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.”  


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