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Christmas not so Merry and Bright?: God in Christ Comes to Us in our Messiness

Herault, Charles-Antoine|Coypel, Noel; A Landscape with the Flight into Egypt; National Trust, Tatton Park;

If your Christmas is not merry and bright, if it’s blue instead of red, or if it’s lonely instead of a joyful family; just know that it’s absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong with you or with your Christmas.

The birth of Jesus Christ had nothing to do with such things in the world that He was born and lived in. Instead, the Scriptures show us it was stark and bleak, though not without a ray of hope. Even after the birth, Jesus and his folks had to deal with constant dangers and foreboding, as a refugee family on the run, crossing risky borders while authorities demanded papers and they had none to show.

The Bible talks about a Jesus who comes into the world of violence, fear, misery, poverty, colonization, and injustice. It is in this world that He came naked, homeless, and as one for whom there was no room in anyone’s house or heart. Jesus’ early life was lived as a vulnerable refugee in Egypt at the mercy of strangers who took his family in and provided for them during their sojourn there. Therefore, Jesus Christ can come to you today in your own vulnerabilities and needs and in your lonely space of a godforsaken mess. It was made possible not because of the manger or the cradle but through His cross. May we run to the Cross and find forgiveness, love, mercy, and comfort in whatever situation you find yourself in this Christmas in 2022 on in the new year.


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Biblical Illiteracy, Christian Nationalism, and “Donald J. Trump, the Son of Man—The Christ”

In my past thirty years or so of studying and working with Asian, African, and Western theologies and theologians, I have often noticed one thread. Whenever we discuss theologies from the so-called “third world” or “developing” nations, I have often felt many of my western friends quickly want to warn us non-westerners about the lurking dangers of syncretism and potential heresies in the theologization emerging in the majority world. They also raise questions about the lack of discipleship or the shallowness of the faith of new believers who have come to the Kingdom of God as a result of some incredible Christward movements witnessed among various people groups. However, as is often the case, we get our blinders on when looking at our culture, Christianity, and the status of discipleship.

Here’s an example of how blinders often work. Christian nationalism, which is a misnomer in itself, has led many in the west and particularly in the USA to believe that a politician is not only a savior from their political, social, and economic mess, but also a God-sent religious savior, an avatar or an incarnation of God! You may brush it aside as a fringe element and go your way, satisfied that your Christian country can never engage in such a heretical thought. However, you will do so at your own peril. At a time when, a scientific survey by the Pew Research Center predicts a continuous decline, one cannot ignore why the faith is evaporating in the west:

“If recent trends in religious switching continue, Christians could make up less than half of the U.S. population within a few decades…U.S. ‘nones’ will approach majority by 2070 if recent switching tends continue,”

A book has recently been published, crystallizing this belief in a politician as the religious savior that people have been looking for, that is replete with biblical citations to justify their wild theological claims. The title is: President Donald J. Trump, The Son of Man—The Christ. Yes, you read that right, and no, the author claims it is not a satire!

Donald J. Trump Son of Man the Christ
Donald J. Trump Son of Man the Christ

Of course, you do not have to be a theologian to recognize it as a heresy, as no educated Christian who has been discipled well would agree with the statements of its author of South African origin, Helgard Müller, that the “son of man” in the Bible is now incarnated in Donald J. Trump. The author, who is basically trying to make a quick buck, argues that there are two Christs – the son of man and the son of God, with Jesus being the son of God who was betrayed by Judas and Trump being the son of man who was betrayed by Mike Pence. Müller will indeed make more than a quick buck (even the kindle version is US $19!) as he knows it too well that millions of Christians who are biblical illiterates would buy anything that glorifies their political hero and justifies it with “biblical prophesies,” which cannot be located in the Bible if one takes the trouble of opening and reading it. That is why Müller has been going to all the rallies of Trump with his trailer and signs, enthusiastically marketing this book and personally handing out or mailing free copies to social influencers such as Candace Owens (see Muller’s Facebook page).

Candace Owens

Maybe the publication of such books will help us see our own cultural and theological blinders and take our responsibility for discipleship more seriously than we have done in the past.

