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A CHINESE NEW YEAR’S SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, February 6, 2011

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23).


Chinese New Year is the most important traditional Chinese holiday. It is also the oldest consecutive chronological record in human history. It has been dated back to more than two thousand years before Christ, to the time when the Emperor Huang Ti introduced the first calendar. Like the Western calendar, the Chinese calendar is a yearly one, with the start of the year being based on the cycles of the moon. Because of the dating, the beginning of the year can fall anywhere between late January and the middle of February. Chinese New Year fell on February 3, last Thursday. But traditionally the celebration goes on for several days. So it is perfectly proper for us to have this banquet on the fourth day of Chinese New Year.

A complete lunar cycle takes sixty years and is made up of five cycles of 12 years each. The Chinese lunar calendar names each of the 12 years after a mammal, reptile or bird – including the rat, the ox, the tiger, the rabbit, the dragon, the snake, the horse, the sheep, the monkey, the rooster, the dog, and the pig. This year (2011 A.D.) is the Year of the Rabbit.

Forms of this calendar and New Year’s celebration are also used in countries that have been influenced by the Chinese, including Korea, Japan (until 1873), Vietnam, Mongolia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, and in Chinatowns throughout the world. Chinese New Year even seems to have influenced New Year’s festivals outside East Asia, in countries such as Iran.

Across over four thousand years Chinese New Year has picked up a series of legends and traditions, such as “Nien,” a ferocious dragon which, the ancient Chinese believed, eats people on New Year’s Eve. Nien is symbolized to this day as a fearful dragon, which can only be frightened away by the color red and by firecrackers set off on the holiday. This belief seems to have its roots in an earlier knowledge of Satan by the Chinese, who still have a strong belief in demons. The Bible calls Satan,

“The great dragon...that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world” (Revelation 12:9).

But Satan cannot be scared away by firecrackers and red-colored objects! I think that the use of red colors to overcome the dragon may have its roots in the earlier memory of blood sacrifice – pointing to the Blood of Christ. The Bible says, “They overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb” – Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:11). To understand how Chinese New Year has evolved across the centuries we need to realize that China has gone through four religious stages.

When I first felt called by God to be a missionary to the Chinese, I joined a Chinese Baptist church where I received a lot of training for ministry from Dr. Timothy Lin, a Chinese Bible scholar who previously taught Semitic languages and systematic theology in the graduate school at Bob Jones University. He was my pastor and teacher in the 1960s and early 1970s. He went on to succeed James Hudson Taylor III as president of China Evangelical Seminary in Taiwan.

Dr. David Innes, pastor of Hamilton Square Baptist Church in San Francisco, knew Dr. Lin at Bob Jones University. Dr. Innes reminded me of Dr. Lin’s outline of Romans 1:18-32. Dr. Lin’s outline was (1) Light revealed, Romans 1:18-20; (2) Light rejected, Romans 1:21-25; (3) Light removed, Romans 1:26-32. I am following Dr. Lin’s outline, but I will add a fourth point at the end.

I. First, China was a land of one God.

Dr. Lin said that the ancient world, including China, originally believed in one God. Dr. Lin quoted from Romans 1:18-20. Please stand and read it aloud.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

You may be seated.

That is a picture of what happened in the ancient world. Originally “the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech” (Genesis 11:1). But because of sin, at the Tower of Babel, “the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).

When the people-groups were scattered at the Tower of Babel, some of them travelled far to the East to what is now known as China. Dr. James Legge (1815-1897) was a famous Sinologist. He was professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Oxford University for twenty years. In his book, The Religions of China (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1881), Dr. Legge pointed out that the original religion of China was monotheism, the belief in one God, whom they called Shang Ti (King of Heaven). Dr. Legge showed that originally the Chinese worshipped one God, two thousand years before Christ. This was about 1,500 years before Confucius (551-479 BC) and Buddha (563-483 BC) were born. Buddhism came to China from India, and was, thus, a foreign religion brought in to China. Confucianism is a system of ethics and morals – not really a religion. But the much older religion of the worship of one God, Shang Ti, was held for about 1,500 years before either Confucius or Buddha were born. Over the centuries, additional spirits were added and worshipped, but Shang Ti remained the supreme God of the ancient Chinese culture. Dr. Legge’s view is similar to that of Dr. Wilhelm Schmidt (The Origin and Growth of Religion, Cooper Square Publishers, 1972 edition). Shang Ti, the King of Heaven, was the true God of ancient China for hundreds of years! Please stand and sing the first of hymn number 1.

