(Chp 19) Believing in JesusMay 19, 2008, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Elder Lui Yook Cing (Mark 7:24-30) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: The Jesus Creed
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service
Sermon based on Chapter 19 of Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed
Theme: Believing in Jesus
Text: Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28
This morning, the theme we want to meditate on is: Believing in Jesus. Some of us here are struggling with faith issues. We are beginning to ask questions like: why should I believe in Jesus? How do I know the bible is true? I want to believe in God, how do I do that?
Generally, these questions revolve around three things: seeking the truth or reality about God; to know and understand God; faith. One aspect encompasses all of these: love.
“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked this in exasperation (John 18:38)
1. Truth as propositions – impersonal and objective
I grew up in the era of modernity. Consequently my pursuit of knowledge and truth is a large extent along the lines of logic and science. I generally see truth in terms of propositions. Truth is something impersonal and objective. It is not affected by changing circumstances, personal preference and temperaments. E.g. if someone asks me: describe the true properties of light, I will answer: light travels in straight lines; light cannot penetrate opaque matter. The implication is: this always happens whether we like it / believe it not. To me this is absolute reality and truth. Something is true if it can be proven objectively and reproducible under same controlled situations. If someone refuses to acknowledge that ‘light travels in straight line’, that person is ignorant, illogical or arrogant.
When I became a Christian, I pursue God using similar mindset. My heart was on fire! I was excited to know as much about God as possible. But I didn’t really know where to begin. I read the Bible and memorized scripture. I read many books teaching about God; like “Basic Christianity” (John Stott) and “Knowing God” (J I Parker). If someone were to ask me: tell me about God, I would say: God is all-present, all-mighty, all-knowing, holy, love, God is Trinity etc. If the person persists: how do you know? Why are you so sure? I will show him: the bible says so here and here. If someone asks me to summarize about the Christian faith, I will recite the Apostle Creed. Does that encompass all that I need to affirm about Christianity? It’s a good summary and short-cut.
There was a story a non-Jewish fellow who Rabbi Shammai to summarize the entire Torah teaching standing on one foot. You see, he was making fun of the Torah. Rabbis spent all their lives in studying the Torah and even then were not sure that they knew all of it. Rabbi Shammai took a stick and angrily chased the man away. The young man found Rabbi Hillel, who was more patient and merciful. He said: “You want to learn a great deal in the greatest time, don't you? Very well, I shall teach you the Torah while you stand on one foot. This is our Holy Torah: 'What is hateful to you, do not do unto others.' The man forgot that he had come only to mock the Jewish teaching. “Does it mean that all of us are brothers? Does it mean that we must be kind to one another like brothers?” he asked wonderingly. Rabbi Hillel said kindly, “Yup, that's the meaning of the whole Torah, my son. The rest is explanation of that. Go and study it.” The young man was greatly humbled. He asked “When may I come for another lesson?”
Those days of reading and learning helped me to know quite a lot about God. They lay down firm foundations for future renewing and fine-tuning on my pursuit of God. Nevertheless, I still feel quite superficial despite knowing all these about God. I don’t seem to know God yet. The feeling is like a boss reading someone’s job applications CVs. With the resume, the boss has sufficient information to make an impression about the potential applicant. However, you won’t really know how the person will perform at work until he comes on board and work in your department. Then you will really know.
Seeing my struggles, my spiritual counselors rightly advice me: You need to have a personal relationship with Jesus. This is quite bewildering to my young self. I don’t know how to relate to someone invisible. At that time, I could only equate “having a personal relationship with God” to setting aside time daily to read the Bible and pray. Thus begins my spiritual discipline. These spiritual habits are helpful for my latter development in relating to God.
2. Truth as subjective and relative
What is truth? Unfortunately, finding out the truth is not always straightforward as propositions. (Look at this spinning ballerina. Tell me: is she turning clockwise or anticlockwise?) More often the truth of the matter cannot be readily reproduced and proven.
A man disappears from a heavily guarded place. What actually happened? Experts carry out investigations. They employ science, conduct forensic analysis and grill witnesses. Can the truth really be nailed down? Finally, a report emerged. The investigators claim: based on what we have gathered to the best of our abilities, we propose this is the closest to the truth of the matter. Can you accept it? Would you believe it? Ultimately, nobody will say they are absolutely sure. Today we have an empty toilet cubicle. 2000 years ago a group of people faced an empty tomb. What actually happened back then? The pursuit of truth becomes complicated. Some people say: truth is not objective; at best truth is relative and subjective. If you believe, it’s true; if you don’t believe it’s not true.
