Monday, June 27, 2011

The True Shepherd and The Robber (Jn. 10:1-6)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 19 June 2011 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 10:1-6

It is an irony that while religious leaders were most knowledgeable in the Law of Moses, when the Messiah came they were the most resistant. The blind beggar was healed, physically and spiritually, but the Pharisees were learned in the law of God well was blind spiritually. Jesus said He came to the world so that the blind would see and those who see become blind. It a religious paradox. Those who think they know actually do not know, those who think they see actually do not see. The Pharisees despised the blind beggar as uneducated, poor and of low social status. We should not despise the poor and uneducated because some of them had treasures within them that influence many generations to come. We need to honour people of lowly social status. John 9 exposes human weakness and social ills in this respect. It has not changed much for 2000 years. Some Christians behave worse than non-Christians. Some pastors are more evil than those who do not have religious education.

John 10 speaks of Jesus as the good Shepherd and the gate to the sheep. It does not seem connected to the previous chapter. But the Bible was not revealed and arranged in a systematic manner. It is the word of life, the expression of the truth, not formed by systematic teaching, but by organic principles of life.

Systematic theology categorises everything in a logical manner. It is insufficient to teach the Bible. The methodology to put everything in a logical system comes from the Enlightenment Age. The word “systematic theology” is the literary product of the Enlightenment. It is good to study systematic theology as a start but we should not stop there. We need to go in depth to let our study form organic relationship with our life. We need to influence others with our life and character. The relationship between life and the word of God is organic. Three great theologians, Augustine, John Calvin and Karl Barth would not use the term systematic theology.

In John 10, the relationship between Jesus and His church is described as the Shepherd and the sheep. There are five illustrations of the relationship between Christ and His church. Firstly, it is like the relationship between husband and wife, bridegroom and bride. Christ love His church and give His life for His church like a husband loves his wife. The Church ought to submit to Christ as a wife submits to her husband. Secondly, Christ is the foundation and the Church is the house. The house dose not support the foundation, but is supported by the foundation. Christ is the foundation of our spirituality. That’s how the church can stand firm.

Thirdly, Jesus is the Head, the Church is His body. The body is directed by the head, not the other way round. The church needs to be submissive to her Head, Christ, just as Christ submits to God the Father. Here we see the hierarchy of power. Forthly, as illustrated in John 10, Christ is the Shepherd and and the Church is His flock and His sheep recognise his voice. Finally, Christ is the vine and we are the branches. Out of the 5 illustrations, only one relationship is not organic, i.e the house and its foundation. Other illustrations are life relationships or organic relationships.

How then is John 10 related to John 9? The Pharisees studied the Law so carefully but could not believe in Christ, so Jesus said they are not His sheep. The blind beggar was uneducated but believe in Christ, so he is His sheep.

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.” (Jn. 10:1-2)

Who is the robber and who is the shepherd? Some church leaders are robbers. A true shepherd will give of his life for his flock. He loves his flock and care about their safety. The thief and the robber does not care about the sheep and will instead takes away their peace and your possessions for himself.

There are two kinds of leaders and preachers in church. One is the true shepherd who is self-sacrificial and give his life to the flock of God. The other is the thief and robber who take advantage of the congregation and cheat their money. He uses church offerings to enrich himself and support his luxurious lifestyle.

These robbers did not come in by the door but climed in by an illegitimate way. They entered the church by the wrong way, not by the proper gate. They are false prophets and false apostles who cheat the church. A lot of people work hard and give their offerings to false prophets. False prophets speak things people like to hear and naïve Christians often believe.

Jesus said He is the gate. He is the good Shepherd. Why is Jesus so stern to refer to other religious leaders as robbers? He was not willing that people just follow anybody in confusion. We need to discern. Many people give offerings to the wrong place.

Jesus said He came to give life but the robber comes to take life away. His sheep hears His voice and follow Him. He said sheep will never follow a stranger for they do not recognise his voice. They could feel the love of the Shepherd. Many people leave churches because they cannot recognise a true shepherd hear in their pastors who act more like hired men. They are disappointed. The true shepherd sacrifices himself, loves the flock and never tries to get something from the flock. The sheep will recognise that this is God’s shepherd.

Yet some of us cannot recognise voices and follow the kidnappers. We need to be trained to recognise the voice of the Lord because His sheep hears His voice and follow Him.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Jesus and the Blind Man (Jn. 9:35-41)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 29 May 2011 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 9:35-41

It is not necessarily a blessing when we do not encounter much sufferings. Without sufferings we cannot empathise with other people. Why are some people born so poor and some so rich? Is there injustice or do people deserve what they get? Or could it be that our spirituality is too low such that God gives us an easier life with less sufferings? Some people are spiritually strong so they could live well in great sufferings. Because we cannot be tested much, God spares us. Thus we should not despise others if we have more material or physical blessings. We do not know why but eternity will reveal.

