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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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Lenten Reflections 2021: How to be the Church in a Covid World?

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

By Vinod John @johnvinod | February 22, 2021

Please begin today’s devotion by reading the book of Joel again. I am sure you must be asking why there was a plague of locusts and what purpose did it serve for the people of God in Joel’s time? These are relevant questions to contemplate because of our own situation today, particularly when the worship, liturgy, gatherings, and in-person fellowship of the believers is adversely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Most churches, pastors, and worshippers are struggling. Some are completely denying that we are in the midst of a deadly pandemic even though they cannot deny the apparent disruption of life, death, and devastation it has caused. Some Christians are furious over the restrictions, have grown weary, and some have become so skeptical of their governments, authorities, and even medical professionals/scientists that they are easily falling prey to believing and spreading harmful conspiracy theories.

In Joel’s theology, one of the primary causes of the locust plague was the corruption that has set in the Old Testament Church—their liturgy, worship, and the ministry of Yahweh God in the Temple. The nerve center of Judaism was the Temple and what happened in and around the Temple influenced the life of the Jewish people. Joel preached that it was both the immoral life of believers whom he calls “drunkards” (Joel 1:5) and the corrupt attitude of the priests that was responsible for the plague. The priests become cavalier in their approach to their ministry and the dereliction of their God appointed duties has led to the dilution of the sanctity of life and liturgy at the Temple. Moreover, the drunkenness of the people, participation of farmers in the fertility cults, idol worship, and the lack of purity in sacrifices had not only perverted the worship, but it also led to syncretism and undermining the uniqueness of Yahweh as their only covenant God. Joel says that to grab their attention, God let the plague get so severe that it disrupted the continuous sacrifices and offerings at the Temple to the extent that the very existence of the temple liturgy and priesthood was at stake.

Nevertheless, the message of Joel is not that the Temple worship must be completely abandoned because it was corrupted and threatened by the plague. On the contrary, Joel preached that it must be revamped and transformed by restoring “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12: 14 ESV). And for Joel, this begins with the priests and worshippers alike repenting, becoming humble before the Lord, asking forgiveness from the Lord, forsaking their sinful ways, and renewing their covenant with their only God, Yahweh. For Joel, even though the prophets like himself have condemned the corporate worship and ungodly liturgy of the Temple, their purpose was to ultimately reform it rather than reject it entirely. How can we say this with confidence? Well, if you carefully read Joel, and some other prophets like Hosea and Amos, you would clearly note that their message is of hope rather than doom and destruction. They proclaimed the “Day of the Lord,” and the coming of the Holy Spirit on all flesh and thus God would return, restore, and abide with His people on his holy hill!

Today, the pandemic has afforded the church, the holy bride of Christ, its believers, and ministers alike to sit back, lighten up, and rethink what the church is! Instead of taking part in the protests against governments’ restrictions and policies to keep people healthy and prevent further spread of infections, let us go back to the drawing board. Instead of choosing to suffer from a persecution complex, let us apply this time to read and research:

How and where the early church gathered and worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ in the face of a hostile and brutal Roman Empire?

How large were their gatherings?

How many times and where did they come together?

How did they celebrate their liturgies?

Was there a building or a gathering place that was called and understood as the “church”?

How did they live their lives daily in the public square?

How did they do missions in the marketplace?

As we do this research, I believe the Holy Spirit will give us insights. These insights in turn must lead us all to repent and ask forgiveness for the institutional and religious paraphernalia we have built in and around the holy Bride of Christ, the church. I believe our God has not abandoned the church today as he will never abandon His Bride. He wants to purify His Bride for the cause of His kingdom in this world. Therefore, the answer to improper worship and wrong ecclesiology is not no gathering and no church, rather it is the right and biblical church that God wishes for us to become His community of transformation on this earth until His second coming. Therefore, let us revive, remodel, restore, and refresh ourselves to discover new and innovative ways of being the holy Bride of Christ. Maranatha!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Return to the Lord! What do you mean?

By Vinod John @johnvinod | February 20, 2021

We often hear the phrase “return to the Lord” especially during the Lent season. Unfortunately, it has become one of the phrases of Christianese that many people find meaningless and irrelevant today. Despite it coming across as a cliché, I invite you to read the book of Joel again (all three chapters in one sitting). I would like to share what returning to the Lord meant for Joel and his people in the midst of a locust plague that we have talked about and what it could represent for us amidst the current pandemic.

As we saw in the past two posts, “Return to the Lord” and “Calling all ministers of the Lord to Repentance,” prophet Joel was issuing this call to primarily three categories of people:

  1. The ordinary folks whom he calls “drunkards” (1:5),
  2. The group that suffered the most in terms of losing their crops, i.e., the “farmers” (1:11),
  3. And the clergy that could not sustain the liturgical worship at the temple, i.e., the “priests” or “ministers of the Lord” (1: 13).

