Friday, March 29, 2013

This is Eternal Life (Jn. 17:3)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 17 March 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 17:3

 “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn. 17:3)

Eternal life has two aspects: to know the only true God and to know Jesus Christ.  This is where Christianity differs from other religions.  While other religions have vague concept of God, Jesus is very precise.  The God of Christianity is not a third party, there is a relationship.  When Jesus spoke to the Father, He addressed Him as “You”.  He has a relationship with the Father. 

This is the God who is the only true God. It is also the God who has sent Jesus Christ.  If you only believe in God, without the intermediary Jesus Christ, you do not have eternal life.  If you only believe in Jesus Christ, but do not return to the God who sent Him, you do not have eternal life either.  This is the verse that provides very precise definition of eternal life.

This understanding is the most fundamental in faith.  What sort of understanding do we have?

Most religions believe in the existence of God.  There are variations from atheism, monotheism, to polytheism, to pantheism and deism.  What sort of God do other religions believe?  In general they believe in God who surpasses nature, has awesome power and is incomprehensible.  According to Friedrich von Hugel, holiness in religion have 3 elements: mysticism, greatness and awfulness.  People will not want you to criticise their gods. Religious followers might not know very clearly who their god is, but they have this sense of awe and will give their lives to fight for the honor of their god.

When Jesus declare that eternal life is “to know You, the only true God”, it is very different.  He is not talking about mysticism, greatness or awfulness.  He speaks of what is the ONLY and TRUE God.  These are the two most precious things in Christianity.  Is the God you worship true?  Is He the only One? 

We are angry if we pay a lot for something fake.  But strangely people are all right worshipping false gods.  We want gods who are effective and give us what we want.  This is the fallenness of humanity.  We are very calculative on material things.  But in spiritual things we are very careless and indifferent. 

From this principle, the Bible does not want you to compromise.  Only the true God is God. And He is the ONLY God.  God told the Israelites, “I am the LORD God, the only true God.  Apart from Me there is no other.” He demands that we only worship this one true God.  This is most solemn and orthodox demand.  We are to give the glory due to Him and not to false gods.  God does not want us to worship false gods.  Yet often we treat haphazardly things related to God.  We consider true God as false god and treat false god like true God.  This is greatest insult and offence to God.

The second aspect of eternal life is “to know Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

There are 3 main monotheistic faith in the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  All 3 faiths have the same source.  This comes from God’s revelation to Abraham.  Judaism, Christianity and Islam believe in the God of Abraham as the one true God. 

Islam is the largest monotheistic religion in the world with over 1.5 billion followers.  The believe in one God.  They believe God is God and man is man.  Men pray directly to God as individuals without an intermediary. Man stands before God by himself and rely on his good works.  They pray directly to God.  This is similar to Judaism.

Confucianism believes in the existence of heaven.  Heaven is an entity.  But when asked what heaven is, Confucius stated he did not speculate on supernatural things.  Heaven is up there, with power and authority but we do not know what or who that is.  It is the power above, perhaps ruling the earth beneath.  Confucianism sort of believe in God or in heaven.  But what is the relationship between heaven and man?  He said, “if you sin against heaven you will be punished and nobody can pray on your behalf.”  Strictly speaking, Confucius’ concept of heaven or God is vague and passive. 

What about Roman Catholicism? While Islam removes the intermediary between God and man, the God-Incarnate Jesus Christ,  Roman Catholicism keeps the intermediary but adds many more.  Between God and man, there is Jesus, between Jesus and man, there is Mary, between Mary and man, there are many other saints.  We are not worthy to go directly to Jesus.  Many saints can accummulate a lot of good works that can be drawn out from the treasure to atone for others’ sins.

Christianity however, believe in One God who is Triune.  And Christians come before God in the name of Jesus.  Eternal life is knowing the only true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent.  It ends all the seeking of the faith and allows you to discern who is the true God, the only God, uncompromised. 

What sort of God do you believe in?  Just any gods?  When you worship false gods, it is not fervency, it is blasphemy.  You are sinning against God.  True and genuine faith can only be directed to the true God.  Only such faith will be preserved.