Suppose the escapee is caught finally and opens his mouth to tell about the great escape. Would you then take his word as the truth? Ultimately, it boils down to whether the person is reliable and trustworthy. It has to do with whether you believe “the person” rather than whether you believe “the story”.
3. Truth as a Person
In matters concerning God, the ultimate truth about God is God himself. Ultimate truth is a Person, not some impersonal system of concepts or propositions. As person, Truth is someone we can relate to. We can believe in “him” rather than “it”. Truth then is a person we can love and talk to, rather than a moral position and standard that we stick to. Jesus says he is the Truth and the way to life eternal (John 14:6).
In this case, ultimate truth is neither objective nor relative. Ultimate truth is subjective. But there is a paradigm shift. The subject is not us. God is the ultimate subject. This is the critical and distinguishing difference. In matters concerning God, the subjectivity that counts is God. What God says and feels is what ultimately counts, not how we feel or think.
It dawn on me that in knowing God, I need to approach the process differently. I need to get to know God the way I am to know a person, not the same way I approach to solve some impersonal concept or problem. I cannot try to know God the way I learn about a new product. A person is not the same as a magical cube or electronic game. People are a lot more mysterious, unpredictable and thus interesting. My pursuit of God must be knowledge of a personal type.
My dilemma is: can God be known fully? I doubt. God is beyond human understanding; too deep, mysterious and scary for any humans to grasp completely. I have used this analogy before. Someone from a two-dimensional plane would not be able to comprehend when we try to explain that a ball is spherical. At best, within his limits, the 2-D being perceives a ball as a growing object that expands from dot to a circle and then diminishing back to a dot.
Two-dimensional beings will never be able to understand when humans try to tell them that what they perceive as disconnected patches of moving patterns are actually connected as a whole being; that being is a person who has thoughts and emotions. How can God “explain” himself fully to us? Will we ever understand?
On this side of eternity, God can be known only because he makes himself known. The assuring thought I have is that God desires us to know him. He has taken the initiative first to begin a relationship with us. He reaches out to us; he speaks and acts. God is always present, but often we are too preoccupied with other stuff to realize this. (Like a secret observer admirer who is in love with you but you have yet to notice his presence.) No doubt God is beyond human understanding, but he reveals himself in a manner clear enough for us to comprehend and to make a conviction.
Two more factors are crucial in this sort of knowing: faith and love. Woman asks man: “How can I trust you? How can I be sure you love me?” Man replies: “Dear, you will never know until you become my life partner.” My point is: we won’t really know a person until we are in an on-going relationship with him. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for physical intimacy is “know” – the man knew his wife. Where love and faith abounds, the knowing becomes easier. If you trust the person, you will drop your guard and draw closer to him.
Consequently your knowledge of him will develop out of the relationship with him. You knowledge of him will become clearer and more accurate. Most importantly, if the person loves you, he will always be true, genuine and transparent to you. Your faith in you will not end in vain. Contrary, if there is no love, your trust is misplaced and your knowledge of him is erroneous.
Fortunately, in God we can place absolute faith because God loves us. He will not hurt us. He does not lead us astray toward destruction. As one theologian correctly pictures it, Jesus is saying to us: I love you. Would you be my spiritual bride? Would you trust me enough to marry me? During Holy Communion, Jesus offers us the cup of covenant. When we receive it, we are receiving Jesus’ life and love in faith. In return, we offer him our life and love in return.
The thing about faith then is not how big or small your faith is. In matters concerning God, believing is on-going relationship with Jesus. We can’t have a relationship with propositions and statements. Theology and creeds can’t love us back. But we can love Jesus and we can experience God’s love in return.
Today’s selected scripture tells us more about relating to God with such relational faith. It is faith that comprises the whole person – mind, body and heart.
Scripture reading: Matthew 15:21-28
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
On first reading, we feel quite embarrassed because in the story appears Jesus rather petty and exclusive. Actually it highlights characteristics of faith that delights God.
This woman comes to Jesus with a request. Her faith in Jesus involved her whole person: mind, body and heart. Her response to Jesus is cognitive, physical, emotional and passionate. In return, Jesus was marveled by her faith and heeded her request.
