The Vision of FaithSermon passage: (1 Peter 1:8-9) Spoken on: August 3, 2014
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2 Peter & Jude
Title: The Vision of Faith (1 Peter 1:8-9)
(Read 1 Peter 1:6-9) I am troubled deeply by a few words in the passage we’ve read: the words “now for a little while”. It is troubling because when you are in grief, it never feels like “a little while”. It often feels like forever. What is “a little while”, really? It’s the sickening feeling you get whenever you are being put on hold. “Please hold on, all our operators are busy at the moment. We’ll be with you shortly.” Except that it is never “shortly”. How much of “a little while” you can tolerate also depends on the context. If you have a toilet emergency, your buffer of “a little while” may be less than 5 minutes. If you have a mouth sore or if you’ve bitten your lips, “a little while” sometimes may take a week. If you have a kneecap operation, which is very common these days, “a little while” can be a couple of months. For a personal financial difficulty, “a little while” can mean a few years. But for airline tragedies or a country in economic depression, it could mean more than a decade. Everybody knows that there are inevitable hardships in life, and depending on the context, you prepare yourself for “a little while”. What makes this “a little while” bearable is the expectation that the grief would soon be over. It only becomes truly torturous when after “a little while”, comes another “a little while”, and then another one. Nothing upsets me more than after a long wait on the phone, and then they say, “Sorry, we are still busy, please call back later.”
The “a little while” that Peter is talking about refers to the wait for the ultimate revelation of God. Verse 5 says “5until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Verse 7 repeats the point: to “result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Verse 10 speaks of “the grace that was to come to you”. Verse 13 again it says, “When Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming”. There will come a time, at the second coming of Jesus Christ, when the salvation of God is complete. It is a done deal, but for now, it is not over yet. In the meantime, we are experiencing the “a little while”. Unfortunately, as of 2014, this “a little while” is almost 2000 years long. It’s like me saying I’m only a little overweight. In the beginning, people would give it the benefit of doubt. But after more than 10 years in ministry, when you still refer to it as “a little”, people will nod sarcastically and say, “’a little’ indeed”. I don’t think even Peter anticipated a 2000-years-and-counting “a little while”.
When ‘a little while’ feels like forever, especially in times of grief, all kinds of difficulties start to set in. You have your doubts (Is it really coming?), your frustrations (Does God really care?) and your rising opportunity cost (Maybe I should have invested my time on some other things instead). We dealt with some of these when we talked about the mindset of living between two marshmallows. Today we will deal with one particular major difficulty: you have not seen Jesus and you do not see him now. Peter acknowledges this brutal disadvantage about our Christian faith. You have not seen Jesus and you do not see him now. I call it a brutal disadvantage because Sight or Vision is one of the most important elements of perseverance. Waiting is very much a psychological battle.
Clinics and hospitals are very aware of this. The number system is there for you so you can look at the countdown. It’s a symbolic way of telling you that patients are moving along and your turn will arrive eventually. Just in case you start looking at the rest of the sick and feel frustrated, some provide magazines and newspaper to distract your vision. These days free-WiFi is always welcome so you can look at your own phone. Some hospitals “break up the wait by moving patients to different locations in the office will help patients feel like their appointments are starting on time. Even if a patient has to wait to be seen by the doctor, the delay feels shorter in the exam room than out in the waiting room.” Other businesses from supermarkets to banks to restaurants to cinemas all have their methods to help customers fight this psychological battle. I’ll let you see my cooking process. I’ll show you some movie trailers. I’ll show you why I have to step off the cash register to do something else before coming back. I do groan internally when somebody forgets to weigh a produce and the cashier has to do the job, but at least I can see the reason for the delay, and it makes the waiting more bearable. Conversely, there is nothing more upsetting when you are waiting in a long queue, and yet you see staff at an empty counter with nothing better to do. Maybe she only deals with first class passengers or he belongs only to the bulky packages department. But waiting is very much a psychological battle. And what you see affects how well you wait.
Jesus comes without a GPS tracking system. He didn’t install Whatsapp so that we can ask him why he’s late. He cannot take a picture to show that he’s really on the way but the MRT broke down again. He did give a sneak preview of himself but that was 2000 years ago. Without a proper queue system, we are not even sure who’s next in line to see him. Sometimes in my visitations, an elderly church member in great pain would ask me why it isn’t her turn yet. I reply that I’ll pray for them and see if Jesus gives me a queue number. But I haven’t seen any so far. You have not seen Jesus and you do not see him now. That makes perseverance really tough.
Some people resolve this by getting a picture or going to see the gospel movies. It helps them “see” Jesus. I’m happy if it works for you. But if I may just provide a gentle reminder on this, you might feel a little lost when you are in heaven. You keep missing Jesus because you were looking for the handsome angmoh. You might be a little disappointed because Jesus is a Jew and he actually looks more like Woody Allen.
