Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Jesus' Last Words on the Cross (Jn. 19:28-30)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 8 September 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 19:28-30

Jesus spoke 7 sentences on the cross:
The first –  “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do”
The second – “Today you will be with Me in paradise”
The third – “Behold your son” and “Behold your mother”
The forth – “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?”
The fifth – “I thirst”
The sixth – “It is finished”
The seventh – “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit”

Why did Jesus call “My God” in the middle, and “Father” at His first and last sentence?
In His first and last sentence, Jesus prayed as the Son of God as the Mediator.  At the 4th sentence, He prayed as the Son of Man.  The cross shows that God loves sinner but hates sin, that even His Son who carried the body of sin must be punished.  Yet as Christ is divine and sinless, the power of sin could not hold Him. 

In Acts 3:20, Peter said the Jews had killed the Lord of life but God resurrected Him from dead.  He died in the experience of sin, not under power and authority of sin.  He defeated sin and death.  God would not allow Him to decay, for this body is God incarnate, not destructible by sin.  Jesus also said He has the power to give up His life and the power to take it back again.  It is right to say the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit took part in the resurrection.  Each Person of Trinity has the same power and the same glory.

In His third sentence, “Behold your mother.  Behold your son.” he fulfilled his responsibility as a filial son.  Mary was blessed but also had great sorrow.  Jesus knew he could not take care of his mother anymore.  As the son of man He fulfilled His responsibility to His mother.  As the Son of God he fulfilled His responsibility to His Father in heaven.

In forth sentence, “My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?” God did not answer.  The answer is from saved sinners.  It is because of you and me that God had forsaken Him.  It is not possible for you to love the Lord if you do not understand the suffering of Christ.  The more we understand how much Christ suffered for us, the more we love Christ, the more we understand how decadent we are, the more grateful we are, the more we understand His holy wrath, and the more we appreciate His mercy.

The fifth sentence is “I thirst.” (Jn. 19:28) and the sixth, “it is finished.” (Jn. 19:30)

Jesus’ fifth sentence proved He is really God in the flesh.  He was dehydrated as He did not drink, eat or sleep the whole night.  He bled and perspired as He made His way to the cross. 

God did not answer any of His sentences.  When He was baptised, the heaven opened and a voice was heard “this is My Son, in whom I am well pleased.”  When He was transfigured, likewise the heaven opened and Father testified of the Son again “This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased.  Listen to Him.”  Jesus needed God’s affirmation the most when He was crucified.  At the sixth hour, God did not speak once.  He was alone when He died crucified.  Isa 53:10 says it is Jehovah’s will to bruise Him.

After Jesus said “I thirst”, someone took sympathy and put some vinegar in a sponge and pushed it against His mouth.  (Jn. 19:29) Vinegar kills pain.  Jesus tasted it to show His appreciation but did not drink it because He did not want to numb the pain.  He wanted to taste all the pain, drink fully the cup the Father has given Him.

Jesus cannot haphazardly receive the pity from sinners.  The relationship is between the Savior and sinners.  He is the source of all mercy.  He did not accept mercy or pity.  It is us who need pity.  Twice Jesus rejected sympathy from men during His passion.  The women in Jerusalem wept for Jesus as Jesus went to the cross.  Jesus said, “Women of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourself and your children.” 

Christianity did not need to be pitied.  Christians ought to judge the rest of the world and even judge angels.  God will even send the raven which has no sense of mercy, to help His own who are in need.  How did it happen that enemies of God have mercy of the people of God?  People despise Christianity because of this. 

Do not receive pity from those who are against God.  They do not have the right to pity you.  When Christians receive pity of the Gentiles, we betray our Lord.  We give glory to those underserving and opportunity for Satan.  But do not humiliate people who pity you.  Appreciate it but do not take it.  Beware who are gracious to you.  If there are other motives, you need to immediately reject it.  Rather be poor until you die but do not disgrace the name of the Lord.  With the wisdom that comes from fearing the Lord, you can discern if people’s intention are genuine.

With the last sentence, “into Your hands I commit My spirit,” ended Jesus’ 33.5 years on earth.  This is indeed the Saviour of the world.  They took off His body from the cross and buried him.  All happened within  24 hours.  This is the Day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

