Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Shepherd, The Hired Hand, The Robber and Abundant Life (Jn. 10:7-15)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 26 June 2011 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 10:7-15

At the last sermon we have studied that Jesus Christ described himself as the door and the good shepherd. Now in this passage his relationship with us as his sheep is explained: This relationship is an organic and living relationship. We are the flock with Jesus Christ as the great shepherd. Strangely, both Old Testament and New Testament refers to us as sheep. In Isaiah 53 we are described as 'like sheep we have gone astray,' about which 150 years ago Charles Spurgeon remarked, 'Why does the Bible use sheep [to describe man], not cats, dogs, or other animals?' It's because of all animals, sheep are the ones that are most likely to lose their way and yet, they are also the ones who could not find their own way home. The Bible does not say 'Like dogs we have gone astray,' because a dog that has gone astray could find its own way home. It likens us to sheep because we could not find our own way to God and therefore it teaches us that we need to depend on God to direct our lives onto the right path.

Jesus says we are his sheep among his flock and he is the good shepherd. The relationship between the sheep and the shepherd is that those sheep who belong to him will recognise his voice, then will follow him and so will love him. This is what Christians will do. The questions are then, are we listening carefully to recognise Jesus' voice? Are we obedient to him? Do we follow him? As Christians we ought to carefully think about these questions.

In verses 7-8 Jesus says, '... I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.' When God sent Jesus to come to the earth, He sent Him to come as the Messiah among His people.

The Messiah has been in the concept of Israelites since the Old Testament time. There are 3 main schools of thought in the era of Jesus Christ:
1. Among the Jews who returned from Babylon
2. Among the Jews who returned from Alexandria
3. Among the Jews diaspora in Greece and Rome

There are some common thoughts among them, but they came to different conclusions. Some thought that the Messiah would come as God, so he will not die. Some thought that he would come as a son of man, so in the end he will die. Some thought he would come as the Prince of Peace. But the common thread among them all is that he would come as a sort of hero/saviour of the people, from the lineage of King David, to reestablish the throne of David.

However among the Israelites at that time, the king of the Jews (Herod) was not a Jew, and certainly not THAT descendant of David (Note: The Bible used the singular term for this descendant when referring to the Messiah). Herod was a puppet king installed by the Roman empire, and the Jews definitely did not recognise him as a king of the Jews as the Bible had set out that the king must come from the Judah tribe and from the lineage of David. This was an important edict from the Bible and the Israelites will not anyhow carry out this order.

So the Israelites were still praying for the Messiah to come. However they were faced with the question of where to find this king. As such, they need to pray, but where to pray for him to come? The answer has to be at the temple and thus the Israelites found themselves in a state of contradiction: They gave thanks for such a magnificent temple but this temple was built by Herod, the king that they did not recognise as the Messiah. Yet the Jews still went there to worship because it was very grand and was built on the same site as Solomon's temple. As such, externally they appeared to worship at Herod's temple, but in their hearts they did not obey Herod as their king. Nonetheless, this thing that Herod did, together with the 180,000 Roman soldiers placed in Jerusalem helped the Roman empire in controlling the Jewish people from revolting.

Before Jesus's birth, it was politics making use of religion - Herod used the temple to control the Jews. After Jesus's birth, it was religion making use of politics - The religious leaders used Pontius Pilate to kill Jesus because their religion forbade them from killing anyone.

When Jesus came, although Jesus confessed that he was the good shepherd (i.e. the Messiah), many Jews denied that he was the Messiah. There are 2 reasons for this. One is the Jews had been persistently challenging the rule of the Roman empire and by the time Jesus started his ministry, they had also become very stubborn. Also, before Jesus came there were more than 200 people who claimed to be the Messiah. The Jews checked each of them against the description in the Scripture and found all of them to be false. Some of them ended up killed by the enemy.

