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Tag: Lenten Devotions 2021

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: 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: When a Sword Pierces Your Soul: Jesus’ Goodbye to His Mother

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By   @johnvinod  | March 3, 2021

Prior to starting the forty-day pilgrimage in a desert and launching his Messianic ministry, there was one event in Jesus Christ’s earthly life which, I believe, must have been the toughest for him as well as his earthly mother. This remarkable day was the day Jesus decided to say goodbye to his mother who brought him into this world and raised him to be the Messiah of the world. The point that this day, or act is recorded nowhere in the Gospels does not make it any less important. It must have been difficult for both Jesus and Mary as they both knew what lies ahead in Jesus’ life as he embarked upon his ministry that culminated on the cross.

For Jesus it was poignant because he had learned to take his first steps holding Mary’s hands. He had grown accustomed to the delicious home cooked food that she prepared and served daily with love.

For Mary it would have been one of the most heartbreaking days of her life. Although she knew Jesus more than anyone on earth could ever know, despite knowing who he was and what his mission on earth was, she did not know the specific details. However, she knew one thing: it involved death, as she recalled the somber words of a prophecy of an old man, Simeon:

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2: 33-35 NRSV)

The sword here means a sharp weapon like a javelin or a long sword and the syntax of the last sentence means it will constantly keep on piercing! There is no fear like the fear of losing a child, especially after losing your husband a few years ago. Therefore, like any mother, though Mary had learned to let go, there would always be a part of her that would like to hold on to his hand. The day Jesus decided to leave home for the ministry, he gently but firmly released his rough hands from her soft grip and went out of the house. However, for Mary there would be a part of him that would remain with her always—her little boy Jesus. Not only that day, but Jesus’ mission would inevitably continue piercing Jesus’ mother. However, she loved him so much that she was willing to take that risk.

Friends, in the forthcoming Passion Week, as we focus our thoughts on the painful piercing of Jesus’ flesh on the cross, let us not forget the piercing of Mary’s flesh. Following Jesus and loving him is precarious and challenging. If it is not for you, then, perhaps you are following a cultural Jesus made in the image of your culture or church. When you and I, who claim to love Jesus and renew our commitment to him this Lent, let us also be prepared to acknowledge that our hearts may not be safe and comfortable forever. Jesus, the Savior, will someday unsettle your life if he has not already done it. And someday, perhaps, a sword will pierce your heart, too!

Today, do you love him to only receive the blessings that come from believing and following Jesus Christ? Do you love Jesus so much as to take the risk of letting him unsettle and challenge your worldview, your life, and your soul? Let us pray during this Lent that God would prepare us for that day. May the Lord help us realize that the greater our love for Jesus, the sharper may be the sword that will pierce our heart and our soul, and the most drastic may be the unsettling of our lives, because we decide to follow Jesus Christ. May the Lord help us understand that this is one risk worth taking because of his unconditional love for us. Amen!



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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Salvation of the Lord is Holistic and Flows from His Presence

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By @johnvinod  | March 1, 2021

Praise God for the brand-new month of March and for his grace that sustained us until now in 2021. Let us begin by reading Chapter 3 of the book of Joel and we shall focus on its last section, 3: 18-21, as we wrap up our reflections from the book of Joel.

As noted in my earlier posts, in chapter three, Joel describes the judgement upon the nations that will ensue with the onset of “the day of the Lord” in the coming days. I believe its initial fulfilment happened with the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth. However, its complete fulfilment awaits the return of Jesus Christ.

So, in 3: 18-21, Joel zooms out of the nations and refocuses his lens on the people of God or Judah, about whom this prophecy was primarily written. Remember, they had just been restored and saved from the locust plague. So, in concluding his prophecy, Joel reassures them with encouraging words of comfort and peace while also revealing the fate of their next-door neighbors, Egypt and Edom.

This passage begins with “in that day” keeping in line with the theme of the day of the Lord like other prophets such as Amos, Hosea, Micah, Zephaniah, and Isaiah. Then Joel uses three essential elements both materially as well as figuratively to proclaim the wellbeing of the people of God to coincide with the coming of the Messiah. They are: Wine, Milk, and Water. Joel promises that these will be available in abundance. Remember they had been through a plague which had destroyed their crops, vineries, as well as cattle affecting the supply of food, wine, and milk. E.g., see chapter 1:4-5; 7, 9-12. Not only the crops and vines withered but due to the lack of water, “all the [fruit bearing] trees of the field are dried up; surely joy withers away among the people” (1:12).