"I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me." (John 17:9-10)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 5 May 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 17:9-10
Jesus suddenly said something unusual. Before the Father, Jesus said: “I pray for them.” This is normal. The Son prayed for the saints to God the Father, because the relationship between the Son and the saints is the relationship between the Shepherd and his flock. God the Son is between God the Father and the saints, like a High Priest, the only Mediator. The relationship between the Son and the saints is the relationship between the Head and the body of the church. When he prays for the flock, it would be most appropriate. As the mediator praying for humanity, this is appropriate.
But the following verse is difficult: “I am not praying for the world.” You would think Jesus is so narrow-minded and his prayer has a limitation. “I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.” Other than the people that the Father gave to the Son, where would the rest of the people in the world come from? Do they belong to God, to our Lord? If they belong to God, and Jesus prays for them, does that not mean that the world does not belong to him? But where would they come from? Whom do they belong to? When you start thinking about this, it’s very different from what you imagine it to be.
When God declares something that we find most unreasonable, how should we treat it? This is a question common to Christians but they will not ask it. You have believed the Lord. You read the Bible. You discover a verse that is different from how you imagine it to be and you find it difficult to understand. You may ask: Why would this happen? If I’m intelligent and I’m right in my thinking, then could it be that the Bible is unreasonable? But if it is unreasonable, it won’t be in the Bible. That means I don’t believe God is in control. At least the apostles are intelligent, so why would they declare things that are different from our thinking process? Then you have tension between the reader and the author of the Bible. When we discover the Bible is in contradiction to what we think, very often we jump to conclusions that God must be mistaken, or the apostles wrote the wrong things, or throughout history, things have changed. The first response leads to the second response, which is that therefore I do not believe the Bible, or I accept it for the moment and ask questions later. You can think about your own situation when you face such problems. It is not possible to just completely ignore it. If you are serious, you will face this issue.
Whenever God speaks in contradiction to my reason, what would I then do? Would I conclude that God is unreasonable? But why are we worthy to say so? The simple conclusion is we don’t regard God as God, or you think that God does not exist or that the existing God is unreasonable or maybe God used the wrong people who wrote the wrong things. But is this sentence in the Bible a unique one? Is it the only one you can find in this place and no other? Then you can conclude this way. If this Bible verse is similar to other verses, then how do we find the common principles?
You will find similar verses that some people have special privileges. God will specially take care of them. God has chosen them. The Bible even said that before the foundation of the world, these people are different from the rest of the world because they belong to God. But when you discuss things like that, you often will not join this with your own identity. You look at the Bible and you think of yourself as objective. But when you think about the sentence with your own life, and you think that you belong to God, you are Christian, you think this is quite good, because I’m a Christian, He prays for me, I give thanks. If you are a bit selfish and don’t care about others, you will say, well, it’s God’s own will to pray for me and not for other people. But when you do not consider this as referring to yourself, you will be quite unselfish and come to another conclusion and you say, humanly speaking, objectively speaking, the prayer of Jesus was selfish and unjust because he was biased and picked people whom he liked.
But this is Biblical teaching. You cannot hold God accountable to your own concept of justice, nor persuade God what he should do. God has never owed us anything. God is unique and he does his own thing. When God goes into action, he does not discuss with you first, for he is the highest wisdom. He has absolute sovereign will.
When God is on the move, the Bible records things we cannot understand. Jacob and Esau were twins, born a few seconds apart. The Bible says that when Esau was born, Jacob grabbed hold of his ankle and came out as well. Because of timing, somebody has to be born first. The one who emerged first is the elder brother. The one who was late by a couple of seconds is the younger brother. That is their destiny. Before they were born, God said: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” Our reason cannot accept this. Why would there be such a differentiation and bias? If he did not say this, no one would know. But this is the bald truth in his revelation of fact.
It is quite reasonable for people to oppose God. This sort of description in the Bible can be seen as a mark of injustice. It’s an unrighteous person judging the righteous God. When you are unrighteous and you want to judge God as unrighteous, who are you? The Bible gives us an answer: The pottery cannot tell the potter: “Why did you make me this way? Why did you do this? I am shaped by your hands, but I don’t like this design.” The Bible will not let us have this power. So the apostle Paul says: “Who are you? You are just a pot of clay and it is decided by the Potter.”
Predestination as a doctrine has been most attacked and most misunderstood. But God will not compromise. If we are against the doctrine of predestination and the special selection of God, you are against two important doctrines. First, you deny the sovereign will of God. Second, you deny the wisdom of God. God has absolute sovereignty and is most wise. He has full authority and worthiness to say that He has selected one person over another. This is the conclusion of those who are humble and submissive to God. This sort of teaching is difficult to be accepted. Many sinners consider what they think as completely correct. It is not too bad if you think you are right. But if you go further and say, then God is wrong, this is worse.
Jesus says: “I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those for you have given me….” In the prayer of Jesus, it is limited to the chosen people and the disciples he had picked. He only prays for those who have been given to him. Who are the elect? The first will be the disciples chosen by Jesus. Who are the people the Father has given to the Son? Only the 12 disciples and the chosen people? No. Psalm 2 says: “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth you possession.” (2:8) In Revelations 5, Jesus with his precious blood “purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” (5:9b) This is what the Apostles’ Creed calls the holy catholic church. Status-wise, we are citizens. We are people who have been saved as sinners and now we have become saints. But in terms of scope, we are part of the universal church for we have been sanctified as saints. The Holy Spirit has baptized us. We have been cleansed. So we are holy. But we are a holy universal church, the church that has people from all nations who are elected. On the one hand, we have been elected. On the other hand, it’s from all corners of the world. But it is limited, not to everyone. Who is Jesus praying for? The third portion says “for those for you have given me”. The Father gave the saints to the Son as his inheritance and the Son gave eternal life to the saints as their inheritance. Verse 2 says: “For you have granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.” Thanks be to God. We are people that God has given to Christ for we belong to Christ. But from Christ, we received eternal life. We belong to our Lord and the Lord received us from the Father. Those of us who belonged in the family of God came about because the Father gave us the Son, so that we belong to the Lord. The Son gave us eternal life so we too belong to the Father. Thanks be to God.