These false messiahs were collectively referred to as the thief by Jesus in verse 8. Throughout history we could find this kind of people, who claimed to be so and so but turned out to be ordinary people. Many of them did it for wealth, power and fame. In contrast, Jesus is the real Messiah. He said, '... I am the door' (Note: the word 'door' is singular). He is the only gate to the Father through which the sheep will find pasture with enough grass to feed on, in the Father's kingdom.

Besides the shepherd and the robbers, Jesus also talked about the hired hand. There is a big difference between a shepherd and a hired hand. The hired hand are people who seem to take care of the sheep but actually have no heart for the sheep; they simply work for money. Anything they do, it's for the money. When the wolves come, they will run away. In contrast, Jesus Christ does not only say he is the only door but he is also the good shepherd, who cares for his sheep's needs and gives his life for them to give them eternal life.

These are also the 2 types of attitude with which people work. One is of the good shepherd. People with such an attitude care for the sheep deeply and protect them from the enemy. This attitude is truly great. The other is of the hired hand. People with this attitude work only if they are paid. If they are not paid, they will not do anything. If we want to serve God, we must not serve Him with the hired hand's attitude; we must serve Him with the good shepherd's attitude. We ought to be a small shepherd who truly loves his sheep, works responsibly for them and does not make decisions merely based on our selfish desires. To the hired hand it's all about the money, but to the good shepherd it is people's lives. This also applies to all other areas of society, e.g.: An air stewardess ought to serve passengers out of genuine care and not measured by the class of their seats, a doctor out to treat his patients' illnesses well, a husband ought to care for his wife well, and a storekeeper should go miles in serving his customers. A pastor should not just 'play safe' in serving his sheep.

As for the thief:
1. He will not tell his victims what he is going to do beforehand.
2. He will come when his victims are not aware. So if you are spiritually asleep, you should pray that God to awaken you. The Bible says that we ought to be careful and ready.
3. He comes to steal what he thinks as important, not what the victims think as important.
The thief has to be strong, otherwise he will not be able to steal and kill. He  destroys, so that it will be easier for him to steal.

In verse 10 Jesus says, 'The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.' This is not an ordinary statement; it is what Christianity is all about. Religion talks about good and evil, science talks about truth and falsehood, philosophy talks about wisdom and foolishness. Not only that, the most important cultures, philosophy, and arts in the world talk about beauty and ugliness, and value. But Christianity does not treat these as the most important; there is only one thing that surpasses all of them: death and life. God's first command to Adam was 'You are not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for the day you eat of it, you will surely die.' Now in the garden of Eden there were many other trees, and another important tree among these trees is the tree of life. Figuratively speaking, there is a contrast here. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil represents all religions, but the tree of life represents salvation which is only found in Jesus Christ.

This is a very important contrast to know. The whole Bible tells us that we are fallen in matters of good and evil but saved in the matter of life. Its overarching theme is for man to return to life that is in relationship with God. Jesus says that we are to come to him so that we will have eternal life and not perish. This is what Christianity is all about.

Life alone is not enough; one must have an abundant life. These are 2 different lives. In the world, there are (only) 2 types of Christians: One has life, and the other one has abundant life. The former is saved, and is half alive and half dead, but you cannot say that he or she is dead - he survives. He IS a Christian, but cannot do anything: Cannot read the bible, cannot pray, cannot bear testimony for Christ, cannot lead others to Christ, cannot share the gospel to others, cannot bear fruit, cannot glorify God, cannot even go to church on Sundays on his own initiative but need others to bring him. He is saved, but weak in everything. But the other one has abundant life. Not only he has joy, he can do all those things and hence display abundant life. I realised this after 3 life-threatening accidents that I had gone through. In all those occasions I experienced concussions and had to lie in the hospital bed, depending on the nurse even for doing simple things like washing my face and brushing my teeth. This is what a merely surviving Christian is like.

Therefore we Christians ought to live an abundant life and express it in everyday life. An abundant life entails:
1. Abundance in faith
2. Abundance in truth and knowledge
3. Abundance in hope and God's love
Having these, your life will then be shared with others.

