“Come, Follow Me,” (Matthew 4:19)

To be a follower of the Lord Jesus is more than merely agreeing with what He taught. It is to become an adherent who imitates Him; to have Him as the ultimate role model (1 Peter 2:21). This type of follower is known as a disciple. Being Jesus’ disciple means walking in His footsteps all the way even through rough terrain. Whether the terrain is dark and dreary or characterized with loss and tears, the disciple must never slacken the pace otherwise the enemy will read the cue and move in to steal, kill and destroy. In every situation, our pace must be consistent and unwavering lest we lose sight of the Lord going before us and find ourselves plunged into destructive darkness. To follow Jesus is to be called to a different ethical standard. As disciples, we are called to become like the Lord in purpose because we have the same Holy Spirit that dwells in Him. We read from Scripture that after Jesus had chosen His disciples, He preached what is known as the Sermon on the Mount; a redefinition of morality with specific ethical behavior; a roadmap for disengaging from the tantalizing worldly affiliations that so easily encumber us. This sermon is a call to being transformed by the renewing of the mind through power of the Holy Spirit. To be a disciple is to have a radical paradigm shift. It is to embrace Jesus and His teachings as guidelines for everyday conduct. As disciples, we abandon ourselves to Jesus as both Lord and Savior. For the disciple, “There is no compartmentalization of the faith, no realm, no sphere, no business, no politic in which the lordship of Christ will be excluded. We either make him Lord of all we are and have, or we deny him as Lord of any.”1 He must be preeminent in all facets of our life. He will not take a divided heart and will not compete with anyone or anything. The Bible talks about a certain would-be disciple who pledged fervent love for the Lord and promised to follow Him everywhere. But Jesus’ response was surprisingly dissuasive: “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20). Jesus answered people based on their unarticulated motives. He addressed the person not the words that veiled their intention. In this case, Jesus discerned in His spirit that the individual’s motive for wanting to be his disciple was wrong. Jesus did not come to set up an earthly kingdom to impress people with its glory and grandeur. He came to be the Savior and Lord rejected by His own. He came to be taunted and scorned by the same people He came to die for. Jesus came not to glorify Himself, but the Father who sent Him. He was oppressed and afflicted, but never opened His mouth in resistance nor did He fight back. He is the King who allowed Himself to be literally bound hand and foot by his own subjects and still loved them even after they pronounced a death sentence on Him and handed Him over to be crucified. Jesus knew the would-be follower was not looking for that kind of life. Being a disciple is being the light of the world (Matt 5:14), diffusing the glory of the Master; walking where He bids us go even when it is painful, obscure and insignificant in the sight of the world. After all, ultimately, the only opinion that really matters is the opinion of our Creator. To be a disciple is to be the salt that preserves this world. As disciples, we enter into a new, spiritual realm, and attain a new identity. We re-organize our schedules so that Jesus becomes our first priority. We become members of a new family; the eternal family of God composed of blood-bought individuals from every nation, kindred, tongue and people; an unimaginably diverse community with an array of spiritual gifts for edifying each other. As Jesus’ disciples, we die to self so that we may be alive to God. We lose ourselves in Him so that we can find our full selves there. The Golden Calf of self-gratification is detrimental to our relationship with the Lord. As His disciples, we must give Him our dreams, our reputation, our careers, our finances, our purpose, our everything, so that He can make a glorious tapestry out of them. But this act of self-renunciation takes nothing away from us because, in the end, what we really have is what we have surrendered to the Lord. As His disciples, we get to know Jesus’s voice not through doctrinal teachings, but through His eternal presence in our lives. He never gives up on any one. Jesus “washes our feet even when we would betray him.”2 He gently restores and reaffirms our place in the family of God even when our quest for self-preservation leads us to deny Him.

But being a disciple is not a walk in the park. The road is difficult and the gate narrow, and only a few find it although there is room for everyone. The trials and tribulations that beset the disciple are the difficult road and the narrow gate. Our sinful nature resists and rebels against the discipline of turning the other cheek or loving others the way we love ourselves or blessing and praying for those who curse and revile us, which are all characteristics of the kingdom to which Jesus is calling His disciples. But this is how Jesus overcame the kingdom of darkness forever: using the weapon of love. Trials can be excruciatingly painful and draining, physically and emotionally. But we take comfort in the promise that this light affliction we might suffer momentarily as disciples is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17). Whatever we have gone through in this life, whatever we will still be called to endure, the Bible insists that it pales into insignificance against the splendor awaiting us. Whatever has been taken from us, God will make it right beyond our wildest dreams and imagination. To be a disciple of Jesus is not to be disadvantaged. It is to be more than a conqueror both in this life and in the life to come….through Him.