It is not enough to know the one true God for there is an intermediary, Jesus Christ whom God Himself has sent.  One who knows God but not Jesus Christ cannot be saved.  And one cannot believe in Jesus without returning to God.  The only true God has prepared the only salvation, through this one intermediary.  Without this intermediary, you are not worthy to go before God.  All the prayers before God will not be heard.  These are the two pillars of our faith, the only true God and Jesus Christ.

We need to reform our faith, to understand that apart from the only true God, there is no other God.  And apart from Jesus Christ, no other intermediary.  If we understand this, we will rid of unnecessary hesitation in our life.  The appearance of Jesus in history ends all the search in all religion.  The Bible says He is the Light of life who shines in the world.  “I am the light of the world, whoever follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will find the light of life.” 

Acts 4:12Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

1 Tim 2:5For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”

Thanks be to God.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Glory and Authority of Jesus (Jn. 17:1-3)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 3 March and 10 March 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 17:1-3

‘After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”’ Jn. 17:1-2

John 17 recorded Jesus’ prayer after His last teaching to His disciples.  In this prayer, Jesus asked to be glorified.  This raises two questions.  Why did God ask us to glorify Him?  And why did Jesus ask God the Father to glorify Him?

The most fundamental thing to understand is that God’s glory is already perfect in eternity, before He commands us to glorify Him.  So why did God ask us to glorify Him?  What is the purpose of adding something to what is already perfect?

This is consistent with the teaching of the Bible.  We ought to give glory to whom it is due, and honour to whom it is due.  When He said to glorify Him it is not because God needs it, but it means you ought to give the glory back to God who is worthy and not to others.  In Psalms, it says glory be unto God and not unto others.

God wants to correct our emotions, our reason and our will back to the source of truth.  When our reason is in line with the truth, our emotions are based on the love of God, and our will conformed to the will of God, this is faith, this is spirituality.

Why did Jesus ask for God’s glory then?  When Jesus was born, angels said “Glory be to God in the highest.”  When Jesus came on earth, God was glorified.  In this passage, when Jesus was ending His ministry, He asked to be glorified.  On earth, He was humilisated, despised and was called the son of sorrow.  He was unjustly treated.  His prayer was to ask for confirmation.  It was as though He prayed: “These who have rejected Me think I am rejected by You.  But You delight in Me, let them understand I am your beloved Son.”  Christ prayed to God to confirm Him, to confirm He has been sent by God.

God already knew this.  During His ministry, twice God’s voice thundered from heaven and declared “Behold My beloved Son.”  The first time was when Jesus was baptised and the second time was during the transfiguration.  Confirmation was needed during baptism because people might misunderstood that Jesus’ baptism meant He needed to repent of His sin.  Thus God the Father said, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

At the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared before Jesus.  It is a temptation to give honour to the past prophets, but again, God confirmed that it is Jesus who is to be honoured.  God said, “this is My beloved Son, listen to Him.” 

When Jesus was suffering during His life on earth, when did He most need Father to confirm Him?  When He was crucified.  At that time, people jeered, “If you are the Son of God, if God delight in you, let God save you now.”  But it is as though God did not listen now at that moment.  We did not see Jesus’ prayer to be glorified fulfilled.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were given understanding.  When the apostle preached the crucified Christ, people then finaly understand that Christ was to be glorified.  And when Jesus comes back again His light will be brighter than the sun.  There will be double-edged sword from His lips.  In Rev 5 it says that all honour, glory, power, wealth, wisdom and strength belong unto the Lamb on the throne.

However, the thief on the cross had the faith to see the glory and power of God through weaknesses.  Christ’s incarnation and death on the cross bring glory to God.  Christ must suffer to enter into glory.  The one who truly understands God’s grace is  not the prodigal’s brother but the prodigal son.  He knew he was not worthy.  A true Christian is one who has repented.  The people God uses are those who know they are not worthy.

