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Category: Lenten Devotions 2021

Lenten Reflections 2021: Why did the Holy Spirit Lead Jesus into the Desert and then Leave Him Alone?

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  @johnvinod  | March 5, 2021

Let us read Matthew 4: 1-11. I must submit, this is one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament. The Gospels (except John) and other passages agree on the reality of the temptation of Jesus Christ. For me, the question is not that Jesus was tempted by the devil, though there is so much to comprehend and unpack there. Instead, it is the unignorable fact that Jesus was ushered into the desert by the Holy Spirit immediately after these crucial events:

John’s declaration that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29).

Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3: 13-17; Mark 1: 9-11; Luke 32-22; John 1: 29-34)

The descending of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus.

John the baptizer’s bold testimony that Jesus is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit and that he is indeed “the son of God” (John 1: 33-34).

An affirmation from God the Father saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11).

These events and assertions are vital and leave no doubt about the divinity of Jesus and his being the Messiah. Nevertheless, these facts also do not prevent Jesus from being led into the desert and from being tempted. To tell the truth, the Gospel writers use these expressions:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1).

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him” (Mark 1: 12-13).

“Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4: 1-2).

The Holy Spirit was present at the conception of Jesus and attested the Father’s affirmation of his Sonship and his obedient life. That same Spirit led Jesus into the desert to be tempted by the devil! In the Jordan River, the Holy Spirit anointed Jesus, and the Father approved him; but in the wilderness he appears to be deserted. It seems like God left him alone. In the most trying moments when Jesus needed to hear the voice of God, that affirming voice was absent. When Jesus wished to recognize the signs of divine presence and power, those signs had vanished leaving him on his own.

The desert or wilderness is a reminder of the experience of the people of Israel and their testing during their forty-year sojourn after leaving Egypt. It is a symbol of the everyday cycle of life that we face on earth. It is a phase in the normal life of a follower of Christ, where the possibilities of temptation are the strongest and where we may find ourselves most vulnerable to these temptations. Jesus Christ underwent this phase even before he launched his ministry.

However, Jesus could not be our Messiah, if he were oblivious to the most troublesome moments of loneliness and temptations that we go through in our life despite following Jesus and being in the will of God. He could not be our Savior if Jesus were unaware of the most formidable human temptations and our most vulnerable moments as a result of such temptations. So, thank God the Spirit led Jesus into the desert!

Today, if you find yourself walking through the wilderness phase of your life, please be assured that Jesus Christ understands and sympathizes with you and he will see you through this desert. And those of us who may not be in the desert at the moment, are you prepared to undergo this phase in your life even when you are filled with the Holy Spirit? Or are you like many who merely want the power of the Holy Spirit without the consequences and temptations that may come as a result of being anointed by the Spirit? May the Lord help us to be prepared for both. Amen.



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Lenten Reflections 2021: As Jesus Steps Down into the Jordan River the Holy Spirit Descends Upon Him

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By @johnvinod | March 4, 2021

Let us begin today by reading Matthew 3: 13 – 17. Before kissing goodbye to his mother, Jesus toiled for long as an industrious artisan in Galilee, where he had to dirty his hands daily stooping down to sweep the floors as he lived like us. However, after he left the home to do what he had come to accomplish on this Earth, Jesus did not immediately step into a busy ministry. Instead, he stepped down into the Jordan Valley.

He must have known the ministry of his relative, John the baptizer, who had a weird sense of fashion. Jesus knew that the core part of John’s heart searing message was a call to repentance, a call that echoed in the Jordan Valley like thunder capable of splitting rocks! But Jesus knew that John’s goal was to open and prepare the hearts of his people to receive his Messiahship.

So, why did Jesus come down to the Jordan Valley to John the baptizer when he had nothing to repent of? He was sinless from his birth. As a matter of fact, John the baptizer himself testified about Jesus saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1: 29 ESV). And yet, Jesus is going down to the Jordan Valley.