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Epiphany: the journey of a lifetime!

Epiphany: the journey of a lifetime

Epiphany is the manifestation or revealing of Christ celebrated in the Church tradition to commemorate the arrival of Magi from the East to pay their homage to Jesus and to offer their gifts made of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. However, this manifestation or epiphany of the Messiah would not have been possible without the arduous journey and trouble that these Magi undertook to seek and find the Messiah. Therefore, to me, the Epiphany is a reminder of the journey that you and I are on.

We must embark upon this journey by ourselves. There can be no proxy journeys! We cannot find the God Incarnate through someone else’s journey. We may have stories of others seeking and finding God and we must certainly learn from their experiences. However, one must decide to commence their own journey toward God. And God has offered in the past and continues to offer specific firsthand experience to those who seek Him. God promised through the Prophet Jeremiah:

Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart….

Jeremiah 29: 12-13 NRSV

In the New Testament, too, the writer of the Epistle of James encouraged us saying,

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James 4: 7-8 NRSV

Second, this journeying toward God is a lifelong quest. And there will be time on this journey of drawing near to God where we will find ourselves in troubles and even dangers just like the original Magi who ventured out on a long journey full of challenges including the threat from the political leaders of the time. However, they journeyed on until they found the Messiah. And they were willing to disobey king Herod to flee from Israel through a different and uncertain route. So, despite our challenges, notwithstanding where in our journey we may be, let us resolve along with the Apostle Paul, who after several decades of being on several strenuous missionary journeys, said:

Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.

Philippians 3: 12 NRSV

Lastly, in our journey toward the Almighty Creator God, the giver of Life, we will encounter all sorts of people who are at different stations of this journey. Since you have come so far or you have achieved great milestones, that others are still striving for, that should make you kind toward others. Let us resolve to offer help to those who you find tired on this journey. There may even be some who are bogged down with the unnecessary baggage they are carrying on this journey toward God. It could be the baggage of their culture, traditions, family background or upbringings. Let us resolve to be a source of encouragement to these fellow travelers on the road to seeking God, especially to those are exhausted for several reasons and want to give up the journey altogether. There may be people who are in the process of deconstructing their faith on this journey. You and I may not fully understand them and their quest, but we can decide to be empathizing and encouraging them and come alongside with them. Let us be people who root for them and encourage them to press on toward God.

Happy Journeying toward the Source of all Life!


Lenten Reflections 2021: The Purpose of the Cross and Good Works

Image by Rodnae productions at Pexels

@johnvinod | April 3, 2021

Today’s reading is from Titus 2: 11-15. On this holy or silent Saturday, as we somberly reflect on the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, I am constrained to suggest its implications for us today. This passage is from the Apostle Paul’s brief pastoral letter to young Titus. This young pastor was faced with several challenges in his walk with Christ as well as in his ministry. He met opposition from within and from the outside. The Apostle Paul’s encouragement and instructions to Titus are drawn from the death of Jesus Christ. He instructs us how to live as the followers of Christ today.

Paul writes,

“while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2: 13-14).

Paul unmistakably paints a picture of the purpose of the death of Christ on the cross. Through Jesus’ death, he has not only redeemed us from all our sins, but also purified/sanctified us for himself as a holy people. However, I want us to focus today only on the concluding part of the sentence. What is the purpose of God in achieving this through the death on the cross? The purpose is to make us passionate for good deeds or works!

Yes, the grace saves us, but we are also saved for good works, as Paul said in Ephesian 2: 8-10. We, who claim to know God, understand him from what he has done for us. Through what Jesus did on the cross, he demonstrated his zeal for the Father’s honor and mission on earth.

In the same manner, the cross should inspire us to work in such a way that God would be known to those around us by what we do and not just by what we believe or preach. The purpose of God in saving us through the cross of Christ is not to rush through this life for that “pie in the sky” when we die. Rather, his purpose is to make us workers for his Kingdom. That is why when Jesus called his disciples, he made it clear to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4: 19). The cross must not only provoke the zeal, but may it also inspire us to do good, even though death confront us in the path of doing good works for the Master!