Enjoying the prosperity and blessing of Israel, the people had become callous and were enticed into drinking excessively to the extent that prophet Hosea had to declare: “Wine and new wine take away the understanding” (Hosea 4:11 NRSV). Joel thundered:

Wake up, you drunkards, and weep; and wail, all you wine-drinkers,

over the sweet wine, for it is cut off from your mouth (Joel 1: 5 NRSV).

People did not limit their drinking just to the wine as the word “drunkards” does not refer to just ordinary wine drinkers; rather, in its original language, it refers to a strong or intoxicating drink. Drinking strong drinks and debauchery had become so widespread in those days that it constrained the prophet to call them “drunkards” even as he was calling them to return to the Lord. 

Joel calls “farmers” to return to the Lord mainly because they had slipped into practicing fertility cults prevalent around them.

Joel then calls the “priests” to return to the Lord, because they, too, had failed in their ministry of keeping the worship and liturgy holy to the Lord.

However, what does it entail to “return to the Lord?”

First of all, the call to return to the Lord indicates that the covenant is broken through people’s disobedience. It means the people of God have rebelled against Him and his law. For a detailed description of the sacrilegious rebellion, please see the book of Amos and Hosea.

Second, by inviting people to return to the Lord prophet Joel means turning away from their immoral and wayward life and walking back to their covenant God Jehovah! His call is precise. They must unambiguously make their way back to Jehovah, and not just to any god or any religious cult:

Yet even now, says the Lord,
    return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;

rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord, your God,
    for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
    and relents from punishing. (Joel 1:12-13 NRSV)

Third, a genuine return to the Lord must be accompanied by distinguishable signs that everyone may be able to see.  Joel says, some of these signs are: fasting, weeping, and mourning over their sins and disobedience (Joel 2: 12).

Fourth, the result of returning to the Lord is a changed life. And it must be seen in one’s worship and service of God (2:14).

Fifth, a genuine return to the Lord implies abandoning not only our sinful ways, but also forsaking our idols, whatever they may be in either material or ideological form. It means acknowledging the covenant God as the only God to believe, worship, and serve. Joel stresses that the returning devotees must recognize what Jehovah says: “I am your God and there is none else” (2: 27 and 3:17). In fact, for this emphasis, in just three chapters of his book, Joel repeats the phrase “your God” seven times (indicating perfection in the Hebrew Bible)! In the aftermath of a locust plague this was a huge assurance that people needed that God has not abandoned them, despite their rebellion and sins; however, he is still their God if they would return to him in penitence.

Finally, a sincere return to the Lord would result in an unprecedented outpouring of the Spirit of God upon His people (2: 28-29) to declare that God loves the contrite hearts and would dwell in their midst through His Spirit, if they truly repent and return to Him. The gift of the Holy Spirit would be the greatest blessing to people.

In the midst of our current pandemic, I believe God has provided a unique opportunity to us, especially during Lent, to sincerely return to the Lord as Joel proclaimed to the covenant people. And in doing so, may we too receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to abide with us. I hear a great deal about revivals breaking out here and there all the time; however, let us be clear, there is no revival, no renewal, and no pouring out of the Holy Spirit without the genuine return to the Lord. Amen!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: Return to the Lord!

Locust invasion

Rev. Dr. Vinod John @johnvinod | February 18, 2021

I would invite you today to read again the tiny book of Joel in one sitting as it has only three chapters. The message of the book of Joel is never passé. In fact, Joel’s message has relevance for the whole world today more than ever no matter where you live. It is expressly because Joel’s context and ours are quite similar today. In Joel’s time, Israel went through a devastating plague—an invasion of devouring locusts. They had eaten and destroyed everything in their way and turned the green pastures of Israel to desolate. The food supply was almost destroyed, and people were crying out for help.

 “The seed is rotten under their clods, the garners are laid desolate, the barns are broken down; for the corn is withered.
 How do the beasts groan!
 the herds of cattle are perplexed, because they have no pasture; yea, the flocks of sheep are made desolate” (Joel 1: 18 KJV). 

Moreover, the liturgical worship of God in the Temple was also adversely affected to the extent that its daily offerings had almost diminished:

 “The grain offering and the drink offering are cut off from the house of the Lord. The priests mourn, the ministers of the Lord” …
 “Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar.
Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God!
Grain offering and drink offering are withheld from the house of your God” (Joel 1: 9; 13 NRSV) 

We are in the second year of an unprecedented and deadly pandemic since 2020 and there seems to be no end in site, despite the new vaccines that might help prevent Covid-19 infections. The world economies are faltering and will remain unstable in the aftermath of this pandemic. Therefore, I think we need to heed prophet Joel’s timely call to repentance. While prophesying in the context of a dreadful plague of locusts that affected all aspects of their life, including the religious worship, Joel pleads with Israel to return to the Lord. He preaches a message of hope. He reveals the nature and intent of God, that is not to destroy the people of Israel but to save them. If they repented of their disobedience and returned from their evil ways to the living God, Joel promises that God would pity them and restore them. Joel also reveals that in a post repentance and restoration era, God would bring about a new reality, that is, the Spirit of God abiding with them (see, Joel 2: 28-29). We shall ponder on this aspect in the coming days along with Joel’s apocalyptic predictions.