“Follow Me,” the call has not changed.

Sources

  1. Camp, L.C..(2003). Mere Discipleship, pp. 19, 23-25.
  2. Ibid.
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The Perils of Straddling the Fence

Forty years after leaving Egypt, Israel finally arrived at the border of the Promised Land and were poised to take possession of the land to fulfill a promise given to their progenitors centuries earlier.  God had made this promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Israel’s patriarchs now long deceased. It was a historic moment, the climax of all the events that had marked their unique journey, which had left a king and his entire nation devastated at its inception. Pharaoh had made the fatal mistake of daring to obstruct the fulfillment of this age-old promise by refusing to free the people of Israel held in slavery by his nation for centuries. Striving and railing against God’s plans ultimately leads to dire and calamitous consequences. God freed His people by the hand of Moses and Aaron using stunning miracles. It took Israel forty years to walk to the Promised Land. That was not an easy journey. The individuals who had rebelled against God’s leadership along the way, and had threatened to undermine the progress of the journey had died. As a matter of fact, only two of the adults who left Egypt made it into the Promised Land. God always performs His word.

When the time came for Israel to cross the Jordan to enter the Promised Land, the tribes of Reuben and Gad made a puzzling request to the leadership. They saw the goodly Jordanian valley, the land of Jazer and Gilead as a perfect grazing pasture for their abundant livestock.  These tribes approached Moses, Eleazar the priest and their community leaders and said to them, “…the country which the LORD defeated before the congregation of Israel, is a land of livestock, and your servants have livestock. If we have found favor in your sight, let this land be given to your servants as a possession.  Do not take us over the Jordan,” (Numbers 32: 4-5). What??? You call voluntary forfeiture to seize God’s prize for you favor when it is within your reach? Moses was appalled!!! He understandably interpreted this request as emanating from a selfish, self-serving, and rebellious spirit. It sounded unjust and insensitive.  It was outrageous to him since he himself had been forbidden from leading the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land as punishment for his failure to glorify God in the presence of the congregation when he had struck a rock which he had been instructed to speak to when the people strove with him for water (Numbers 20: 7-12). How could these people trivialize what he earnestly yearned for and begged the Lord for? But Moses was not crossing over!! End of discussion. And now these people dared spurn the climax of four decades of walking! In the mind of this aged leader lurked another sad memory: the tragic events that had ensued from Israel’s refusal to enter the Promised Land earlier in the journey (Numbers 13 and 14). Moses had sent 12 men to go and spy out the land so that a workable and proper strategy could be designed for its conquest. When they came back ten of the twelve men gave a bad report that emphasized the formidable stature of the people of the land and how inconceivable it would be for Israel to conquer and dispossess them. Rebellion had ensured, and many people had died as a consequence.  Furthermore, God had ordered the people to turn back and wander for 38 years in “a great and terrible wilderness.” And now, at the end of the journey, an eerily familiar scene was threatening to unfold right before Moses, and to undermine the people’s resolve to cross over and possess the land. The reason given by these two tribes for not wanting to cross into the Promised Land was their large numbers of livestock. Using their own reasoning, they concluded that the land before them would be better for their livestock than the land of Canaan. They were willing to risk being separated from the rest of the nation, and to deviate from God’s original directive and plan for them because of their riches. They did not stop to consider the impending perils their brothers would encounter in the forthcoming wars for possession of the land.

In their initial request when the tribes of Reuben and Dan asked Moses not to take them into the land, they had no intention of going beyond the Jordan River whatsoever.  It was after Moses remonstrated and chided with them about the injustice they were exhibiting in thinking to let their brothers cross over to fight on their own while they stayed behind that they modified their request. This time they said they would function as the vanguard of their brethren and would fight with them to help them possess the land: “We will build sheepfolds here for our livestock, and cities for our little ones, but we ourselves will be armed, ready to go before the children of Israel until we have brought them to their place…we will not return to our homes until everyone of the children of Israel has received his inheritance (Numbers 32: 16-18). According these tribes, the separation and the settlement on the east of the Jordan was a done deal. This apparently selfless revision of the petition addressed the issue of a discouragement, which mollified Moses’ resistance and resentment. An agreement was reached, and Moses allowed them together with the half tribe of Manasseh who were also apparently pleased, to settle in the land east of the Jordan. To be separated from the main body is to slide into slow alienation and irreversible estrangement no matter how noble and innocent the intention might be. What is incomprehensible is the relentless proclivity of the human heart to stubbornly pursue its own inclination even when it means rebellion against God’s directives no matter the cost. This voluntary spatial severance from the main body was a formula for weakening the cohesiveness of the nation of Israel. The ties between the eastern and western tribes would inevitably wane with the passage of time. The 2 ½  tribes that settled on the eastern side would not be able to participate in the daily religious events at the national worship center at Shiloh and ultimately in Jerusalem, which were critical for the very survival and sustenance of the Israelite nation. We do not read from Scripture that God did as many astonishing miracles among the eastern tribes as He did in the Promised Land.  It was in Canaan that the heavily fortified city of Jericho miraculously collapsed before Israel. It was in Canaan that the sun stool still and the moon stayed in its place for almost and entire day until Israel had vanquished the enemy.  It was also in Canaan that an elaborate and majestic structure was erected as the temple that housed the name and glory of God and in which the most sophisticated and meticulous form of worship was practiced. It was in Canaan that God chose a shepherd boy to bring down a daunting giant who had intimidated God’s people for forty days with a single stone from a sling. This lad became one of Israel’s greatest kings who ushered the nation into a Golden Age due to his unwavering faith in God. The climax of all the miracles in the Promised Land was the advent of the Messiah, God in the flesh, as Savior of the world who redefined the state and status of humanity and the history of the entire universe.