In our contemporary culture of comfort, ease, and outsourcing everything to others, there is little fruit in the vineyard of God in many places. We frequently meet spent ministers and barren churches. The need of the hour is to recognize that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross to make us comfortable in the lofty theology of our individualistic redemption and the holier-than-thou denominationalized purity. Instead, let us refocus our gaze upon the cross to make us fervent for the good works of his Kingdom. Being complacent or becoming “at ease in Zion” or to “feel secure on the mountain of Samaria” (Amos 6:1), are unbecoming of the cross of Christ. Therefore, while you and I still enjoy peace, health, and wealth, let the cross motivate us to go and work with zeal in his vineyard. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What Can an Unnamed Soldier Teach Us?

Photo by Slices of Light on Flickr

@johnvinod | April 2, 2021

Let us read Matthew 27: 45-54. In the account of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, there are so many people, aspects, and incidents in a matter of just a few hours. One could spend a lifetime studying these particulars, meditating, and learning from them. However, for me, one remarkable character who stands out on the Calvary hill is the unnamed Roman centurion. Why so? It is due to his confessional statement, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Matthew 27: 54 NRSV), or “Truly this was the Son of God!” (ESV). This extraordinary confession comes under circumstances like no other.

A Roman centurion was in command of about one hundred soldiers. He must have been an experienced soldier, a responsible man with authority, who was well trained and well paid. He appears to be the supervisor of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ along with two other small-time criminals, making sure the job was done right and on time.

Therefore, let us consider how the Roman centurion confessed faith in Jesus Christ. Most of the disciples had abandoned Jesus. They went into hiding for fear of the Romans and the Jewish religious authorities. It was only after the resurrection of Jesus Christ that they begin to gradually come out in the open and trusted his claims. The resurrected messiah appeared to the disciples in his glorious body, defying gravity and the laws of nature, making it easier to put faith and follow him. But the centurion confessed before the resurrection.

The centurion keenly studied everything about Jesus since morning. He must have wondered about everything Jesus said and did; and also, all that he did not say or do even when provoked. He must have witnessed many people die, but none died like Jesus. He must have pondered who was this man on the cross. He must have wondered if the forgiveness Jesus offered before he breathed his last was still available to him, for the centurion truly did not know what he was doing that day. Finally, “when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way [Jesus] breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15: 39 ESV).

Let us consider the scenario:

When on a small hill, where no one ever wanted to be, he noticed a frail man, almost naked, completely bruised and forgiving others, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When everyone laughed shaking their head reading the plaque with an indictment placed above the head of Jesus’ cross, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When Jesus died on the cross, as a helpless man rejected and condemned by everyone, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When Jesus truly was a picture-perfect representation of a prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah; knowing not of this prophecy, the centurion confessed his divinity.

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him,

    and no beauty that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men,

    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;

and as one from whom men hide their faces

    he was despised, and we esteemed him not (Isaiah 53: 2b -3 ESV).

When Jesus Christ had just breathed his last, right in front of the centurion, with a prayer on his parched lips, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When almost naked, listless body of Jesus was dangling from the cross, a symbol of shame and curse, the centurion confessed his divinity.

When he saw the midday sky turn dark, and witnessed his world enveloped in thickening gloom, the centurion confessed Jesus’ divinity.  

When he did not know any claims about his resurrection, the centurion confessed Jesus’ divinity.

When the resurrection had not yet occurred, the centurion confessed Jesus’ divinity.

In the contemporary culture, where people like and follow the rising stars, popular preachers, celebrity pastors, published authors, tenured professors, narcissistic politicians, and suchlike; Jesus Christ counters it all by his barbaric death on the cross. However, the centurion advises us today to examine our motives, faith, confessions, creeds, and the spiritual inclinations. May we stand in rapt silence contemplating the mystery of the death of Jesus Christ, as the centurion did over 2000 years ago. And may we, too, follow the humble, humiliated, suffering, crucified Son of God; even when it goes against the trends of our culture. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Your Gethsemane Does Not Define You

Image ny JuiMagicman from Pixabay

@johnvinod | April 1, 2021

Our reading today is Mark 14: 32-42. After spending a significant time with his disciples, eating the Passover meal, teaching, and demonstrating by his actions what it means to follow him, Jesus leaves for the Mount of Olives. He leaves the familiarity, comfort, and warmth of the upper room behind him and walks into the specters of a dark, uncertain, fateful night where he will fight his last battle in Gethsemane. In doing so he once again symbolized what he had done initially: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2: 6-8).

