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从苦难到平安 From Trouble to Peace

Sermon passage: (John 16:25-33) Spoken on: March 20, 2022
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Title: From Trouble to Peace 从苦难到平安
Date: 20 Mar 2022
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

In today’s passage, Jesus spelled out clearly why he said what he said: 33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I think this divine promise from Jesus is one that will bring great comfort to the world in the midst of a pandemic and even the possibility of a nuclear war. We pray and wish for peace on earth and comfort to those who are suffering. The question we have to ask today is: How do we receive peace, joy and comfort from the words of Jesus? What can mere words do? Maybe I can go to Russia or to Ukraine with our gospel, and I will bring about world peace. But I suspect it would be overly optimistic. Not because I do not have faith, but because Jesus has never promised that our ministry will be triumphant and smooth-sailing. John 15: 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ Therefore, in actualizing the divine promises, we the servants need to revisit what the master has said. In the process, we will discover that they are not mere words, but words that will bring us to the Father’s world.

I realize that there is a key similarity between Jesus’ efforts in teaching his apostles with my own teaching at the children ministry. We face the same challenge of bridging two different worlds. When it comes to the children, our main challenge is to bring them from their modern world into the biblical world, and more specifically into the story of Mark. The gospel is a story in ancient Israel that is culturally very different from the children’s world in modern Singapore. Unless the children can immerse themselves into the story, it would not be possible for them to appreciate the message. I would say that this is the biggest challenge in our teaching. Hence, all our co-workers in the children ministry worked hard to build this bridge, using drama, storytelling, pictures and so on, especially during the children camp. We hope the children become so familiar with the biblical world that after graduation, they can traverse both worlds easily.

As for Jesus, his aim was to bridge the apostles’ world to the world of the Father. In the words of Goldingay: “to get them to look at earthly realities in light of heavenly realities and to look at present realities in light of what God intends to do.” Though the apostles were adults, but in terms of knowing Jesus, and the world where he was from, they were just spiritual infants. This made the bridging process an immense challenge. In today’s passage, the apostles were talking to Jesus about how he was teaching them: from speaking “figuratively” to speaking “clearly” and “plainly”. In Mark 4 and Matthew 13, Jesus talked about the kingdom of God in parables. The most familiar ones to many of you would be the parable of the sower and parable of the mustard seed. Coding his message using parables was necessary due to religious and political dangers, but also because in a way, parables made it easier for listeners to understand because these were imageries of everyday life, such as sowing and reaping. But speaking in parables could make it harder, because as imageries, they needed to be decoded. Mark tells us that Jesus took the effort to explain them to the apostles. However, they often could not understand. Mark 8: 17 Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: “Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 21 He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” (also in Mark 6:52).

What made Jesus’ bridging process to share about the kingdom of God so difficult? The reason for misunderstanding is that our personal concerns often override God’s vision. “The Pharisees are diluting the vision: they want God to set up a kingdom for the benefit of Jews who can observe the law with great strictness, not for the benefit of the wider company Jesus has in mind. Herod and his entourage are diluting the vision: they want God to establish their royal family as the true Kings of Israel.” [1] In the case of the apostles, they wanted personal glory without the glory of the Cross. In our case, I would say it is because we want love, yet without personal sacrifice. In short, the reason we cannot see and cannot hear is because we only see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. How did Jesus overcome this hurdle? What did Jesus do to make the apostles understand that these were not just mere words, but imbued with the power to bring them into the Father’s world?

Here is the insight of the Gospel of John: Jesus himself is the Word. John 1: 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. To me, this means that seeing the light, and hearing the Word is essential to life itself. The Word is the same word of God that brought forth the entire creation at the beginning of time. This Word can transform the world from one that is formless, empty and dark into one that is ordered, lighted, and full of life. But for the Word to be received, we have to see and we have to hear. And for others to receive the Word as we have seen and heard, we also have to speak. John 1: 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. This is the power of the Word. I can tell you clearly now: this Word can bring you into the Father’s world.

