Sunday, May 13, 2012

Believe in the Triune God - Part 2 (Jn. 14:1-6)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 29 April 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 14:1-6

God called Abraham to leave all the false idols and to worship the one true God. God continued to give the command to the Israelites through Moses in Deuteronomy 6 to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength. Israelites kept falling into idol worship for many generations until God sent them to exile. After coming back from Babylon, Jews repented. They finally embraced the one true God. By the time Jesus came, the Jews no longer worshipped idols, they were strictly monotheists.

However in Jn 14, Jesus was challenging the whole scene. Jesus said “Let your heart not be troubled. Believe in God, belive also in Me.” (Jn 14:1) How could Jesus compare Himself with God? Why believe in God and also in Him? Is this not promoting self and blasphemy? Is this not going against God’s revelation over thousands of years to believe only in one true God?

God had revealed the possibility plural personhood of God long time ago. The one true God is Triune. “Hear o Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is one.” “Elohim” in Deu 6 is not a singular term, it is not even dual, it is many. The Bible says “Holy, holy, holy” three times. The Triune God is implicit in the entire Bible.

In John 14-16 Jesus only spoke to His disciples, even Judas was not there. He was speaking to the disciples who had seen His power over the storm, the fig tree, over diseases, over demons, over life and death. From all the miracles, one will have figured out that He is divine. But is He the God we will worship? Why did Jesus ask them to believe in God and the in Him? He equated Himself with God. The disciples did not object. But still they had doubts.

Jesus said believing in Him is the same as believing in God who sent Him. Jesus wanted to bring His disciples to the understanding that believing in Him is believing in God. In the second century, one of the most important debates was who Jesus Christ is. At the time of Athanasius, the doctrine of Trinity was consolidated. Arius, however, considered Jesus as part of creation and the Father is the Almighty God. So Jesus was divine but not God Himself. This is acceptable to many people. Isaiah 9 wrote that He is Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. This was taken to mean that Jesus is “mighty” God, but not Almighty God.

By saying “Believe in God, belive also in Me” (Jn 14:1) Jesus already prepared His disciples to accept the Triune God.

A rich young ruler once asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This question has important elements of morality, personal responsibility and eternal life. Jesus answered, “Why do you call Me good?” There is only one good, that is God. Jehovah’s Witnesses interpret that based on this verse Jesus had declared He is not God.

However, what was the person asking? Why call Jesus a “good teacher”? Since only God is good, and you call Me good, do you believe I am God? Eternal life is matter relating to God, not men. If I were a man, why do you seek eternal life from Me? If I am God, why do you call Me Teacher? If I am Man, why do you kneel before Me? Why ask eternal life from a teacher? Do you go to man for eternal life? It is as though you believe I am God, but you do not seem to be sure. Now that you address me as good teacher, since only God is good, you believe I am God? Could it be you already knew I am God? So if I am God, are you willing to obey Me? Jesus saw very clearly the man’s confusion.

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come backand take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (Jn. 14:2-4)

This is a precious passage. God is willing to be with us. He came in the flesh and live among us. In the Old Testament, the tabernacle represents God’s presence with His people. This foreshadowed the coming of Jesus Christ. The most important representation is the Holy of Holies, where the ark of the covenant sits. It is the eternal covenant that cannot be removed. God will not change, God is eternal and faithful. The covenant is built upon His faithfulness, unchangeability and eternal existence. Thus the covenant is true.

In Jn 14, Jesus spoke about the Triune God. The first thing was to believe in God, and believe in Him. Then He said He was going to the Father, that it is good that He went away, otherwise the Holy Spirit would not come. He was going back to the Father to prepare a place for them. There will be eternal union with the Father. There they would be with the Lord forever. And the Lord is Love, Truth, Righteousness, Holiness and Goodness. To be forever with the Lord is to be united with truth, love, righteousness, goodness and holiness. It is the highest blessedness.

The disciples still could not understand and asked “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (Jn 14:5) After 3.5 years with Jesus, they were still thinking in very worldly way.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (Jn. 14:6) The Way was already here, Jesus Himself. This is spiritual truth. Therefore, if you are not born again, cannot see the kingdom of God. If you are not born of Spirit and water, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Believe in the Triune God - Part 1 (John 14:1)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 22 April 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 14:1

Although at this time Jesus must be feeling hurt because Judas betrayed him, he did not let himself affected by his personal feeling. When a person feels happy he will say happy things and in sadness, sad things. However, even though Jesus currently felt bitter, the words out of his mouth were still full of grace. This was a very difficult thing to do. Indeed, it was in fact at this time that he could still console his disciples, 'Do not let your hearts be troubled.' It was a truly great act of ministry.

This does not mean Jesus never wept. The Bible records 3 times Jesus wept, none of them for himself:
1. When Jerusalem refused to repent
2. Because in front of Lazarus' tomb the Jews did not believe in Him
3. In the garden of Gethsemane because he was going to take upon the sins of the whole world

The Bible also recorded once that Jesus sang a psalm, and that was in the garden of Gethsemane. It was in the face of death that Jesus did this, but it was not out of concern for himself.

Next Jesus said something that was very hard to accept, 'You believe in God, believe also in me.' The first part would be easy to accept, but the later part was problematic. This was because to believe in God but also to believe in Jesus would have been blasphemous to the Jews, just as Moses wrote in Deut 6:4-5, 'Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your might.' They are to absolutely have no one else as God; How could they believe in God but also believe Jesus is God? But this would not be a problem if they understood that Jesus came from the Father.

The later part says '... love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your might.' It tells the Jews to love the Lord in an undivided manner, i.e. not to have other gods. However even as the later part says so, we can still love others. Loving God goes hand-in-hand with loving men, they don't contradict each other. We can only love others if we first love God. We also need to love men even as we love God. For example, it is not right to say that because we need to serve God in church then it is alright not to serve our family members' need. We still have the responsibility to serve others, even as we serve God.

For some time the Jews had this command, but it was a very difficult thing to do. We see in the Old Testament through many centuries they worshipped many other gods and caused God to anger. God sent many prophets like Jeremiah to tell them to repent but they either repented and the next generation forgot, or completely rejected the prophets. God finally allowed the Solomon temple in Jerusalem to be destroyed and for them to be carried off in exile.

Only after the exile, there was no more idol worship among the Israelites. They had truly repented. This is why in the New Testament, only in Caesarea Phillipi idol worship still exists. It was against this background when Peter made the declaration to Jesus, 'You are the Son of the living God!' We can see 2 aspects of belief here:
1. Worship God only (no idol worship)
2. This God is the triune God (i.e. Jesus Christ is the God-incarnate).

So at this point (John 14:1) Jesus was not trying to confuse the disciples, but he wants them to believe in the triune God. He is speaking a hard truth here. We see the second person of God in this chapter, and we'll see the third person of God in the later chapters.