However, today, let us shift our focus from the death, loss, and destruction brought about by the pandemic that we find ourselves in and instead let us focus upon the areas in our lives that need amending. What specific areas in our personal and church life do we need to do penitence? What are the specific areas in which we need to turn back from disobedience to obedience? May the Lord help us locate these areas and let us return to the Lord seeking His grace and forgiveness for our Creator God is merciful and will restore us.

In our churches, what we loved the most—our in-person corporate worship and fellowship—have been curtailed by this evil pandemic. However, let us use this time to reflect upon our church life and its sins, disobedience, and complicity. How has our church been doing in the midst of racism, sexism, bigotry, sectarianism, favoritism, ethnocentricity, preferentialism, xenophobia, discrimination, immorality, dogmatism, celebrity worship, false saviors, and several other areas that this Lent season may reveal to us? Perhaps, you do not see this visibly in your church, but has your church been apathetic to these issues and their presence in and around the church? If so, may we heed the call of Joel who called the Temple priests, too, to repentance:

"Put on sackcloth and lament, you priests; wail, you ministers of the altar.
Come, pass the night in sackcloth, you ministers of my God!" (Joel 1:13 NRSV).
“Let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O Lord, …” (Joel 2: 17 KJV).
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Lenten Reflections 2021: What is Lent and Why I like the Lenten Season?

By Rev. Dr. Vinod John @johnvinod
Ash Wednesday | February 17, 2021

The word “Lent” emerged as an abbreviation of an old English term, “Lencten” meaning lengthening of days and pointing to the onset of the much-awaited springtime or spring season after a long and cold winter in Europe. The Lent or the passion season is one of the most beautiful times of the year. I like it more than the Christmas season for several reasons.

First, though the birth of Jesus Christ was unique in several ways; however, his birth and the three decades that Jesus spent after his birth living almost in anonymity in Galilee of Israel would not have mattered much if he had not launched into the divine ministry for which he came.

Second, I like the Lenten season better than Christmas because Lent is yet uncommercialized and has not yet lost its spiritual meaning like Christmas.

Third, Lent has not become as popular as the Christmas season and only the spiritually inclined followers of Christ still show some interest in the disciplines associated with the Lenten Season such as prayer, fasting, sacrifice, and giving up certain things we love most to gain something higher and deeper.

Fourth, Lenten season commemorates literally the forty days of Jesus’ experiences and struggles in the wilderness, unlike Christmas and its traditions, which hardly have anything to do with the reality of what truly happened at the birth of Jesus Christ. In fact, no one knows exactly when Jesus was born…certainly not on December 25th!

Fifth, I admire how the Lenten season is about looking within and deeper into ourselves and it is an opportunity for us to learn and draw from the deep spirituality of Jesus Christ rather than looking outside at the pompous celebrations, opulent festivities, and show-off of what money and power can buy during the Christmas season.

Sixth, I like how the Lenten season begins and how it concludes. It is the Lent—the forty days of physical and spiritual solitude in the wilderness—that ushered Jesus Christ into this divine calling and ministry. This sacred season in the church tradition today culminates in a requisite reminder of the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, especially in the context we find ourselves in since 2020.

Seventh, I also love the Lenten season, because it follows an ancient tradition of the early Christianity in which the followers of Jesus were prepared and discipled before they were baptized on Easter Sunday. This Lenten season, therefore, is another opportunity for us to examine our lives and ask ourselves if it is really the biblical Jesus Christ we are following or the Jesus of own making as per our own culture or religion.

Eighth, and lastly, I appreciate the Lenten Season because it affords us the unique opportunity to take our eyes off everything else and focus on Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. This is particularly true in the current pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus which has claimed millions of lives around the world, crippling economies of all nations, siphoning off lives of most people and churches and leaving many of us literally and figuratively gasping for a fresh breath of hope. The lent/springtime is a time of hope. And what better hope can we think of than the fact of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ in time of death and destruction that we see around us today? What better hope than the hope of a bodily resurrection of our loved ones who we have lost in the past year or so? What better hope can there be than this that we, too, shall be resurrected to eternal life even if we departed from this earth during this pandemic in 2021?

Therefore, I invite you to journey with me in this current season of Lent 2021 with much expectation, “looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12: 2 NRSV). And as we focus on Him this Ash Wednesday, February 17th, the first day of the Lenten season of 2021, let us sincerely heed to the earnest plea of prophet Joel in the Old Testament and let us return to the Lord!

“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart,

with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.”

Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster” (Joel 2: 12-13 ESV).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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