Monday, August 19, 2013

Christ's Trial Exposed Men's Unrighteousness (John 18:37-40)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermons on 11 August 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 18:37-40

Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” represents the end of Roman culture and Greek philosophy.  Philosophy seeks the truth.  400 years after Socrates, there was now uncertainty about the truth. 

There is truth about oneself, about the nature outside oneself which sustains it, and about principles of knowledge, i.e. epistemology.

Socrates identified a larger question when people seek to understand nature.  He said man seeks to know everything else but themselves.  He shifted the direction from the seeking of the truth about nature to seeking the truth about self.  Many doctors are sicker than their patients.  Likewise many psychologists have psychological problems.

The shift of thinking by Socrates is important.  If you do not know yourself, how can you know the things outside of yourself?  Socrates is the beginning of study of human beings.  Plato placed emphasis of metaphysics.  Aristotle took on material science.  After these 3 philosophers died, study of the truth declined. 

400 years later, Pilate declared the death of Greek philosophy when he asked what is truth.  Pilate belonged to the group that believed there is no truth in the world.  If God’s truth exists, how could this righteous person be handed by God to be judged before him?  If the Jewish law is most just and holy, why did the religious leaders bring a blameless person to be executed by him?  What is faith? What is the Hebrews’ law?  Is there truth?

Jesus’ response puzzled Pilate.  Already being handed over to be executed, Jesus still confessed He was king.   He said He testified of the truth and everyone on the side of truth listens to Him (v.37).  Pilate asked what was truth but without the intentionto understand.  He did not believe in truth.  He believed there is no truth in Roman empire, no truth in Greek culture, no truth in Jewish system.  He was expressing skeptism about the truth, about the uncertainty of knowledge.

Each religious leader and political leader exposed their foolishness, ignorance and stubbornness before Christ’s trial.  They exposed their unrighteousness.  Christ not only manifested God but also exposed the decadence of humanity. 

Jesus Christ is the greatest Person but who could recognise His significance?  This is the most paradoxical drama.  The ‘important’ political and religious figures were not important after all, but Jesus, the most important Person in history, appeared unimportant.  On surface, it is not easy to recognise this profound wisdom as it appears that Christ was judged by these unrighteous people.  However, in fact the unrighteousness of the religious and political leaders were being exposed and judged here.

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him.  But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” (v.38-39)

The Jews wanted to kill Jesus but dared not do so as they were afraid the people would go against them.  So they wanted the Romans kill Him.  But Pilate did not want to do so as he found no guilt.  So who had the authority to kill?  Pilate is the representation of Caesar.  Those with authority were subject to higher authority.  The Jews and Pilate were not the highest power.  They were controlled by Satan.

As Jesus suffered, He watched and waited.  Pilate performed and the high priest performed but in the end they were just puppets.  When Jesus comes back they will be judged.  All those who despise and persecute Christ will be judged.  The Son of God came to the world to expose us. 

What Pilate had done, declaring the end of Roman culture and Greek philosophy, the Jews  did the same for the Jewish culture.  The Jews chose to release Barabbas who had taken part in an uprising. (v.40).  They did not want Jesus, they wanted human rights.  They chose a robber over Jesus.  They learnt the Law and eventually chose a robber.

So the religion had exposed its darkness.  Philosophy had committed suicide.  Jesus kept quiet and watched the show they were playing.  In the end they did not want God.  They did not want Jesus, whom God had declared from heaven is His Beloved Son. They did  not want God’s delight, they wanted Barabbas.  The hypocrisy of religion and the emptiness of philosophy and the destruction of culture were all manifested here.  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

God Keeps His Children in His Name (John 17:11-12)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermons on 12 May 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 17:11-12

Jesus Christ as Word in the Flesh became God's representative in the world. As this period of Word in the Flesh closes, Jesus Christ goes back to the Father, and the believers become God's representative in the world. This is the meaning of verse 11. To be kept in God's name, God's protection, and God's command for the disciples to be united are the main things that Jesus talks about in this verse.

All of us who are created in God's image are all made in His glory. This is recorded by Isaiah, 'All who are called unto my Name, I created in my glory'. God desires to be glorified in us. How to glorify God? We need to live like God for we have all been created in his image. This is how: When God-incarnate lived on earth, he told us to imitate him, and take his yoke, because his yoke is light. The saints then follow Jesus Christ as he is the original image of God (created in / like God's image). This can be only done in dependence on God. This is why Jesus said, '... and keep them.' Therefore we must remember that we are able glorify God not because of our labour, our behaviour, ability, or ability to pay the price, but because God has kept us for the sake of his name. This is what it means to '..keep them in your name...'

