Monday, August 27, 2012

Jesus Christ is the VIne and We Are the Branches (John 15:1-6)

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

Passage: John 15:1-6

It is only after Judas left that John14 starts, and it talks about the relationship between the church and the head of the church, Jesus Christ. Between John14-16 He promised the Holy Spirit to come on the Pentacost to the church.

The Holy Spirit is of greater importance than all teachings by the prophets and apostles combined. This is because the prophets are inspired by the Holy Spirit to write about the Holy Spirit Himself and the apostles are inspired by the Holy Spirit to write about things after the Holy Spirit came.

In John 14 and John 16, whenever the Holy Spirit is mentioned, He is also called the Spirit of Truth. And the Spirit of Truth is also the One who sanctifies us. Therefore Truth cannot be separated from the Spirit, and the Spirit cannot be separated from Holiness. If Truth is separated from the Spirit, the foundations of that faith cannot stand (e.g. the liberal theology) and if Truth is separated from holiness, that faith too cannot stand (e.g. the charismatics).

John 14-16 are talking about the coming of the Holy Spirit, that the Truth cannot be separated from the Spirit, and the Spirit cannot be separated from holiness. John 15 does not talk about the Holy Spirit at all but it still talks in depth about the relationship between Jesus and his disciples, which is an organic relationship/discipleship - a mystery in life.

In the seminary, people place emphasis on the topic 'Union with Christ.' From God's point of view, there are only 2 types of existence: In Christ or without Christ. Before we believe in the Lord, we are people physically descended from Adam. Christ once told Nicodemus, unless a person is born again, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. A person is only truly born again when the second person of God accomplishes the will of the first person of God in us through the third person of God. In Christ, the relationship between man and God becomes a live and organic relationship. While we were dead we receive a new life and joined with Christ - this is something that is not possible by human effort neither human will. This union is mysterious, organic, and eternally unchanged (Note: This is different from what the Roman Catholic teaches as organic relationship as they refer to it as a structural relationship between church and God, a concept borrowed from Aristotle's teachings. In it, the pillars do not interact with one another).

God uses lamb, the most meek animal, to illustrate Jesus Christ. Jesus is the source of life, connected to the actual lives. God also uses the vine, to symbolise the relationship (v1). Why vine and not some other strong and big trees? The wood of a vine has no economical value; it looks weak and gentle. Even so, it is the most fruitful plant on earth. A vine is hard to draw, just as Jesus Christ does not have his own image but is of God's image.

Many Christians listen to sermons but have never really received life from God. These are people who didn't respect God in the first place, so God does not want them. Christians are supposed to bear fruit so that others can see God, but these people do not bear fruits. Jesus Christ is the vine, and Christians are the branches. Apostle Paul once said that he was afraid, after he himself have shared to others, he would be cut off. This is possible if one shares the gospel with false motives. Those without fruit will be cut off (v2) - Note that this verse does not justify the Arminian thinking.

The other type of people are those really born again, but are unable to bear much fruit. So God prunes these people. He will not cut wrongly. When there are few leaves, a vine is able to absorb much more nutrients and hence it can bear a lot of fruits.

What leaves do you need God to clean you of?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Remain in Christ (Jn. 15:7-10)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 5 August 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 15:7-10

Our obedience to Christ is based on Christ’s obedience to the Father. Christ is the second representative of humankind. The first is Adam who rebelled against God but Jesus was obedient even to the death on the cross.

Relationship with Christ is an organic and mysterious union. John 14-16 speaks about the Holy Spirit being given to the Church. The greatest gift of the Father to the world is the gift of His Son. The Son accomplished salvation and goes back to the Father. The Father and Son gave the Holy Spirit to the Church as the gretest gift. After the Holy Spirit was given on the Pentacost, the Holy Spirit is still staying here with the Church until today. We have all received abundance in the Holy Spirit.

Although there is no mention of the Holy Spirit in John 15, underlying the message of the relationship between the Vine and the branches is the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that allows the abundance of Christ to come to us which enables us to bear fruit.

Christians must quantitatively bear fruits and the right kind of fruits. If a church grows in number but is not obeying God, the growth is of no value.