Therefore, Joel utilizes these symbols; wine, milk, and water, for the holistic salvation God is providing for his people. It will take care not only of their spiritual aspirations, but also of their quantifiable tangible needs. The abundant supply of wine will compensate for the vineries that were destroyed. Milk will overflow because the cattle will not wander and groan anymore without water or pasture as in 1: 18. The water will overflow in plenty because the water brooks are not dried up anymore (1: 20). And the real source of these blessings will not be their best works (karma), but the Lord Yahweh himself. The presence of the Lord among his people becomes the source of all blessings. For he has promised to abide with them on his holy hill and become the fountain of water and joy for them forever:

“… and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the Lord

    and water the Valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:18 ESV).

This fountain of water resembles what the prophet Ezekiel had also observed in his vision (Ezekiel 47:1-12). In the eschatological (final events of history) vision of the holy city of God in the book of Revelation, also, a river appears flowing from the throne of God.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22: 1-2 NRSV).

Lastly, Joel concludes in 3:21 reassuring the people of God that the sins, the crimes of the nations, and the bloodshed of his people will not go unnoticed and unpunished. God asks and answers himself: and shall I leave their bloodshed unpunished? No, I will not, as surely as I abide in Jerusalem. And let everyone notice that “the Lord dwells in Zion!”

So, friends, this assurance can be meaningful to us, too, as we walk through this second year of the pandemic. God’s presence is promised to us in the midst of this plague. As we wait for “the day of Lord” or the return of Jesus Christ, our concern should not be with the detailed particulars of events or their chronology; rather it should be with the restoration, salvation, and eternal presence of the Almighty it will bring to us, his people. As the Apostle John saw in a prophetic vision proclaimed:

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away (Revelation 21:3-4 ESV).

Maranatha!

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Focus of the Day of the Lord is Hope and Salvation Rather than Desolation!

By @johnvinod  | February 27, 2021

Let us begin today by reading from Joel 2: 30 to chapter 3 because they are interconnected. This is a rather difficult section in Joel’s prophecy as he repeats a popular theme among the Old Testament prophets—”the day of the Lord.” Joel tone takes a dramatic turn as he begins predicting God’s judgement upon the nations. Remember, like all the prophecies Joel’s words are both literal as well as figurative. He has been addressing the devastation the locust plague had caused, which I believe was a physical reality in Israel/Judah. However, the plague is also a symbol of the northern nations who invaded and ravaged Israel. Of course, the Israelites had a role in this because of their disobedience and idolatry. And Joel made it clear that the plague was a judgement of God upon his people.

From 2: 30 to 3: 21, however, Joel turns his focus to the judgement of rebellious nations. God’s people are forgiven, restored, and saved because they had repented and called on the name of Yahweh (see, vs 1: 19-20 & 2: 17). God showed mercy and they are being saved. But what about the nations?

Joel announces that the Lord will deal with the nations in a catastrophic way through the events of the day of the Lord. He goes on to provide the signs of this event which will be visible on earth as well as in the sky in 2: 30-32 and then again in 3: 15. The “blood,” “fire,” and “smoke” clearly symbolize the destruction that invasions and wars create. They were a reminder of the ruin caused by the locust plague. The extent of damage the people of Israel experienced is equated metaphorically with the dreadfulness of “the day of the Lord” (see 2: 10-11). Now in the final days, Joel says, the tables will be turned, and the same judgement will be poured on the rebelling nations. He zooms on the details of the character of this judgement in 3: 1-14.

Nowadays, I understand that many people, perhaps you, too, are curious to know the specifics and interpretations of the passages regarding the end times, as the New Testament writers also displayed an intense interest in Joel’s prophecy. They link it to the return of Christ and the end times. However, my concern is with the prophet’s interest here as well as with the other writers of the New Testament who wrote about the end times. They were writing in the context of persecution and sufferings of God’s people. Therefore, their purpose was not to provide every minute information to satisfy our curiosity for the chronology of events or their interpretation. The writers’ language is mostly metaphorical, and their message is two-fold:

  1. Provide meaning, comfort, and assurance of God’s favor to those who believe in the grace of God and call on his name.
  2. Make it plain that Yahweh is a just God. He will certainly judge the rebellious and their punishment will fit their crimes.

