to natural laws. Jesus talked about supernatural things. He asked about biological matters. Jesus talked about spiritual life. He talked about earthly things. Jesus talked about heavenly things. People from the earth speak earthly words. He who comes from heaven speaks about heavenly matters because God has given him the Holy Spirit without limit.

Nicodemus was once influenced by Jesus. He knew it would be rash and shallow to simply judge Jesus as guilty. In honour and respect to Jesus, he stood up amid all the public criticisms and examined himself. A person’s dignity does not lie in wearing jewellery, but in one’s ability to examine himself. He said he was a Pharisee and studied the law as they did. He asked whether Moses’ law allowed people to condemn someone without first hearing him out? He pointed out the error in Jewish culture. Before condemning him, Jesus must be summoned to be heard. Nicodemus was an honest, sincere and humble person seeking after the truth.

But the Jews treated him as they did to the masses. The Pharisees couldn’t accept their own Pharisee. They said he was also deceived. “Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.” They said words with authority and an absolute spirit. They said Jesus was a Galilean, he was from Nazareth, so he could not be from Judah, from Jerusalem, and he could not be a prophet. Is it true that if no prophet has come from Galilee, then none can ever come from it? The Pharisees made a mistake in deduction. They made absolute the historical records.

The second mistake is that they thought Jesus was a Galilean. He belonged to the tribe of Judah, the offspring of David. Mark and John did not record any historical detail. But Matthew and Luke did. Matthew gave a detailed genealogy from Abraham to Moses to David to Jesus. Why start from Abraham? Because God said the descendant of Abraham would be a blessing to all nations. The descendant of David and the seed of Abraham were singular terms, not plural. Not all descendants will be like Jesus. Only one. A few hundred years before Jesus’ era, a few hundred Jews claimed they were the Messiah. God said no, the Messiah was the only descendant of Abraham, the only one. Luke recorded that although Jesus was a Nazarene, he was not born in Nazareth, but in Bethlehem.

The Jews didn’t get their facts right, made the wrong conclusions and stuck to their own prejudices. Their views became absolute religious convictions and they rejected everything else. Nicodemus just sat down and did not debate with the rash young Pharisees. A historical fact does not change regardless of one’s opinion. Nicodemus knew the Pharisees were influenced by their tradition, so he would not debate with them. These Jews were narrow-minded and stubborn.

In John 8, the Pharisees came to arrest Jesus and attack his weakness. They had a strategy. They caught some people in adultery and captured this woman. Why did they not take the man there? Because the woman is the weaker sex and the man is stronger. They asked Jesus about stoning the adulteress. They would broadcast his reply. What did Jesus say? If he said no, they would say he was going against the law of Moses. If he said yes, they would stone her to death and then he would go against himself because Jesus said he came not to judge people for their sins, but that they may be justified by faith. He came to save and to forgive, not to cause people to perish.

Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. What was Jesus writing? The Bible doesn’t tell us so we don’t need to speculate.

Was Jesus afraid of the challenge of giving the answer? No. He straightened up and said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” They were not able to respond to Jesus. His words were filled with power. Jesus did not want the Pharisees to treat this woman in this way. They had revealed their own sins. They had caught her in an adulterous act that she could not deny. But they dealt only with the woman and not the man. The woman was easy for them to bully. These people were dishonest. These people despised women and were afraid of the stronger men. They attacked the weaker sex. What they did displayed their own unrighteousness.

Jesus straightened up and said: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” He did not say they could not stone her. As Jesus said these words, the power of forgiveness was with him. One by one these people could see their own sin. They would start to reflect on their own lives. They would tremble. Their stone would drop on the floor. Today, it is not a matter of whether one has sinned or not, but whether one is discovered after having sinned and whether one has a way to hide one’s sin. Many women get pregnant from pre-marital sex and secretly go to the doctor to have an abortion, killing a life created in the image of God. You are not afraid that you have offended God. You are afraid of being ridiculed. This is sin upon sin. Today you hide your own sin. What makes you think you have the authority to hold on to someone else’s sin and condemn him? When Jesus said these words, he was stern, wise and full of authority. “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” On hearing these words, the Bible says from the oldest to the youngest, one by one they left. No one could escape the authority of Christ. He rebuked with his divine authority. No one could escape from his responsibilities. One by one left, feeling ashamed. Who can awake us to sin? Only the love and the authority of our great Lord. Why did the oldest leave first? Because older people have accumulated more sin.

The Bible says everyone has committed sins. Men, women, elderly and young people; from the oldest to the youngest. Jesus said to the woman: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” The woman was shocked. She said: “No one, sir.” Then Jesus Christ said: “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” You have to imagine this woman was an adulteress, naked with a man. Suddenly men barged in with poles and ropes. The man ran away quickly. Is that love? Why would he allow her to be arrested? Lust is to enjoy oneself, but love is to deny oneself. Lust is driven by desire and gain, but love is driven by self-sacrifice. If someone leaves you and escapes in the middle of crisis, he does not really love you. The woman did not have time to wear her clothes. These men would arrest her and bring her before the Pharisess, priests and the religious court. She may be stoned to death. She started to imagine big pieces of rocks falling on her. Another stone would hit her teeth and another, her lungs. She would not be able to resist them. Imagine her imagining the horrifying scenario.