John 17:20 says: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message.” The scope has increased. “I prayed for them and they will preach, and when people hear the gospel, some will believe and some will not. Those who believe will come before me. They are different from these people whom I have chosen from the beginning, loved them and given them Your name, shared my glory with them, and gave them Your word and sent them to preach the gospel. These people in my name, because of the word I have given to them, preached to the rest of the world. And as they preached, some people will listen to them and believe in me. And when they believe, I also pray for this second group.” Verse 9 tells us Jesus prays for these people and in verse 10, he also pray for those who believe. We see three types of human beings. The first group are those whom Jesus has picked. The second group are those who believe because of the first group who preached the gospel. The third group are the people of the world who do not believe in Jesus. John 16:8 says: “When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment.” The world changed and will convict themselves for they have heard the word of God and accepted the work of the Spirit in their hearts. The world in Chapter 17 refers to those who will never believe. Chapter 16 refers to people who listen and believe. Those who have been elected by the Lord were picked first by Jesus Christ. The people who heard the word of God and believed in Jesus Christ, continue to preach the gospel and their numbers keep increasing.
When what God has declared is different from what we want, what is our attitude? Do we believe God is absolute and so we submit? Or do we think we are absolute and judge God? There are only two ways. Take note: We are not the “absolute absolute”. We are relatively created with an absolute concept created by an “absolute absolute” God. When we talk about the absolute, we always make this mistake: We are not absolute but we first assume we are absolute. This process of absolutisation is not true because the relative can never be the absolute. If a person who is not pretty thinks of herself as beautiful, can she become beautiful? It can only be a fake beauty. God is the only “absolute absolute”. If you are relative and you make yourself absolute, you are still not the absolute. To absolutise that which is not absolute remains not absolute. In this process you add on this faith of the absolute. This faith is part of the image and likeness of God but not God himself.
Jesus Christ considered the people of the world in terms of three kinds of people: Those he elected and sent himself; those who believe because of the first group; those who never believe. The first two groups all belong to God. “You have given them to me”. “You have selected them from the world.” “They belong to me because you have given them to me. They belong to you in the first place. They are yours. Preserve them. Not one will be lost other than the son of destruction.” In Chapter 17, you see this sort of description. They are most intriguing words.  
In verse 9, Jesus says: “They are yours.” In verse 10, Jesus says: “All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.” There is profound meaning implicit in these verses. In verse 5, Jesus says: “Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” And Jesus says: “I have given them your glory that they may be one because of this glory.” But in verse 10 Jesus says something different: It’s because of them that Jesus has the glory.  The Father gave the Son the glory. The Son gave the glory to the saints. But here it says the Son got the glory from the people. It’s a complex relationship. I don’t want to talk about glory, but about belonging. To whom do the saints belong? To the Father, as in verse 9. The Father gave the saints to Jesus. Jesus gave eternal life to the saints. When the Father gave them to Jesus, originally they belonged to God, but are given to Jesus. After Jesus gave them eternal life, they belong to God. From the beginning they were created by God so they belong to God. Secondly, they were redeemed by Jesus Christ so they belong again to God.  
“All I have is yours, and all you have is mine.” (John 17:10) This is a unique verse in the Bible. The Song of Songs says: “My beloved is mine, and I am his”. But here it is not about romantic words. Here are the words of God the Son, sent by God the Father, speaking to the Father. It’s not about a loving relationship, but “all that is mine are yours and all that is yours are mine”. These are relating to ownership of things apart from the two persons. This sort of words can only be spoken by God the Son and God the Father. This is about the relationship of the triune God. God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. The three person-one person God. Not three Gods, but one God. One God, but three persons. The saints belong to the Father and also to the Son. The Father gave the saints to the Son. And God the Son gave eternal life to the saints and gave the saints back to the Father. He used his own precious blood to purchase people from all corners, all races and all tribes, that they may return to God. We are possessions that God has given to the Son, but we are the fruit that the Son has delivered to the Father. When the Father looks at us, we belong to the Son, and the Son has offered us to the Father. The only true “communism” is in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. All the ideologies come about because they misinterpret the original truth. Socialism is very different from the Kingdom concept. The Communist idea is very different from the communism among the God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The economic theories are different from the original truth of God. Mistakes made by all philosophies are all theological mistakes. We are carrying on the pollution of the misinterpretation of the truth of God and ideologies in all fields are polluted.
Logically speaking, there are three other thoughts. The first one: all that is mine are yours, all that is yours are mine. This is from the triune God. The second response: all that is yours is yours, all that is mine is mine. This is the common rule of law.  God told Moses 3,500 years ago in the last commandment that they shall not covet their neighbour’s wife, nor their house, nor their servants, nor their possession. This is the basis of the right of ownership. Ownership in the Bible is used to protect the poorest. But sinners talk about the law and ownership because they are corrupted and want to keep their corrupted things.
The third logic: All that is mine is mine. All that is yours is mine. This is the attitude of the robber. There are all kinds of robbers. John Calvin says the government of this world is often the self-legalised robber and the strongest one. The will of God is greater than the will of man. Human rights are greater than political rights. Political system is the lowest among all systems. But John Calvin says the worst government is still better than no government. Some people overturn the government, but anarchy is worse.
The fourth: What is yours is yours, what is mine is yours. This is the attitude of Christ. I give you my precious blood and my life. I relinquish my power and leave behind my precious throne in heaven to die for you.
You either have the attitude of the robber or the common society. Dear brothers and sisters, may the Lord give us wisdom as to how we live as law-abiding citizens where what is mine is mine and what is your is yours. And when we grow in wealth, there are two ways which are not good. The first is to rob other people and hide underneath the law. The second is to use the name of Christianity to go into prosperity gospel: “If you believe in Jesus, you will be rich and have success”. These people often use unethical ways to do business and give thanks to God. Some people, after they become prosperous, still do some good. But those who prosper this way are not willing to stop. They only want to make more and more. So the rich become richer, the poor become poorer.
Jesus Christ is the greatest. He says what is yours is yours, what’s mine is yours. And if you think about it deeper, “everything that you have, came from me, for God has given me to you and the life I have given to you when I die for you.”  