This was a symbolic act of Jesus as he slowly makes his way to the Jordan Valley. It was part of his mission on Earth, which began when Jesus stepped down from heaven and took flesh. Then, as we read two days ago (see here), Jesus stepped down into the ordinary life of people like you and me, that is, toiling hard with his hands to make ends meet. Jesus stooped down to work with stones, wood, or mud, in order to completely identify with us, the working-class people. And now, as Jesus stepped down into the Jordan Valley, he was stepping into the space of sin and repentance.

Arriving where John was, Jesus did not just stand on the bank of the Jordan River observing others. He does not just stand on the side with us in our human sinfulness and brokenness. Jesus has not only stepped into the Valley from as he came from Galilee, but he also stepped down even further into the muddy waters of the Jordan River and was baptized there. In doing so, Jesus stood with us in our sins. He took our shame upon himself. This is who Jesus Christ our Savior is! He does not lecture us on our failings and moral decadence; rather, he steps down to where we are to meet us there. He is willing to be humiliated. He is willing to be counted with us a sinner in need of repentance for the grace and forgiveness of God when he did not have to do so (Matthew 3:14-15).

That is why, Matthew notes for us:

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3: 16 NRSV).

Therefore, to affirm who he was and all that he has been doing, the Holy Spirit descended on the baptized. In fact, we find ourselves in the presence of the Triune God who testified and approved the work and mission of Jesus Christ. Why did Jesus’ father declare that he was “well pleased” with him? What had Jesus done to please him? Nothing much in terms of preaching, teaching, healing, or performing amazing miracles. None of these had started yet. Nevertheless, God was pleased with Jesus’ submission, obedience, his stepping down to the lowliest places on earth, working hard to support his family, dirtying his hands, bending knees to clean up the floors, and wading into the grimy waters of the Jordan to completely identify with us. These are the actions that so pleased the Lord!

Today, let us praise God for who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. Likewise, let us also take a step further and imitate him, his actions and attitude, so that our heavenly Father may be pleased with us (Ephesians 5: 1-2). Amen.



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Lenten Reflections 2021: When a Sword Pierces Your Soul: Jesus’ Goodbye to His Mother

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By   @johnvinod  | March 3, 2021

Prior to starting the forty-day pilgrimage in a desert and launching his Messianic ministry, there was one event in Jesus Christ’s earthly life which, I believe, must have been the toughest for him as well as his earthly mother. This remarkable day was the day Jesus decided to say goodbye to his mother who brought him into this world and raised him to be the Messiah of the world. The point that this day, or act is recorded nowhere in the Gospels does not make it any less important. It must have been difficult for both Jesus and Mary as they both knew what lies ahead in Jesus’ life as he embarked upon his ministry that culminated on the cross.

For Jesus it was poignant because he had learned to take his first steps holding Mary’s hands. He had grown accustomed to the delicious home cooked food that she prepared and served daily with love.

For Mary it would have been one of the most heartbreaking days of her life. Although she knew Jesus more than anyone on earth could ever know, despite knowing who he was and what his mission on earth was, she did not know the specific details. However, she knew one thing: it involved death, as she recalled the somber words of a prophecy of an old man, Simeon:

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2: 33-35 NRSV)

The sword here means a sharp weapon like a javelin or a long sword and the syntax of the last sentence means it will constantly keep on piercing! There is no fear like the fear of losing a child, especially after losing your husband a few years ago. Therefore, like any mother, though Mary had learned to let go, there would always be a part of her that would like to hold on to his hand. The day Jesus decided to leave home for the ministry, he gently but firmly released his rough hands from her soft grip and went out of the house. However, for Mary there would be a part of him that would remain with her always—her little boy Jesus. Not only that day, but Jesus’ mission would inevitably continue piercing Jesus’ mother. However, she loved him so much that she was willing to take that risk.

Friends, in the forthcoming Passion Week, as we focus our thoughts on the painful piercing of Jesus’ flesh on the cross, let us not forget the piercing of Mary’s flesh. Following Jesus and loving him is precarious and challenging. If it is not for you, then, perhaps you are following a cultural Jesus made in the image of your culture or church. When you and I, who claim to love Jesus and renew our commitment to him this Lent, let us also be prepared to acknowledge that our hearts may not be safe and comfortable forever. Jesus, the Savior, will someday unsettle your life if he has not already done it. And someday, perhaps, a sword will pierce your heart, too!

