Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 40

Day 40, Saturday, April 7, 2012

Jerusalem

Jerusalem (Photo credit: Wisdom72)

 Today is the 40th and last Day of Lent and I’m so happy for this journey into the wilderness with Jesus that we have been through. It’s for the first time that I did a Lent devotional and I liked it. If I have the time, I would love to do it again next year. For those of you who have been with me on this journey in the past forty days (and I know there aren’t many) either on our church’s Facebook page or on my blog, I really appreciate your time. I hope you have been blessed in some way. If so, I would love to get your feedback.

 Today is called holy or silent Saturday, a day of preparation for celebrating the resurrection. Our Lord has been laid in the grave after He cried out with a loud voice on the cross, as He breathed His last: “Father into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46). We need not mourn for the death of our Lord Jesus Christ because that was not the end of His life. In fact, it was the beginning of a new era that would inaugurated with His resurrections—an era of victory over sin, death and Satan. Jesus is victorious. The cross could not end His mission. In fact, the death on the cross was His earthly mission on which He was sent by His God the Father. In all the days of His wilderness experience and during His last week of passion in Jerusalem, Jesus was slowly moving to the cross. He knew the cross will be so painful, but He also trusted God who would raise Him up. The irrefutable fact of His resurrection made His timid disciples so bold that they could not hide themselves in the upper rooms. They went out into the streets, bazaars, and even to the Jerusalem Temple in a dangerous city. The disciples proclaimed this fact of God raising Jesus from the dead with all boldness even to the Jewish authorities,

“If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,

which has become the cornerstone.’

Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:9-12 NIV).

 Friends, we need to pray and ask for the same kind of passion and boldness now to proclaim the good news of Jesus, His resurrection, and His coming again. The world needs it badly today more than ever and we are privileged to have the good news. Let’s keep sharing it with others until He comes again.

Have a blessed Easter. The Lord is risen! He’s risen indeed!

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 39

Day 39, Friday, April 6, 2012

 

 Finally the day and hour has arrived for the Son of Man to be lifted up on high, to be handed over to the Jews, and to be crucified on the cross. The Gospel of John writes about this horrifying crucifixion in just two sobering sentences, as he struggled to find words to describe what he had witnessed at the site of crucifixion: “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle” (John 19: 17-18). Jesus Christ knew about this hour and He was well prepared, although for a moment, He struggled over this, as He agonized in Gethsemane. Jesus, the Son of God, was fully human and had all the pains and emotions that you and I go through in everyday life. He agonized just like any one of us would do if we knew what kind of death we’ll die tomorrow. But He agonized mainly because of the heavy burden of sins that was laid on Him who knew no sin. That’s why when He could not bear it anymore and when He had already prayed for the Jews for rejecting Him, for accusing Him of blasphemy, when He had forgiven the Roman soldiers for torturing Him, when He had taken care of His mother’s welfare, when He had promised His presence to the repentant thief hanging next to Him, Jesus finally “cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me”(Matthew 27:46)?

My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?

My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 It was not a cry of dereliction, but a cry of one who knows His intimate relationship to the Father and yet He could not bear it even for a second that God would turn His face away because of the sins laid upon His Son— Jesus Christ. It was also a cry of victory fully knowing that He had accomplished the task of carrying all our sins to the cross and nullifying their power over us. It was a cry of triumph over Satan and all his powers that were rallied against Jesus since he was born as a baby in a manger. Jesus fully knew that He had overcome Satan and defeated his plans by hanging on the cross. Therefore, after a few moments, when He had assessed all His accomplishments since His birth and until now, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30) before giving up His Spirit. Thank God that the cry of being forsaken earlier was not the last word from the cross! For if it was the last one then we would have no hope. He would have been forsaken by God as he hanged between heaven and earth. But no! God knew it was according to His perfect plan, so He gave Jesus the strength to suffer yet for a few more moments before He could gain His composure and say, “It is finished!” The work of salvation for the humanity is done and finished forever on the cross. Do you know that you don’t have to do anything but repent and believe in this work that Jesus has finished for you? Just accept it and live in the victory that Jesus has won for us. Amen.