In 1 Chronicles 5:26, we read that, eventually, “…the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser king of Assyria, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, and brought them unto Halah, and Habor, and Hara, and to the river of Gozan, unto this day.” They never came back to the land they had valued so much.

It is always dangerous for God’s people to be partially obedient, to choose what appeals to their flesh than to obey God all the way. Believers cannot have the best of the natural world and then claim the best of the spiritual realm. No human being can serve two masters, Jesus taught. Any such attempts will result in straddling the fence, as it were, which constitutes lukewarmness, something that is repugnant to the Lord (Revelation 3: 16).

Christians face their own Jordanian experience in their lives. They can choose to have a lukewarm relationship with Jesus or they can say with the apostle Paul, I “count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…” (Philippians 3:8). Straddling the fence is an uncomfortable position that leads nowhere and has no reward, literally and otherwise.

Jesus Longs for You and Me

John Chapter 17 is a passage that is packed, pressed down, and running over with the most revealing truth about the heart of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the plans He has for you and me. Early in His earthly ministry, the disciples had asked Jesus to teach them to pray…(Luke 11:1). In response, Jesus gave them an outline of a model prayer. However, in John chapter 17, we are given an incredible opportunity that allows us to “hear” our Lord offer a life-changing, extraordinarily comprehensive High Priestly prayer for Himself, the early disciples, and the subsequent believers of all ages after them. In this prayer, Jesus gathered the entire human race into Himself and stood before the Father to make supplication on its behalf. “Father the hour has come…,” He began, (John 17:1). The hour for which Jesus came into the world was the hour He would leave it; the hour He would lay down His life for the seed of Adam; the hour He would be scourged, beaten, spat on and cruelly nailed on a Roman cross for you and I- a most ignominious death. This is the background against which this remarkable prayer was offered. Jesus was well aware that Satan was preparing to unleash his unbridled, vile force on him. So much was at stake. The redemption of the whole human race was the crux of the matter at that moment. Jesus turned to His Father. He needed to speak with One who understood the unfolding events; One from whom He could draw strength to endure the impending harrowing experience. That is why this prayer is unique. It is dense with emotion and passion, and fills the reader with wonder and adoration for our Savior and Lord.