Today, do you love him to only receive the blessings that come from believing and following Jesus Christ? Do you love Jesus so much as to take the risk of letting him unsettle and challenge your worldview, your life, and your soul? Let us pray during this Lent that God would prepare us for that day. May the Lord help us realize that the greater our love for Jesus, the sharper may be the sword that will pierce our heart and our soul, and the most drastic may be the unsettling of our lives, because we decide to follow Jesus Christ. May the Lord help us understand that this is one risk worth taking because of his unconditional love for us. Amen!



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Lenten Reflections 2021: Jesus Christ and His Work as An Industrious Artisan

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By @johnvinod | March 2, 2021

Let us begin today by reading Matthew 2: 19-23. I know this is not a passage often associated with the Lenten season. However, as I was reading and reflecting on what Jesus did before he was tempted in the wilderness, I came to this passage in Matthew 2. This account is of Joseph and Mary’s return from their sojourn in Egypt to the village of Nazareth in Galilee after king Herod died. The four Gospels are almost silent about Jesus’ early life and youth in his family and hometown. What was it like before Jesus launched his public ministry? What was he doing? Where did he study? What work was he involved in?

There are several myths and stories about the early life of Jesus that have circulated from the first century. None of them is credible enough to provide us with authentic details. However, when Jesus returned to Nazareth with his parents, it is realistic that he was raised in their religious home, like an ordinary Jewish child, in Nazareth, and later on in Capernaum (Matthew 4:13). There is no indication in the Gospels to believe that his earthly parents were people of means. They were an ordinary couple from a working class of people who toiled hard to make ends meet.

Mark 6: 1-6 informs us that when Jesus began his public ministry of teaching and healing, the Jewish people took offence at him because he was an ordinary “carpenter” from Nazareth about whom they knew all the answers that was to be known.

I wonder why God did not plan for Jesus to be born in a priest’s home or a Pharisee’s home where he would have spiritual upbringing and status in the community. Why did God sovereignly assign Jesus to a hard-working ordinary home?

We must realize that Jesus spent almost 30 years in his hometown doing what ordinary people did to support their family before he launched his “full-time ministry”! That is six times more than he spent in the public ministry! Jesus Christ did not only perform amazing healings and miracles; he was not only a rabbi and taught with authority, but also, even much before all these ministries, Jesus subjected himself to the will of God by doing what his family expected him to do.

Tradition informs us that Joseph died while Jesus was still a young man. Joseph’s responsibility as the breadwinner now fell on Jesus’ youthful shoulders being the eldest son. Biblical scholars believe that according to Mark 6: 3, Jesus was more of an artisan, because the word translated a “carpenter” could also mean a construction/building worker or a builder of houses, who worked with wood, stone, and metal. Thus, I can imagine Jesus stooping to pick up dirt, sawdust, wood shavings, or stone chips from the floor. You can imagine, at the end of the day, Jesus picks up a broom and patiently sweeps the floor, collecting tools, cleaning them, and arranging them in order for the next day’s job. This explains why Jesus rarely uses metaphors from carpentry while there are numerous examples of the building/construction work.

So, Jesus became completely like you and me. He faithfully worked in masonry and carpentry in all circumstances. He knows what it means to lose work and not getting paid. He understands what it means to survive through a turbulent economy like the current pandemic. On earth, Jesus lived and worked to support his family for about thirty years—a life full of joys, sorrows, drudgery, losing work, and finding work again. Therefore, friends, Jesus knows exactly how you might be going through today. Let us keep in mind that the Creator, before he raised people from the dead, stooped down to pick a broom and dirty his hands, so that we will appreciate the value of work of any kind, and learn faithfulness from him. He knows your situation, whatever it might be. Trust him to find a way out for you. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Salvation of the Lord is Holistic and Flows from His Presence

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By @johnvinod  | March 1, 2021

Praise God for the brand-new month of March and for his grace that sustained us until now in 2021. Let us begin by reading Chapter 3 of the book of Joel and we shall focus on its last section, 3: 18-21, as we wrap up our reflections from the book of Joel.