You believe and then you will know the truth. When you know the truth, you will believe even more. This is like what Augustine wrote 'Believe and know the truth, then understand in order to believe even more.' My faith and my knowledge is like the rings of a tree that year by year keeps growing and bearing fruit. May the Lord help us all, that we will be Christians that keeps growing and sharing our lives with others and bearing fruit forevermore.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Christ's Miracles Point to His Divinity (Jn. 10:31-39)

This is a personal summary of the preaching of Rev Dr Stephen Tong on 28 August 2011 in True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 10:31-39

The Son of God came into the world. What He said and did brought unavoidable tension. The Jews felt that Jesus has insulted their God so they picked up the stones to stone Him. Religious zeal is often used as an excuse to persecute the children of God. The Jews in their religious zeal persecuted many Christians.

When they picked up the stones to stone Jesus, Jesus said, “I have shown you many good works from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?” (Jn. 10:32) Jesus had done many miracles which are clear signs of His divinity. He made the blind see, the mute speak, the sick healed, the dead raised to life, the demon-possessed set free. All these brought great wonder and amazement. Eversince God created the world, they had not seen a man born blind healed. They had not seen the dead raised to life. Elijah did it once, Elisha did it once, but Jesus did it 3 times. This happened in their era, before their very eyes, how then should they react to Him? He stilled the wind and storm. And the disciples responded by kneeling down before Him and worshiping Him. This is the right attitude.

Here Jesus Christ reminded the Jews of all He had performed. They should have repented in tears and asked for forgiveness for all their wrong responses. But instead they were repugnant and used their mind to think of all possible wrongs against Christ. When they see good things, they only think about the bad possibilities. But these Jews already absolutised their thinking process so they have no heart to respond to whatever Jesus said.

“We are not stoning you for any good work,” they replied, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (Jn. 10:33)

This is a dichotomy response from the Jews. They viewed Christ’s deeds totally apart from His words. They did not see the need to consider His deeds and words together. However, we usually call a person a hypocrite if his words and deeds are not integrated. There are many people who can talk without doing. But when one’s deeds are consistent with what one’s preaching, the person is genuine. In Christ, we see such genuinity. Both His words and deeds point to His divinity. However, no religious leaders except Nicodemus properly acknowledged Jesus.

The Jews’ way of segregating Christ’s deeds from His words is incorrect. This is also where the liberals failed. They only want to accept Jesus’ morality, not His divinity. Like the Jews they accepted Jesus’ good works but not His divine claim. The liberals took Jesus as the best and highest example of humanity, but not God Him. They have abandoned the possibility of God become flesh. Yet if Jesus was not God He could not have done those miracles. Since He did those miracles, He must be God. When you truly obey God, if you are truly God’s sheep, you will be able to accept this.

“Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”? 35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside—36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” (Jn. 10:34-36)

Jesus responded to the Jews’ protest that in the Scripture, the people who received and obeyed the word, not the Word Himself, who are made in God’s image, but not God Himself, are called ‘gods’, how then can Christ, the very Word sent by God, not be called God’s Son? This is the Word proclaimed in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This is the Word through whom all things were made. The Word who is distinct and separate from the created world. This Word became flesh and dwelt among men. How then can He not be called the Son of God? How then could they accuse Christ of blasphemy?

His miracles are divine indeed. His miracles demonstrates He is divine, He is God. His deeds show who He is. Yet the Jews accepted the miracles, but refused to acknowledge that the One who does the miracles is God. They reject the divinity of Christ. How foolish and stubborn. They cannot see their own ignorance. All that He has done clearly show He is who He claims to be. They think nothing is wrong with His miracles, but everything is wrong with what He says.

Jesus said, “Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father.” (Jn. 10:37-38)

This is the best answer which cannot be improved. Christ did the works which only God can do. But the Jews still could not understand. They still wanted to stone Him. This is because they are not His sheep.

Many people listen to sermons over and over again without truly listening and receiving. The Scripture says faith comes from hearing the Word of God. If you do not listen, how can you believe? If we are not listening, we cannot understand. May we truly hear His Word and follow Him as His sheep.