Let me be clear: Words can be powerful ideas, like scientific breakthroughs, and ideologies, like communism. But Jesus is more than an idea, he is a person. Persons as spoken words that come alive can be even more powerful, like Martin Luther King conveying racial harmony and Mother Theresa as a living example of compassion. But Jesus goes beyond that as a divine Word from God to us. And the apostles eventually saw what were merely figurative words transformed into a clear divine promise through Jesus the eternal living Word. They witnessed the reality of what Jesus said in today’s passage, 28 I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father. Jesus’ words, which were based on himself as the divine Word, truly brought them into the heavenly Father’s world. This was what brought true peace to them, and also to us.

What is peace in this day and age? We have seen what NATO and Russia have done to feel safe. Both claimed their actions were for security reasons. But neither had brought peace on earth, certainly not to Ukraine. I think that acting tough is not a sign of strength but of insecurity. I like what a commentator said: “What is important from the West is unity and strength—not “toughness” but strength. You don’t have to make a great show of determination if you’re really determined, you just have to be who you are.” [2]I am reminded of Jesus when I speak of strength, not toughness, because he knows who he is. And in time to come, after Easter, the apostles will all know who he is. And understanding the identity of Jesus is what will make the apostles strong. If they know who Jesus is, then they know who they are: just as John said, they are now the children of God. They just have to be who they are.

In this period of Lent, we are coincidentally in a moment of great darkness. I’m sure the early disciples must have felt the same when Jesus was captured and crucified. It might feel like whatever we believe about Jesus is in vain because sin and death is overwhelming. But in John 1: 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. The same word is repeated by Jesus himself: 33 But take heart! I have overcome the world. The apostles realized that three days after the cross, but the darkness must have felt incredibly long. To the Ukrainians living in the bunkers with shelling every day, it must be incredibly long as well. Is it still possible to believe that Jesus has overcome darkness, and overcome the world?

It is more likely that we will be afraid and feel our faith waver. It was the same for the apostles in their moment of darkness. 32 A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. Brothers and sisters, you are also not alone, no matter how dark it is. Jesus reminded us that when we feel alone, we can pray to God our heavenly Father who loves us, and we can pray in Jesus’ name. What does it mean to pray “in Jesus’ name”? John Calvin explained: “Since no man is worthy to come forward in his own name, and appear in the presence of God, our heavenly Father, to relieve us at once from fear and shame, has given us his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, to be our Advocate and Mediator, confiding that with him for our Intercessor nothing which we ask in his name will be denied to us, as there is nothing which the Father can deny to him (1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 2:1; see sec. 36, 37). Christ enjoins his disciples to have recourse to his intercession after he shall have ascended to heaven (John 16:26). Therefore, the more inexcusable we are, if we do not with both hands (as it is said) embrace the inestimable gift which is properly destined for us.” [3]

When Jesus said, 26 In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. It doesn’t mean that Jesus doesn’t intercede for us. He is our intercessor and advocate. But Calvin also reminds us that he is our mediator, which means that we can go to God directly with our prayers in Jesus’ name. A person who prays is strong, because he knows God is listening and God is acting. A person who prays has peace, because his worries and struggles are in God’s hands. A person who prays will overcome troubles, because he has faith in the Word, a world-transformative Word. Do you believe? Let me be the teaching-bridge today to bring you to the Father’s world. When the Father gave us his Son, it is Word with the power of life. If we look beyond our earthly concerns, you will see that this Word can grow in you, but also in others through you. A Word that can give new life, to people’s hearts, to their situations, to broken relationships. I believe. Maybe it is a child now in children ministry who can change the world because of what he hears from one of the teachers in the children ministry. Maybe it is a neighbor to whom you shared the Word in one of the happiness cell groups. Darkness will not overcome this Word, but the other way round. Do you really believe?

[1] Wright, N. T. (2004). Mark for everyone. Westminster John Knox Press. Pg. 104
[3] Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, Book 3, Chapter 20, section 17,18

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