As noted in my earlier posts, in chapter three, Joel describes the judgement upon the nations that will ensue with the onset of “the day of the Lord” in the coming days. I believe its initial fulfilment happened with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth. However, its complete fulfilment awaits the return of Jesus Christ.

So, in 3: 18-21, Joel zooms out of the nations and refocuses his lens on the people of God or Judah, about whom this prophecy was primarily written. Remember, they had just been restored and saved from the locust plague. So, in concluding his prophecy, Joel reassures them with encouraging words of comfort and peace while also revealing the fate of their next-door neighbors, Egypt and Edom.

This passage begins with “in that day” keeping in line with the theme of the day of the Lord like other prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, and Isaiah. Then Joel uses three essential elements both materially as well as figuratively to proclaim the wellbeing of the people of God to coincide with the coming of the Messiah. They are: Wine, Milk, and Water. Joel promises that these will be available in abundance. Remember they had been through a plague which had destroyed their crops, vineries, as well as cattle affecting the supply of food, wine, and milk. E.g., see chapter 1:4-5; 7, 9-12. Not only the crops and vines withered but due to the lack of water, “all the [fruit bearing] trees of the field are dried up; surely joy withers away among the people” (1:12).

Therefore, Joel utilizes these symbols; wine, milk, and water, for the holistic salvation God is providing for his people. It will take care not only of their spiritual aspirations, but also of their quantifiable tangible needs. The abundant supply of wine will compensate for the vineries that were destroyed. Milk will overflow because the cattle will not wander and groan anymore without water or pasture as in 1: 18. The water will overflow in plenty because the water brooks are not dried up anymore (1: 20). And the real source of these blessings will not be their best works (karma), but the Lord Yahweh himself. The presence of the Lord among his people becomes the source of all blessings. For he has promised to abide with them on his holy hill and become the fountain of water and joy for them forever:

“… and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord

    and water the Valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:18 ESV).

This fountain of water resembles what the prophet Ezekiel had also observed in his vision (Ezekiel 47:1-12). In the eschatological (final events of history) vision of the holy city of God in the book of Revelation, also, a river appears flowing from the throne of God.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22: 1-2 NRSV).

Lastly, Joel concludes in 3:21 reassuring the people of God that the sins, the crimes of the nations, and the bloodshed of his people will not go unnoticed and unpunished. God asks and answers himself: and shall I leave their bloodshed unpunished? No, I will not, as surely as I abide in Jerusalem. And let everyone notice that “the Lord dwells in Zion!”

So, friends, this assurance can be meaningful to us, too, as we walk through this second year of the pandemic. God’s presence is promised to us in the midst of this plague. As we wait for “the day of Lord” or the return of Jesus Christ, our concern should not be with the detailed particulars of events or their chronology; rather it should be with the restoration, salvation, and eternal presence of the Almighty it will bring to us, his people. As the Apostle John saw in a prophetic vision proclaimed:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:3-4 ESV).

Maranatha!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Focus of the Day of the Lord is Hope and Salvation Rather than Desolation!

By @johnvinod  | February 27, 2021

Let us begin today by reading from Joel 2: 30 to chapter 3 because they are interconnected. This is a rather difficult section in Joel’s prophecy as he repeats a popular theme among the Old Testament prophets—”the day of the Lord.” Joel tone takes a dramatic turn as he begins predicting God’s judgement upon the nations. Remember, like all the prophecies Joel’s words are both literal as well as figurative. He has been addressing the devastation the locust plague had caused, which I believe was a physical reality in Israel/Judah. However, the plague is also a symbol of the northern nations who invaded and ravaged Israel. Of course, the Israelites had a role in this because of their disobedience and idolatry. And Joel made it clear that the plague was a judgement of God upon his people.

