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: The Gospel and a Suffering Believer.

16266444492_34f8eacdac_zEveryone suffers in one way or the other. A follower of Christ is no exception to this rule. In fact, quite often, a disciple suffers more than others do. However, a disciple suffers differently than others…in the sense that a believer has agonizingly to reconcile the reality of one’s misery and pain with the goodness of God. To the person who does not believe in the love and grace of God, suffering is just physical pain; however, a believer has the difficult task of solving complex questions of faith and philosophy. The very gospel we believe in makes it more difficult for us to understand and explain pain and suffering, because the gospel tells us that God is not only good but he also cares about us: “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” ( I Peter 5: 7). Thus, for a disciple, the gospel adds the anguish of skepticism to the reality and mystery of suffering. I submit that, at times, I am like a child who feels that my parents love and care for me but deep down in my heart I doubt if that is the case!

As someone who loves the Lord and trusts that God is good, I see tragedies happen to me and to the people of God around me. However, the unbearable fact that I have to live with the knowledge that I do not understand why this is happening and would never be able to fathom it makes it even more difficult. As a minister who is supposed to be well versed in theology and who preaches the goodness of the Lord, his unconditional love, and unlimited grace, I often find myself dumbfounded at the bedside of a mother who refuses to be consoled at the loss of her young child. I find myself at a loss of words when I have to explain to young parents why their infant was born with a certain abnormality. I am sure, you, too, know that since Job in the Old Testament several people have faced this dilemma and have asked such questions about evil and pain. However, no one has been able to find answers. Therefore, many expect Jesus Christ to solve and answer the mystery of evil in the world. However, he did not provide us with an easy all-in-one answer. As much as Jesus knew and personally understood pain, he chose not to answer this old mystery for humanity. Instead, the one who suffered and died the most brutal and cursed death of his time, stated: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16: 24). He categorically stated that his followers have to be prepared to face the same kind of sufferings that he experienced for us.

Nevertheless, I draw my encouragement from the fact that our Savior, Jesus Christ, confidently ended his painful death on the cross with these wonderful words on his lips:

“Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23: 46).

Jesus did not despair in his death. He knew the purpose of his pain was to defeat death. Moreover, not only did Jesus Christ conquer death, but he has also revealed to us how the story ends. This makes me confident about how it is all going to end even though I do not know every detail of it right now. I want you also to know that our sorrow will be swallowed up in joy and death will be destroyed by eternal life (Isaiah 35: 10; 51: 11; I Corinthians 15:54)! Therefore, friends,

“We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5: 3-5).

Lenten Devotions 2015: Can You Have Your Best Life Now?

myIUFimI often come across people citing a famous best seller, “Your Best Life Now,” penned by a very popular preacher in the United States. This is not the only book of this kind available to those who are looking for “positive thinking” or “prosperity gospel” literature. However, it amazes me to see how easily Christians could be led astray from the biblical truth. We often neglect the fact that anything that is positive, uplifting, and encouraging does not necessarily have to be true and biblical. Here are a few samples from “Your Best Life Now”:

“Don’t just accept whatever comes your way in life. You were born to win; you were born for greatness; you were created to be a champion in life.”

“It’s our faith that activates the power of God.”

“God wants you to have a good life, a life filled with love, joy, peace, and fulfillment. That doesn’t mean it will always be easy, but it does mean that it will always be good.”

Now, I submit that all of this looks good from the outside until you start comparing it with what the Bible teaches. Jesus Christ never promised that if you followed Him everything will be well with you. Neither did He promise that He will make everything lovely and painless and that you will have the best of your life here on earth. If you finish reading the book mentioned above, you will be certain to come out convinced that suffering, pain, sickness, financial difficulties, and persecution are not at all part of the life of a follower of Christ. However, this is not what the Bible teaches. To find the truth, one only needs to look closely in the Scriptures instead of blindly following false teachers.

For example, in the gospel of Luke (Chapter 21), Jesus’ disciples drew his attention to the magnificent buildings of the Temple in Jerusalem. This gave Jesus an opportunity to teach them the real challenges of life as his follower in this world. The disciples were, of course, interested in knowing when the end will come, instead Jesus directs their attention to what they might have to face in their life before the end comes. Jesus Christ not only plainly stated that disciples will have to face much suffering, pain, and persecution; but he also warned them against false teachers who might deceive them:

“5 Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, 6 “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”
7 “Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”
8 He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. 9 When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”
10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.
12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life” (Luke 21: 5-19)

In the midst of problems, agony, sickness, and persecution, Jesus’ clear message to his followers is to stand firm in their faith. No, not because it is “our faith that activates the power of God;” rather, it is in the very nature of a loving God. Despite our lack of faith, God uses His unlimited power to protect us and bring us out victorious from our sufferings and to, ultimately, give us our best life that is yet to come in eternity. It is for this reason, Jesus said:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going” (John 1: 1- 4).

May we be faithful in heeding the Scriptural teachings and in following what Jesus teaches us in the midst of a life full of suffering, sickness, pain, and death. Amen.