In this prayer, Jesus made an astonishing request to His Father.  He said “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. ” (verse 24). Just pause for a while and contemplate on this stunning request and its staggering implications. Jesus, the Son of God, made this timeless request on your behalf and mine. He was calling you and I a gift to Him from His Father. Just think about the unparalleled worth this bestows on us. God saw you and I and decided to make us an eternal gift for His Son. We are God’s love gift to His only begotten Son. Jesus does not desire that we should be with Him because we have inherent goodness. It is because of His marvelously abundant grace. He loves us enough to want us to be with Him in glory!! In essence, He was saying to His disciples and to us who believe through them, “I will miss you and I want you with me where I will be.” How we all long to be wanted and loved not because of what we can give, but just for who we are. That the pre-existent second Person of the Godhead, the One through who all things were made, should think and long for your company and mine is a stunning thought. We were chosen before the foundation of the world and adopted of God so that, in the metaphor of marriage, we have become the corporate, spiritual bride of His Son (Ephesians 1:4; 5: 25-27; 2 Corinthians 11:2). Jesus wants us with Him in His presence not for a limited period of time but for eternity!!! If you are ever tempted to think that no one loves you, think again. On earth, believers only saw a silhouette of His glory. But in heaven Jesus’ glory is unveiled in all its magnificence. His power is unbridled. This is what He wants us to experience with Him. On that eve, over two thousand years ago, Jesus was obviously aware of the rigors, harshness and sordidness of the night of our earthly existence, and He desired to give us an eternal rest. Although He would be leaving the believers, His desire was to, ultimately, have us all gathered unto Him, an eternal gift from His Father. This is one time the gift will take on the appearance of the its recipient. “But we know that when He appears [to take us home], we shall be as He is…” (1 John 3:2). Of course, this does not mean that we shall take on His deity. Rather we will also have a glorified, eternal body, just as He has. No wonder the apostle Paul exultantly exclaimed that ““Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him, (1 Corinthians 2:9). In the book of Revelation, the apostle John was blessed with a vision of heaven and shared it with us.  He said he did not see a temple there because the Almighty God and the Lamb are the temple.  Nor did he see the sun or moon shedding light on the city of God because Jesus is its Lamp.  The radiance from the Person of Christ illuminates the entire city for eternity because. There is not night there. Jesus is heaven’s infinite Light.  They need no batteries or generators or power plants as sources of light there. Jesus shines forever. John saw Him in full disclosure. He was fully displayed as He has always been from eternity past, not as a flickering light but gloriously bright and incandescent, and we shall experience Him in this state forever.  I don’t know about you, but this strengthens my resolve to be there with Him, our Savior, our Redeemer, our Lord.  My spot is waiting for me because of Jesus who ever lives to make intercession for us, and I don’t intend to miss it.

Eternity-Focusedness

Inside every believer a battle is raging between the flesh and the Spirit. The flesh’s agenda is contrary and hostile to that of the Spirit. A relentless gravitational pull constantly threatens to pin us and fasten us firmly to the natural world while dissuading us from focusing on the spiritual realm. Our own feeble efforts and determination to walk in the spirit yield pitiful results at best. It is a frustrating and terribly discouraging problem. But thanks be to God for the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Remedy for this spiritual quagmire. The Bible states that when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, we pass from death unto eternal life (John 5:24). This becomes a new reality for believers even in this life and God always speaks the truth in His word, “Let God be true, but every man a liar,” (Romans 3:4). He also watches over His word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12).

There are two parallel kingdoms running side by side: the kingdom of God (the spiritual) and the kingdom of this world (the natural). Although they are distinct from each other, they are not entirely separate. Sometimes they intersect, and believers can have access to both kingdoms through Christ Jesus. Celestial beings have also occasionally penetrated the terrestrial realm through visions and varied epiphanies. We are told that the spiritual is eternal and the natural is temporary (2 Corinthians 4: 18). Because the spiritual is the believers’ eternal reality, the apostle Paul exhorts us to set our minds on things in that kingdom and not on things in the other, (Colossians 3:2). We must be eternity-focused if we are to walk in victory in the natural. The biblical formula for a sustained eternity-focusedness is looking unto Jesus (Hebrews. 12:2). Jesus is the door and through Him we enter eternity. He came not only to inaugurate a new existence that is available for whosoever will, but He also came to make eternity enter into time so that eternal life has become qualitatively available right now for us living within the confines of time and space. Looking unto Jesus is a seemingly innocuous little phrase carrying only three words.  But, in actual fact, this is a radical formula for life. It is dynamic and pulsates with astonishing energy. Everything hinges on it for we live, and move, and have our being in no other than Jesus (Acts 17:28). Not a single person has ever willed themselves to come into existence. The Bible states that without Jesus nothing was made that was made (John 1:3) including you and I. Looking unto Him entails more than just a casual spiritual glance. It involves fervent prayer, and spending quality time with Him. It is learning to hear His voice, to recognize it, and to distinguish it from that of the Enemy. “My sheep hear my voice,” He said, “and I know them, and they follow me,” (John 10:27). Looking unto Jesus is to meditate upon His life, His death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His intercessory work right now. By looking unto Him our mind, soul, spirit, and will become radically transformed and aligned with His will. Looking unto Him is the antidote for a carnal mindset, and delivers us from the power of darkness to establish us into His kingdom (Colossians. 1:13). As we steadfastly look to Him, our choices, decisions and priorities are redefined. The losses we incur in this life become our eternal investments yielding exponential dividends.  Looking unto Jesus gives us access to the Father and makes us habitations of the Holy Spirit.  Because of Jesus, we have contact with our heavenly family and have divine presence within us. Our thought process changes and becomes like His (Philippians. 2:5). We begin to see that which is invisible, and it becomes our reality. The fear and dread of life’s harsh twists and turns, and death dissipate as perfect love is enthroned in our hearts.

