Sunday, March 25, 2012

God's love and human love (Jn. 13:36-38)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 1 April 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 13:36-38

John 14-16 recorded Jesus’ parting words which focus on the coming of the Holy Spirit. Before end of John 13, there is a new commandment. “A new command I give you, Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

From the Old Testament, we already learn that the first and greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbour as yourself. Why then is Christ’s commandment to love one another called a new commandment?

The Old Testament puts the obligation and initiative on one to love others. The New Testament does not assume you can love others. You will love others through the way Jesus loves you. You first receive the source of love from Jesus, then you can love others.

Humans are not the source of love, but the Son of God is. If Jesus did not manifest the love of God in this manner, none of us will be able to love others. So this is a new commandment. Our own love and emotinos are created. It is very limited. It has constraint. It is stained by sin and constrained by selfishness.

Nobody loves like Jesus did. He gave His life to save sinners. We all experience love, from our parents, from our friends, our lovers. But are these real love? Augustine wrote about love. He said even sexual love is selfish. When you enjoy love at its height, are you giving or receiving? The expression of human love has is self-centred, is unlike the self-sacrificing love of God. It is very difficult to truly love. Even the love we have towards our spouse might start well in the beginning, but we become bored after some time. After knowing someone for a long time, we start to focus on their weaknesses.

Therefore the command to love one another needs to be renewed. We need to return to this verse, to love as Jesus have loved us.

Simon Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” (v. 36). After such a great teaching on love, he forgot immediately and asked about less important things. This is the problem of our day. We immediately turn our minds to earthly things after being moved by great sermons. A person who jokes immediately after preaching, or a person who is concerned about the performance of his preachign, is not a true preacher. A true preacher is solemn, prays before and after preaching.

After a great moment of gathering, we need to be silent for a moment to reflect our spirituality and our relationship with God. This moment of meditation is very important.

Jesus did not reprimand Peter. He said, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” (v. 36)

In a few chapters earlier, Jesus said to the Jews “Where I go, you cannot come”. But what is this place? He meant the cross, however He did not explain then. They have no part in Jesus and will die in their sin. However, to Simon Peter, Jesus said, “you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” There will be a momentary gap, but Peter will recover and will finally follow Christ.

Peter did not ask Jesus to correct him, instead he felt insulted. He asked, “Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” (v. 37)

He did not reflect upon himself. Often we blame God first as we go through trials. We are paranoid. Many people measure their own obedience as they serve God. They use this way to look down on other people. You think you really love the Lord? When you think so, you are arrogant indeed. None of us love God enough. None of us can love unless He loves us first. He is the one who gives us opportunities to serve Him.

Peter thought he loved the Lord the most. He said he was willing to die for Jesus. Jesus answered, “Will you really lay down your life for Me? Very truly I tell you, before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.” (v. 38)

Many people think they are spiritual because they have read a lot. Yet when trials come they discover the exact opposite.

Peter indeed denied Jesus three times. Jesus said the spirit is willing, but the body is weak. “You do not even have the strength to speak the truth for my name sake. You think you will die for me. The most horrifying thing is you are not aware and still boast about it.” The Lord is so sacrificial and full of compassion. We who claim to serve Him are still so calculative.

John 13 ended here. It shows the qualitative difference between God and man. It started with the record that Jesus knew He was going to the Father and having loved His own, He showed them the full extent of His love and He loved them to the end. This is God’s love. At end of the chapter, Peter said he loved Jesus but denied Him three times that same night. This is man’s love. Man’s love is so selfish and so weak. But God’s love is so great, so unfailing.

May we love through Christ. Let us not be deceived. Let us look to the love of Christ.

Glory through sufferings (Jn. 13:31-32)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 18 March 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 13:31-32

After the last supper, Judas had no more opportunity to hear Jesus’ teaching. Do we have the awareness of the people we meet might never come back, and therefore how we need to use every opportunity we have?

Satan entered into Judas. How could this happen to someone Jesus handpicked as one of His 12 disciples? This tells us that none of us have special privileges. Things that happen to others can happen to us as well. So we need to be watchful. God allowed Judas to betray Jesus, but it was not God’s will, it was Judas’ will. God still kept Judas accountable for his sin. It does not mean that if God allows you to sin, He would not punish you. If God abandon you to your sin, He will punish you.

Jesus said Satan is a liar, the father of all lies. The origin of sin is not God, but the devil. God is the truth and the source of all goodness. He is not responsible for sin. He does not plan for sin. The one who plans to sin has greater guilt. Satan sinned out of himself, in the same manner Judas betrayed Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus in accordance to his own will, allowed by God.