That is why, Joel envisages a day when God will save his people while he carries out judgement of the nations. While judging other nations, God wanted to assure his people that he cares for his covenant and will deal with those who intermeddle with it or its people (see 3:1-2). Just as Yahweh could save his people from the plague, he can and will do it again in the future, even if that involved as apocalyptic an event as the day of the Lord. As in the past, so in the future, too, the means of his grace and his salvation will be for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord” (2:32). This declaration became the pivotal text for the Apostle Peter, when he invited the people gathered in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost representing not only the Jewish people but all nations:

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself (Acts 2: 38-39 ESV).

This, friends, should also be our prayer and focus for us, as we go through our pandemic today. God is in the business of restoring and saving. It is possible only in and through the name of Jesus Christ. And those who receive his grace and salvation, cannot but share with others. Will you share this good news during this Lent season?


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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Spiritual Sign of Restoration is the Outpouring of the Holy Spirit and His Gifts

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By @johnvinod  | February 26, 2021

Please begin today by reading from Joel 2: 28-32, which is the closing section of Joel chapter two. We saw in yesterday’s post that after their repentance, God blesses and satisfies his restored people. Having established this outward visible blessing, Joel now prophesized the oncoming spiritual blessing and renewal, which constitutes the true restoration.

This spiritual renewal will come in the form of something unprecedented and powerful: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh”! This is unlike what is described in the previous sections of this chapter. Those events came to pass in Israel during Joel’s time. This promise of the Spirit, on the other hand, is a prophecy in the more distant future and Joel links it with an apocalyptic event, “the day of Lord” (vs. 30-32). Notice that the prophecy is preceded by “Then afterwards” (v. 28) and “in those days” (v. 29). This is a common parallelism that Hebrew prophets and poets often employed for rhetorical effect and to emphasize the point they were making. And the point in Joel’s case is that it will come to pass sometime in the future.

The Spirit is understood as God’s Spirit, the Holy Sprit in the New Testament. The primary meaning of the outpouring of the Spirit on his people is a divinely inspired spiritual ecstasy which enables them to find a transient prophetic fervor and make prophetic utterances. We can also find examples of this in 1 Samuel 10:10 and 19:24 in the time of Judges in Israel. God had used this phenomenon earlier also with seventy elders of Israel under Moses’ leadership for the purpose of endorsing their calling and leadership:

Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again. (Numbers 11: 25 NRSV).

However, quite unlike the previous occurrences, in Joel’s prophecy of 2: 28-29, notice here the promise is for “all flesh” irrespective of their age, leadership, social status, or gender. Primarily, it was meant for the people to whom Joel prophesied and their descendants. However, in God’s economy of salvation the promise has been extended to the whole humankind irrespective of our race, class, gender, or status in society.

The outpouring or pour out means to cause to flow freely and implies that God will give the Spirit in abundance, as he always does, without reservation.

The Apostle Peter unmistakably applied the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy to the events of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. Before his ascension, Jesus Christ had promised the Holy Spirit to his disciples in Luke 24:49 and Acts 1: 8. So, in Acts 2 when the disciples along with the Twelve Apostles received the promised Holy Spirit, they were ecstatic and filled with a divine prophetic passion. Peter, one of the Twelve, addressed the astonished crowd of thousands who had gathered in Jerusalem saying:

But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’ (Acts 2: 15- 21 ESV).

However, this was just the beginning of the fulfillment of the prophecy of a spiritual renewal that Joel prophesied. It did not cease with the Day of Pentecost. In the book of Acts and in the rest of the New Testament, the outpouring continued throughout Israel and then in the rest of the world until this day.

This Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, is the Spirit of missions. He is the Spirit of transformation of lives, institutions, and cultures. The renewal the Spirit of missions creates is evident throughout the world which has experienced the outpouring of the Spirit down the centuries. And God’s Spirit is still moving around the globe in the most unanticipated ways and in the most unexpected places and among the most amazing people groups, just as it was prophesied. The threefold signs of the spiritual renewal are evident wherever the Spirit is outpoured.

People are prophesying, that is, bringing God’s word to those unreached people groups who have never had the opportunity to hear it until now. Praise God that this noble calling is no longer restricted to a privileged few from a certain social class or people of certain color, but God’s Spirit is using ordinary people for the proclamation of the Word.  