From 2: 30 to 3: 21, however, Joel turns his focus to the judgement of rebellious nations. God’s people are forgiven, restored, and saved because they had repented and called on the name of Yahweh (see, vs 1: 19-20 & 2: 17). God showed mercy and they are being saved. But what about the nations?

Joel announces that the Lord will deal with the nations in a catastrophic way through the events of the day of the Lord. He goes on to provide the signs of this event which will be visible on earth as well as in the sky in 2: 30-32 and then again in 3: 15. The “blood,” “fire,” and “smoke” clearly symbolize the destruction that invasions and wars create. They were a reminder of the ruin caused by the locust plague. The extent of damage the people of Israel experienced is equated metaphorically with the dreadfulness of “the day of the Lord” (see 2: 10-11). Now in the final days, Joel says, the tables will be turned, and the same judgement will be poured on the rebelling nations. He zooms on the details of the character of this judgement in 3: 1-14.

Nowadays, I understand that many people, perhaps you, too, are curious to know the specifics and interpretations of the passages regarding the end times, as the New Testament writers also displayed an intense interest in Joel’s prophecy. They link it to the return of Christ and the end times. However, my concern is with the prophet’s interest here as well as with the other writers of the New Testament who wrote about the end times. They were writing in the context of persecution and sufferings of God’s people. Therefore, their purpose was not to provide every minute information to satisfy our curiosity for the chronology of events or their interpretation. The writers’ language is mostly metaphorical, and their message is two-fold:

  1. Provide meaning, comfort, and assurance of God’s favor to those who believe in the grace of God and call on his name.
  2. Make it plain that Yahweh is a just God. He will certainly judge the rebellious and their punishment will fit their crimes.

That is why, Joel envisages a day when God will save his people while he carries out judgement of the nations. While judging other nations, God wanted to assure his people that he cares for his covenant and will deal with those who intermeddle with it or its people (see 3:1-2). Just as Yahweh could save his people from the plague, he can and will do it again in the future, even if that involved as apocalyptic an event as the day of the Lord. As in the past, so in the future, too, the means of his grace and his salvation will be for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (2:32). This declaration became the pivotal text for the Apostle Peter, when he invited the people gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost representing not only the Jewish people but all nations:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (Acts 2: 38-39 ESV).

This, friends, should also be our prayer and focus for us, as we go through our pandemic today. God is in the business of restoring and saving. It is possible only in and through the name of Jesus Christ. And those who receive his grace and salvation, cannot but share with others. Will you share this good news during this Lent season?


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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Spiritual Sign of Restoration is the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit and His Gifts

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By @johnvinod  | February 26, 2021

Please begin today by reading from Joel 2: 28-32, which is the closing section of Joel chapter two. We saw in yesterday’s post that after their repentance, God blesses and satisfies his restored people. Having established this outward visible blessing, Joel now prophesized the oncoming spiritual blessing and renewal, which constitutes the true restoration.

This spiritual renewal will come in the form of something unprecedented and powerful: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh”! This is unlike what is described in the previous sections of this chapter. Those events came to pass in Israel during Joel’s time. This promise of the Spirit, on the other hand, is a prophecy in the more distant future and Joel links it with an apocalyptic event, “the day of Lord” (vs. 30-32). Notice that the prophecy is preceded by “Then afterwards” (v. 28) and “in those days” (v. 29). This is a common parallelism that Hebrew prophets and poets often employed for rhetorical effect and to emphasize the point they were making. And the point in Joel’s case is that it will come to pass sometime in the future.

The Spirit is understood as God’s Spirit, the Holy Sprit in the New Testament. The primary meaning of the outpouring of the Spirit on his people is a divinely inspired spiritual ecstasy which enables them to find a transient prophetic fervor and make prophetic utterances. We can also find examples of this in 1 Samuel 10:10 and 19:24 in the time of Judges in Israel. God had used this phenomenon earlier also with seventy elders of Israel under Moses’ leadership for the purpose of endorsing their calling and leadership:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. (Numbers 11: 25 NRSV).