Jesus wrestled alone in Gethsemane. These are some of the words the gospels writers use attempting to describe Jesus’ inner struggle that night:

“distressed and agitated”

“grieved and agitated”

“greatly distressed and troubled”

“deeply distressed and horrified”

“sore amazed, and to be very heavy”

“deeply grieved, even to death”

“very sorrowful, even to death”

“overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”

“exceedingly sorrowful, even to death”

These terms do not even begin to express what Jesus endured that night, as he was filled with distress and horror and felt very heavy with the burden that he had to carry all alone. There is actually more involved here than we would ever come to know, because of the limitations of our language in expressing the experience of our Saviour.

Jesus got up several times from the cold, grassy ground and looked for his disciples to share his agony. However, when he much needed their companionship, comfort, and prayers, the disciples were found sleeping. So, he went back again to wrestling alone with his “Abba Father” (Mark 14: 36) being anguished from what was to unfold in the next few hours. Receiving no answer from God for his request, Jesus prayed saying, “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14: 36). In this, Jesus taught us the difference between a request and a prayer. Being fully human, Jesus’ request was: “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me.” But his prayer was: “Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14: 36 ESV).

Do you recall a time when you thought you were going to fail a test or succumb to a temptation? Are you in a situation where you think you are shrinking from your faith and wish to give up everything and walk away from God? Well, you are not alone. Jesus endured what you may be facing now and more. Jesus Christ was never more human than in Gethsemane. However, that was not the end of his story.

Your current experience does not mean you are too weak to overcome. Your temptations and even your failures do not mean there is anything wrong with you. Your Gethsemane does not define you as it did not define our Lord Jesus Christ. Keep walking in the faith, following, trusting, and surrendering to his will. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Tears of the Weeping Prophet

Jésus pleura by James Tissot, courtesy

@johnvinod | March 31, 2021

Please begin today by reading Luke 19: 41-44. During the last days of Jesus, also known as the passion week, he stayed a stone’s throw from the city of Jerusalem. It is believed that the family of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha hosted him in their home in Bethany. From there, it appears that Jesus walked to the temple almost every day to teach to whoever would care to listen. On one such trips, as Jesus approaches a ledge on a rocky road, he is greeted by a magnificent panoramic view of the city of Jerusalem situated on the mount Zion. What happens next is one of the most poignant moments in Jesus’ life during the passion week. Only Luke recorded it for us writing without comments, “As [Jesus] came near and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19: 41 NRSV).

Luke uses a strong word, which is more than just shedding tears, as the term often conveys inconsolable sobbing. It could also be translated “he mourned over it,” which could mean weeping with a loud voice or bursting into tears. We are not told how long Jesus wept or how hard he mourned. But let us pause for a few moments and let this sink in… Jesus Christ, the Creator, the Messiah, the Lord, and the Savior, sobbing, lamenting, over his own city/nation. A young man, surrounded by a band of twelve adult men, weeping with a loud voice.

This is particularly sobering to read in the context of the raising of Lazarus from the dead and the crowds shouting hosanna and hallelujahs on the day he rode into Jerusalem. Because of raising Lazarus from the dead, many Jews now believed in him (John 11:45; 12: 11). And he was receiving much praise, adoration, name and fame, more than ever before. Nevertheless, this did not matter much to Jesus, as he knew the same crowds would soon be screaming “crucify him”! Therefore, instead of celebrating, Jesus inconsolably wept…. He was weeping over his people and his nation.

In the tears of Jesus was distilled an eternity of God’s grief over his people whom he had chosen, provided, and protected, but who rejected him when he came to them. If you and I were to travel the same road today, I am pretty sure we would weep, too. Because watching from the same ledge today, you would look, but you will not find the temple anymore! In its place, there is a shrine called the Dome of the Rock located on the temple mount.