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Conversation between Jesus and Pilate (John 18:33-38)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermon on 4 Aug 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 18:33-38

The Jews were not willing to be defiled, so they pushed Jesus into the Roman court. But this did not mean Jesus became defiled. Instead, it was the Jews who stayed defiled by refusing to believe in Jesus, even though they did not enter the court.

The Jews cannot touch a dead body, coffin, or a leper for fear of 'transfer' of uncleanliness. Exactly opposite to the Jews, Jesus Christ had never been scared of losing his cleanliness (as he could touch a leper, resurrect dead people, or let Himself be touched by a bleeding woman). The Lord has come to give life, not to give us religious rules.

Before Jesus was born, politics made use of religion in the form of King Herod building the temple in Jerusalem so that the Jews would support him as king although he was not of the line of David. Now, it was the Jews who made use of politics for their religion. They were hypocrites who did not want to use their own hands to accomplish their goal to kill Jesus.

Roman Empire imported 4 pillars of Greek culture:
1. Wisdom
2. Justice
3. Courage
4. Self-Control
Despite the greatness of Roman Empire in legal system, the Bible records that 3 times Pilate said that he could not find any fault with Jesus. Still, he could not escape from the trap that the Jews had put him in (being used by the Jews to kill Jesus). The Jews said that if he did not find Jesus guilty, he would not be a friend of Caesar.

In order to find fault with Jesus, Pilate asked if he was a king of the Jews, as being a king in a Roman territory would mean a political threat to his own rule. Jesus did not answer but asked if this was his own words. Pilate's deflected this question by saying that it was the Jewish religious leaders who brought Jesus to him (v 35), as if saying that this was not his own words. This showed that he wanted to force Jesus to admit that He was the king of the Jews.

The next answer of Jesus (that His kingdom is not of this world) was unique and showed us that Christians live in 2 worlds. Our kingdom in this world and God's kingdom will always have conflicts. Jesus answer made it clear that the kingdom he had always been talking about is not a kingdom of this world. God's kingdom is above earthly kingdom (i.e. human rights, political system, and democracy) as God's ways are higher than our ways. Culture is where our ideology meets our way of life. This is where Christians ought to exercise the cultural mandate. We should understand God's will and let this understanding influence our way of life just like it is said in Proverbs 1:7 'Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.'

