Saturday, June 23, 2012

The theology of prayer (Jn 14:11-15)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 3 June 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 14:11-15

Of these verses, Charismatics are most interested in verse 14 and place the greatest emphasis on it: “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

What does it mean to “ask for anything”? They will say: “Whatever you want, just ask for it.” Is this what the Bible teaches? Can I ask God for five wives? For some horses? For two jet planes? To evade taxes without going to court? A person who interprets the verse this way is showing his ignorance and shallowness. He is going against Biblical principles.

This concerns the theology of prayer. Is there any faith (or religion) that does not place emphasis on prayer? Is there any faith that places emphasis on your own requests? Such prayers are self-centred, and based on your own needs and desires, and for your own benefit. You make use of God to fulfill your wish. Almost all faiths and religions have this concept. Although you say you are praying, you actually want to force God to be your servant. Strictly speaking, this sort of “prayers” in essence are not prayers.

Prayer comes from the deepest part of your heart. When you express your desires in accordance with God's will, this is “correct prayer”. If in your prayer, you are the host and God is the one you command, and you want God to fulfill your desires based on what you want, then though you say “Lord, Lord”, in your heart you are saying “I am the Lord, I am the Lord. You are my servant. Listen to me! I want you to do this or that based on what I want.” This is not prayer.

Jesus Christ gave us three important teachings about prayer. The first was at the beginning of his ministry. He said: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 5:33) What you need, God will give you. In other words, what you do not need, you do not have to ask for. How many things do we need in our lives? Not much. I remember Reverend Andrew Gih (Ji Zhi Wen) (1901-1985) once said: “We really don't need that many pieces of clothing.” We buy hundreds of pieces of clothing, but do we need them? A woman I know had so many pieces of clothing she kept changing into a new attire and left the clothing she had worn before unwashed for a few months. Her house was so smelly. If you don't need that many things, what is the purpose of wanting so many things? When you try to move house, you discover you have too many things. The final time you have to move house, you won't be able to bring anything with you. Why do we want so many things? It's because inside us are greed and fear. Anything that we see, we want. That's greed. And when we are scared that we will lack something, we feel that we must buy it first. When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, the principle was clear from the beginning: Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Jesus also taught about prayer, when he said: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread...” So what we need today, give it to us. How about tomorrow? No need to pray for it (today).

When Jesus Christ started teaching about prayer, he said to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. How could it be that at the end of three and a half years, he taught that “just ask for anything you want”? Isn't this a huge step backward for Christianity? It's completely unreasonable. Jesus Christ would want his disciples to grow on the matter of learning the truth and understanding the will of God. Jesus said to pray “in my name”. For the Charismatics, it means to say “in the name of Jesus”. Just call out his name. If this were the case, why did Jesus say: “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 7:21a) You may say, I called upon Jesus' name. But Jesus says: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23) This is a dangerous thing.

Jesus says: “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” (John 14:12a) Jesus is saying that I have done the will of my Father and you, as my followers, should do the same. Because you obey what I command, it proves that you love me. Jesus says: “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” (John 14:15) He is saying that he has obeyed the Father who sent him, and those whom he has sent into the world, should obey and do what he has sent them to do. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16) Jesus Christ was the example: Whatever he asked for, the Father will give him. God has granted what I asked for but I've never asked for nonsense. I cannot remember many occasions where I prayed for journey mercy or that I would not get food poisoning when preaching at different places. These are not topics for my prayer. I just obey God and the Holy Spirit. Wherever God sends me, I will come back safely. If I don't, I will return to Him.

The mercy of God is seen not through prosperity but how God preserves you through your trials and difficulties until forevermore. God allowed me to stay in Indonesia, so I can survive anywhere else. God allows people to live in the cleanest place but they may not survive when they come to Indonesia! Jesus Christ wanted his disciples to stay in the world. His prayer is not to take them out of the world, but to ask God to help them to have victory over the evil one. The power of victory is achieved through difficult circumstances, not to preserve you so as to escape from danger. This is something you need to think about, then you will know what fighting and striving are, and what it means to work for God and depend on Him.