In John 17:2, Jesus said, “For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.”  The authority over all creation was first given to Adam.  In Psalms it says God is above all things, but God made man in His image and likeness.  Man is created to be a prophet, an interpreter of nature.  It was man who named all the animals.  Man is also mandated to have dominion over all creation, thus this defines man’s kingly role.  And as man stand between God and creation, man is also a priest.  The cultural mandate given to man in the garden of Eden, but man never achieved the ideal due to the Fall.

Yet just before Jesus went to the cross, He said God had given Him all authority.  The time is coming where the Fall of man will be rectified.  Was Jesus given authority above all things before this?  Do all descendents of Adam lose it?  Jesus did have power over all creation as He walked on earth but His people did not want to see it and cannot see it. 

Did Jesus rule over all creation?  While reading chapter 17, we need to recall what has happened before. He cursed the fig tree.  He calmed the storm. He healed the sick, opened the eyes of the blind, made the lame walk, drove out evil spirits, rose the dead to life.  Animals, wind, trees, the sea, storm, the spirits and the dead, all listened to Him!

So Jesus does have authority above all things.  And God the Father has given Jesus a chosen people of all nations.  Jesus loves the chosen people God gave to Him and He gave them eternal life.  We are the treasure and heritage God has given to His Son Jesus Christ.  And Jesus purchased us with His blood and offered us to God.  We are the most blessed indeed.  Jesus paid the ransom to the Father to deliver us from the devil, and we receive eternal life.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Continuation of the Progressive Revelation of God, its Climax and the Jews' Response (John 16:12-22)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermons on 18 Nov, 25 Nov and 2 Dec 2012 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 16:12-22

Jesus said that although there were many things He wanted to tell the disciples, they were not able to absorb them now. This implies that Jesus, being God, is infinite but his disciples are finite. There was no way to force this 'all truth' into the disciples' brain, so Jesus would not tell them now. 

Jesus also said that he were to go away very soon. This implies that his death and resurrection were near. But Jesus would not delay his leaving, so now there is a problem - how were he going to tell the disciples those things (in future) if he were to leave them behind now?

This could only mean one thing - that Somebody else would continue the revelation. Even though Jesus Christ were to leave the earth now, revelation had not ended yet and the Holy Spirit would continue this revelation. This can be seen from v 13, '...the Holy Spirit, He will guide you into all truth.'

This revelation is one with the focus on the righteousness of God. This statement in v13 covers 2 aspects:

1. Totality of the quantity: 'all truth'
This statement, '...the Holy Spirit, He will guide you into all truth' is sometimes interpreted wrongly to mean, that anyone without in-depth studying can simply pray and the Holy Spirit will reveal to him or her. Those who do this, often dispose of established schools of thoughts in theology, claim that their received revelation is truth, and then even write them down.

2. Ending point of the revelation 
Man is created, limited, and polluted, therefore he cannot understand God's truth properly. Therefore he needs the Holy Spirit to guide him (Note: This does not mean that he does not need to study in order to understand Scriptures). The coming of the Holy Spirit is good, especially since Jesus' disciples were in dangerous earth without Jesus. 

It is here that the Bible talks about the continuation of the revelation of God since the beginning of Old Testament until the end of New Testament. The revelation since the beginning of the Old Testament until now had culminated in the Person Jesus Christ. Although Jesus Christ were to leave now, this revelation was progressive. From now onward  the revelation will be continued and concluded by the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that the Word has been given to you once and for all (i.e. it has ended)

What sort of ending? From its essence, God's revelation is about life and how to live out our faith (i.e. about our spirit, our spirit's worth and how our conscience is to fear God). God has revealed to us all things pertaining to such matters but not every single thing in life. Therefore 'all' truth does not mean everything, but only every single thing related to life and faith. Likewise, this revelation will end by talking about the ending of life and faith, i.e. the Endtime.

