Monday, May 13, 2013

You Will Leave Me All Alone (Jn 16:29-33)

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

Passage: John 16:29-33

Once again Jesus affirmed that he came from the Father, that he will be with his disciples. He especially reminded them that the time was coming and was here. You will leave me all by myself. You have no way to take on the challenges. When the last day comes, it will prove that you will drop out at the last stage and not keep up with me, for you will leave me alone in my suffering. None of you will follow me to the end.

You see how lonely Jesus was. He called his disciples whom he loved and they followed him fervently. But in the end, they left him one by one and went home, and allowed Jesus to be all alone in his final journey. This is what all spiritual people should prepare themselves for. Don't even think, as a church leader, people will keep supporting you, and in the end, you will go to heaven in glory. When Jesus healed, thousands of people followed him. When Jesus taught, thousands of people listened to him. But when he was crucified, one by one they left him. When he was nailed on the cross, almost all his disciples did not come to him other than the Apostle John for a short while. Peter, James, Matthew, Thomas, Bartholomew, Nathaniel were nowhere to be seen. I believe John was overriden with guilt, that's why he went back. When he witnessed all by himself how Jesus died, the scene moved him so that when he was elderly he would write this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Why was this not said by Paul, Peter or Andrew? Why was this verse found in the writings of John. The answer must be simple. Among all the disciples, only John witnessed the death of Jesus Christ. It is a vision, a remembrance, a most important manifestation of God's love. Love is when Christ was crucified, took on our sins and wrath of God, and was hung on the cross all by himself. This is the vision so that all true leaders would see the price they have to pay.

You are called to understand, not to be understood. You are called to forgive, not to be forgiven. You are called to sympathise, not to be sympathised by others. This is a spiritual lesson. You will be the true shepherd of God, to lead others from darkness into the light. If you are a leader, do not expect to be sympathised by others. When Jesus said: “Deny yourself, carry your cross and follow me”, he was not recruiting his disciples. He was preparing his leaders for this world and the rest of mankind. When God calls you, he is preparing you to be leaders over others. If you treasure yourself and do not look down on yourself, no matter how heavy the burden is, you will say: “Thanks be to God for considering me, and give me strength to bear it.” If you are clear God has prepared you for the role of a leader, you will place great emphasis on these responsibilities and despise the challenges. When you look down on the challenges, you will place great emphasis on how God has chosen you to be a leader.

The greatest leader in the entire world is Jesus Christ who was most humble and suffered the greatest. When Christ was incarnated as a human being, Isaiah 53 said he was a man of sorrows who bore all our griefs, who was bruised in order to give our peace and for us to be healed. That is called a leader, a person who will lead others. Jesus was preparing his leaders among this people, in John 14, 15 and 16. John 16 tells us that the Holy Spirit will come and Jesus will suffer greatly. Jesus said: “Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father...I came from the Father.” He also said: “But a time is coming and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone.” I think this must be the most lonely passage that Jesus has said. Peter, you will not end up following me. Finally you will go. Not even one of you will follow me to the end. You are very selfish. You play safe. You talk about your own safety and you don't follow me when I am in trouble. A time will come and now is the moment. Everyone of you will leave me alone. These are words of loneliness. When a leader suffers, he has no followers.

Peter will go home. James will go home. John will go home. And I will be left all alone. But Jesus didn't say: “I'm so pitiful.” He said: “Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.” (16:32b) These are words from a great leader indeed. When a leader is forsaken all by himself, deep in his heart he knows that God is with him and that he is never truly alone. The one who has sent me is with me. I am willing to take on the loneliness of a leader, in order to become your example. Alone I take on these heavy burdens, then I can solve your problems. When the two sons of Zebedee came to Jesus and their mother asked Jesus to grant them to sit one of his right and one of his left, Jesus asked: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptised with the baptism I am baptised with?” (Matthew 20:20-23, Mark 10:35-40) Many people want to be glorified by God and want to be on the right and left of Jesus. But can one drink the cup and take on this suffering? Even if one answers yes for oneself and one's child, Jesus would say: “To sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” (Matthew 20:23b) The mother of the sons of the Zebedee should not have asked for favours. One should not pray for one's children for selfish reasons. Did God listen to her prayers? No. James died the earliest and John died the latest.

You have followed me because there are things to gain. You want to be the most important in the kingdom of God. But none of you will follow me to the end. Yet I am not alone for the Father is with me. Do not be sad for my suffering. But I want to comfort you in your suffering. The closing verses of John 16 are words of comfort. Who gave these words? They came from the loneliest person to those who are not lonely, from the one who suffered the most to those who did not suffer so much, from the one was left all alone comforting those who still had a lot of friends. This is such an amazing love and a great example. This is the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It is most difficult and dangerous to follow me, so you all go back home, to find your own companion and loved ones, where it's more safe. You are selfish. You will all leave me alone. But the last words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b) Chapter 14, 15 and 16 are the parting words of Jesus. In these three chapters, he left to us peace, his example, his promises and the Holy Spirit who will come and guide us into all truth. The Spirit will come to bear testimony for me, to glorify me, to tell of what is to come, to convict the world of guilt in regard to sin, righteousnes and judgment, to be the Counsellor forevermore. The Counsellor is the one who comforts you, strengthens you, gives you the power and hope from Jesus, anoints you, teaches you, shows you the hope and that you inherited the promise of God. The Spirit will come to fulfill the promise, that you will have hope and power to bear testimony for me, and to affirm in your life that indeed you belong to God. The Holy Spirit will come and surround you and support you. A Comforter will come. He is the Parakletos who will be with you. Now I'm alone, but I'm not lonely for my Father is with me. In the midst of my greatest suffering, I comfort those who are suffering. When I'm most lonely, I am comforting you who will face loneliness because persecution will come. I'm not asking for your pity. I will pray for you. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart! You have peace in me. You must trust me. For I have overcome the world.

Who would say such words in history? You should trust in me. You should experience the peace I give you. You would have persecution in this world. You need not be afraid. You need not be worried. You are in me. In the world you will have persecution. In me, you obtain the peace. Come unto me. Turn to me. I give you safety. I give you peace, not in the world, not from the world. I give you my own peace which is different from that which the world can give. You obtain peace because you are not in the world. You are in me. I promise you. You will obtain peace. Why? I have already overcome the world.

I like this last verse. “In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” All ambitious politicians want to overcome the world. Did Emperor Qianlong and Qin Shi Huang win over all of China? Have they conquered the whole world? How about Napolean? Julius Ceasar? Hitler? No. No one has victory over the world. Who has overcome the world? Truly, it is Jesus Christ. He died more than 2,000 years ago, but people are still listening to him. No one listens every day to Napolean, Mao Ze Dong or Qin Shi Huang. Only Jesus Christ.


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