People are dreaming, that is, dreaming of being and becoming what they have never been before. Dreaming and finding an identity as God’s own people, loved, lifted, and dignified. Dreaming of breaking off slavery, colonialism, and the fetters of oppression of all sorts throughout all cultures. And this is made possible today by the Spirit of God.

People are visioning, that is, seeing the possibilities and hoping for a liberated future that they have never envisioned before. They are reassured by the presence of the Spirit that it is now possible for their dreams and visions to become a reality by the power of the Almighty God who delights to abide with them. Praise be to the Holy Spirit! Despite the constant bad news of the pandemic and devastation, there is an extensive outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our day and age. Are you aware of it? Are you part of it? Does this excite you to participate in it?

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Lenten Reflections 2021: The Sign of True Restoration is the Recognition of God’s Unique Sovereignty and His Presence

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By  @johnvinod  | February 25, 2021

Let us read once again chapter two of the book of Joel and focus on verse 27:

You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,
    and that I, the Lord, am your God and there is no other.
And my people shall never again be put to shame (Joel 2: 27 ESV).

This verse 27 concludes the section 2: 18-27 that brings the message of restoration and salvation for God’s people who have been through the ravages of the locust plague and prepares for the next section. The tiny book of Joel is a theocentric book meaning its focus is not on the plague itself or its devastation; rather its purpose is to draw attention to the biblical God, his restoration, and the salvation of his people.

Therefore, after repentance and renewal, Joel wants to make sure that the Israelites knew who is this God, Yahweh, who brings them out of a plague and restores their soul, bodies, and their land (see verse 18). This was necessary to remind and underscore because people are prone to forget once they receive what they have been praying for. The book of Psalms is also replete with such reminders at different periods.

Joel switches to the first person as he writes what God said: “You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel,…” They were to recognize the presence of the Almighty God in their midst. This reminder is the same that the prophet Ezekiel had used numerous times in his book. They also needed this important retelling because during the calamity, most people assumed that God had abandoned his covenant people. The cessation of continual offerings (see 1:9-10) and other Temple rituals had heightened this belief. Therefore, Joel reminds that in reality it is the people who had violated God’s covenant through a disobedient life. But because God is merciful, in his graciousness, he has accepted their petitions and brought about their deliverance.

So, as they move forward in their new life, they need to recognize that the Almighty God is indeed in their midst. This recognition and practice of the continual presence of God would also help them live a holy life yielding to the demands of his law. It will help them resume the continual worship and offerings at his holy Temple.

Second, verse 27 emphasized “that I, the Lord [Yahweh] am your God and there is none other.” They needed this notice because they should never entertain the thought that their salvation was possible without Yahweh. The tone and words are very emphatic: I, the Lord, am your God! The verse continues to stress that Yahweh God is the only God and “there is none other.” His sovereignty is unrivaled and cannot be shared with any other deity. Such a strong reminder was considered necessary because the Israelites had slipped into idolatry and fertility cults of all sorts and even their priests had become corrupt defiling the holy Temple.

Third, verse 27 concludes saying, “And my people shall never again be put to shame.” The combining of “I, the Lord, am your God” with the phrase “my people” brings back the significant covenant relationship of Yahweh God with the people of Israel. People should acknowledge they had broken the covenant. Joel joyfully declares that the covenant relationship has been restored. And they should now recognize that through his salvation, Yahweh has restored the covenant. Therefore, they must make sure now that their lives align with the covenant requirements and its laws. The uniqueness of Yahweh God, his absolute sovereignty, and his enduring presence among his people are the most important privileges of the covenant relationship. Everyone who knows this God should recognize and delight in them.

Friends, today, for us who are in the middle of a pandemic, Joel has a clear message of hope of restoration and salvation. However, there are conditions for this to become a reality, which we have discussed earlier (please see my previous posts in this category of devotions). Once these conditions are met, we, too, can rejoice in the new relationship and new life that God promises. We too can enjoy the privileges of being in a covenant relationship with the unique and sovereign God. And those of us who do recognize and live in the sovereignty of God, continually practicing the presence of this Triune God in our lives must also share this good news with others who live in fear today. Are you sharing? Will you share?


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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!

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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!


For paperback, please contact vinod@vinodjohn.com

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