As a prophet, Jesus foresaw their future and he wept. Then he went on predicting what would happen to the temple mount in the coming days:

“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19: 42-44 NRSV).

Jesus’ prophecy came to fulfillment in 70 AD when a Roman general, Titus, laid siege to Jerusalem during the Passover Festival. His armies devastated the city, killing at least a million Jews and enslaving others.

Jesus wept over a friend’s death, but he was able to raise Lazarus from the dead by calling him out from his grave.

Jesus also wept over his nation’s spiritual death, but he was unable to revive it, because they would not obey when he called them out of their slumber.

Today, how about you and me? How about our churches? Would we heed his words and his tears? Today, what is he calling us from? What is Jesus calling us to do? Let us pray that we would listen and obey. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: WWJD Do to the Religious Flea Market?

Giovanni Antonio Fumiani: The Cleansing of the Temple detail from Wikimedia commons

 @johnvinod | March 30, 2021

Today’s reading is Mark 11: 15-19. When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, it was the Passover Festival. The city was bustling with people from all over Israel, along with visitors from other nations.

In preparation for the Passover, every household was busy thoroughly and religiously cleaning their dwellings. The remembrance and celebration of the Passover were a serious business for the Jews. It was an opportunity not only to thank God for the liberation from Egyptian slavery, but also for passing on their religion to the next generation (Exodus 13). Therefore, they ceremonially searched every nook and even the tiniest bit of yeast, or food containing yeast, was wiped out of the house.

However, the only house that was overlooked year after year was the House of God. They had only one temple where sacrifices were accepted. Over the years, the temple and its sacrificial system became a symbol of a religion gone bad. It became a seat of corruption, exploitation, and commercialization of all sorts.  

When Jesus entered the temple, he was greeted by the clinking of metal coins, flapping of a bird’s wings, bleating of lambs, the stench of the animal dung and bird droppings, along with the irritating noise of negotiations. However, what made him really furious, to the extent that he made a whip and drove out the sellers and exchangers from the temple? It was the fact that it was all being carried out in the court of the Gentiles.

By design, the temple welcomed and provided a spacious court for the people of all nations to come and pray there. This court was now filled with stalls, tents, animals, and sellers engaged in a profitable commerce. This outraged Jesus as he recalled the prayer of king Solomon, offered at the dedication of this Temple:

“Likewise when foreigners, who are not of your people Israel, come from a distant land because of your great name, and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray toward this house, 33 may you hear from heaven your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built” (2 Chronicles 6:32-33 NRSV).

He also remembered prophet Isaiah’s powerful words:

“…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered” (Isaiah 56: 7b-8 NRSV).

With all that Jesus witnessed in the Gentile’s court, there was hardly any room left for the foreigners to assemble. The commercialization was hindering the nations from seeking God and praying to him. Jesus knew that those who pushed prayer out of the temple, turning it instead into a religious flea market, must be driven out! Jesus finally cleansed the house of God, which the people of God had neglected for long.

May the cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem lead us to look into our own churches. The institutionalization of a spiritual movement that Jesus started has been turned into a full-fledged profitable, professional, commercial enterprise. We are proud of running our churches like companies where prayers and missions…reaching out to the foreigners, the refugees, the vulnerable people, and those seeking God has been pushed out. We have become so inward looking and businesslike that the original mission of the church has been all but forgotten. Would we allow the Lord Jesus Christ to thoroughly search and clean us, and our businesses,…err…churches today?

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Lenten Reflections 2021: What Did Jesus Riding a Donkey Symbolize?

Image from Wikimedia

     @johnvinod | March 29, 2021

Today’s readings are Matthew 21: 1-11 and Zechariah 9: 9-11. All gospel writers refer to Jesus Christ’s final entry into Jerusalem during the passion week. They include a reference to a donkey, the animal selected for riding into Jerusalem. Matthew directly quotes the prophet Zechariah 9:9, who uses three different words for the animal. These words are difficult to render into languages such as English. I find that the new Jewish Publication Society (JPS) Tanakh translation renders it much better than others:

Rejoice greatly, Fair Zion; Raise a shout, Fair Jerusalem! Lo, your king is coming to you. He is victorious, triumphant, Yet humble, riding on an ass, On a donkey foaled by a she-ass (Zechariah 9: 9 NJPS).

