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Lenten Reflections 2021: When Jesus Asked the Questions You’re Asking!

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 @johnvinod | March 11, 2021

Please begin by reading Matthew 4: 1-11. The temptation of Jesus Christ is quite a complex subject. It can be looked at from different perspectives. Today, I want us to look at it from the perspective of what the temptations might have meant to Jesus in the wilderness; even though they did not end there. Instead, they continued throughout his ministry and ended only on the cross.

However, in the wilderness, Jesus was intensely tested in who he believed that he was and the ministry he would do with this understanding. Let us recall that the tempter’s first words to Jesus were, “If you are the Son of God…” ; and he used them twice (Matthew 4: 3 & 6). Satan did what he was best at, i.e., sowing seeds of doubt. I believe Jesus indeed “share[d] in flesh and blood” and “he himself likewise partook of the same things” as we humans do when “he had to be made like his brothers in every respect” and “he himself has suffered when tempted” (Hebrews 2: 14-18 ESV). Therefore, in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted to doubt his own identity.

That is why all three Gospels, when narrating Jesus’ temptation in the desert, show it in the context of his baptism. Until his baptism, Jesus had not done anything spectacular. Nevertheless, at his baptism, Jesus was declared the Son of God with whom his Father was well pleased (Matthew 3: 17). When Jesus heard these powerful words in the presence of the prophet John and the other Jews, he knew without a doubt that he was not only the promised Messiah but also the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53. The visible anointing of the Holy Spirit provided a further affirmation of this reality. Jesus was now fully conscious; he was the Son of God and the anointing of the Spirit imbued him with divine powers to do his ministry.

So, when Satan came, although Jesus was indeed physically exhausted; the actual temptation was that Jesus found himself in the crucible of his inner perception of who he was. This is where he identified with us completely as the baptized and the anointed Son of God. He was tempted to question his call, the validity of his baptism, his self consciousness as the Son of God, and his anointing. He was tempted to doubt the words of his Father, which he heard when he emerged from the Jordan river. “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness” (Mark 1: 12). After forty days and forty nights being alone in the desert, the first words that he hears is the voice of the devil, “If you are the Son of God!” As we believe that Jesus had fully become like us, then, Jesus might have thought: Are the things that I have believed and heard really true?

Friends, Jesus was in the same desert where you may feel lost today! He knows what it means to hear the voice of God speaking to you as you read the scriptures and listen to the uplifting messages and then as you walk out, you hear about the incurable cancer of your loved ones! You receive a phone call informing you that a senior in your family has succumbed to Covid-19! You hear that your spouse just lost their job! You learn that your savings and investments have been washed away during the pandemic. Your friend has met with an accident, and so on and so forth…

It is in such times that the devil will whisper in your ears, are you really a child of God? Are you really forgiven? What you just read and heard in your worship, were that really God speaking to you? Are you really who God says you are?

From my own struggles, I believe that Jesus completely understands your inner battles and your self doubts. And the most exceptional news that you would ever hear is this: Jesus Christ had overcome his temptation! He came out triumphantly and never showed any sign of letting go of his implicit trust in the affirmations of his heavenly Father. When your mind questions the very basis of your faith, your calling, and your experiences, hold on to and never let go of your faith in your Creator. Trust his boundless love and grace for you. Stay anchored in your relationship with your Creator and you shall come out victoriously from whatever you may be going through right now. Amen!


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Lenten Reflections 2021: Our Gifts and Strengths Make Us Susceptible to Temptations!

@johnvinod   | March 10, 2021

Recently a scandal came to light posthumously, which involved a renowned evangelical leader, respected as a great Christian apologist. Thousands of his fans were shocked that he had succumbed to his sexual and other temptations. He is, however, not the first and will not be the last of Christian “celebrity” leaders who abused their position, power, and gifts for selfish gains. If you have been reading the gospels during this Lenten season, you must have noticed that the first three gospels narrate Jesus Christ’s temptations. But what were these temptations about?

The first temptation according to Matthew is:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

‘One does not live by bread alone,

but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4: 1-3 NRSV).

This is basically devil’s first attempt at provoking Jesus to use his gifts and powers for his own self-gratification. Jesus had not started his ministry yet. He has not called anyone to follow him yet. He has not performed any healing, sign, or miracle yet. But Jesus knew who he essentially was and what it implied. Even Satan knew what powers he possessed as the Son of God. Therefore, he wished that Jesus would utilize his inherent powers and gifts for selfish reasons and parade them for his glory rather than seeking and serving God’s purpose and mission on earth.