As we fix our gaze on our Lord and Savior, we enter and remain in our resurrected state (Ephesians. 2:6). We begin to filter all our life experiences through the context and framework of eternity, which brings a transcendent richness. In adversity, we are able to see beyond the immediate so that we can exultantly echo the apostle’s words, “We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…” (2 Corinthians. 4: 8,9). Painful as life’s trials may be, we take heart in knowing that “… our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” because “we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,” (2 Corinthians. 4: 17,18). This is not to say that we are in denial of adversities and cruel hardships. Rather it is to realize that there is meaning in them beyond our horizon. Pain and suffering certainly beat upon each one of us at one time or another, tossing us back and forth in the sea of life, threatening to disrupt and even to shatter the moorings of our faith. But Jesus is the Compass that helps us stay on course with eternity in mind. One of the gloriously stabilizing blessings of being a Christian is the reality and certainty that our lives extend beyond the grave to a new beginning into the eternal present; the assurance that at death we cross the threshold of this rigorous temporary existence and enter into a peaceful rest. The apostle Paul urges us to keep an energetic and living perspective of our resurrected position in Christ, “For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens, (2 Corinthians. 5:1). Jesus has made all this available for us. None of us has to work for it. He has already done all the work. All we need to do is to keep our gaze on Him; focused on eternity.

Parting the Red Seas of Life

When Israel left Egypt, they walked away from a past of servitude, brutality, dehumanization, and pain into a future of redefined moral values, total freedom, and adventure with God.  They were carved out to become a community that would serve as the historical framework within which the Messiah, the Savior of the world, would be revealed. They became recipients and custodians of strict dietary, social, spiritual, health, and legislative laws for that same reason. Their entire culture was drastically changed. But at the Red Sea their past began to close in on them with all its horrendous and cruel bondage. Their unfolding freedom and promising future was suddenly threatened by the churning and menacing waters of the sea. The Red Sea was literally an open grave. Precipitous mountains and rocks stood on either side, and a massive army wielding formidable military weapons was closing in on them from behind. There seemed to be no way of escape for them. It seemed as if their short-lived freedom would soon be snuffed out. The way things appeared, it was more reasonable to surrender and be led back into slavery than to pursue Moses’ ill-conceived and abortive attempt to free them. Unarmed former slaves were no match for a renowned world Empire’s seasoned army. But God had other plans. He never leads us backwards. His plans are to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Call onto Me, He says to us, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know, (Jeremiah 33:3). Moses called out to God on behalf of the people of Israel and God responded by commanded nature to intervene with a night wind that parted the water and paved a path for the people to cross safely to the other side on dry ground, leaving clouds of dust behind them in the middle of the sea!! Water was standing on either side like a solid wall. Sadly, Egypt mistakenly thought God’s plans for Israel were theirs, too.  Their cup of iniquity, arrogance, and irreverence was so full they assumed a sense of entitlement even toward God to their utter destruction. They believed they were entitled to be masters over other people forever. It was a fatal mistake that devastated the entire Empire.

Our painful experiences can be daunting.  Each one of us has our share of Egypt experiences, as it were. They are often characterized by painful and harrowing suffering. Sometimes, severe trials akin to a fiery furnace beset us and plunge us into seasons of darkness devoid of even the promising glimmer of distant stars against the night of anguish. Our faith in God wavers; becoming almost fickle and hollow under the burden of intense pain. Chronic unhappiness and sadness endlessly stalk us, threatening to envelop us in a seemingly inescapable blanket of gloom. I do not know what type of sorrow the reader is facing right now, but I take heart in knowing that God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, is shining in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, our Lord (2 Cor. 4: 6). God has given us Jesus Christ as our Eternal Light to guide us and carry us through our earthly pilgrimage. He is our victory. In God, the past has no power over us. He makes all things new by making a new creation of us, in His Son. Jesus has parted our Red Sea and the Enemy has lost his grip on us.

The Cross-Our Adoption Center

Most of us are familiar with the words orphan and adoption.  Moreover, some of us are either orphans ourselves or we know someone who is an orphan. Orphanhood is often characterized by trauma, vulnerability, emotional distress, and material lack. The loss of a parent is a terrible blow at every stage in life. However, the blow is more severe when its victim is a minor and has to rely on other people for sustenance and other essentials of life. Orphanhood disrupts the very foundation of the child’s existence and wellbeing so severely that it can completely alter the entire course of its life. Inexplicable cords of affection and love unconsciously and deeply entwine parents’ and children’s hearts to each other. Parents provide a most intimate context for nurturing their offspring with unconditional love, psychological security, and material sustenance. Orphanhood robs the child of all this. Abigail Eaton- Master, a psychotherapist, claims that a parent’s bond with a child is so deep that it can help them sense when the offspring is in danger. When this bond is severed by the death of the parent, the effects can be catastrophic for the child. According to UNICEF, there are about 140 million orphans worldwide. Orphanhood leaves in its wake children beleaguered with anxiety, uncertainty, and despair. This why many people, both believers and non-believers, have committed themselves to care for orphans often through adoption. They endeavor to mitigate the intensity of the plight of orphanhood by assuming the role of surrogate parenthood.