VJ

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 38

Day 38, Thursday, April 4, 2012

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is sh...

Peter's Denial by Rembrandt, 1660. Jesus is shown in the upper right hand corner, his hands bound behind him, turning to look at Peter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Jesus was in Jerusalem in His last days during the festival of Passover for which Jews had gathered from around the world. The city was bustling with activities related to the Passover feast. Jesus, too, wanted to celebrate the Passover with His disciples. Therefore, He didn’t leave anything to chance, but planned in advance where He wanted to celebrate the Passover—an upper Room in Jerusalem, because it was difficult to find a suitable place in the city at this time (please read John 13:1-11). As Jesus gathered with His disciples in that upper room, John states, “It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” Jesus’ love for His disciples did not diminish over the years. His love was not dependent on circumstances or what these men would do to Him or after Him. In fact, He knew that one of them, Judas, is going to betray Him with thirty silver coins in just a couple of hours. He knew that one by one, they will all leave Him alone to be persecuted by the Jewish authorities. He knew that Peter was going to deny Him that very night. He knew about each one of them and their motives for following Him in the past years. And yet, the Bible says, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1) It was not a love to the end of the day or years, it was not even a love that lasted until “death do us apart.” Rather, it was Jesus’ genuine, divine, self-giving love, which He continued to shower upon them. He loved them so much that He expressed it by taking his garments off, picking up a basin and a towel, and stooping down like a slave to wash their smelly feet! Thus, He loved the Twelve to the point of being hurt and wounded by them.

 Jesus loves us all the same way, today. Whether we’re faithful to Him or not, whether our service to Him depends on our circumstances or not, Jesus still loves us and will continue to do so until the end. His love is eternal and will take us into eternity. Jesus loves us today even when we hurt him and bring His name into shame every day through our actions. There’s no true love than Jesus’ love for us to the point that He becomes vulnerable to be betrayed by the object of His love. No one ever said it better than C. S. Lewis:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is Hell” (The Four Loves, p. 169). Amen!

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 37

Day 37, Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus

Mary of Bethany anoints Jesus. photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/therevsteve/2164938483/

During the Passion Week, one incident that prominently stands out among others is Mary anointing Jesus’ feet at Bethany (please read John 12:1-11). Mary, one of the sisters of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead, expressed her gratitude to Jesus by pouring a bottle of quite expensive perfume at his feet. This family didn’t appear to be a rich family in Bethany, but over the years, it became the center of Jesus’ ministry in and around Jerusalem. However, Jesus’ disciples, especially Judas, reacted indignantly at Mary’s action and service of Jesus, the Messiah. Matthew 26:8 reads, “But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste?” Judas was particularly vocal and asked why the ointment was not sold and money given to the poor, as though he was the only one concerned about the poor! But, as John rightly records, Judas said this “not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it” (John 12:6).

  We have today, in many churches, similar people whose purpose of being around Jesus or inside the church is to somehow keep an eye on the money and to steal from it whenever the opportunity arises. They don’t have a clue about the poor or their needs. They do not bother about the needs of world missions or anything like that. They do not know how to serve, and they lack a sense of calling, but you’ll find them in all important positions of the church. They steal, rob, and destroy churches and ministries by their insatiable greed. However, Jesus came to the rescue of Mary and rebuked Judas and others: “Let her alone” (John 12:7). Unfortunately, there aren’t many people today in the church that oppose such thieves and scoundrels. Many a cases of financial embezzlement and irregularities in the churches and Christian organizations go unchecked or are swept under the carpet. People don’t like to confront or expose such people. It’s high time the churches stopped tolerating such greediness and gross misuse of people’s money. What would you do if you knew about your leaders’ engagement in any such activity? Would you tolerate it, expose it, or close your eyes and mouths shut when you see such things at your church/organization? God bless.