There are 3 basic marks of being a Christian: (1) bear much fruit (2) love one another and (3) bear testimony courageously (Heb. 4).

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (Jn. 15:7)

What does it mean to remain in Christ? It means to rely not on yourself but on the Lord. The Bible speaks about seraphim which have 6 wings. Two wings are needed to fly, two wings to cover their faces and two wings to cover their feet. What does it mean to cover themselves? It means while serving, they conceal themselves and glorify God. Covering our feet means we do not show people where we have been to. Many people want to display how great they are. In the end people do not see God’s glory but how these people are boasting. Most of us lack the wings to cover our feet.

When we have a right relationship with God, we do not lack God’s presence. His Word remains in us. The Psalmist say “I keep your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.” We can ask whatever we wish according to the principle of remaining in His Word and it will be given to us. We need to seek God’s kingdom and His righteousness first and all these things will be given to us. Yet we often use Bibile verses to justify and fulfil our carnal desires.

Jesus said, “Apart from Me you can do nothing” because He is life Himself. Departing from Christ is departing from wisdom, truth and life. Therefore apart from Christ we cannot do nothing. This is in line with Phil. 3:18 where Paul said he can do all things through Christ who strengthens him.

God will give us whatever we need to fulfil His command. This is not just empty words. This is something we can experience. So do not submit to your own desires but to the will of God. The Kingdom of God will come when people begin to honour the sovereignty of God and obey His will.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Obedience As a Sign of Love and the Promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:21-26)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 24 June 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 14:21-26

In Christianity, love is not indicated by gifts, but obedience. However often we replace this obedience by our labour, our actions, and things. But even among those in a relationship, gifts may not always be the marks of their love/relationship. If gifts were the marks of love, the richer a person is the easier it will be to love somebody and the poorer a person is, the harder it will be for him to love somebody, because he has less money to buy a gift for his loved one. This is not so in reality. In fact, the deeper a person's love is, the higher his/her demand for a love towards his heart and the less for gifts. In its true expression, according to the Bible, love is not just manifested by the mouth but also by honesty and actions. So when we say we love God, we cannot just say 'I love you', but we also need to prove it by our sincerity and actions.

Prophet Samuel also told us, '... to obey is better than sacrifice...' (1 Sam 15:22). God does not judge how much we love by the greatness of our sacrifice. We can even see this in our daily life, e.g. often a gift that we give someone is not suitable for the person. The psalmist also declared, 'What can i offer you as a gift? Everything on earth is Yours.' There are also references in the Bible that say God is 'sick of their sacrifice and hates their Sabbath.' One who truly loves God will obey commands, and conversely is also true. Jesus too repeated this many times, as we find these sayings again and again: 'If you truly love me, you will obey my commands.' and etc.

On the other hand, the Jews went far to the other extreme. Their religious leaders make everyone obey God's laws and regulations to the point of replacing God himself with them. We can see this example in the religious leaders criticising the disciples for not washing their hands before eating (This was originally a rule meant only for the priests but the religious leaders applied it to the ordinary Jews too). Jesus did not require this from the disciples. Jesus did not require people to sacrifice animals for Him either. Nor did he say that people must give so and so much offering in order to be his disciples. But what Jesus said was 'If you truly love me you will obey my commands.' So the depth of our love towards God is truly measured by our obedience to Him.

Note that immediately before this Jesus Christ said that he would not leave the disciples as orphans (v 18) and in a while more the world would not see him anymore, but the disciples would see him. This means 2 things:
1. Those who belong to the world do not have the spiritual eyes to see his existence and eternal dwelling in the heart.
2. After he died he would resurrect, but people of the world would not witness it so they would not be able to see him. Because he lives, Christians also would live. Wherever Christians are, he will be. Christians will share in his abundance and enjoy his presence. Together we die in his death and together we live in his resurrection and rule the world until eternity. This state of being 'together' is a privilege, his presence, and our glory. All these are for us to be like him, to enjoy Him, and to receive whatever He has.

This is the manifestation of what Jesus meant when he said the Father and him would dwell in a person. What a great love that is. About this Jesus said '... until that day' (The day the Holy Spirit came). After the promise of Holy Spirit Jesus will no longer be physically together with us Christians. However with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us, this signifies that love is not separation. Love is being together, and how we abide in Him is by obedience, just like Jesus says, 'He who loves me will have my commands within them.'