However, as grim and heart-rending as the loss of biological parents maybe, nothing compares to spiritual orphanhood, which can shatter all prospects of the life to come. In The Fall of Man, humanity was severed and alienated from God, its source of life. Whatever is severed from its source of life dies. A collective death sentence was pronounced on all humanity that day in Adam and Eve.  The curse of death spread to all succeeding generations because we were all in Adam’s loins in Eden. We became estranged from God. The God-shaped place in us turned away to pursue the enemy so that sin became strangely appealing. We self-orphaned ourselves by listening to the Enemy who claimed (and still does) to know more about what was best for the human race than God who created us in His image, and subsequently became one of us Himself in Christ, literally.

After humanity’s isolation from God, anarchy reigned supreme. Murder, theft, envy, moral decadence, and all sorts of despicable vices gripped the human heart, making it desperately vile and wicked. People flagrantly defied God and followed the inclinations of their hearts to glamorize and lust after the profane and to ridicule and scorn the sacred. Evil became unrestrained and gained momentum with each succeeding generation. Senseless killings that started with domestic homicide (Cain vs Able), hatred, rage, and many other forms of wickedness have increased to stunning proportions. Futile human laws have been enacted to harness the appalling depravity of human nature to no avail. A self-orphaned humanity has been strangely contented to bask in its self-inflicted spiritual squalor.

Fortunately, the grace of God transcends human rebellion and sinfulness. In His self-expending love, God became one with us to lead us to a place where could once again experience unmitigated familial love and care and protection. In the cross of Christ, you and I have the privilege of being adopted into the family of God. We are no longer aliens or strangers, but members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19). We can come back home. This time forever. We arrive at the cross broken, homeless, sick, and mutilated by sin’s vicious blows, and cuts to the soul. Although outwardly, the world might view us as decent human beings who “have it together,” that is just a façade.  Here is how the Bible describes our orphan status: As for your nativity, on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water to cleanse you; you were not rubbed with salt nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field, when you yourself were loathed on the day you were born (Ezekiel 16 4-6, NKJV.

Rejected and cast out and exposed to the elements, we wallowed in our own filth in a deplorable condition. But moved with compassion, God in Christ, adopted us. He deliberately chose you and I to become His eternal children. The cross of Christ is the place where adoption takes place as we are crucified together with Him to this natural world and are raised with Him as God’s children with all the privileges that come with being His children including knowing Him as Abba! Father,” (Romans 8:15). The cross swings open the doors to a new and eternal familial existence. We become brothers and sisters with the rest of the human family with Jesus Christ as our Older Brother (Hebrews 2:11). God loves you and I the way He loves Jesus. As God’s children we receive corporate sonship and become a corporate bride for Christ. Jesus wrote our adoption papers and signed them with His own blood. Satan has no longer any legal claim to them who are in Christ; to you and I.  As adopted children, we are chosen children, desired by the adoptive parent. Being adopted is to enter into a new existence, another world. It is to be close to our God.

Adoption is not an easy task for the adoptive parents. Much soul-searching and reflection goes into the decision to adopt a human being into a family. This is an undertaking for compassionate and courageous people. Often times, the child is adopted because of their problematic situation, and the adoptive parent’s desire is to alleviate the suffering associated with that situation. Similarly, God saw the abject degradation of humanity and unfolded His age-old plan to adopt us in Christ. Adoption is not cheap. The adoptive parents bear the cost of ensuring that the adopted child’s comfort and general well-being are met. They give the child their name and are responsible for it until they die. It cost Jesus His own life to seal our adoption.  He emptied Himself for your sake and mine. Next time you doubt your self-worth, take time to reflect on the cost of adopting you into the family of God. That’s how special you and I are to Him whose opinion of us is the only one that matters, ultimately.

 

 

Ephesians 3:18

To comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height, (Ephesians 3:18)

No one has had as profound an impact on the history of this planet as Our Lord, Jesus Christ, and rightfully so because He created it and sustains it: All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3, JKV). Kingdoms and Empires have come and gone. Rulers and leaders of every stripe have arisen for a season and exited the stage of life only to vanish into the dusty trails of history. Some are remembered with honor while others have gone down into infamy. But Jesus has continued to be an imposing Presence towering over all historical events. Muggeridge succinctly observed this when he said, “Behind the debris of… self-styled, sullen supermen and imperial diplomatists, there stands the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom alone mankind might still have hope. The person of Jesus Christ.”1

What is most astonishing and awe-inspiring about Jesus is His unquenchable love for the inhabitants of this planet; His eternal, unconditional and undying connectedness to you and I. There is no human language rich enough to adequately describe this love. But Scripture exhorts us to “comprehend…what is the width and length and depth and height of the love of Christ which passeth understanding…” (Eph. 3:18). How is it possible for us to comprehend love that is incomprehensible? Only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we catch a glimpse of this enigmatic attribute of our Lord, which the apostle Paul attempted to describe.

What is the width of Christ’s love? Blinded and exiled to the island of Patmos, the apostle John had a series of spectacular visions of heaven.  He saw before the throne of God and the Lamb a multitude which no one could number. They came from “all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues,” (Revelation 7: 9). An inter-ethnic, multi-racial, inter-generational community of the redeemed stood before the throne of God- thousands and thousands of glorified saints. Such is the inclusiveness and width of Jesus’ love. No one is banned from it who desires it.  Everyone who comes to the Lord Jesus has the privilege of basking in this eternal agape love. That is how massive and intense and vast it is. In His love, there are no social strata, no castes, no walls of separation, nothing that insinuates a disadvantage. Just one blood-bought community standing before Him on level ground. Demoniacs, prostitutes, tax collectors, turncoats, and abusers of human rights have an equal opportunity to enter into this love.

The length of Jesus’ love is its timelessness. It extends from eternity past to eternity future.  This love existed before the foundation of our universe, which means it transcends time and space. It is as old as our Lord. It was the motivation for the Plan of Redemption. Jesus’ love never wears out. From generation to generation it crowns our existence. It covers our earthly pilgrimage, keeps us in Him in death, and will rouse us into eternal existence at the resurrection to become part of the eternal family of God and His Christ, forever. Never are we ever separated from it. Nothing shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus (Rom 8: 38, 39). Nothing can intercept or interrupt Jesus’ man-ward love, ever.

The depth of Jesus’ love is exemplified in His incarnation and all His experiences in His flesh.  Of course, that was not the inception of His love for us. Rather that was when it began to be revealed and made manifest to us. Jesus condensed Himself so much that He injected Himself into the current of time and space not as an aristocrat but as a carpenter from a poor family. The apostle’s Christological hymn aptly expresses this: “Who being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant… He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” (Philippians 2: 6-8). The Incarnation is the most astonishing and mysterious historical event ever! In it, God displayed His shocking humility. In this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace, God became one with you and I. He grew human limbs and organs and sinew. He had a skeletal system and a circulatory system, too. He became fully human subject to death although He remained fully divine. His life of self-expenditure on our behalf is incomprehensible. It is beyond the grasp of the human mind. The Creator of billions of galaxies and complex life forms became a creature Himself.  He condensed Himself into an embryo in His creature’s womb and trusted her with all aspects of His childhood. Since the Incarnation, humanity has been elevated and dignified in a most amazing manner. Jesus allowed Satan to tempt Him, His brothers to doubt His divinity, Church leaders to deride Him and to finally hand Him over to a pagan Empire to crucify Him. On the Cross, He became the sinner’s substitute. Every type of human sin was laid on Him and, because of that, He experienced something He had never experienced before: He was separated from His Father’s face. All alone, He walked through palpable spiritual darkness to destroy the works of the Enemy. His was the greatest battle ever fought by one Man on a hill called Calvary-for your sake and mine.  All the powers of darkness were unleashed against Him. The only weapon He had was His love for you and I, and that was enough. This is how deep His love is, and much, much more. But the story does not end here.

The apostle urges us to contemplate and to know the height of Jesus love, too! Jesus, the Eternal Prophet, Priest, and King burst out of the tomb to die no more. He de-fanged death and the grave could not hold Him back. “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death,” (Revelation 1:18).  When He ascended back to His Father, He did not go alone, but took you and I in Him to sit on the right hand of the throne of majesty, above all principalities and powers. We have passed from death unto life because of Jesus (John 5:24). We have inherited what we do not deserve; what we never worked for – eternal life through Him and with Him.  He has given us a weapon with which to overcome the Enemy, His blood (Rev. 12:11).  We are now a kingdom of priests in Him who ever lives to make intercession for us. Furthermore, when He appears again, we shall be as He is (1 John 3:2). He will transform our mortal bodies to be like His glorious body (Philippians 3:2). His love has done all this for you and for I. Is it any wonder it passeth understanding?

Sources

1 Muggeridge, M. In Ravi Zacharia’s Book: Deliver Us From Evil: Restoring the Soul in a Disintegrating Culture, Dallas, USA: Word Publishing, 1996, pp. 187-8.

I am the Resurrection and the Life (John 11:25)-Two Sides of the Same Self-Portraiture

Without Jesus nothing was made that was made (John 1:3) and without Him, there is no resurrection. He is both the life and the resurrection. Life inheres in Him.

The intriguing story of Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, illustrates and authenticates the claims above. The Bible tells us that Jesus loved the family of Lazarus, Martha and Mary (John 11:5). They were hospitable and kind to Him and received Him in their home from time to time. Therefore, when Lazarus became terminally ill, his sisters sent word to Jesus to inform him about Lazarus’ illness. Ordinarily, when a good friend falls ill with a life-threatening disease, we make it a point to rush to their side to give them the support and comfort they need. But in this case, the Bible says that when Jesus heard about Lazarus’ grave illness, He said “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it,” (John 11:4), and He remained where He was for an additional two days during which Lazarus died. Strangely enough, upon hearing about the death of Lazarus’ death, Jesus told His disciples that Lazarus was merely sleeping. He seemed completely unfazed by Lazarus’ death. He did not even rush to attend the funeral. This must have really puzzled the sisters who must have expected Him to come and heal Lazarus the way He had healed other people, and even raised some from the dead.

Jesus finally went to be with the sisters. When He came near their town, Martha hurried to meet Him while Mary remained at home with the mourners. Martha told Jesus what she thought He would have done if He had been present: “Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died, (John 11:21).  When Mary finally came to the burial site, she reiterated her sister’s sentiments. They both had faith in Jesus, but they did not understand why He had not risen to their expectations during a difficult time in their lives. May be right now the reader feels that Jesus has abandoned them while they are going through a difficult time. When my daughter died, I knew that Jesus could have healed her if He had willed. But He did not. I still believe in Him even when I do not understand what is going on in the spiritual world; behind the physical veil of this life. When Rick Warren was asked this question during a CNN interview after the death of his son by suicide: “Looking back, is it possible to begin to see purpose in your pain?” He said he had struggled with the “why” questions: “Why didn’t you [God] answer the prayer I prayed every day for 27 years?” The prayer I prayed more than any other prayer went unanswered. But… What you need in tragedy is not an explanation, you need the presence of God.” Truer words have never been spoken. God’s presence in our lives is what has kept my family going, too.

During His conversation with Martha, Jesus made a staggering claim that has forever changed mankind’s view of death: “I am the resurrection and life…,” He said. Martha believed in an eschatological resurrection as she confessed to Jesus. She understood the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. But Jesus was trying to help her understand that the resurrection was not an event, as such. It was the Person standing right beside her. He is the life. Where there is resurrection, death is impotent and where life thrives, death is absent. In a nutshell, in Jesus, there is no death. In Him the dead do not pass into oblivion. They live on although they are separated from the physical life. Lazarus was not late Lazarus to Jesus. He was just Lazarus. Indeed Lazarus’ body had ceased to function and his flesh was decomposing, going back into the dust. But although its chemical properties had begun to disintegrate and the blood was no longer circulating, Lazarus was still within earshot of the voice of Jesus. There is never a point at which we are beyond Jesus’ voice or reach. Before the multitude in Bethany stood One who substituted the present for a future event of hope. What had ceased to exist was merely the tent housing Lazarus (2 Cor. 5:1). But to Jesus, Lazarus was more than his physical body. Human beings are spiritual beings and that is what connects us to our Creator God since the flesh has no interest in divine things (Gal 8:8).

Barclay aptly observed, in “Jesus Christ, we know that we are journeying not to the sunset, but to the sunrise” of eternal life with Him. Jesus’ voice pierced the heart of darkness that had engulfed Lazarus in his death, and shone the light of His life. Jesus completely altered the character of death so that although it remains, it is a powerless leviathan to the believer because of the continuity of life inherent in the Person of Christ, our Lord.

Human understanding is always restricted and crippled by our experiences on this earth. The present so pre-occupies us that it has obscured the future, particularly in spiritual issues.  Judging from what obtained in the present, Martha implicitly told the Lord that He was too late to do anything for Lazarus. Her view was confined to time and space: “If you had been here…” She thought that Jesus had to be physically present in their geographic location to heal her brother. Capitulation to the prison of time and space limits our focus to what we believe to be present reality, and makes us lose sight of that which is possible. Consequently, our straggling modicum of faith becomes frayed by our fixation to the present; to that which is temporary at the expense of the eternal.

Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead reveals to us that He has permanently defeated death.  This means that we have hope even when our loved ones succumb to physical death…