After Judas was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.” (Jn. 13:31-32) Something similar has been mentioned before (Jn. 12:2-28). What does it mean to glorify God? What does it mean to say God is glorified?

Jesus Himself said, shouldn’t the Son of Man suffer and thus enter into glory? That is glory that comes through sufferings, from thorny crown into eternal glory. Without submission to God’s will, there is no entrance into God’s eternal glory. In the Bible, true glory is related to sufferings. It is something the world cannot accept. The things that are honored in the eyes of men are abominable in the eyes of God. The humiliation of the cross is the glory of God. Christ’s death is very humiliating, is the cruellest thing in the history of mankind.

How can this be glory? Someone understood this and wrote a hymn about it. Fanny Crosby was born in 19th century. She was blind because of wrong diagnosis during her childhood. She lived a long life for 90 years. She did not complain but wrote over 8000 hymns. In one hymn, she expressed her understanding of God’s glory: “In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever…” She understood that it is through the cross you know the glory of God.

Do we have the glory of God? When you endure suffering in obedience to the will of God, the Spirit of glory is upon you.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Night Before Betrayal (Jn. 13:21-30)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 11 March 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 13:21-30

Between AD60 to AD100 all apostles have died. Jesus had prepared for this by extending the apostleship of Christianity for another 30 years through the young disciple John.

John followed Christ very closely. After all disciples had fled, at the crucifixion only John was left. Jesus left the care of His mother to John. Why did Jesus give Mary to John instead of one of His brothers or other disciples? One thing different about John is that he always followed Christ closely. He leaned on Christ on the day before His betrayal because he wanted to hear everything Christ had to say.

John spoke a lot about love. John recorded the testing of Peter, “Do you love Me more than these?” He wrote a lot of miracles and teaching absent in other gospels. In the Old Testament, Daniel was chosen to write about the end days. In the New Testament, John was chosen to write Revelation.

The relationship between Jesus and Peter was not that intimate. Peter asked John to ask Jesus who it was that would betray Him (Jn. 13:24-25). Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. (v.26) John knew it was Judas. At that point, no other disciples knew.

Judas was very deceptive. He worked like a spy and nobody suspected him. He was intelligent but unfortunately his intelligence was not used by God, but for himself.

There are 3 things you do which will certainly end up in failure: (1) if you do everything for money (2) if you serve yourself (3) if you do things to please men.

As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him (v.27) He could not see he was possessed as his mind was only thinking about the money. Christians need to be able to differentiate whether a person is possessed or phychologically disturbed. Confused reasoning does not necessarily imply demon possession. There are 3 traits of someone possessed: (1) confused reasoning (2) out of control emotions (3) passive will.

What does it mean to be confused? It means you cannot tell good from evil, important from unimportant, God’s will from selfish ambition. Your logic is confused. In the midst of this confusion, Satan has opportunity. Secondly, you have such boiling emotion. You love so fervently you become irrational. Here Satan is waiting for you. Lastly, you become apathetic so you just passively follow as Satan take over you. Some people who are heart-broken are not able to think straight, are full of emotions and become passive and allow Satan to do whatever he wants.

Why would Satan enter Judas? Because he loved money so much he could not see properly. His logic was wrong. He did not see who Jesus is. He was satisfied he could sell Jesus for 30 pieces of silver. He was in fact not selling Jesus but was auctioning his own soul.

The Holy Spirit fills anoints and guides a person. No Christian is possessed by the Holy Spirit. Because in possession your will is passive, your state is controlled. But when you are guided, you willingly follow. When you are anointed, you receive the blessings of God and are filled with joy. When Jesus dipped the bread, Judas could have realised he had been exposed but he was ignorant because he was possessed. A person who does not glorify God or give thanks to God will have his thoughts blurred and heart confused, he became a very easy target for Satan to come in.

Did Judas fulfil the will of God? Is salvation come through Judas’ betrayal? Do we thank Judas for selling Jesus so that we have a Saviour? Remember that if Jesus did not come from heaven to earth, who would Judas betray? We have salvation because Jesus willingly came. And remember God does not need salvation and God does not need Judas. We are the one in need of salvation.

Jesus said, “What you are about to do, do it quickly” (v.27). Jesus did not say, “what God wants you to do” but “what you are about to do”. This has very deep theological meaning. It is what Judas want to do, not what God wants him to do. Only Jesus, John and Judas knew. Judas only saw money, not the truth. The night Jesus was betrayed, Judas evil deed was exposed. He was allowed to exercise his freedom.

Therefore, if you do everything for money, if you do everything for yourself or to please people, you will do everything wrong. May God has mercy on us.

May God give us a pure heart that is obedient to His will so that we can see Him. May we not compromise just because we want to please others.