Since we are tempted daily in our lives, you may have noticed that most of us are seldom tempted much in the areas where we are the weakest and quite vulnerable to succumb to the temptations. Instead, we are often tempted in the areas of our strengths and where we think we are in control of our gifts, talents, and powers. William Barclay, in his commentary on Matthew’s Gospel, brilliantly put it:

We must always remember that again and again we are tempted through our gifts. The person who is gifted with charm will be tempted to use that charm “to get away with anything.” The person who is gifted with the power of words will be tempted to use his command of words to produce glib excuses to justify his own conduct. The person with a vivid and sensitive imagination will undergo agonies of temptation that a more stolid person will never experience. The person with great gifts of mind will be tempted to use these gifts for himself and not for others, to become the master and not the servant of men. It is the grim fact of temptation that it is just where we are strongest that we must be forever on the watch.
(https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/matthew-4.html)

As we read about mighty men and women fall from grace, we are reminded that Jesus Christ was the mightiest of all. And Jesus bared his innermost struggles with his disciples sharing all that he went through and how he overcame it setting an example for his followers.

Today, let us recall all the areas in which God has gifted us. What are our positions of power? Where are we strong? Which are the spheres where we could exert power or influence over others? And as we recall these, let us also be humble to recognize that we are predisposed to easily give into the temptation of using our gifts, abilities, strengths, talents, positions, and powers, for purposes that are base and utterly selfish. They can easily make us susceptible to utilize them for less than godly purposes. As we take an inventory of our own inclinations, let us ask God for the grace to take preventive measures and actively learn from the example of Jesus Christ. Amen.


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Lenten Reflections 2021: When did Jesus and His Early Followers Encounter the Tempter?

@johnvinod  | March 9, 2021

The Lenten season reminds us that Jesus Christ faced the Tempter in the wilderness. Some wrongly assume that it was only the last day of his forty-day sojourn that the devil came to tempt Jesus. No, he was tempted throughout that period in the desert. And he continued to face temptations even after that forty-day period during his ministry and it culminated only when he cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” Like any one of us, Jesus daily faced hunger and thirst. He must have struggled with various thoughts in his mind and spirit. I think, Jesus may have also been tempted to give up fasting or later his ministry and return to an ordinary life with his family in Nazareth.

The disciples of Jesus Christ who later became the Apostles of the church, along with those who followed Jesus in the early churches, lived in the midst of daily suffering. They all encountered various temptations in everyday life. Unlike the modern Christian sects that preach and teach a false gospel of prosperity, word of faith, name it and claim it, and your best wealthy life now; often the questions on the lips of these early followers were:

“Why is it so difficult to be a follower of Jesus Christ when we have given up so much to be his disciples?”

“Why doesn’t God provide all of our physical needs?”

“Why doesn’t God protect us from plagues, diseases, and famines?

“Why doesn’t God prevent our sufferings and persecution and the execution of some of our fellow believers under the brutal Roman Empire?”

Besides these apparent temptations and sufferings, the early disciples had to deal with their inner battles to remain sexually pure and live a holy life of personal integrity in a society that was fraught with all types of perversion, idolatry, and evil. This is evident from what the Apostle Paul wrote to the early churches:

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do (Galatians 5:17 ESV).

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me (Romans 7: 15-20 ESV).

So, when the followers of Jesus were faced with these visible and invisible battles, I am pretty sure they turned to the Apostles, their writings, and the Gospels that had recorded the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Through them, they discovered that Jesus had himself faced these temptations and challenges. They also learned that Jesus overcame not only these sufferings and impulses, but also the very death and the grave through his resurrection.

When they felt almost defeated and wished to give up, they recalled the events in Jesus’ life. His life worked as a soothing balm of encouragement to Jesus’ followers. To highlight just one example, they realized that as soon as Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and publicly declared the Son of God with whom He was well pleased, he “was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1 ESV).

Like these early followers of Jesus, today, let us overcome one of our main temptations, that is, believing a false gospel, a gospel of our making, or a gospel created by our cultures and traditions. Instead of falsely believing that as soon as you “receive Jesus into your heart” all your problems will vanish, and you will be immensely blessed with health, wealth, and prosperity; let us learn from Jesus and the Apostles. And they would educate us that our external or innermost battles are not over when we commit our life to God and decide to live as He calls us to live. Jesus never called anyone to a life of easy discipleship. To follow Jesus is a life of costly discipleship. Our baptism or even anointing by the Holy Spirit do not guarantee freedom from suffering or persecution, and relief from our daily temptations. However, if we continue to heed Jesus’ call, “Follow Me,” we are promised eventual victory in and through him. Therefore, let us press on!



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Lenten Reflections 2021: Learning to Follow Jesus in Rejecting Rejection

      @johnvinod  | March 8, 2021

We often think that Jesus went through a difficult time and was tempted only during the forty-day sojourn in the wilderness, which we observe as the Lent. However, a closer look at Jesus’ life and ministry reveals that he experienced difficulties, disappointments, sorrows, and sufferings throughout his life. Rejection has been part of his days on earth from the beginning. Remember, he had to spend most of his early childhood in a foreign country as a refugee because his parents fled their home country for fear of their life. He grew up without the love and care of his grandparents or relatives until his family returned to Galilee.