This idea is present in Confucians' correct name theory. Opposite to this, Socrates says one must use the correct name before one say something, and hence things will be smooth. In Chinese military strategy: One must fight war with the right course.

Next Jesus prayed for the Church to be one:
1. God's word - The Church needs to be one in the Word of God
2. God's name - The Church needs to be one because of his Name
3. God's glory - The Church needs to be one for the sake of his Glory

There are 3 different areas of unity:
1. Among the divinity of God (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit)
2. Being like God among different people i.e. the created creatures
3. Unity between man and Christ (or more appropriately, the union between man and Christ)
Our unity ought to be modelled after Jesus Christ.

Later in verse 12, the Bible mentions about the name that God gives to Lord Jesus. The kind of name that God gave to Jesus Christ is such that it is the only name through which we can be saved. In the Bible, the name 'God' is used for Jesus in Thomas' confession after the resurrection. Also in Romans 9:5, Heb 1:8, Ps 110:1, and when 3 angels (who were God) visited Abram concerning Sodom and Gomorrah. In Isa 9:7 God gave Jesus Christ names like Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

Lastly, the son of destruction in v12 refers to Judas Iscariot who sold Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Jesus Tried before Pilate (Jn. 18:25-38)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 28 July 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation

Passage: John 18:25-38

Jesus was judged by different tribunals without sleep and food from the time he was arrested.  He was judged by the high priest first.  Then before Pontius Pilate, Jesus was found without guilt.  Herod sought a miracle from Him but Jesus said not a word to him.  It is the sovereign will of God that Jesus went through all these.  As our Lord faced all these trials, we see how weak His disciples were. 

Peter denied Him as Jesus foretold.  One of His disciples betrayed Him.  Each of His disciples asked, “Lord, is it me?” but when it came to Judas, he said, “Rabbi, is it me?”  Judas never acknowledged Jesus as Lord.  During those times, acknowledging Jesus as Lord implies you are willing to give up your life.  Roman citizens were to call Caesar their Lord.  Jesus warned Peter that before the rooster crowed twice Peter would deny Him three times.  Many people are self-confident of their faith and love for the Lord.  They think they are not like others and will not fall.  If we come to church not to be rebuked but to tell people how we love the Lord more than others, we are in very a dangerous position.  When we think of our ideal as our spirituality we will fall. 

And indeed Peter denied the Lord three times.  He became bolder with each denial and at his last denial he even used the name of God to deny he knew Jesus.  This is the progression of sin.  The first time we lie it is difficult but as we get used to it we become desensitized, bold and experienced.  We become more bold and even use the Word of God to support our own sin.  We are not afraid and will not even know we are living in sin.  Then we become a religious hypocrite.  A lot of religious leaders find it difficult to detect their own sin.  Because they live in religious circles they get used to using the Word of God.

The very last time Peter swore in the name of God that he did not know Jesus.  At that very moment the rooster crowed.  Why did the rooster crow twice?  The first time he was not very sensitive.  The second time the rooster crowed, he remembered what Jesus said.  The rooster witnessed for the time.  He was suddenly aware.  At that moment Jesus looked at him.  When we look into the eyes of God, it is the moment of repentance, the moment you see the glory of God, the moment you surrender.  When he saw Jesus, he went away and cried bitterly.  This is where Peter was different from Judas.  Judas regreted betraying Jesus too, from a certain angle there is similarity.  However Peter repented and turned back to Christ.

We are no better than Judas or Peter.  Like Judas, many Christians betray the Lord for money.  Money is more important than spirituality, than the Lord.  Peter betrayed Jesus due to fear of death.  When we face difficulties and are ashamed of the Lord, we deny Him.  Peter and Judas are like our mirrors, telling us we are weak in the flesh.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

It was still early when the Jewish leaders brought Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate.  They did not enter the palace because they wanted to eat the Passover.  The temple of God is holy but the Roman palace is not holy.  The Jews were afraid of becoming unclean.   The holiness of Jesus is different, wherever He comes, He made the place holy.  Jesus is the Holy One.  When He touched the sick and the dead, He did not become unclean but instead the unclean become clean.  But for the Jews, they are afraid to lose their holiness. 

Pilate knew that the Jews would not go in to his palace, so he compromised.  He came out of his palace into the temple of the Jews.  The Jews could not even stop him from entering the temple of God.  Jesus in contrast, has the power to give His life and to take it back.  He had absolute sovereignty.

