Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Time and Timing

A sermon on John 16

Some time ago, there was a very popular beer advertisement. It is about Tiger Beer, and the tagline is “What Time is it?” The advertisement is always accompanied with images of partying, having fun, celebration time and even more partying. Along with the tagline “What Time is it?” the advertisement answers “It’s Tiger time.” The aim of the advertisement is obvious. It is to say that in times of fun, partying, and having a good time with friends, it is also time to drink Tiger beer. In the advertisements, you will not find images of crying, or mourning or depression. It is not to say that one does not drink beer at such times. Surely you have heard of the expression “drowning your sorrows”. But simply put, Tiger beer would not want to associate themselves with unhappiness or sorrow or when bad things happen. Tiger time is good times. So when the tagline goes “What time is it?” it is to ask, are you having a good time? More importantly, it is asking you, “are you drinking Tiger beer?” Tiger time is good times.

I guess it is natural for people to desire good times, rather than bad times. This is true not just for business or advertisers but also for most of us. It would be strange for one to prefer pain and suffering over laughter and joy. This is understandable, and this mentality often translates into our prayers and our decisions in life. We ask God for good things to happen to us, and we hope that our decisions enable good outcomes. It is also why we have difficulty comprehending sufferings and how bad things can happen to good people. Don’t you wish that all times were good times? Indeed, I have many sleepless moments wrestling with God as to the meaning of the world that he has created. This is the issue we want to look into today. The idea of good times and bad times, and at its very essence, the concept of time itself.

For ages, man have struggled with the concept of time. I did a little research on the Net and found a 50 page summary on the philosophy of time. 50 page summary to properly define time! I will not bore you with the details, but I will need to share some basic concepts later in the sermon that is relevant to today’s topic. The point for now is this, man is both mystified and perplexed by time. Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We have been given the concept of eternity, and its causes us to yearn towards matters beyond our basic existence. However, our limitation as a human being causes us to be frustrated at things that do not make sense that happen at a given time. Hence we can see that time both allows us to look beyond ourselves, and at the same time bind us to the current reality. Therefore, we have to seriously address the issue of time, and our understanding of it will not only alleviate our current vexation with the world, it would also transform our Christian living to a higher plane. I will cover this in three areas.

Firstly, Jesus told his disciples “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” His disciples are then confused as to what he mean by the two instances of “a little while”. Jesus then clarifies that in the first instance of “a little while”, it would be the time for his death. There will be much grieving for his disciples, though for those who are evil, they will be happy to be rid of him. Yet there will come a second instance of “a little while”, it is would be the time of his resurrection. This will be the time of joy for the disciples, and indeed, it is joy that no one will take away. To explain the relationship of the two “a little while” and their significance, Jesus used the analogy of a pregnant woman giving birth. Her time of labor is her time of pain because that is the time the baby is coming out. But when the baby is born into the world, it is no longer the time of pain, but the time of joy for the birth of a baby.

This analogy of the pregnant woman is a common one in Jewish literature. Isaiah 66:7-11, “Before she goes into labor, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labor than she gives birth to her children. Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery? Says the Lord. Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery? Says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her all you who mourn over her. For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts, you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance.”

The Isaiah passage shows that the restoration of Israel is like the birth of a child. And when that day comes, God will bring about smooth delivery, just as God will bring about the restoration of Israel into completion. Based on Jesus’ analogy, we can now understand the restoration of Israel as the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. At Jesus death, the disciples may feel pain and grief. But Isaiah’s prophecy reveals that God will deliver the baby, and the people of the new nation will be borne. This is the resurrection of Jesus.

So we understand the significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is to bring about the birth of a new Israel. But the analogy of the pregnant woman also shows us the relationship between the two instances of “a little while.” A woman cannot give birth without the pain of labor. The pain of labor must bring forth the birth of a child. Though each event happens in its own time, both are closely related. In the same way, Jesus’ resurrection cannot happen without Jesus’ death, and Jesus’ death brings forth the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. For Jesus, his death is a certainty in time, just as his resurrection is also a certainty in time. The occurrence of these two events is a predetermined reality in God’s time. In the Gospel of John, Jesus is not only the historical Jesus but also the exalted Christ in heaven. Hence, Jesus transcends time to speak of his imminent death and resurrection. His aim is so that his disciples would be comforted in their times of grief during his death.

Therefore Jesus tells his disciples that their grief will only be for a little while, and at his resurrection, all their grief will turn into joy. Their suffering and grieving is a certainty in time because of his death, but precisely because of his death, they will experience great joy because they will witness his resurrection. This joy, nobody can take away because the resurrection of Jesus is eternal. In their time of grief they must persist and hold on to their faith, because just as his death is real, his resurrection is real, and their time of everlasting joy will come. The joy of a baby far outweighs the pain of labor. In the same sense, this joy the disciples experience will far outweigh the grief they have of his death.