As for Peter, even though he acknowledged the fact of the visual absence, it is an absence that can only be ultimately satisfied at the final revelation, but his answer lies in faith and hope. I call it the Vision of Faith. Our faith enables us to ‘see’ what is beyond the visual. Christianity, unlike folk religion, does not use physical imageries to represent God. This is why Jesus has such a boring Facebook and Instagram account. His followers are not really keen on his selcas. But he gets a lot of retweets because our relationship is built on his promises. We rely on the Vision of Faith. When we truly love and believe in him, it is enough to sustain us till the final revelation. This is because our faith will bring us joy. How does our faith bring us joy?
In Dong Han dynasty, Cao Cao (曹操), a famous general, was leading his army to attack his enemy. While they were marching through some drought areas in a hot summer, the soldiers became dehydrated and were craving for water. Cao Cao let the army have a break and sent a few people to search for water. However, water was nowhere to be found.
At that moment, Cao Cao had an idea. He told his soldiers that there was a plum tree forest not far ahead. There were big and ripe plums growing on the trees. His soldiers became excited upon hearing the good news. By imagining eating plums in their minds, their mouths were watered with saliva and that motivated them to march even further ahead. Eventually the army was saved because they sustained themselves long enough to find the water they needed.
And this is how the drink 100+ was invented. (kidding) This is the backstory of the phrase 望梅止渴. I would translate this as drawing present comfort from your vision of the future. The modern usage of this Chinese idiom is somewhat negative, often translated as daydreaming or self-deluding. But it is only negative if the dream is fake and unrealistic. Our dream however is secured by the power of God, and it is proven in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The end result is a certainty, and that is the salvation of our souls. A quick explanation is necessary here because the phrase “salvation of our souls” is quite misleading. Many of us interpret this with a Chinese spiritualist mindset or a Greek dualistic understanding of a body spirit separation. With this misunderstanding, we might assume the material flesh to be bad, and only the spirit is good, and that’s what will only be saved in the end. But the Hebrew tradition has always insisted on a body and soul (psychosomatic) unity. Our salvation and resurrection will also be in such a united form, though the body part may be somewhat different. If that is the case, then why did Peter emphasize on the salvation of our souls? It is simply an acknowledgement that even though our faith has brought us full salvation, you cannot experience it fully now because we are not exempted from physical suffering and death. Our body will still have times of pain and weakness, but rest assured that eventually, it would be a full and holistic salvation.
Nonetheless, no matter what exactly is the nature of this salvation, it would only be fully revealed and fully known at the end. And the reality remains that some of us are already barely enduring in “a little while”. We can’t see Jesus, and the wait feels like forever. But just because the full revelation is only at the end, it doesn’t indicate that it means nothing to us now. Remember the thirst quenching plums. When you put your focus and vision at the right place, you can’t see it, but you can feel it. You feel it through the Vision of Faith. Peter describes it as being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). Both the adjectives describe a future reality. It is inexpressible because it is so different from present reality and language. It is glorious because it is so far beyond the current state of affairs. However, even though the nature of the joy is a future one, the experience of the joy is a present one. This only happens when your love and faith in Jesus is true. Your Vision of Faith allows you to take a glimpse at your inexpressible and glorious future and feel comforted. This is how we make the ‘little while’ more bearable, by bringing forward and experiencing the eternal joy now through our faith. The little while of pain is dissipated by the eternity of joy.
I would like to end off with a little advice to those who are suffering among us. I hate to seem insensitive because I seem to be advocating joy while some of us may be physically experiencing grief. Yet I learn something from some Christian brothers that I think would help us understand the concept well. There are some Jubilee church members that enjoy fishing. Some of them would gather once a year for a fishing trip of a few days in the open sea. I learned something just by listening to their conversations about every upcoming trip. Even though the trip can be months away, and they are not physically there yet, just talking about it and imagining the fishing will bring them immense joy every time. I know because I’ve seen their faces. I call it indescribable joy because they tried explaining the fish-line tugging and the fish cutting and the seasickness, and I fail to understand why it is so joyful. It is indescribable and inexpressible joy. I also noticed that they probably have as much fun sourcing for their fishing equipment, learning about hooks and baits and talking about their catches as the actual fishing trip itself. And this is what I learned from these fishing brothers and perhaps it might work for you. The planning and discussing of a trip is a crucial part of the visioning of a trip. The Vision of Faith works best when we actually practice this faith with fellow Christians. To experience the joy of the final salvation in the present moment, rejoice in the sharing with fellow Christians. Talk about your conviction and hope. Sing praises that declare our faith in the ultimate revelation. I guess what I’m trying to say is that when we share about our common vision, it helps in making the eventual joy so real. This is my Christian hope that brings me joy. If you want to share it, you can always come along.