By this, Jesus declared that his kingdom is about the Truth, and not about territorial, financial, or military. His kingdom in nature is about the Truth. He came to the world to witness and to preach about the Truth. This corresponds to what Jesus said in John 10, that his sheep, those who love the Truth, will follow him.

Pilate, on the other side of the conversation, must have felt strange as this dialogue does not contain any commonality. So he answered, in disbelief, 'What is truth?' Pilate must have thought like this: 'If truth is in you, you would not be here. The Jews would not have brought you here. Why would they try to judge you?' Internally, he would have felt guilty because he must have realised that Jesus did not commit any offence at all.

Although Pilate asked what truth was, he was not interested in seeking the truth, because the Bible recorded that he then stood up. Jesus came to affirm the truth, but Pilate denied the existence of truth. 

The statement 'suffered under Pontius Pilate' in the Apostle's Creed shows that Jesus' suffering is a true historical fact.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Jesus was Crucified (Jn. 19:10-27)

Passage: John 19:10-27

When Pilate judged Jesus, it was a sinner taking the place of a judge to sentence Christ.  However, his judgement has no foundation.  Jesus was not humiliated when He stood before human judgement.  Rather, sinners’ sin and ignorance were exposed. 

At the last moment before Jesus’ crucifixion  Pilate asked, “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (Jn. 19:10)

We ought not be afraid of people who threaten us as their words have no foundation.  The Church will not disappear because of persecution.  Those who rely on God Jehovah are like mount Zion which cannot be shaken.  When people say bad things about us, we get easily angry. Our response exposes our shallow spirituality.  They are unworthy of a response.  When Christ was on earth, He exposed what was in human heart.  Before Christ nobody can hide himself.

In response to Pilate, Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” (v.11)

This is the most confronting statement Pilate ever heard.  Ironically it came from a man under his judgement.  From being active, he became passive.  Jesus said Pilate had no right or authority at all.  At the moment when He was treated like a criminal, He stood steadfast, fearless, and spoke the truth. 

Jewish law had a provision to stone a blasphemer to death.  But the Pharisees did not want to kill Jesus directly because they were afraid the crowd would rise up against them.  So they borrowed Roman sword to kill Him.  In this way, they played safe.  Pontius Pilate did not want to kill Jesus but he dared not defy the people’s will.  Thrice Pilate said he found no guilt in Jesus.  But Pilate was trapped by many political interests which prevented him from doing the right thing.  Religious and political hypocrisy was shown in human culture. 

A true Christian sees the sovereignty of God even in most dangerous situation and knows that all human power has no authority over him.  God has given each ruler his authority and He takes away their authority when their time is up. 

Romans 13 teaches that all authority comes from God so we need to submit to authority.  Government likes this verse.  However, we need to first recognise from this verse that God’s authority is higher than all authority.  God’s will is higher than men’s will.  Government should rule us according to the will of God.  When government goes against the will of God, we should obey God.  We need to recognise this otherwise we go against the truth of God and think that we are doing His will.  Secondly, government should fear God or they are not ready to rule.  Thirdly, governments need to fulfil their duty or God will remove their authority.

After Pilate judged Jesus, he delivered Jesus to the Jews to be crucified.  He even washed his hands to signify it was none of his fault.  This is the biggest irony.  The function of the court is to execute righteousness and justice.  But the most unjust thing often happen in high court.  The biggest sin ever committed is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, a sinless man.

Pilate said, “Shall I crucify your king?”  The chief priests even said they had no king but Caesar.  (v.15)  This is remarkable given they were the people of God whose king was God.

None of us can escape being exposed before God.  Jesus is the most important person in history.  Those who opposed him, criticised him, were exposing themselves.  When you rebuke and scolding people you think you are exposing them but in reality you are exposing yourself.  Many people do not realise this. 

He did not retaliated when insulted.  Like a lamb, He was slaughtered.  “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.” (v.17-18)

Jesus was in the middle because He was considered the worst criminal.  He represented all sinners.  He took the burden of the sinners of the world.  All three died, representing three types of death in humanity.  The unrepentant robber died in sin, the repentant robber died to sin, and Jesus died for sin.  Because of the death of Christ, sin no longer had a hold on us.  So long as our death is in Christ, death no longer has victory over us.  John Owen said the death of Christ put all deaths to death.  He was punished so that we could have peace, He was cursed so that we receive blessing, and He was judged so that we receive forgiveness of sins.

Pilate put a notice “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.  (v.19-20).  This way Pilate claimed to have sentenced the king of the Jews.  It was written in Latin because it was Roman’s official language, it was written in Greek because it is the common language of intellectual, it was also written in Aramaic for the Jews.  The purpose is to humiliate the Israelites.  This way he comforted himself that he had put the King of the Jews to death by his power.  Thus the chief priests protested but Pilate refused to change the notice. (v.21-22)

Jesus suffered as prophesied in the Scripture, including the casting of lot for His garment (v.23-24).   