However, quite unlike the previous occurrences, in Joel’s prophecy of 2: 28-29, notice here the promise is for “all flesh” irrespective of their age, leadership, social status, or gender. Primarily, it was meant for the people to whom Joel prophesied and their descendants. However, in God’s economy of salvation the promise has been extended to the whole humankind irrespective of our race, class, gender, or status in society.

The outpouring or pour out means to cause to flow freely and implies that God will give the Spirit in abundance, as he always does, without reservation.

The Apostle Peter unmistakably applied the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy to the events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Before his ascension, Jesus Christ had promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1: 8. So, in Acts 2 when the disciples along with the Twelve Apostles received the promised Holy Spirit, they were ecstatic and filled with a divine prophetic passion. Peter, one of the Twelve, addressed the astonished crowd of thousands who had gathered in Jerusalem saying:

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2: 15- 21 ESV).

However, this was just the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of a spiritual renewal that Joel prophesied. It did not cease with the Day of Pentecost. In the book of Acts and in the rest of the New Testament, the outpouring continued throughout Israel and then in the rest of the world until this day.

This Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, is the Spirit of missions. He is the Spirit of transformation of lives, institutions, and cultures. The renewal the Spirit of missions creates is evident throughout the world which has experienced the outpouring of the Spirit down the centuries. And God’s Spirit is still moving around the globe in the most unanticipated ways and in the most unexpected places and among the most amazing people groups, just as it was prophesied. The threefold signs of the spiritual renewal are evident wherever the Spirit is outpoured.

People are prophesying, that is, bringing God’s word to those unreached people groups who have never had the opportunity to hear it until now. Praise God that this noble calling is no longer restricted to a privileged few from a certain social class or people of certain color, but God’s Spirit is using ordinary people for the proclamation of the Word.  

People are dreaming, that is, dreaming of being and becoming what they have never been before. Dreaming and finding an identity as God’s own people, loved, lifted, and dignified. Dreaming of breaking off slavery, colonialism, and the fetters of oppression of all sorts throughout all cultures. And this is made possible today by the Spirit of God.

People are visioning, that is, seeing the possibilities and hoping for a liberated future that they have never envisioned before. They are reassured by the presence of the Spirit that it is now possible for their dreams and visions to become a reality by the power of the Almighty God who delights to abide with them. Praise be to the Holy Spirit! Despite the constant bad news of the pandemic and devastation, there is an extensive outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our day and age. Are you aware of it? Are you part of it? Does this excite you to participate in it?

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Sign of True Restoration is the Recognition of God’s Unique Sovereignty and His Presence

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By  @johnvinod  | February 25, 2021

Let us read once again chapter two of the book of Joel and focus on verse 27:

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame (Joel 2: 27 ESV).

This verse 27 concludes the section 2: 18-27 that brings the message of restoration and salvation for God’s people who have been through the ravages of the locust plague and prepares for the next section. The tiny book of Joel is a theocentric book meaning its focus is not on the plague itself or its devastation; rather its purpose is to draw attention to the biblical God, his restoration, and the salvation of his people.

Therefore, after repentance and renewal, Joel wants to make sure that the Israelites knew who is this God, Yahweh, who brings them out of a plague and restores their soul, bodies, and their land (see verse 18). This was necessary to remind and underscore because people are prone to forget once they receive what they have been praying for. The book of Psalms is also replete with such reminders at different periods.

Joel switches to the first person as he writes what God said: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,…” They were to recognize the presence of the Almighty God in their midst. This reminder is the same that the prophet Ezekiel had used numerous times in his book. They also needed this important retelling because during the calamity, most people assumed that God had abandoned his covenant people. The cessation of continual offerings (see 1:9-10) and other Temple rituals had heightened this belief. Therefore, Joel reminds that in reality it is the people who had violated God’s covenant through a disobedient life. But because God is merciful, in his graciousness, he has accepted their petitions and brought about their deliverance.

So, as they move forward in their new life, they need to recognize that the Almighty God is indeed in their midst. This recognition and practice of the continual presence of God would also help them live a holy life yielding to the demands of his law. It will help them resume the continual worship and offerings at his holy Temple.