Judas (not Iscariot) at this point then asked him why Jesus would show himself to them only and not to others. Note John 17:9 says, 'I am praying for them (disciples) not for the world.' This means 2 things:
1. Only those who belong to Jesus will enjoy his prayer for them.
2. Jesus will only pray for those who belong to him.

Jesus would reveal himself only to the elect. Here we see the difference between acquaintance and close friends. Jesus also says that he does not treat us as servants but friends (John 15). Those who love him, are like close friends, will obey him. We can already see this in ourselves - those we are closer with, we share and talk more.

There are 2 types of people in the church today: One group is those who see things that God have shared with them /understands things of God, their hearts are well-satisfied by Him. Another group is those who did not see/taste anything. The former is like a deer panting after water. Hence our response to God should be to thirst after God's word like a deer. Deer is one of the fastest animal on earth. It likes to jump, so it gets thirsty very easily. Once it feels thirsty, it will urgently thirst for water. Towards this kind of person, God is surely more than willing to go near him. Do we thirst God like a deer?

When Judas asked this question, Jesus' answer to him in verse 23 sounded very strange, but it is in line with what Jesus said earlier in verse 21. Those who love Jesus are those who will obey God's commands, and those who obey God's commands are those who God loves. It is the group of people who are truly obedient to God who would be closer to God. On the other hand, those who don't love Jesus, will not obey his command. The Jews claimed that their father was God, via Abraham. But Jesus said, if it were so, they would have believed in Jesus. But the fact was, they did not love Jesus (who came from the Father). Therefore their father could not be Abraham, who loved God and obeyed Him. And so they could not be the sons of God.

In verse 25 'these things' refer to the things that Jesus has spoken about himself:
1. Which in themselves come from the Father but the Jews do not believe,
2. Of which Jesus said that if they don't believe they should at least believe in Jesus' works (John 14:11, John 10:37), and
3. Of which Jesus said that those who don't believe in him, he will not judge but on the last day the Word that he spoke will judge those who don't believe (John 12:47) (Note: This is the responsiblity that comes from hearing).

In verse 26 Jesus then promised the Helper i.e. the Holy Spirit would come in Jesus' name to teach and to remind believers about 'these things.' There are 2 meanings here:

1. If you hear God's Word and obey, the Holy Spirit will continue to remind you his Word (i.e. follow up with you).
Sometimes after we have heard great truths in the Bible, God will bring ourselves to be awakened, our mind to realise those truths in our lives. For example, when the Psalmist saw the sky and the earth, he realised that they were very great and spoke witness of God (Psalm 19:1).

In practice, this work of reminding does not work only a few days, but also extend to even the whole life of a person. Once, Rev Tong visited a sick elderly woman in a hospital. Rev Tong, not knowing her life story, offered to pray for her. Before he prayed, he first sang a hymn that just came to his mind at that moment. But after he had finished singing, the woman began to cry uncontrollably. It turned out that this woman had once gone to a church in Xinghua (Fujian, China) when she was young. Shortly after a man married her and brought her to Indonesia, and she had no more chance to go to church and forgot about Jesus Christ for 36 years. Now her husband was gone/dead, and she was a widow alone again. But this song* was the song that she last heard when she last went to church 36 years before, and she heard it the first time she met a pastor again after 36 years! Rev Tong was very curious, he totally had no idea where she heard this song so he asked her where, and her answer was, it was at a Rev John Sung's rally in Xinghua. So we see that man's love is temporal, but God's love is eternal. At times, we may forget about the Lord, but God will not forget us, the Holy Spirit will remind us. The Holy Spirit will guide us, to do what God wants us to do.

2. The Holy Spirit (Spirit of Truth) came, not to destroy our reasoning but to revive it, so that those who were dead, would be alive. For our God is not a God of confusion and chaos, but of order. The Holy Spirit tells us to examine all 'these things'. The Holy Spirit will illuminate our hearts to be able to understand them, how God has ordered everything since creation. Apostle Paul tells us 'Do not be ignorant but understand the will of God.'

*The hymn: