Lenten Devotions 2015: What did Jesus finish on the cross?

2951078593_4271953429_zTraditionally, on Good Friday, the church preaches on the seven “words” of Christ from the cross. There is no way to ascertain how many times Jesus spoke and what exactly he said; however, the gospel writers bring the seven words to us, although, in no particular order. In the churches I have served, it is customary to request a few lay people to speak on these seven words for the Good Friday service. Every time I have to do this, I face a considerable challenge assigning “the words” to different people because everyone has a favorite “word” from the cross that they would like to speak on. I am sure, you, too, have a favorite “word.” Well, my favorite word out of the seven words from the cross is: “It is finished!”

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19: 30)

This last word of Jesus Christ is found only in the gospel of John and in the original Greek the term used is “tetelestai.” The root term “teleo” means “to accomplish, finish, end, or pay”. So, “tetelestai” meant “consummation,” “completed,” or “paid in full.” This term was often used, in the New Testament period, on business documents or receipts when the payment was made in full and the deal was considered complete. For me, it is one of the most poignant and cryptic words that Jesus ever spoke. I don’t think anyone else ever spoke three words more pregnant with deeper spiritual and theological meaning and implication than “it is finished.” These three words are so deep that I could never actually fathom their full meaning because no one could ever enter Jesus’ mind to see what all he really meant by saying, “it is finished.” Nonetheless, this last word of Christ is the culmination of all efforts of mankind to find or please God as well as the zenith of God’s work for our salvation.

In this word of Christ the very intent, mind, and purposes of God for the world are actualized.

In this word of Christ all prophetic utterances of the holy men and women down through the centuries are actualized.

In this word of Christ all claims of Jesus Christ and his “I am” sayings in the gospel are actualized.

In this word of Christ all hopes and aspirations of mankind through the ages are actualized.

In this word of Christ the much longed for forgiveness of our sins is actualized.

In this word of Christ the healing of the nations is actualized.

In this word of Christ all promises of God made to humanity are actualized.

In this word of Christ your healing from all diseases (“with his strips we are healed – Isaiah 53: 5; I Peter 2: 24) is actualized.

In this word of Christ the final salvation and redemption of mankind is actualized (John 3: 16).

In this word of Christ the triumph of Jesus Christ over all his enemies is actualized…and the last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Corinthians 15: 26).

I am sure you could add a few more statements to the above list and I would encourage you to do so in the comments below. In the meantime, let us make use of these accomplishments of Christ personally in our life and also make every effort to share them with others who do not yet know about this word voiced by Christ on the cross more than 2000 years ago. Would you please do this? Amen!

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Lenten Devotions 2015: Revisiting the past, hoping for the future.

8598545928_986be6e792_zThe Jewish religious authorities, Sadducees, and Pharisees of Jesus’ time often accused him of breaking away from the orthodox Jewish teachings and practices. He was hated for creating trouble or confusing people, because of his unorthodox approach to the Mosaic Law, to the extent that fearing the consequences of his actions, Jews had him crucified. Nevertheless, the night before his crucifixion, Jesus Christ celebrated the Passover in Jerusalem with his disciples in a very traditional manner. No, he did not even leave it for the last moment, but had it planned in advance with the help of his friends and disciples (Matthew 26: 17-19).

Jesus observed the Passover because he fully believed in the past and also in the hope it provided for the future. However, unlike many Jewish authorities, he refused to be stuck in the past and its traditions. Jesus knew that the Passover was significant not only for its historicity but also for what it promised for the future of the people of God. The Passover not only reminded people who they were and where they had come from but also filled them with the hope of a coming Messiah who would establish God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Therefore, in that “Upper Room” in Jerusalem, Jesus kept the Passover for remembering the slavery and the sufferings of the Israelites and the salvific story of the Exodus. Jesus remembered with his disciples the wanderings, failures, and the victories of his people in the past and the amazing story of holding onto the hope of their own home in the peaceful Promised Land. On the other hand, as was Jesus’ custom, he made a significant departure from the traditional Passover meal. Jesus took the ritual bread, dedicated it and declared it as his own body. Jesus also took the traditional cup of wine, which promised the return of the Prophet Elijah, and declared it as his own blood that signifies forgiveness and the ultimate promise of his own return along with the hope of His Kingdom.

“While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the[d] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom. When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” (Matthew 26: 26-29 NRSV).

Notice that after the Passover meal, Jesus left the house with his disciples in a symbolic action as most Jews would leave Jerusalem where they had come to observe the Passover. Similarly, you and I, who are abundantly fed by the Lord’s life, must leave the place of our fellowships, our conveniences, our comforts, and go out to do what Jesus has taught us in his last Passover observance. Let us go out to love and serve our fellow believers even to the extent of kneeling before them and washing their dirty/smelly feet. Let us go out of our rituals and traditions that bind us and restrict us to the past; instead, let us look and work for the future, freedom, and hope that Christ brings by establishing His Kingdom. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: The Passion of Jesus Christ

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Image courtesy: Steve Conger on flicker.com

The current week, beginning with Palm Sunday, is often called the “Passion Week” as it relates to the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ before his resurrection. The word “passion” is derived from the Greek words “pascho” and/or “pathema”, which means “to suffer” or “the capacity to feel strong emotion, like suffering.” It is the capacity and privilege of experiencing strong feeling, deep emotion, like agony, ardent desire, etc. In the New Testament, “passion” is used for Jesus’ vicarious suffering for us that he endured before his resurrection from the dead. For example, Luke writes:

“To whom also he showed himself alive after his passion by many infallible proofs, being seen of them forty days, and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1: 3 KJV).