Second, verse 27 emphasized “that I, the Lord [Yahweh] am your God and there is none other.” They needed this notice because they should never entertain the thought that their salvation was possible without Yahweh. The tone and words are very emphatic: I, the Lord, am your God! The verse continues to stress that Yahweh God is the only God and “there is none other.” His sovereignty is unrivaled and cannot be shared with any other deity. Such a strong reminder was considered necessary because the Israelites had slipped into idolatry and fertility cults of all sorts and even their priests had become corrupt defiling the holy Temple.

Third, verse 27 concludes saying, “And my people shall never again be put to shame.” The combining of “I, the Lord, am your God” with the phrase “my people” brings back the significant covenant relationship of Yahweh God with the people of Israel. People should acknowledge they had broken the covenant. Joel joyfully declares that the covenant relationship has been restored. And they should now recognize that through his salvation, Yahweh has restored the covenant. Therefore, they must make sure now that their lives align with the covenant requirements and its laws. The uniqueness of Yahweh God, his absolute sovereignty, and his enduring presence among his people are the most important privileges of the covenant relationship. Everyone who knows this God should recognize and delight in them.

Friends, today, for us who are in the middle of a pandemic, Joel has a clear message of hope of restoration and salvation. However, there are conditions for this to become a reality, which we have discussed earlier (please see my previous posts in this category of devotions). Once these conditions are met, we, too, can rejoice in the new relationship and new life that God promises. We too can enjoy the privileges of being in a covenant relationship with the unique and sovereign God. And those of us who do recognize and live in the sovereignty of God, continually practicing the presence of this Triune God in our lives must also share this good news with others who live in fear today. Are you sharing? Will you share?


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Lenten Reflections 2021: “Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people”

From Geralt @ Pixaby
From Geralt @ Pixabay

By @johnvinod | February 24, 2021

We have been reflecting on the book of the prophet Joel for the past one week. Today, I want you to read the second chapter again and then focus on 2:18: “Then the Lord became jealous for his land and had pity on his people” (NRSV/ESV). This is a turning point in this prophecy. From the chapter first through chapter two and verse 11, Joel detailed the terrifying locust plagues and the judgement of the Lord. We are to assume here that the prophet’s call to penitence in 2: 12-17 was obeyed and people indeed returned to the Lord. We are also to assume a time-lag between these verses and verse 18. Therefore, now the prophet moves from talking about judgement to the restoration of Israel with verse 18 clearly marking that transition.

Verse 18 presents to us how a compassionate God responds to people with salvation when they truly repent and return to Him. He is eager to act with zeal to restoring both “his land” and “his people”! However, some translations show this verse as a promise with the future tense— “Lord will be jealous” (e.g. NASB/KJV). I believe, the past tense “Then the Lord became/was jealous” is a better rendering because the prophet describes a favorable action of the Lord in Joel’s time as God’s response to people who sincerely engaged in the penitence enjoined in 2: 12-17. This also fits well in Joel’s purpose of showing the actual purpose of the plague—not to destroy but to restore God’s people.

However, in verse 18, what does Joel mean when he says that God became “jealous”?

This term has been used several times in the Bible as an expression of God’s envy, zeal, passion, or ardent concern for his covenant people.

“because the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:14 NRSV).

I am the Lord, that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to idols. (Isaiah 42:8 NRSV).

It has both positive and negative connotations—God is excited and worked up to defend his people when they are reviled, and he gets agitated with great wrath when they indulge in idol worship forsaking his uniqueness. God will not share his glory with another person or thing.  As their Creator and covenant God, He loves and cares for his people so much that he grows envious when they go after false gods or engage in rebellious behaviour. Jealousy of God represents that He is always faithful to his covenant and will be agitated to lash out if our actions tend to undermine the covenant and compromise with his uniqueness in entertaining anyone else other than Him.

In Joel 2: 18, God was not only jealous but also had pity or compassion on his people, which stems from his being passionately concerned.