 

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Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 36

Day 36, Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the ...

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, Oil on canvas, 1850 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 According to Mark 11:27, on the second day of the Passion Week, Jesus and His disciples “arrived in Jerusalem again.” Remember, Jesus had withdrawn from all the commotion in the city and went down to Bethany. On the second day, as they went back to Jerusalem, on the way Jesus saw a fig tree and looked for fruit in it, but finding none, He did a seemingly strange thing—He “cursed” the tree! (see Mark 11: 12). And on the next day, Jesus’ disciples noticed that the fig tree had  withered to its roots (Mark 11:20; Matthew 21:18-19; 20-22). Many people take offence at this and ask several difficult questions about this act and its consequences.

 Well, it is not an easy task to explain everything about this act as we neither have the space nor all details; however, it was not an impulsive incidence that took place because of intemperance. In fact, Jesus used this act as a visible parable to teach His disciples, and many others, a lesson for life. Jesus found this as an odd tree which had leaves but no fruit. In reality, on such trees the fruit came before the leaves in Israel. A tree full of leaves gave the impression that there would be fruit on it, but Jesus found it fruitless. Jesus used this as a living analogy to teach us that such a fruitless tree represented Israel, the chosen people of God. God did everything that He could for them, and yet, when His Son Jesus came to Israel, He found it fruitless. Therefore, according to the Scriptures, such a fruitless tree deserved nothing but withering to the roots (see Psalm 90:6; Hosea 9:16). Jesus showed through this act that the nation of God’s people has become a worthless entity which had the appearance of being righteous, but in reality, it was a fruitless tree that was worthy of nothing but destruction. In fact, it was a prophetic act of Jesus, as the destruction of Jerusalem happened just a few years later in AD 70 through the hand of Romans. It is a lesson for the followers of Christ, too. God has done in and through Christ everything for our salvation. He expects real fruit of righteousness from our lives and not just an appearance of being a disciple. Any believer found fruitless will have to suffer the same fate of the fig tree. Therefore, let’s examine our lives and mend our ways in such a way that we become fruit-bearing branches of the Vine (see John 15:1-17). Amen.

Lenten Reflections 2012: Retreating into the wilderness with Jesus, Day 35

 

Day 35, Monday, April 2, 2012

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey

Jesus entering Jerusalem on a donkey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 We’re in the last week of Lent and we should be excited about celebrating soon Easter—Jesus’ victory over sin and death. However, there’s a series of things that Jesus did during His last week on earth that should teach us several spiritual lessons. Today, I’m reminded of a 1500 year old Celtic missionary song—Be Thou My Vision:

 “Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always;

be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.”

 Perhaps this prayer was inspired by Jesus’ attitude to the reaction of Jewish people particularly during His triumphant entry into Jerusalem (see Matthew 21:1-17, Luke 19: 28-44 ). People were ecstatic and shouted with joy their hosannas and halleluiahs. They spread their clothes and palm branches on Jesus’ way and appeared to hail Him as the king of Israel. However, there’s a little but meaningful verse in Matthew 21: 17 (NIV): “And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.” Jesus was unmoved by the praises and popularity and quickly withdrew from it all, as He fixed His eyes upon the cross. He would not let empty human praises, and hollow popularity among them come in the way of His clear vision and His mission. He would not trust people’s praises, as He knew that in just a few days these very people would also be joining the chorus, “crucify him, crucify him!” Therefore, He kept His eyes fixed on the sovereign God and the calling He had received from His Father. No worldly gain or calling could divert His attention from fulfilling what God had called Him to do for the salvation of humanity.

 When we hear people praising us how do we feel? When we get a little popularity among our folks, do we allow it to go to our heads and sit there? Where are our eyes fixed today? What is our vision? If God is not the center of our lives, may be, it’s time to pray the Celtic prayer and mean it:

“Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise: be thou mine inheritance now and always;

be thou and thou only the first in my heart; O Sovereign of heaven, my treasure thou art.” Amen.