The Roman laws required execution based on justice.  Pilate could not find anything wrong with Jesus. He asked why they delivered Jesus to him.  And they answered, “If he were not a criminal,” they replied, “we would not have handed him over to you.” (Jn. 18:30).  They implied that Jesus had done a great crime otherwise they would not have bothered the Roman governor. On surface they looked right, but when asked further this is a great deception.  We see the deceitfulness of human hearts, the hypocrisy of religion, the problem of politics and the abuse of justice. 

Pilate said, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” (v. 31).  Roman had their own laws and the Jews had their own laws.  Pilate was not willing to execute Jesus because it did not make sense.  However, they said they had no authority to kill Jesus.  Now the religious leaders are making use of political power to execute Jesus.  It is difficult for Pilate.  In the end Pilate complied becaues Jesus must die as written in the Scripture.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Jesus Tried before the High Priest (Jn. 18:15-32)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 22 July 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation

Passage: John 18:15-32

Jesus was led willingly to be sacrificed like a lamb.  He received silently all that God has appointed for Him.  He had a very firm attitude and was at peace.  He took calmly all injustices against Him. 

Jesus said He spoke openly but the religious leaders and the soldiers came in the dark to arrest Him.  One who is calm and secure is full of power when he speaks.  When Peter cut off the ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest, Jesus asked Peter to put his sword down.  He did not depend on anyone to rescue Him.  We see how great His character was.  After Peter put the sword down, Jesus immediately healed the ear of Malchus.  We see His calmness, His greatness and His attitude towards His enemies.

We have such a great Lord, but we have unbecoming Christians.  When Peter said he would die for Jesus, Jesus told him that he would deny Him three times before the rooster crowed twice.  Christians are often self-righteous.  Young people have too much self-confidence.  They remember their good works and forget their weaknesses.  When you admire your own experiences you will fall.  Jesus gave stern warning.  Many of those who are great fail and die in matters they are strong at.  We should not boast of our own contribution. 

Then Peter did deny Jesus.  When Jesus looked at him, he realised his mistakes.  He could not escape and cried in bitterness.   This realisation is the beginning of his spirituality. 

When Jesus was questioned, He was calm and confident.  “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret.  Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” (Jn. 18:20-21)

When Jesus said that, it seemed rude.  He was before the high priest, the highest religious leader of the Jews.  But Jesus was the King of kings.  He never begged for mercy or forgiveness.  Openly and with full confidence He said He taught in the temple and synagogues, so they could ask them.

One of the officers came to slap Him.  This is the first physical humiliation the Son of God received.  Jesus did not scold Him or humiliate the person.  He said what He ought to say.  When we are being bullied, we need to learn that God is the Judge.  We need to remember that we are the children of the King of kings.  Jesus did not debate.  Jesus answered calmly, “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” (Jn. 18:23)

There are two principles in His reply.  The first one is we should be open to be corrected if we are wrong.  “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong.” Often times in debate our emphasis is not the truth but for our face, for our pride, our vainglory.  In apologetics, there should only be one motive and it is for the truth.

The truth came from God.  But sinner does not understand this.  When they tell the truth, they want to show that they are better than others.  It is for their right and pride, not for serving the truth.  If you are not fighting for the truth but for your prestige, God will not bless you.  The principles Jesus gave us is that we are to manifest the truth. 

It means we must be open to face challenges and even false accusations.  If we say and do the wrong thing, and know that we could be wrong, we should let others to point this out and allow ourselves to be corrected.  This is the right attitude towards the truth.

The second principle is not to be ashamed of the truth but to stand firm.  Jesus did not tell the officer to slap the other cheek.  He spoke what He ought to say. “If what I say is true, why do you strike Me?”   This should be that attitude of Christian ministry.  Christians are not to bully others.  But when we speak of the truth, we often feel insecure, we are afraid of others, we are apologetic, we soften the message so that people will pity us.  The servants of God shall not do so.  Regardless what status we have in the society, in matters of faith we stand before God. 

He who flatters the rich and powerfull, and bullies the poor and the weak is a shameless person.  In contrast, a prophet of God does just the opposite.  A prophet rebukes the king and looks out for the widows and orphans. 

We need to move from the defensive to offensive.  It is not enough to just say why we believe, but to challenge others why they do not believe the truth.  We should try to produce unanswerable Christian questions and bring people to a decisive point.  However, most of our preaching today has no power.  We are afraid of such moments.  We do not bring people to decisive point.  In the gospels, Jesus asked more than 100 questions, many of which could not be answered.  This is the highest style of questioning.  We should not be afraid in preaching the gospel.