Four women were watching as Jesus suffered: Jesus’ mother, His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene (v.25).  And one disciple was there, John.  John referred to himself as “the disciple whom He loved” as he truly felt the love of Christ.  Where were the rest of the disciples?  The Bible did not record.  They had wrong motives when following Jesus.  They thought they would have a better prospect.  They did not realise they would suffer.  They were disappointed when they suffered.  If you follow Jesus with wrong motives, how can you withstand the sight of Jesus crucified?

John watched Jesus as He walked to the cross and was crucified.  Jesus’ mother experienced sword piercing her heart as the angel prophesied.  It is a painful tragedy for a mother to watch her own son die.  As Jesus hung the cross, He said, “Woman, here is your son” and to the disciple, “Behold your mother.” (v.26) The Bible said from that day on John took Mary home and took care of her.  What about Mary’s other sons?  Did they not take care of Mary?  The Bible did not record but tradition said Mary stayed with John.  There are people closer to you than your blood.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Exposure of the evil in our hearts (John 18:40 - 19:13)

This is my personal summary of Rev Dr Stephen Tong's sermons on 18 August 2013 in STEMI Expository Preaching at True Way Presbyterian Church Singapore. It was preached in Chinese with English translation.

Passage: John 18:40 - 19:13

As this closing of Chapter 18, Pastor Tong would like to emphasize on two important verses:
The first is the answer that Jesus gave to Pontius Pilate when He was questioned by him.
- "Are you the king of the Jews?" (18:33)
- Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." (18:37b)
- After Jesus' declaration, Pilate stood up and retorted "What is truth?" and then left (18:38a).
- This conversation is most dramatic and intriguing to us. It is the recording of the climax of human dialogue in history. These two persons are from two different sources: one, a Jew and the other, Roman. One, being ruled, and the other, a ruler. One, a judge, and the other, being judged. One, the Holy One; the other, a sinner. One, from heaven; the other, from the earth. One, God coming in the flesh; the other, a sinner who has been elevated, by the political environment, to the highest standing. In the conversation between Jesus and Pilate, we see God coming in the most humble form to be judged, and the sinner elevated to the highest status and being self-righteous. The one who was judged is the Truth and the Righteous One. The sinner is an unrighteous judge. Indeed, the incident exposed the darkest scene of humanity.
Before Pilate, Jesus was passive, being questioned and judged, thus He did not defend Himself, nor did He reply anything. But, Pilate was active and judging, and so asked Jesus an important question: "Are you the king of the Jews?" Pilate asked this because he wanted know if the things he did were just. If Pilate found out that Jesus was a king, he must put Jesus to death as it was forbidden that a second king should come forth under the Roman Empire. He asked the question as it concerned his life and death and the retention of his status. When such a situation occured, the Lord, who had remained quiet prior to that, then answered as per verse 37b. Pilate was unconfident when he posed his question, whereas Jesus answered with the Truth with absolute confidence, uncompromising, and with a firm conviction. This should be the attitude with which Christian faith ought to bear testimony to the world.
The failure of Christianity today:
- those who hear us are more courageous than we are,
- the preachers themselves have no confidence and doubt their own messages, and
- the hearers are more firm in their unbelief.
How can we lead them to Christ and to believe in Him?
Jesus spoke to Pilate with absolute conviction, but Pilate listened with doubtful attitude. This is the opposite of what Christianity is today: the hearers oppose Christianity with aboslute spirit, while the preachers is doubtful, on the one hand, and, on the other, thought that they can be leaders of the congregation based on their academic qualifications. This is very pathetic and horrifying reversal of right and wrong. May God have mercy on us.
If we do not preach the absolute Truth with an absolute spirit, the world has no hope.
When Pilate asked "what is truth?", he was not asking a question, seeking an answer, nor was he really looking for true confidence of truth in the midst of darkness. In fact, when he asked that question, he was actually proclaiming the suicide of the Greek culture, philosophy and the pagan civilization of seeking after the truth.
Furthermore, when the Jews declared that they did not want Jesus, but Barabbas, that was the Jews themselves declaring the suicide of the Jewish culture.