And the writer of the Hebrews captures the same in the word “endured”:

“Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12: 2 KJV).

Jesus did not just suffer for a noble cause; rather, he was passionate about what he was doing because he knew that the ultimate result of his suffering would produce our salvation. In doing so, Jesus epitomized passion as suffering for something worthwhile. During his suffering, Jesus’ heart was on fire and yearning to accomplish what he had come to do on this Earth, that he willingly endured the cross.

It is the same today with the followers of Christ. Jesus has already declared,

 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me” (Luke 9: 23).

To accept Jesus’ call to follow him means that we accept God’s direction and choose to follow the path he has laid out for us. Even though this is a path of passion, but there is hope for us because of Easter. Meanwhile, only a strong desire burning within us and a heart set on fire for the Lord would help us endure the crosses we face in our walk with God. If we want to pursue our passion for the lost and are passionate in obeying Christ’s command to take the gospel to those who are far from grace, we need to understand that there will be pain, suffering, and rejection. However, Jesus has set an example for us to follow. He has also promised to be with us during our pain and suffering as he personally knows what it is like to suffer for others. Therefore, his resurrection fills us with hope that he who is alive will never leave us alone until he receives us all into his glory. So, be encouraged today if you are suffering for his sake and I know many of you are in this situation right now. May the Lord who endured the cross, for the joy set before him, fill your hearts with his peace. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: Will you please fetch me a donkey?

13818806203_9aca056616_zWe just celebrated Palm Sunday marking Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem with much fanfare. In the cacophony of hosannas and hallelujahs, much like the first Palm Sunday where Jesus came to Jerusalem, we often forget about the people who fetched a little colt for Jesus to ride. The Gospel according to Mark describes the event in this way:

“As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. 3 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”
4 They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, 5 some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” 6 They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. 7 When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. (Mark 11: 1-7 NIV).

We are not told who this colt belonged to except that he was willing to lend it to Jesus. However, what is more disappointing is that we are not told who these two men were whom Jesus sent out to fetch a donkey. We know that they were Jesus’ disciples. However, they remain anonymous in spite of their significant ministry. I am sure they had nobler ideas of a grandeur ministry and their role in the Kingdom of God than being sent to fetch a colt when they first accepted Jesus’ call to follow him. It was not an easy task. Imagine entering a village as a stranger looking like a suspicious animal thief! After locating the precise house and the right owner of the colt, they had to bring the untamed colt which no one had ever ridden before to Jesus Christ. They probably had to literally drag the colt out several miles away from its village. I am sure they thought that this is not what they had imagined being sent for when they heard Jesus call out to them: “Follow Me”!

These two disciples of Jesus teach us several things. First of all, the ministry is not ours. It’s the Lord’s ministry and we are called to prepare the way of the Lord. This must relieve us from unnecessary stress we often carry around in ministry. Secondly, in preparing for the Kingdom of God, no task is mundane and unbecoming of a servant of God who has answered Jesus’ call to follow him. If the Lord assigns us the task of only fetching a donkey for him, we should gladly and willingly do it for the Lord. As a matter of fact, this is what many of our ministries look like today—mundane, routine, boring, and without much joy or fruitfulness. However, they are all significant in God’s economy of salvation for the world. Whatever you may be going through in the little tasks of ministry, which seem like fetching a donkey, be encouraged that the Lord is using each one of them for his work of redeeming the world and establishing his Kingdom on earth. May you be encouraged by this fact today. Amen.

Lenten Devotions 2015: When you feel abandoned…

Jesus Christ clearly warned his followers: “In this world you will have trouble” (John 16: 33). So, today, if you or someone you know is suffering to the extent of feeling abandoned, you should not be surprised at all. Instead, we need to find encouragement from Jesus Christ who himself suffered for us. That’s why he hastened to add: “But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16: 33). How is Jesus able to encourage those who are suffering today and feel dejected? Is it through some lofty ideal or philosophical thought? Is it through a best-seller, self-help book that he penned? Absolutely not. And that is the main difference between him and many gurus of this world: unlike others, Jesus personally suffered dejection. He came out victorious from his sufferings, pain, and abandonment to show us that we, too, could overcome.
Psalmist David composed this song centuries before Jesus walked on this earth:

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest…” (Psalm 22: 1-2).

We immediately recognize these words because Jesus used them as he hung on the cross of Calvary. Whatever Psalmist David was personally going through when composing it, he was also prophetically describing the coming Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ. Jesus would have read and memorized this song during his life on earth for it came so readily to his lips when he suffered on that cursed cross for you and me. When Jesus went through this rejection by his own people and was abandoned by his own disciples, it was something that he was expecting and was prepared for. However, when he realized the unbearable burden of sins laid on him at the cross, he could not take this anymore. The sins of the world brought a momentary separation between him and God the Father, which was unbearable for Jesus who had lived in a constant fellowship with God. Hence, in such an agonizing separation, Jesus cried out in a loud voice:

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) (Matthew 27: 46).

Nevertheless, let’s thank God that it was not Jesus’ last cry from the cross. He did not die with the feeling of abandonment on Calvary. If that was the case, you and I had no hope and no salvation. However, Jesus quickly gained back his belief that God is holy, and that holy God was his Father who would not leave him forever. That is why, the last words on Jesus’ lips were the words of love, hope and absolute confidence before he breathed his last:

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23: 46).

He knew that the greatest pain he would face on this earth was the abandonment from his Father God, so that God could assure the world that he would never abandon his people. So, my friend, if you are in pain and feeling like King David in Psalm 22— cheer up. Even when you feel God is silent or so far away from you, you can be confident that He is with you and will never abandon you. Amen.