The reason Zechariah used different words for a donkey is to distinguish the animal from other species. The prophets of Israel used symbols and symbolic language to convey their message to a mostly oral culture. The original readers of the prophecy would have understood the distinction Zechariah was at pains to convey with his choice of words. The Messiah will come riding an ass, not just an ass, but a donkey, which is foaled or birthed by a she-ass, that is, a purebred jackass. Thus, ruling out a horse, a mule, or a mixed breed.

For this reason, Jesus Christ deliberately rode a donkey, not just any donkey, but a purebred jackass as opposed to a royal horse or a mule used by the kings and princes for wars and conquests. As in the very next verse, Zechariah clearly associated horses with chariots and wars:

I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem;

and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations;

his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Zechariah 9: 10 ESV).

Therefore, Jesus Christ wished to signify once and for all that even though he is indeed the messiah and the king, he does not come as the conquering, colonizing, military ruler subduing everything and everyone under his power. The battles, wars, and conquests do not belong to his mission. People of his time expected such a messiah, especially as they suffered under the Roman Empire. Our history is replete with the examples of how Christian churches and missions misunderstood Jesus as the conquering messiah when they went about colonizing and civilizing places and people around the world. That is why in most cases; the cross followed the colonial flag. Alas! All in the name of Jesus Christ!

Our readings today remind us what Jesus Christ had already stated in no uncertain terms that he comes as the humble One. He comes riding a purebred jackass, representing humility and peace. And he comes with Shalom for all rather than the conquest of peoples and places! The Hebrew word shalom is not just peace or the absence of conflict and war. Rather, it means a holistic life full of freedom, health, peace, prosperity, and the presence of God for all who would follow him. May we follow this Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Purpose of the Disciples

Image by jamie-street at pexels.

@johnvinod | March 27, 2021

Please read again Mark 3: 13-18. Jesus Christ calls, selects, and then appoints or commissions the twelve Apostles. However, what was Jesus’ purpose in this act? What was the mandate or what were they to do as the Apostles? Mark gives us a clear statement not found in other gospels:

And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons (Mark 3: 14-15).

The mandate of those who were called and chosen was three-fold:

  • To be with him,
  • To be sent out to proclaim the message,
  • And to have authority over demons.

Notice the order here because it is crucial. The first and foremost purpose of the calling and commission of his disciples is to be with Jesus Christ, the Master. Everything else is secondary and flows from this primary objective to always remain in the company of their guru. They were to be united with Jesus in such a way that they might draw the power and authority of his Kingdom that they were to announce later. They were to spend the rest of their lives in close communion with him. It was so critical for Jesus and for the mission of the disciples, that Jesus repeatedly said to them when he was about to physically depart from them:

Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love (John 15: 4-9).

Second, the disciples were to be prepared so that Jesus might send them out to proclaim or preach the message. This called for using both their words as well as actions. The message was not theirs; it was the good news of Jesus that needed to be clearly communicated to others.

Third, the disciples were to “have authority to cast out demons.” By virtue of their being with Jesus, they were to draw from his authority with which he did signs and wonders. To walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to do what he has been doing would entail power and authority. He had exclusive authority, and now he passes on the same to his disciples to deliver people from whatever tormented them.

In a culture that persuades us to do more; those of us who consider ourselves as Jesus’ chosen disciples and particularly those in any kind of ministry of the Kingdom, must pause during this Lenten season. Take a break to withdraw, sit back, and reflect. Are we called to do or to be? What does it entail to focus primarily on being rather than doing? Have we made ourselves so enthralled in the business of busyness that we have no time to do the primary thing Jesus demands—to be with him? Are we prepared to be sent out for the purpose he has called us? Are we able to draw power and authority from being in his constant company, or are we running dry in our own strength? May the Holy Spirit help us reflect and answer these questions honestly. Amen.

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