Christ does the will of God and finishes what the Father has asked him to do. So he dared to say: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever.” (John 14:16) The Holy Spirit is with us. This is the special privilege of all Christians. No other faith has this concept. No other religious leader could command someone to be with his followers after his death. This is a promise made possible by the Son. After Jesus has been obedient to the will of God, the Son will ask the Father to send forth the Holy Spirit to stay in the hearts of the saints. Take note of this: When Christians are most lonely, they are not alone, because the Spirit of God is always with us.

Jesus says: “The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:17) Raise your hand if you feel the Holy Spirit is with you. How do you feel the Holy Spirit is in you? Is it electrifying? Is there something that makes you feel it? We know that the Spirit of the Lord is in us. Look at 1 John.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Divinity and Works of Christ (Jn. 14:11-15)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 20 May 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 14:11-15

God sending Jesus into the world is the height of God’s revelation. Jesus spoke about the relationship between His person and His works. He said “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” (Jn. 14:11)

Liberals will say “Jesus” but not “Lord Jesus”. Their understanding of Jesus stopped there. They did not see Him as the Christ. Their christology is problematic.

When Jesus said one of His disciples would betray Him, all 11 disciples asked, “is it me, Lord” but the last person, Judas said, “is it me, Rabbi?” Like the Liberals, Judas never addressed Jesus as Lord.

The liberal philosophers respect Jesus and recognise Him as the example for all mankind. On one hand they elevate His morality but on the other hand they reject His divinity. Jesus was seen as a historical person, who was elevated as Lord in the church, but seen as a great man by the world. So, is Jesus a mere man who is called Lord, or is He Lord who became man?

This segregates into two kinds of Christianity. First type believes Jesus is the eternal God who came to earth. The second type believes that Jesus was such a perfect human being that people called Him Lord.

Does He become Lord just because people believe Him to be so then? Or do the humanity and divinity of Jesus truly found in the personhood of Jesus? Is His humanity due to incarnation or is His divinity due to people’s high regard of Him? The Bible tells the answer.

When Jesus was on earth, did He want people to believe in Him? Certainly. In Jn. 14:11 He said to believe in God and also to believe in Him. He spoke the truth with confidence. Indeed, He also said to “at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves”. What Jesus did and what He said about Himself cannot be separated. The mistakes of the liberals is to accept the perfect morality of Jesus Christ but not His lordship.

Jesus said a good tree will bear good fruits and bad tree will bear bad fruits. A good tree cannot bear bad fruits and a bad tree cannot bear good fruits. If you have abundant life, you will have abundant fruits. Fruits are the marks of life. This principle can be applied to Jesus Himself. Jesus is God, therefore He could manifest divinity in His morality. So you cannot accept His perfect moral life but reject His divinity.

His works manifest who He is. His living is perfect because He is perfect. Because He is God, He displays the perfection of God. God is Love and Jesus manifests the love of God. God is just and Jesud did everything in justice. God is holy, so Jesus hates sin and loves righteousness.

In Heb 1, God the Father praised God the Son. “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy” (Heb 1:9). God in Heaven anointed God the Son with the oil of joy, this anointing is the Spirit of God. This is a very important verse on Trinity. When Jesus was baptised, the heaven opened and God the Father said, “This is My Son in whom I am well pleased”. And the Holy Spirit descended upon God the Son. He was anointed by the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said the same thing in 3 different ways. If you believe in Me, you believe in the Father who sent me. If you see Me, you do not see me but the Father who sent me. When you listen to Me, you listen to the Father.

The divinity of Christ is not the result of His behavior. It is the reason for His morality. The historical Jesus is also the eternal Christ you ought to believe.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” (Jn. 14:12-14)

What are the greater things the disciples would do? What did Jesus mean by “I will do whatever you ask in My name?” To be continued…