In the Old Testament, the Law was given to Israelites to lead them to God and the Prophets were given to rebuke Israelites because they has trespassed the Law. However there is a higher purpose for both the Law and the Prophets: To point to Jesus Christ. The purpose of the Law is for the gospel and the purpose of having prophets is also for the gospel. This can be seen from all the prophecies concerning Jesus Christ. The Israelites were proud of the Law and the Prophets, because they thought by having and obeying the Law completely, they could have eternal life (Even though there was a major difference. The Sadducees held that the revelation of God ended with the Law. The Pharisees held that the revelation ended with the Prophets). However, both are wrong because Jesus pointed out that the Law and the Prophets about the Messiah ended with John the Baptist, and the Holy Spirit will come and lead them into all truth. If they were right, then who Jesus Christ was? In John 5, Jesus told the Jews, 'You study the Scriptures and think that there is eternal life, but you are not willing to come to Me.' 

This means that Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. It implies that the final aim of the Bible is not the Bible per se, but it is to lead people to Jesus Christ. He is the true final manifestation of God's righteousness i.e. the Old Testament conceives the New Testament and the New Testament accomplishes the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the preparation, in Jesus Christ we find the fulfillment. The Old Testament is the shadow, Jesus Christ is the body. In Romans 3:21 it says, 'But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it.' However, although Jesus Christ as the righteousness of God was 'manifested apart from the Law,' what Jesus Christ says fulfills the Law and the Prophets, so it is not possible to find something in Jesus that is outside the Law and the Prophets. In other words, it is not possible to separate Jesus Christ from the Law and Prophets.

God the Son speaks what comes from God the Father. Now Jesus said, God the Spirit will speak what comes from God the Son. Just as the Son was completely obedient to the Father, the Holy Spirit also was completely obedient to God the Father and the Son. Therefore the revelation of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit therefore surpasses that of the prophets. 

The most important testimony of God to man is the righteousness of God i.e. the righteousness fulfilled in Jesus Christ. However Jesus declared, 'But unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of God' (The righteousness of Pharisees: with all your might do good works). Yet God hates that kind of righteousness, because God is not One whom you can beg to let you enter the kingdom of God based on your own effort. The righteousness that God is looking for, is the one fulfilled in Jesus Christ and now imputed to those who believe in Him (Note: The Chinese translation of the Bible "加上" i.e. "added unto" and the Indonesian one is not accurate. The original meaning in Greek is to be imputed, i.e. transformed and considered yours).

The fact that the Law and the Prophets testify that Jesus Christ is God's righteousness was illustrated by a historical event called the transfiguration. This is the only time in the biblical history and mankind history that the Gospel, the Law and the Prophets meet. Jesus Christ represented the Gospel, Moses represented the Law, and Elijah represented the Prophet. During the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, God's righteousness appeared in glory like the sun (The One who fulfilled the Law is here. The One who transcends the Law has appeared in history). Moses and Elijah appeared to affirm the scripture that says that the Law and the Prophets testify to God's righteousness. 

Also, Moses and Elijah had to appear because there was a very important event in God's revelation about to happen - Jesus Christ death and resurrection. This is because the most important event in the revelation during Moses' time was the Passover Lamb. In the Law, it was written that this lamb should be without blemish and sacrificed, and the priest is to cleanse and pray for himself first before cleansing and praying for the people. Jesus Christ were to be killed and sacrificed as the Passover Lamb. In Jesus' death, physically it was a man's blood, but it was God's own blood that was sacrificed. In the revelation during Elijah's time, Elijah was known as the one who asked God to send fire down to consume his sacrificial offering (Note: In this transfiguration, Elijah represents all the prophets).

Revelation in Other Religions

Christians believe that only because God reveals Himself can we know God. However Christians need to know when revelation will end if they believe that it has an end. Here is the main difference between Christianity and other religions: There is an endpoint of revelation.