Here are some examples to reflect on today:

  • Jesus’ twelve disciples, who were always with him throughout the three and half years of his ministry, often either misunderstood him and his teachings or did the opposite of what he taught. E.g., in Mark 10, soon after Jesus finished teaching on the importance of love, relationship, and keeping the family together; his disciples prevented little children from coming to Jesus Christ! The Message version translates it: “The disciples shooed them off.” Obviously, this made Jesus “indignant” (ESV) or he “became angry” (CEV), “became furious” ISV, “much displeased” (KJV), “upset” (NCV), “irate” (MSG).
  • Jesus constantly taught for three years about the loving Father and their need for love for everyone. But in the last phase of his ministry and on his way to Jerusalem, a village of Samaria rejected Jesus. Two of his disciples, John and James, suggested immediately burning down this Samaritan village!
  • Jesus always made plain the terms and conditions of following him and did not hide anything until the last moment because he called for a commitment from his closest group of the Twelve. And yet, he suffered the anguish of betrayal, being sold for thirty pieces of silver from Judas, his treasurer!

And I could go on. However, the most important question is: How did Jesus deal with his disappointments, being misunderstood, underestimated, rejection, and even betrayal?

First, Jesus always looked at these incidents and these people from the perspective of his Father Jehovah. Regardless of the way people treated him, he knew who he was. Even if people did not accept, he lived in the reality of being God’s Son. He was absolutely confident in knowing who he was and that he was loved in God’s eyes. His identity was not formed from what others thought or said about him, but it was solidified by the knowledge that he was invaluable in God’s eyes who had sent him on his mission.

Second, this self-identity and worth made him look at people differently. Therefore, others’ rejection or treatment of him did not dictate how Jesus treated them. He refused to behave disgracefully just because people had misjudged or abused him. The key to his approach is that Jesus Christ rejected rejection and moved on with the way he wanted to live and love.

Today, let us dwell in the knowledge that God values each one of us even if others or we ourselves feel of no value. Refuse to let any amount of rejection, suffering, and setbacks define who you are in God’s eyes. Similarly, let us break the repeating vicious cycle of reacting to rejection. Following Jesus, let us learn to reject rejection rather than reacting negatively to those who disdain us.



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Lenten Reflections 2021: What was Jesus Doing in the Wilderness with Wild Animals?

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    @johnvinod   | March 6, 2021

Please begin by reading Mark 1: 1-13. The first three gospels mention the baptism of Jesus and the Spirit leading him into the desert. But what caught my attention is the little detail found only in the gospel of Mark. We are all familiar with the story that Jesus was in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. But Mark, believed to be the first and the most concise gospel, does not provide us with many details of this episode; instead, he adds a tiny, interesting phrase that is peculiar to Mark:

At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him (Mark 1: 12-13).

It is quite common for wild animals to be found in the wilderness of Judea where Jesus is believed to have spent forty days. So, Jesus faced not only a spiritual battle with Satan, but also the physical pain of hunger and thirst as well as the dangerous reality of the wild beasts around him. However, I think, Mark’s intention of including this little detail goes a bit further.

As noticed yesterday, the desert is a place that represents an experience of the Israelites’ wanderings and testing in the wilderness of Sinai. Mark is emphasizing the true desolation and fierceness of the time Jesus spent in the desert by mentioning that he was with the wild animals. However, perhaps Mark is also hinting at the reversal of the scene in Genesis 3. For Mark, Jesus’ wilderness experience, as the second Adam, could also be identified and compared with the experience of the first Adam. While Adam was in a friendly wilderness where the animals around him had not yet become dangerous, yet in this ideal situation Adam yielded to his temptation leading to the fall. In contrast to Adam, Jesus Christ, the second Adam, came to a fallen world and was surrounded by the truly hostile animals. But unlike Adam, Jesus overcame not only his temptations, but also the beasts as he came out victoriously from this wild experience. The submission of the wild animals to Jesus is the hope of the restoration and renewal of God’s creation when the Kingdom of God is fully realized on Earth.

Therefore, since Jesus Christ passed through this struggle in the desert, he is able to sympathize with us and guide us when we go through our wilderness and temptation. Jesus had been with the wild animals, and they did not harm him. Whatever might be your desert experience today, Jesus gently comes along saying, I know how you feel! I have been there. So, he is able to protect us and lead us out of our desert today. Further, Jesus also teaches us through his experience how we should live and act in the face of danger and trials in our everyday life. May we continue learning from him. Amen.



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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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