So, those two sentences were extraordinary, with special meaning. The appearing of Jesus was a judgment upon the entire world, with Himself, at that same time, receiving judgment from a sinner of the world. How paradoxical is that! Horrifying and completely contrary. Not easy to recognize simply from the surface.
Pilate was victorious: Jesus was killed. The Jews were victorious: Jesus was crucified. The Jews, not Pilate, were the ones who wanted Jesus dead. They wanted to crucify Him since John chapters 5, 9, 11, 14 and 18, step by step, they had set their mind to have Him dead. It was because in their eyes, not only had Jesus broken the Sabbath (the 4th Commandment), He was even arrogant to blaspheme God by calling Him His own Father, making himself equal with God (5:17-18). In Chpt 9, once again, Jesus deliberately broke the Law by healing on a Sabbath. Then, in Chpt 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. The Jews saw that their culture would perish if they allowed Jesus to go on like that. Hence, they decided that Jesus had to perish in order to save their own culture.
That was the most important day in history:
- the path of death for the Son of God was decided,
- the victory between good and evil was decided, and
- the day of battle between God and satan
This is the day that the Lord had made. We should rejoice in it. But for Jesus, it was the most terrifying, unjust day, a day of judgment by a human, a day when He was taking on our sin, day when He was cursed. On that day, two cultures declared suicide. The first, the Greek culture, for 400 years, they sought after the meaning of life and to achieve the truth of life. Some people said that human should seek after happiness, while followers of Stoic said that they should seek after goodness, and some have no way to go: they do not believe there is truth in both happiness and goodness, especially when they see the good suffer. Many of the evil people prosper.
Thus, Pilate belonged to the last category: he did not believe in truth and that it exists, because...
- Even the sinless Jesus, who healed the sick and raised the dead, was judged like that.
- The Jews who possessed the Law and yet brought Jesus to him, who was a Roman.
The most important word in the Jewish cultre is "true". Thus, the Jews truthfully come before God, worship the true God, receive the Truth, obey the will of God with true courage. But, Jesus said to them, "Woe to you, hypocrites!" The people who sought after the Truth the most happened to be hypocrites, much like today, where there is the irony that most Supreme Courts are usually the most unjust.
Both the Greeks and the Romans, same culture, do not know God, no revelation. When these cultures disappear, the other way is God's revelation, the Law of Moses, the Old Testament, given to the Jews. Pilate said to the Jews that it was their custom for him to release to them one prisoner at the time of the Passover, and if they wanted him to release Jesus. But they shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising (18:39-40). This means that the Jews did not want God but a robber. They thought that they obey the Law and Moses and serve/worship the True and living God, but when the true God gave them His Son, their hearts were exposed. Many churchgoers look pious but when given a choice, they prefer a robber to Jesus. Deacons and elders in the church seem to love the Lord, but in their business, they may betray Jesus for financial gains to be with robbers. Many preachers look most holy in the church but are robbers, dressed in Christian's outfits, in the business world.

John 18:40b
Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.
The bible recorded that Barabbas was a robber, but according to history, he was a anti-Roman revolutionary hero, a rebel. Thus, we can understand the Jews wanted Barabbas, because as long as he could go against the Roman Empire, irregardless whether he was a robber or not. As for Jesus, He was always under the Roman Empire and did not have the heart to go against it. The kind of person the Jews hoped for would be a rebel who dared to rebel and bring about a revolution. Therefore, they shouted, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” (18:40a)
The last verse of chapter 12 was the final opportunity for conversation between Jesus and the Jews. Not that the Jews did not want to look for Him, but that Jesus would not permit them to have the worth to hear another statement from Him. He seemed to say, "Your time and opportunity is over." And that last statement is that the Son of Man would come to judge the whole world. God had given His Son the authority to judge the whole world. Jesus had already told the Jews so often, but they had never accepted what He said. He had told them so much Truth, but they always despised Him. In their eyes, Jesus was an unclean son, surely born only from one possibility: Mary committed adultery with Joseph. To the Jews, Jesus was also demon-possessed, insane, from Galilee which could never produce any prophet (John 7:52), someone who defied the Law and trampled the Word of God and went against the Sabbath Day, someone who deserved to die. A hundred years later, Gnosticism added that Jesus secretly married Mary of Magdelene and had sexual relations.
The people of God did not want Jesus but a robber. As long as someone dared to go against the Roman Empire, he was their friend. Just like Pilate and Herod in Luke 23:12 "
That day Herod and Pilate became friends—before this they had been enemies." In the past, they were enemies, and then, since both of them went against Jesus, so enemies became friends. So, the two were in cahoots together.
The purpose of their lives was not for the Truth, and they wanted to just gang up against the Truth. Thanks be to God that such great profound truths are implicitly found within the narratives. 

John 18:38-40
With this, he (Pilate) went out again to the Jews ..and said, "..Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?”
They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising.