1. Mind – affirming Kingdom truths
How much and accurately does the woman know about God? She is a Canaanite. Which implies she doesn’t know much about Torah, about God the way the Israelites knew about God etc. Her theology was probably more steeped in superstition and mixed with her understanding of her own gods. Nevertheless, she acknowledges something about Jesus. At the very least she believes that Jesus comes from God. That God is doing great and wonderful things through Jesus. She believes Jesus can heal and save her daughter. These convictions were enough to motivate her to come to Jesus personally.
2. Body – acting on affirmations
The woman doesn’t stop at believing in her mind. Genuine faith always prompts corresponding actions. It’s one thing to be mentally persuaded. Putting faith into action where it counts reveals the true state of our faith. If the woman had simply “believed” and didn’t follow through with necessary actions, nothing much would have changed in her life. Well, she came to Jesus and made her request. Through Jesus’ response, she gains more understanding about the ways of God.
We too believe many things about Jesus. Most are probably more “theologically correct” than this woman. As we claim these Kingdom truths, let us believe with our body. We take practical actions to follow through what God calls us to do.
3. Heart – passionate persistence in Kingdom truths
Faith that has been acted upon grows and is ultimately internalized. It reveals in dogged persistence. Jesus permits two challenges to test and strengthen this Gentile woman’s faith. First, the disciples turned her away, telling her that she is not eligible for Jesus’ help because she is not an Israelite. Then Jesus himself challenged her to “wait for you turn to come. Let the children of Israel receive God’s blessings first”. The woman met the challenge with her persistence. Jesus marveled at this. This was faith of a kind that Jesus did not find among the children of Israel. How ironic that it is often those who are privileged who take God’s favor for granted and do not persist in faith. The perseverance of this “non-believer” impressed Jesus.
In time, I moved on from just reading lots about God. I’m not content with just hearing people talk about their relationships with God, their discovery and understanding about God. I cannot rely on the experiences of others to inspire me. I must have my own stories with God to develop my faith walk with God!
This involves seeing myself always in the presence of God. Every moment of the day, we meet all kinds of challenges. We need to make all kinds of decisions that affect ourselves and other people. I make conscious effort to talk to the Lord about these and ask for his involvement.
On Tuesday mornings, I ask: “Lord, who shall we visit today? Direct us to people who need your comfort and encouragement today. Show us what to say and do.”
When I meet a bottle-neck in ministry, I pray: “Lord, this situation requires breakthrough. I’ve done what we can within our best abilities. Please intervene and show us what’s next.”
With difficult people and situations, I pray: “Lord, I’m getting reactive and bitter. Help me to see this person/situation the way you see him/it! Move me to respond constructively and productively.”
You know, the difficult thing isn’t about believing whether God really exists or that he listens and answers. Because God never fails to answer! Sometimes the answer comes like an intuition accompanied by strong conviction of peace and assurance. Sometimes through someone else’s mouths. Sometimes the situation simply evolves and presents itself and what needs to be done become obvious. The greater difficulty lies in obeying that I receive. E.g. Jesus tells me to:
• Go and confront someone about something –I’m non-confrontational
• Step out of your comfort zone and take on that challenge. Do this and that which is not so easy for you.
• Go the extra mile for this seemingly “unworthy” cause. Don’t give lame excuses. Give time, energy, attention, money etc. to this person or situation.
• Shut up, don’t retaliate, don’t grumble
• Own up a wrong doing or mistake.
• Forgive and reconcile with that idiot
For me, the more difficult thing is obeying Jesus’ voice with concrete action. This requires that I trust God enough to accept he knows what is best for me and for that person or situation.
Ultimately, our response is critical. Like the Canaanite woman, my response – lack of it – draws a corresponding response from Jesus. Out of which I learn and understand more about God. My faith in him grows. So does my love and reverence for him. This relationship, like all relationships, is never stagnant. It is always alive and dynamic. And it requires a deliberate effort to cultivate it diligently and continuously.
Today, if someone asks me to summarize Christianity in one statement, I will reply: I believe in Jesus Christ. By this I mean that:
1. Truth is a Person. Believing in God is believing in the person Jesus Christ
2. Knowledge of God is possible. It is knowledge of a personal nature. We know God through an on-going relationship with Jesus.
3. Faith in God is relational: we exercise faith in mind, body and heart – sound knowledge, corresponding actions, marked by passion and perseverance
Let us pray.
Mark 7:24–30 (Listen)
24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.