Middle East and Western religions are different from Eastern religion because the former has a concept of revelation, but Eastern religions do not. The concept of revelation definitely did not start from the east. To be more accurate, we can even say that the more eastern a religion is, the less it fits to be called a religion. For example, Confucianism does not talk about eternity and worship although Confucianism is profound in teaching morality, possibly surpassing other religions' understanding in this. The Chinese during the Tang dynasty felt things lacking in Taoism and Confucianism so they sent  Tang Xuanzuang to India to learn Buddhism. Later on he went on to train 1000 monks to copy the Buddhist scriptures, which resulted in the Tripitaka. This implies that the Chinese knew that their system lack concepts of eternity and worship. But even so, the Buddhist scriptures from India do not tell whom they should worship. Therefore we can see that they neither have the concept of revelation nor know whom their religion comes from. In contrast, in Judaism it is very clear that a living God revealed himself to man with great power, establishing the relationship between man with Himself and other beings. Unity in theme in his revelation is not a problem because this is the revelation of the only true God. God is eternal and self-existing. He is faithful to himself in preaching about himself. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He does not lie. Therefore the wholeness of his revelation reflects the lacking of other religions. For example, comparing commandments in Buddhism with the Ten Commandments, the former seem fragmented.

Only 3 religions claim they come from revelation: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And all 3 claim that they bring revelations from the same one God. If Zoroastrianism is compared with these 3 religions, we will realise that the former is also quite insignificant. It first assumes that dualism is true (that good and evil exist forever) and following this system, it cannot tell us how things will end. But the revelation of the Bible tells us that from eternity past to eternity future there is only one self-existing, everlasting and absolute God. There are other visions but they cannot co-exist with God. One day they will be destroyed, and God will give us victory and eternal mystery. This gives man a faith with foundations that are overflowing with assurance, full of purpose and full of hope. 

Verses 16-19 mean that in a few days, when Jesus was going to be crucified, the disciples will feel very dejected. However in another few days, the disciples sadness will turn to joy. This tells us 2 things:
1. The Suffering of Christ (the Cross)
2. The Resurrection of Christ (the Crown)

Israel's Response to The Suffering Christ

The Jews had always thought that Isaiah 52-53 refers to their suffering as the people of God. However Christians could immediately recognise these passages as referring to Jesus Christ's suffering. The latter were able to do so because in Acts 8 Philip the Evangelist under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit explained these passages this way. The former had never understood the Old Testament this way. 

The cross of Jesus would turn into his crown. His suffering would turn into his glory. The death would turn into resurrection. This tells us that it is a necessary step in the plan of God. It is also a necessary step for the maturing of spirituality. It is also, a necessary step from church failure to church victory. This is a mystery that many Christians do not understand.

To the Jews, re-establishing the throne of Israel can only happen with the coming of the Messiah. The Israelites waited very long but nothing happened. In their concept the Messiah is the One who will deliver them from political colonizers. But God's will is not to solve just physical matters but also the spiritual matters: sin.

The Disciples' Response to The Suffering Christ

Peter accepted Jesus as the Christ, but not the fact that Christ must die. Peter and all the disciples were still expecting a Messiah that can do miracles (even though they did not see Jesus as a military leader). The disciples have selfish nationalistic agenda for Jesus Christ. A few days before the transfiguration, Peter acknowledged correctly that Jesus was the Christ. He had correct Christology (which can only come from the correct revelation). For this Jesus, Jesus praised and promised Peter, 'I will build my church upon this rock'. So next, Jesus revealed to Peter that He would die. Sadly, Peter's response to this was to reject such suffering. It may seem to be a very healthy wish for Jesus to live forever to protect them disciples, but only the suffering Christ can become the glorious Christ. This is opposite to Israel's understanding of Christ. They cannot accept a 'hopeless' Christ. It is no wonder that all the disciples went back to fishing after Jesus Christ had died.

In verses 21-22, Jesus then illustrated this truth by something that only women could appreciate fully. A woman going to give birth is very anxious. She is suffering extremely, so her courage is to be respected much more than a man's macho bravery. But after the child has been born, she no longer remembers her suffering, for her joy has gotten the better of her. In the same way, Jesus suffered greatly by dying on the cross to 'give birth' to the church. It was absolutely necessary for Jesus to suffer before being glorified in 'giving birth' to the church. There is no church if Jesus Christ did not suffer.