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Lenten Reflections 2021: Do You Have the Resources to Win?

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@johnvinod | March 16, 2021

Jesus Christ thwarted all attempts of the devil in the wilderness with a robust twofold strategy: 1. Quoting the Scriptures, and 2. Prayers. Jesus said: “It is written” and repeated it in all three of his responses to Satan’s tests in Matthew 4: 1-11

4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
    and him only shall you serve.’”

From the life of Jesus, we learn that to be tempted is not a sin. Jesus was tempted and yet he remained without sin. If Jesus had committed any sin, he could not be our savior. Thus, to live and become like Jesus, we should also adopt his strategy to overcome our temptations.

First, the retort of Jesus, “it is written,” spontaneously sprang up from a deep spirituality developed spending time in the scriptures for the past thirty years of his life. Even when Satan himself employed the same phrase in Matthew 4: 5 by quoting him the Scriptures, Jesus immediately seemed to have said, well, what you are quoting to me must be explained in light of another passage, for it is written….” (Matthew 4: 7). Thus, Jesus set an example for us to read ALL Scripture and be so immersed in the whole counsel of the Word that we will be quick to recognize when someone misquotes it or uses it out of context for their selfish purposes.

Often what fills our minds and thoughts shapes us, our speech, and our response when we are tempted. What occupies your mind these days? What spontaneously comes out when we have an opportunity to respond to the temptations and tests this world constantly presents us? The response, “it is written,” must become a continual application in our lives as we face our wilderness.

Second, before and during the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus had spent most of his time in prayer. He was constantly in communion with his father, even though at times it appeared that God was not present with him. Therefore, soon after he had called his disciples, Jesus instructed them to pray, “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13). So, we are not isolated in our daily battles with the temptations. Through Jesus’ example, we have two remarkable resources—the Word and the prayers. During this Lenten season, let us develop a habit of using these for bolstering our defenses and for winning battles in our own wilderness.


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Lenten Reflections 2021: Do You Want Your Best Life Now?

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   @johnvinod | March 13, 2021

The third temptation of Jesus recorded in the three gospels is quite subtly deceptive. Let us see it according to Matthew:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. And he said to him, “I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me.”

Then Jesus told him, “Go away, Satan! For it is written: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him” (Matthew 4: 8-10 CSB).

It appears that the entire world with its diversity, rich cultures, wealth, and splendor were flashed before Jesus’ eyes in a panoramic view or vision. All the absolute best that you can imagine from all cultures, peoples, philosophies, throughout the history, …all of this and more was offered to Jesus with this suggestion: “I will give you all these things if you will fall down and worship me.”

You would think that Satan offered it to Jesus for self-aggrandizement. No, he had already done that and miserably failed twice. Therefore, he attempts his final yet very subtle suggestion: Jesus, you know you have a ministry ahead of you. You want to be the Savior of the world. Great! But no one knows you yet. You have no followers and no disciples. Even your own family does not believe who you claim to be. You have so many needs for your forthcoming ministry as your mission encompasses the universe, but you have no resources. The vicious resentment, suffering, and persecution await you in the days to come. If you really want to accomplish all of this and usher in your Kingdom, here is your key: Just worship me, and you will have everything you have come to accomplish on earth. Just make this little compromise and you will be set for “Your Best Life Now”!

The offer is very appealing as it provides an easy short cut to the incredible name, fame, wealth, and absolute power. Also, it is effortless: fall and worship me and receive everything possible as a reward for whatever you want to be and wish to accomplish in your life. A little compromise is incredibly rewarding. And it will ultimately provide the means to accomplish the mission of Jesus.

Nevertheless, Jesus immediately found it so repulsive that he rebuked Satan and ordered him to “Go away!” He was able to see through its subtlety that Satan is asking him to do ministry and missions as per the world’s expectations of a Savior. A Messiah who works for the name, fame, and is accepted by everyone without challenging their traditions, cultures, religions, and assumptions.

Not only that day, but Jesus faced such temptations throughout his ministry. He was desired as the king that the Jewish people wished he would be. And every time Jesus walked away from them. Instead, he continued to expose their hypocrisy and denounce their moral bankruptcy. He continued to invite people to his Kingdom on his own terms. He literally ran away from popularity. He refused to be crowned without the cross. He went on to build his Kingdom of truth and righteousness with his suffering, toils, and even death on the cross. He resigned all power and superiority of all sorts and went on to win people’s hearts rather than their land, cities, or cultures! And that is how Jesus Christ wrests the Kingdom from Satan’s hand, although it was already his, but Satan had falsely presumed as his own.

Today, we have similar temptations as Jesus did. Many of us want, on the pretext of doing his ministry and missions, what Satan offers us…popularity and having all resources for our missions and no pain or suffering. If we face these challenges and temptations today that have the potential of driving us away from Jesus’ Kingdom and its values, may we press the pause button now. The missions/ministry can wait! But we must withdraw, evaluate our motives, and recommit to follow the example of Jesus. Amen.


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Lenten Reflections 2021: Am I God, Or Are You Your Own God?

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@johnvinod | March 12, 2021

I invite you today once again to read the temptations of Jesus in the desert from Matthew 4: 1-11. Apart from trying to sow the seeds of doubt in Jesus’ mind, notice here that Satan’s purpose, in all three temptations, is to divert Jesus’ attention away from God. He tried to tempt Jesus to leave his relationship with God aside and turn inward to only think of himself.

That is why in the first two temptations, the devil says, “If you are the Son of God” then do this or that. Satan is suggesting that Jesus turn his eyes, feelings, mind and thoughts, and his filial relationship away from his heavenly Father. Then he wants Jesus to turn and look only within and for himself. This is an old trick of the devil. He has tried it before and has been successful in leading many religious seers and philosophers to do exactly what he suggested to Jesus. Some religious traditions and philosophical systems teach this very thing. Some of them discourage their followers from seeking God outside of themselves; instead, their Nondualist concept encourages searching and finding God within ourselves. In fact, some teach that “I myself am God” or “You are your own God.” Thus, it eliminates the difference between human beings and God and between the creation and the Creator. They are taught to be one and the same being.

In the third temptation also, Satan proposes that Jesus turns his back on God and instead worship Satan to enrich himself. Satan assumes that “all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor” belonged to him and if only Jesus would turn away from God, he could glorify himself by receiving these as his reward (Matthew 4: 8).

Jesus Christ’s response to all these suggestions is quite similar as he addresses the devil’s fundamental suggestion—to turn away from God and think only of himself. In all three responses, Jesus makes it a point to bring God back to the center where he belongs. Jesus makes his steadfast faith in God unambiguously clear to Satan. Jesus asserts that doing the will of God and worshipping God alone were absolutely essential to him. See in Matthew 4: 4, 7, and 10:

4 But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,

“‘You shall worship the Lord your God

    and him only shall you serve.’”

Since we, too, are tempted today with the same old tricks of the devil, let us learn today from the example of Jesus Christ. In the midst of our own temptations and storms of life, let us refocus our eyes on the biblical God. Let us look beyond ourselves and our selfish ambitions. Instead, let us look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. Let us recommit to keep God in the center of our lives, our decisions, and our actions. This will ensure that like Jesus, we, too, may outwit Satan and live a victorious life in Christ. Amen.

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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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