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven, To His feet thy tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Who, like me, His praise should sing?
Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the everlasting King!
   (“Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” by Henry F. Lyte, 1793-1847).

II. Second, China became a land of many gods.

But, over the centuries, the Chinese people began to move away from the worship of one God, Shang Ti (King of Heaven) to the worship of many gods. Please stand and read Romans 1:21-23,

“Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:21-23).

You may be seated.

What happened in China is similar to what is happening in America. The earliest Chinese people believed in one God, whom they called Shang Ti, the King of Heaven. In the same way, the early settlers in America believed in God. They were the Pilgrims. They were Christians who came to America seeking freedom of religion. On the first Thanksgiving they worshipped God, giving thanks to Him for protecting them and providing for them. But today, only 400 years later, most Americans don’t think about God at all on Thanksgiving. And, today, many Americans belong to strange cults and false religions. So these Americans, in only 400 years, became like the ancient Chinese. Now they worship many false gods. Many Americans now call Thanksgiving “Turkey Day.” Instead of a day to give thanks to God, for these Americans it is only a day to gorge themselves on turkey, drink beer and watch TV. So these Americans gave up the worship of one God, just like the ancient Chinese people did.

“Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:22-23).

III. Third, China became a land with no God.

On October 1, 1949 Mao Tse Tung and his Communist forces conquered China. Mao called Christian missionaries “spiritual aggressors.” During the next ten years all foreign missionaries either fled from China or were murdered by the Communists. After the foreign missionaries were gone the Communists began persecuting the native Chinese Christians. Many were killed. Others fled to Taiwan. Thousands of Chinese Christians were arrested and sent to prison. A few miraculously survived and were released after more than twenty years in prison. In the late 1950s Mao closed the doors of China to the world. Whatever else he may have done wrong, President Nixon opened the door of China in February, 1972. What Nixon did was one of the great turning points in history. A future generation will re-evaluate President Nixon, not only for opening China, but for several other reasons.  

With all the Christian missionaries gone, and China’s Christians hunted down and imprisoned, many people wondered if Christianity would survive in China (source, China: The Blood-Stained Trail, Riley K. Smith, The Voice of the Martyrs, 2008, pp. 62-63).

But the atheistic Communists forgot what the Bible said about them,

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God”
       (Psalm 14:1).

These anti-God Communists were called “fools” in the Bible. Why? Because no man can kill God! The Bible calls Him “The eternal God” (Deuteronomy 33:27). This leads us to the fourth point.

IV. Fourth, China is now returning to the one true God.

The prophet Jeremiah made an astonishing prediction when he said,

“O Lord...the Gentiles shall come unto thee from the ends of the earth” (Jeremiah 16:19).

Thus, the prophet Jeremiah made it clear that the Gentile nations would come to God through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Then another prophet named Isaiah said that the Chinese people would be among those who would come to Christ in the end times,

“Behold, these shall come from far: and, lo, these from the north and from the west; and these from the land of Sinim
       (Isaiah 49:12).

“Sinim” (pronounced see-neem) refers to China according to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance; Brown, Driver and Briggs; Gesenius; Dr. John Gill; Keil and Delitzsch, and Dr. James Hudson Taylor, the founder of the China Inland Mission.

Isaiah 49:12 is an important prophecy, foretelling the Chinese coming back to the true God in the end-times. The great revival going on in the People’s Republic of China today is the greatest ingathering of new Christians in modern history. It is estimated that about 1,000 people become Christians every hour in China, night and day! Think of it! About 24,000 people become Christians every day in China in our time. We are witnessing millions of people in China coming to God through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ came to bring mankind back to the original God, whom our ancient forefathers in all nations once worshipped. Christ has come to bring us back to God. Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sin. He rose from the dead to give us the new birth and life eternal. How we pray that you will come to Jesus, the Son of God, and be converted! Please stand and sing the first stanza of hymn number one.

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven, To His feet thy tribute bring;
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Who, like me, His praise should sing?
Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise the everlasting King!

(END OF SERMON)
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Invocation Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“I’d Rather Have Jesus” (words by Rhea F. Miller, 1922;
music composed by George Beverly Shea, 1909-).


THE OUTLINE OF

A CHINESE NEW YEAR’S SERMON

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:18-23).

(Revelation 12:9, 11)

I.   First, China was a land of one God, Romans 1:18-20; Genesis 11:1, 9.

II.  Second, China became a land of many gods, Romans 1:21-23.

III. Third, China became a land with no God, Psalm 14:1; Deuteronomy 33:27.

IV. Fourth, China is now returning to the one true God, Jeremiah 16:19;
Isaiah 49:12.