Ironically, the best way to appreciate this joy is to appreciate the depth of the grief that death brings. Think about the pain you experience when you lose a loved one. Think about the pain of parting. There is no sorrow greater than this. Yet such is the joy of resurrection that you will forget about the grief that was so strong and hurting before. If the pain of death is deep, the joy of resurrection is truly beyond measure. How can this joy be so powerful? Because just as death signals the temporal parting, resurrection implies the everlasting union the disciples can have with Jesus. Hence this joy of resurrection is important for the Christian faith and must be experience by every believer. It also brings me to my second point, which is this joy must be complete.

How do we make this joy compete? Jesus says “In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now, you have not asked me anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.’ So to make this joy of resurrection complete, we must ask God in Jesus name and receive. Jesus states that in that day, which is the time of resurrection, you will no longer ask me anything. This mean that it will be the moment of truth, and all the purpose of his coming on earth will be unveiled. The disciples will have no more questions and doubts. This is indeed the moment we all have been hoping for. The day when we live in such joy, there is no more questions. All questioning grows silent, and nothing needs explanation. Such is the experience of living in such joy. What this also implies that when the disciples witness the resurrection of Jesus Christ, they will know exactly what to ask of God in Jesus name.

What is it that they must ask of God, and what does it mean to ask it in Jesus name? This is the fundamental question as it is what we will receive that will make our joy of Jesus’ resurrection complete. To ask in Jesus name is to ask in the full power of God’s own name. John 17:11-12, In Jesus’ prayer, “Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name – the name you gave me – so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.” Hence Jesus’ name is God’s name. It represents divine authority and power.

There are three ways to understand what would the disciples would ask of God, and they are all inter-related. Firstly, they could ask of the New Kingdom of Israel. The death and resurrection implies the end of Israel’s wait and the beginning of the New Kingdom. All prayer will focus on the development of this kingdom. Secondly, they could pray that this new kingdom, the church, be one with Christ, just as The Father and Son is one. This is indicated in the verse from John 17. Thirdly, with the imminent departure of Christ, the disciples would be praying for the coming of the Spirit. And this is based on the prayer on the upper room by the disciples after the accession, and the Pentecost event. Ultimately, they all mean the same thing, as prayer for the new Kingdom is prayer for the church, and for the church to be one and protected from evil, it is the work of the Spirit; and the chief work of the Spirit is the empowerment of the church for the growth of the God’s Kingdom.

Finally, what does all these mean for the Christians of today? In my first point, I have shown you how Jesus tell the disciples of the reality of the two instances of “a little while”. They speak of the certainty of his death and resurrection. Because of this certainty, they will experience grief, but will then be overcome with joy. In my second point, I expressed that to make this joy complete, the disciples will have to pray for the kingdom of God, the Church of Christ, and the coming of the Spirit. How is Jesus able to speak of all this? Because he understood the meaning of time.

For every time, there is a space. And for every timespace, there is an event. The timespace for the past is as real as the present as it is for the future. Jesus understands that the time for his death must happen, just as there is the time for his resurrection. There is a time for the disciples to grief, but there must also come the time for the disciples to rejoice. And when the time of rejoicing come, it is the time for them to ask of the new kingdom and the coming of the Spirit. Today, we too must understand the meaning of time. We must see that God has prepared a timespace for every event, and just as the past has happened, the future must happen. We may not understand the meaning of every event that is happening now, but we need to be affirmed that all that is happening is set in time. And just as the bad times shall past, the good times promised by God must come. And be it the bad times of the good times, it is our time to respond and to act in God’s will. There is the time to grief, and God allows such times. But we too must accept such times, as we await the time to rejoice. Do not be frustrated by the times where you mourn while the evil rejoices. For when the time of rejoicing comes, it is a joy that is far-exceeding, and one that nobody can take away.

It is natural to always hope for good times. But life is planned by God for everybody such that they will have their potions of sorrow and their potions of joy. Just as it is a certainty for Jesus to face death to achieve resurrection, we too must go through patches of death for resurrection to come. There are times of anguish where we allow our old selves to die for the new self to be reborn. There are times of grieving when we part with our old ways to pursue a new path. There are times of pain when we separate from our comfort zone to join a new family. We may not understand when bad times come, just as the disciples do not understand why Christ must die. But be patient when these times come, and persevere my brothers and sisters. For Christ has resurrected and so must we. We are now no longer in doubt or fear for we have witness the resurrection of Christ. In him, in the due time of God, is the certainty of our salvation. Pray for the regeneration of the Spirit, pray for the kingdom of God, and pray for the unity of the Church. Ask and you shall receive, and your joy will be complete. May God bless each one of your with the abundant grace of his time.

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