In the New Covenant, the church is described as the bride of Christ, which aptly explains why God is envious/jealous when the church would show even a semblance of unfaithfulness to the Bridegroom.

I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11: 2 NRSV).

When we human bridegrooms are not ready to tolerate any unfaithfulness and will do anything to protect our brides and partners, how much more will God be passionate about keeping loyalty in our relationship with Him! Therefore, jealousy is an attribute of our God who has a passionate concern and deep love and compassion for us, His chosen people. The current pandemic has exposed areas in church where we have not been faithful to him. We have callously erected our own golden calves in the form of political ideologies/parties/politicians. We are guilty of engaging in cultish behaviour with regard to the Christian leaders/speakers/pastors. Often, our reasons for gathering are determined by the popularity of the celebrity pastor/speaker rather than the Word or worship! We do not come so that the eternal Word would minister to us rather to listen to modish “great” presenters who can entertain us with their skills, oratory, or a flowery style of public speaking. We are found guilty of placing personalities and heroes or defenders of our faith on a pedestal where only God belongs. This Lenten season, may we sincerely heed to Joel’s call to repentance. And if we did, our gracious God will be jealous for our land and pity us in order to restore and save us. Amen!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: A plague followed by the day of the Lord!

Courtesy Pixabay

By Vinod John @johnvinod | February 23, 2021

Let us begin today by reading chapter 2 of the book of Joel. Having described in graphic details, employing poetic personification, the terrible nature of the locust plague and its vast devastation in Israel Joel now declares that the “day of the Lord” is imminent:

Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain!

Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—

a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness!

Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes;

their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come (Joel 2: 1-2 NRSV).

Joel proclaimed “the day of the Lord” representing God’s judgement, not upon others, not upon the invading armies or natural disasters, but upon His people (2:1). Notice that in the previous chapter, Joel referred to the beasts and wild animals panting and wailing because of the lack of food and water. Now, as he announces the day of the Lord as a day of judgement upon his people, he is obviously suggesting to the readers: how much more than the beasts, you, as God’s people, should cry out to the Lord in repentance through fasting and prayers (2: 13-15).  Also notice that in 1:15 Joel had already alluded to the coming of the “day of the Lord.”

So, what was the day of the Lord for Joel?

First, it was both a day of shock, surprise, as well as hope.

Second, he saw the day of the Lord as God’s tribulation and judgement upon his people as he exclaimed, “Alas for the day!” (1:15 and 2:1). People of his day assumed that despite their disobedience, rebellion and unfaithfulness, God would be merciful, gracious and protect them. However, Joel proclaimed that God would come on His day to punish them to teach obedience.

Third, Joel believed that the purpose of the day of the Lord was to drive the rebellious people to true repentance and provide them an opportunity to reorient to God and align their lives to his covenant.

Fourth, Joel assures that it is a day of hope, because God will indeed turn His face toward them and shower his mercy upon them if they be remorseful. He will even restore the damage caused by the plague, if people lament and return to Him:

 Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people. In response to his people the Lord said:

I am sending you  grain, wine, and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a mockery among the nations.……

I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent against you. (2: 18-19; 25)

Fifth, Joel revives the hope that through the day of the Lord, God would indeed bring about a spiritual revitalization, leading people to realize that there is only one living God—Yahweh. And he loves to abide with them (2: 27).

Sixth, Joel reassures that the day of the Lord is additionally a day of hope for God’s people because it has the promise of the outpouring of the Holy Spirt:

Then afterward
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
    in those days, I will pour out my spirit (2:28-29).

Lastly, even though the ominous signs and wonders will precede the day of the Lord, it will ultimately turn out to be a magnificent day of salvation and renewal (2: 30-32).

Like so, for us this day, I consider these days of death and destruction everywhere caused by the current pandemic would turn out to be the days of opportunity, if we carry out what the prophet Joel demanded of the people of his time. And if we shall also obey what Joel summons us to do in 2: 12-17, we, too, shall be revived, and God will even restore to us what the pandemic has devoured in this past year or so:

The threshing floors shall be full of grain; the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten,…..(2:24-25 ESV).

Amen.

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