In John 9, we see the arrogant Pharisees, a man born blind and the Lord of justice doing difficult tasks on earth. The man born blind had a difficult life since birth, and after he was healed, he witnessed to the truth and was cast out by the society. The Jews said he was steeped in sin and was not qualified to lecture them. They were the experts of the law so nobody could teach them.

The Bible said the first person who sought him after he was cast out was the Lord Himself. When people despise you, the Lord does not despise you. When you are abandoned by others, the Lord will not abandon you. He sought you out. This is the true spirit of Christianity.

The Lord is the Good Shepherd. He never abandons those who are fading in their sufferings. When Jesus found him, Jesus wanted to build his life based on faith. The reformed evangelical movement will first attempt to establish true faith, then true works that come from true faith, the power needed to preach the gospel and the related culture to re-establish morality and influence the entire nation. In so doing we will take care of the poor.

Many people think they can solve people’s problem when they become a politician so they use deception to win votes, and they end up exploiting their country’s resources. The economy becomes worse. The fall of ethics starts from faith. To reorder the whole country, we must start from faith.

The principles of many churches are not based on the Bible but on the world. So the order of morality in the world is completely lost for they are not built upon the principles of truth.

When Jesus met this man, it is not that He did not care about his physical needs, but He wanted to build his faith first. The first question Jesus asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (Jn. 9:35) What is the relationship between the Son of God and the Son of Man? If you believe in the Son of God, you also believe in God-Incarnate, the Son of Man, the Son of God in the faith. The focus is Christology. This Son of Man is singular, the true representation of Man.

Jesus found the person who sought after the truth. Jesus focused on the issue of faith to attract him. The man did not say the Son of Man had nothing to do with him and his sufferings, since everyone is the son of man. Instead he answered in an unusual way, “Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” (v. 36) It is as though he is asking, “Lord, Who is the Lord? Tell me, Lord, that I might believe in the Lord.” We often behave this way too. This happened to Paul on his way to Damascus as well. When the light fell on him and Jesus spoke to him, he asked, “Who are you, Lord?” Paul already called Him “Lord” yet asked who He was. Jesus answered him, “I am Jesus, whom you persecuted.”

It is a great mystery that God should come in the flesh. True faith is Christological. But Judaism cannot accept it. Islam cannot accept it. Polytheism cannot accept it.

Jesus told Paul, “I am Jesus, whom you persecuted.” To this blind man He healed, Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, He is the one speaking with you.” (v. 37). He responded, “Lord I believe” and worshiped Him. Many of us could not believe that way. We use too much of our reasoning in the wrong way. This great faith expressed with immediate reaction, is most precious. Some people listen hundreds and thousands of times and still question. But one who listens once to true sermon and believe immediately will not waste a lot of time.

This is one of the best example in the Bible on the worshiping of Christ. When Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples worshiped. When people worship angels, angels stopped them. But Jesus accepted worship.

Not only the man and Jesus were there, the Pharisees witnessed it. There are 8 times Jesus declared his purpose of coming to earth: to seek the lost; to lead sinners to repentance; He came not to be served but to serve; He came to give life and give it abundantly; He came to do God’s will (Heb. 10:7); He came to fulfill the law (Matt.5:17) and He came to bear witness to the truth. In all those 7 instances, Christ’s purpose of coming to earth are active.

In this passage, the purpose is expressed in a passive tone. “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” (v.39) What kind of judgement? It is so that (1) the blind will see and (2) so that those who see will become blind.

Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” (v.40) In His wisdom, He said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (v.41)

Jesus did not say they were blind in this passage. The chapter ends here but in other parts of the Scripture Jesus said “your eyes are the lamp of the body, if your eyes are good, your body will be full of light but if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If the light within you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” (Matt. 6:22-23) You can see physically but you are blind spiritually. This experience truly happen. The blind man sees but the Pharisees who see become blind. Paul could physically see but was blinded by the light of God. Afterwards he truly saw spiritually.

The Bible said that those who think they know somethin still do not know as much as they ought to know. Many are still blind when they think they see. Let us be like this blind man with the honesty and humility to come to God to open our eyes.

Lord, open our eyes so that we can see the wonders of Your works, the glory of the cross, the power of Your resurrection, from foolishness see Your greatest wisdom, from weakness see Your power.