Barabbas was the kind who would dare to go against the Romans and was a hero to the Jews. Just like in the case of Christopher Columbus, the Spanish hold him as a great hero, a great explorer, but the South Americans regard him as a robber. Because in their eyes, Columbus had taken the gold, weighing thousands of kilogram, from them. The so-called explorers are invaders and marauders. There is a church in Spain, named Santiago de Compostela Cathedral, which can testify to this. In the cathedral, the back of the pulpit is built of gold, were robbed by explorers, such as Columbus, from South America. To the Spanish, he was a national hero and great explorer, and he discovered new continents and made a name for themselves. However, the people of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, where the gold had been robbed from, would consider the explorers as robbers.

John 19:1-2
Then Pilate took Jesus and had Him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head. They clothed Him in a purple robe..
Our Lord fully suffered humiliation, filth and assault. So, when you read about these, you are to do so clearly: When they hurled their insults at Him (Jesus), He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him (God) who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23) When Jesus was accused, Pilate had Him flogged, even though He was not in the wrong. Pilate was abusing his power, placed his own authority and face value above the Truth and someone else's destiny. He knew Jesus was innocent and yet he had Him flogged. He put a crown of thorns on His head and clothed Him in a purple robe (19:2). What a terrifying thing. The purple robe was a clothing meant for the emperor and the royalty. Since Jesus said He was the King of the Jews, Pilate gave Him the purple robe to wear. Pilate was not respecting Jesus by making Him wear that, but to add on the humiliation upon Him, to demonstrate that he could pronounce a sentence on the King of Jews. Can a politician be honest? Will he be genuine towards respect? Even though he knows that you have no sin, he still want to ridicule you, flog you and give you a purple robe and crown of thorns to wear. The branch, used to make the crown, is taken from trees that can be found in the wilderness of the Holy Land. The thorns on the branches of the trees are so complicated and criss-crossing with one another that one would tear to see the trees. The crown of thorns that the Lord had worn was so horrifying. Every thorn was about seven to eight centimetres long, hundreds of thorns, made into a crown and forced upon His head. The thorns will pierce through the skin, causing bleeding from the thousands or hundreds of wounds.

John 19:3
and (the soldiers) went up to Him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck Him in the face.

There is nothing more humiliating and cruel than these. When they hurled their insults at Him (Jesus), He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him (God) who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

John 19:4-5
4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing Him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against Him."
5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"

Verse 5 contains the most important statement Pilate has ever uttered in his life. When he said this, he did not know what he was talking about. He wanted the Jews to see the state that Jesus was in, to ask if Jesus could be a sinner, that if He was a sinner, he could not find a basis for a charge against Him; and if He was not a sinner, He had already worn the crown of thorns, whole body covered in blood by the flogging (whipping). The whip used in those days had seven branches, and on every branch, there were tens of hooks made of very sharp iron. So, on the first flog, the numerous hooks would be driven into the body of a man, and as the whip was being retracted to get ready for the second flog, there would be hundreds of wounds, causing bleeding. And this is how by wounds of the Lord Jesus Christ we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5b) If a person does not understand how the suffering of the Christ is, he can never be able to truly love the Lord. The extent to which we love the Lord is proportional to how much we understand His suffering. May we not think that we really love the Lord, and let Him lead us to Golgotha, into the pain of His suffering.

There were a total of six trials Jesus went through. He had not taken any food or water that whole night, and must have been hungry and thirsty. He was made to walk here and there, to king Herod, Caiaphas, Pilate, the crowds, back to Pilate, six trials in all, suffered all forms of pain.

John 19:6-7
As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw Him, they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!" But Pilate answered, "You take Him and crucify Him. As for me,I find no basis for a charge against Him."
The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God."

This was the only "sin" of Jesus, that He proclaimed Himself to be the Son of God. Is this sin of God?! The deceit in religion, the decadence in human nature and the injustice in the law have their horrifying self-manifestation right there. Pilate already said he could not find any basis for a charge against Jesus and told the Jews to crucify Him themselves. But, how could Pilate have handed Him over to them for crucifixion when he could not find any basis for a charge against Him?! But the chief priests said He should die because He had defied their laws, namely the Sabbath and the self-proclamation to be the Son of God. The Jews wanted to kill Jesus, but would not want to do so themselves. They wanted Pilate to do it for them. Such a horrifying religion, politics and court, manifested in the bible. God said that the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work (1John 3:8). God also told us that He let His Son to appear in history to reveal what is in our hearts. Jesus, the Son of God, appearing in history and God exposed the evil persons all at the same time: those who are jealous, those who hate, those who are happy. Judas was exposed for his greed. The fear of Peter was exposed. The hypocrisy of the Jews were exposed. The unrighteousness of Pilate was exposed. The Jews was exposed that they wanted a robber instead of the Lord. Yet, the Jews were not thinking that way; they thought they were worshiping God and following the Law and honoring the constitution of the Roman Empire. They thought they were friends of Caesar, normal civilians. Only God can search our hearts, all exposed through the touch of Jesus Christ.