Everyone asked Jesus for his opinion on stoning her to death. Jesus did not say yes but asked who was without sin. She would think: Why did Jesus forgive me? Why did he not allow people to stone me? I have many prejudices against Jesus, but now I thank him and reassess my opinion towards him. She would witness people leaving one by one. Her predicament was resolved. Her adversaries were scattered. The worst scenario did not come true. Jesus came to her, saying: Where are they? Has no one condemned you? Listen to this. “Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave you life of sin.” There are no records of what happened to the woman. Did she move to another place, never to stay in the city to avoid people from recognising her? Did she go into a convent and repent of her ways? Did she go into a proper marriage? But Jesus said three things. “Has no one condemned you?... Neither do I condemn you.” Secondly, “Go now.” You have regained your freedom. You don’t need to be judged any more. Under my grace you can now carry on with your life. “Leave your life of sin.”

Why did Jesus say sin no more? Did Jesus punish her? Why must we be punished because of sin? The truth is that all legal systems have not reduced crime. People go to jail for their crimes, but don’t change their ways when they come out. Why do we punish? What is the advantage of punishment? What can be gained by those who have been punished? 2,400 years ago, Plato asked this question and Aristotle discussed it with him. Do we punish because people have committed sin and deserve punishment, or is it because people will be deterred from committing the same thing? Can we have capital punishment? We will discuss this issue more the next time.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Jesus the Light of the World (Jn. 8:1-20)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 9 January 2011 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 8:1-20

In this passage, Jesus was asked if this woman who committed should be stoned to death based on the law of Moses. The law of Moses would require that both the man and woman who committed adultery but the Pharisees brought only the woman to Jesus. This is very unjust. They looked for righteous punishment with unrighteous attitude. They were self-serving and not truly looking for God’s righteousness.

If Jesus said the woman should be stoned, it would with His mission to save sinners. If He said the woman should not be stoned, it would be contradicting the law of God. Instead, Jesus said that the one who had never sinned should be the first to cast the stone. It was gentle but stern statement. All of them realised they were unworthy to judge others so they left, from the oldest to the youngest. We often defend ourselves with the love of God but judge others with the righteousness of God. This is very unjust.

After everyone left Jesus asked had nobody condemned her. On one hand she was shameful, on the other hand grateful. Philosophers have discoursed on the purpose of punishment, whether it is to execute justice, to deter or to reform. Is it concerned for the past or the future?

The answer is in the words of Jesus which put everything in balance. He said, “neither do I condemn you, go and leave your life of sin.” More punishment does not mean the person will change. There is power in the words of Jesus which convicts the woman not to commit the sin anymore. This is the greatest lesson she learnt.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (Jn. 8:12)

People do not understand His words because it sounds so simple yet nobody has ever spoken like that before, it is actually too profound and difficult to understand. No wise teacher ever declared himself to be the light of the world, not Plato nor Socrates. How can a Galilean declare He is the light of the entire world?

The Westminster Confession acknowledges that there is the light of nature but it is not sufficient. The Scriptures give the answers that philosophers are seeking after.

Jesus also said that whoever follows Him will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life. What does it mean to walk in darkness? It is something frightening. Even a sprinter cannot move confidently in darkness. If people who heard truly understood this would kneel down before Him in worship. But they did not understand hence they accused Him of making invalid testimony as He spoke of Himself. The Pharisees hated Jesus, no matter what Jesus said and did, they could not see the hand of God.

“Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.””

In that reply, Jesus gave three principles. The first principle is the Source. Jesus said even if He testified of His own it is still valid as He knew where He came from and where He is going. He came from the Source therefore all He said is true. But His audience did not know where He came from and where He was going, therefore they accused Him. There is a relationship between the source of the truth and the validity of one’s testimony.

The second is the reference. Jesus said His Father is with Him. Rejecting Jesus is rejecting His Father.

The third principle is multiple witnesses. Jesus said He is not the only witness. In Chapter 5, Jesus said His works, the Holy Spirit, His disciples, His Father, and the Scriptures all testify of Him.

From the book of Moses to the New Testament, there is never a singular witness. In the New Testament, there are four gospels instead of one. God honor His own principle. Other religions are established on the foundation of singular witness, like Jehovah’s witnesses (only Charles Taze Russell), Seventh Day adventist (only Helen White), Mormon (only Joseph Smith), Buddhism (only Sakyamuni), Islam (only Mohamed), etc.

Singular witness cannot be the truth. It is necessary to have two or three witnesses. This is the principle from God. May we learn to establish the foundation of our faith.