“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Sun Ho unpacks this all-too-familiar verse to bring a deeper understanding of God’s love.
John 3:16 must be the most spouted Bible verse of all time—maybe second only to “The Lord is my shepherd”. But because of its familiarity, few really ponder its significance. It is merely the go-to verse for new believers.
But Sun Ho, co-founder of City Harvest Church, took the church through a closer study of John 3:16. She believes that this beloved verse is a prophecy given to CHC.
Ho shared this revelation at weekend services on Feb 3 and 4.
“I’m not talking about the knowing in your head, but really internalizing what the spirit of God is saying to you,” she emphasised. “What if you truly believed that God so loved you?
“When a person truly grasps the revelation of God’s love and embraces the truth that God will not withhold anything that is good from him, it causes him to look at his circumstances differently. Nothing has changed in my circumstances, yet everything changed inside of me,” she said of her personal experience.
“While your circumstances may remain the same for a while, you are different now because you understand the magnitude of God’s love for you.”
Ho shared that this fresh revelation became the motivation for her to live out the life God has destined for her. No matter how many challenges she has to face, says Ho, that knowledge enables her to live the fullest out of every day for Jesus.
Speaking to those who have been Christians for a longer period, the pastor reminded them that they must remember the love God has for them because it acts as the foundation of faith. It will help them to face battles on every side with courage and strength.
She drew upon Isaiah 46:10 which says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘my purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’”
As Ho beckoned the church to remember the sovereignty of God, she also established that God calls the end from the beginning. Regardless of what happens, God can do whatever He pleases because His purpose still stands.
Theologian Walter A Elwell defined God’s providence as the “sovereign divine superintendence of all things, guiding His people towards their divinely predetermined end in a way that is consistent with their created nature.”
Observing the baffled faces of the congregation, Ho broke this definition down and explained God’s providence as simply “God working His own ends”. No matter what the circumstances are, God will bring about His intended end in their lives.
Yet, Ho cautioned that this promise does not mean one can recklessly mess up his life. Because in order to be in God’s intended plan, God requires His people to keep Him in the center of their lives, especially when the situation gets tough.
Hebrews 6:14-15 (The Message Bible) states, “He said, ‘I promise that I’ll bless you with everything I have—bless and bless and bless! Abraham stuck it out and got everything that had been promised to him.’”
To the people’s amusement, Ho noted that the verse mirrors the desires of everyone to “Huat, huat and huat ah!” (the Hokkien word meaning “to prosper”), especially with Chinese New Year around the corner, she underscored that such blessings only come about when one sticks it out and perseveres through hardship just as Abraham did.
Genesis 50:20 says “But as for you, you thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
Ho presented God’s pattern of favor in the familiar story of Joseph’s journey, show how in a life full of ups and downs is still marked by the providence of God.
For Joseph, favor was first gained, then lost and finally, regained. This served as the central focus of Ho’s message.
First, Joseph experienced an outpouring of favor.
Jacob showed his preference for his son Joseph by giving him a bold multi-colored coat.
This was seen by his brothers as a jarring display of Jacob’s favoritism. When Joseph innocently announced his dreams of ruling over his brothers, it drove his siblings to sell him off to slave traders, out of spite .
This triggered the second phase of Joseph’s life: he tumbled into a season of favor lost.
In Genesis 39, Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar. Despite that, the Lord’s providence was still with Joseph. Genesis 39:2 says, “The LORD was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master.” Even in a period when Joseph seemed to have lost favor, he found favor with people around him and gained prominence.
As the plot thickened, Joseph was again subjected to injustice as Potiphar’s wife accused him of rape, throwing him back into prison. In a time of pain, one would typically question if God’s providence still stands.
“Joseph couldn’t see it but there was a purpose in his suffering,” Ho said.
At the point where all hope seemed lost, God planted people in his life to bring him to His intended end. In this case, God planted the cupbearer and the baker in prison with Joseph, earning him a reputation as an interpreter of dreams.
“It doesn’t matter what life throws at you but God’s intended end will always come to pass if God is always in your heart,” Ho reiterated.
Joseph finally regained favor in Genesis 41, when the Pharaoh, tortured by two troublesome dreams, heard of Joseph and his abilities from the cupbearer. God’s plan was working as He intended.
Pharaoh summoned Joseph, who successfully interpreted the dreams, warning Pharaoh that a great famine would strike Egypt after seven years. Impressed, Pharaoh elected Joseph to be his right-hand man, the one in charge of storing food for the predicted famine.
As Joseph stayed close to God, what God promised to happen in his life happened in a single day. “In the morning, Joseph awakened in the prison. Yet, by the evening, he went to bed in a palace. This is the providence of God,” said Ho.
She pointed out that while one would expect Joseph to exact revenge on his brothers when he had the chance, Joseph did not respond with anger and hostility but rather, with compassion and tears. Joseph treated his brothers with mercy and grace.
How does kindness, love and mercy come cultivated in the heart of one who has been wickedly mistreated? The answer is found in Joseph’s understanding of God’s providence, said Ho.
“God’s intended plan will come to pass because you need to know that God is in control. All you need to do is stay close to him!” she exhorted the congregation.
Without the experiences Joseph had endured, he would never have reached his destiny. Although unjust, these experiences prepared him to be a leader.
Ho ultimately paralleled Joseph’s story to that of City Harvest Church.
Just as the church went through a season of favor gained in which the church experienced speedy growth, CHC also experienced a season of favor lost because of the trial that the church endured for many years.
However, Ho encouraged the church: they too will progress to a season of favor regained as God will ultimately bring His intended purpose for them.
“Look at the big picture,” said Ho. “Sometimes through the difficulties of life, we will miss the profound and foundational truth that God is using all of this for our good.”
In closing, Ho encouraged the congregation to take heart in the knowledge that God is in control. For God so loved us, his providence remains. All one has to do is stay faithful.
Church member David Lee, 25, said, “The story of Joseph gives a good example of God’s persistent love. Even after decades of hardship, God was with him every step of the way. In this sense, God keeps himself very personal in the midst of different circumstances wherever we are.”