Lenten Devotions 2015: The Passion of Jesus Christ

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Image courtesy: Steve Conger on flicker.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mission in the Midst of Madness (Part 3)

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Christian mission, which took birth in the violence inflicted upon Jesus Christ and his subsequent resurrection, has always had violence hover over it as Christians tried to obey the Great Commission of their Lord Jesus Christ. That is why I have often said that Christians should not be surprised by the violence we see around us. Mission cannot remain unscathed from the prevalent violence in the context of which mission is practiced. Nevertheless, violence also should not deter us from carrying out the mission God has called us to. As the gospel and well-established human assumptions and reflexes interact with each other it is bound to produce some sort of violence. That is why Jesus has given his Kingdom ethics to deal with the context of violence in which mission is practiced. Nothing summarized it more than the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

Particularly in the current context of violence and counter-violence, hate, domination, terrorism, and counter-terrorism, it has become imperative for the church on God’s mission to return to the ethics taught in the Sermon on the Mount. And to reflect upon it afresh and to confess that our failure to live according to the superlative demands of this ethics does not really absolve us from living the kingdom life here and now. The church does not have the liberty to exclude either violence or kingdom ethics from its missiological agenda even though it has tried to do so in the past. God’s mission has never been concerned with just the personal, spiritual, inner conversion of people’s lives; therefore, the church’s mission cannot be confined to only the spiritual conversion of human being and making their relationship right with God. So, the mission cannot stay apolitical because Jesus Christ and his sermon on the mount were certainly not apolitical because they challenged traditional structures and assumptions of every society. Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount challenge us to practice Christian mission beyond just “saving souls.” Our mission in today’s context must be political in the sense of peacekeeping, peace-making, working toward reconciliation and justice, dissuading people from seeking vengeance, and above all loving our enemy as Jesus exemplified in his life, deeds, and ultimately in his death upon the cross. Without this last act, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount would have remained just a hollow sermon without any practical meaning for us. But we know that the Sermon on the Mount, in the words of Lapide P., “gets its true binding force only through the exemplary life, sufferings, and death of the Nazarene who sealed its validity with his own blood” (Sermon on the Mount: Utopia or Program for Action?, 1986: 141). May the Lord give us the grace and strength to take part in the mission that he began in his earthly life. Amen.

Mission in the Midst of Madness (Part 2)

Mission in the Midst of Madness (Part 2)

In my last post I pointed out that violence should not surprise us, as it does not surprise God who is familiar with it from the beginning. Today, I would like to share that Christian missions, too, was born in dreadful violence and calls us to diligently engage in God’s mission.

In the last days of his earthly ministry, Jesus was pursued by men who wanted to see him dead. At Passover, in his last journey to the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus was so enraged by what he saw there that he got violent as he cleansed the temple. The spiritual and physical degradation of the people of God was at display in all its brazenness in the temple—“a house of prayer for all the nations”—turned into “a den of robbers” (Mark 11: 17). While Jesus’ startling behavior infuriated the religious leaders of the day, the common people responded by flocking to him. In Jesus, they saw a prophet who would restore the temple as “a house of prayer for all the nations” (Mark 11: 17-18). Jesus’ aggressive actions, however, also forced the Jewish leaders to act on their violent intentions against him that finally led to his execution at Calvary.

Jesus Christ suffered one of the most gruesome last hours on his journey to the cross at Calvary. Mel Gibson’s famous Hollywood film, The Passion of the Christ (2004), helps us understand some of that torture inflicted on Jesus and yet we will never fully fathom what a vicious death Jesus died for us.

It is in this violence, suffering, and his death on the cross, that Christian mission was born. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we do not have any good news to share and no reason to call humanity to be restored and reconciled to God and to fellow human beings. Without the death of Jesus on the cross, there is no hope for the chaotic world. And this, I submit, is the greatest paradox of Christian mission: that God, in his sovereignty, would let Calvary become the fountain of our salvation, restoration, reconciliation, and eternal peace! Yes, I know, it is incomprehensible. Nevertheless, it is the Lord’s doing and it’s marvelous in our eyes.

Therefore, in the context of violence today, the followers of Jesus Christ who are also called to be witnesses of his death and resurrection, must take courage and strength from this paradox. We, who are his witnesses, should not be surprised by the violence and also should not shy away from sharing the good news. Let the violence around us not deter or overwhelm us from sharing and persuading people into restoration, salvation, and reconciliation. Let us persistently look unto God, the author and finisher of our salvation, and trust him to turn the violence and suffering into something beautiful for his Kingdom, because only God alone can do it. So, while it is easy to sing “I’ll cling to the old rugged cross” sitting in our comfortable pews of cathedrals, but very difficult to take the message of the cross to a violent and hurting world outside. However, the Great Commission of the One who died on the cross is not to sit and sing alone but to “go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation” (Mark 16: 15).