When Death Means Life- Part II

But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men,” (Matthew 16:23, NKJV).

Satan relentlessly stalked Jesus throughout His life. He had even sought to snuff out His life through Herod’s crime of infanticide.  Demons recognized Him and trembled in His presence as He drove them out of people, and shattered the fetters of death. This portended Satan’s ultimate defeat. This was a defining moment in earth’s history and the battle lines were drawn.

Jesus was not oblivious of His impending ignominious death. He told His disciples “”The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things…” (Matt. 9:22, NIV).  He knew that the hour for which He had come into the world was the very hour He would leave it. Nevertheless, He resolved to go through it all. This is one death that would tilt the scale in favor of mankind forever by providing the opportunity to be reconciled with our original family, the family of God. Eternal life was within reach, but only through the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God. That’s why Satan was desperately trying to subvert the entire plan by inducing Peter to dissuade Jesus from going through such a painful experience. Satan knows the keen aversion and natural repugnance of the human flesh to pain and death and he attempted to exploit it with the Lord.

Jesus’ sharp response to Peter’s rebuke reveals that He felt the deep barbs of this persuasive temptation that was buttressed with earthly logic from a beguiling nemesis masquerading as a sympathetic disciple.  Erring affection should never be entertained. Our most severe temptation can come from those who are unreservedly loyal and close to us. Now, was Peter the embodiment of Satan at this time? Of course not. But he was momentarily a pawn in the adversary’s grip. Jesus’ sharp vision into the spiritual world discerned the twistedness of Peter’s love in his adversarial remark and quickly silenced him. Jesus addressed Satan through the creature he had influenced. This was not the first time this had happened. When God pronounced a curse on Satan in the Garden of Eden, He had addressed the serpent, which Satan had influenced to tempt Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:14,15). Jesus’ stinging counter-rebuke to Peter’s was directed at the Enemy and was also meant to jolt the erring disciple into objective reality as a follower of the Lord and not His leader. Have you ever heard a close associate or family member say to you when things are going tough: “I cannot understand why God is doing this to you?” If you think that is from the Holy Spirit, think again. We can never love anyone more than God loves them. But we can inadvertently love them away from God’s purpose for their lives. The best of our intentions are often self-serving and, as such, they are often at variance with God’s will.

The response Jesus gave Peter matched the temptation: Stern and firm, but instructive. Jesus used almost the same phraseology He had used against Satan in the third temptation in the wilderness. Through Peter, Satan was expressing his design to distract the Lord from His Father’s will by offering Him a short cut to glory. Jesus had to repel Satan’s cruel joke of pursuing self-preservation at the expense of God’s purpose for Him. Jesus’ determination to undergo severe suffering to accomplish His mission drew a distinct line that separated the carnal mind from the spiritual. It does not suffice to acknowledge Jesus as Messiah while denying His suffering and death. There is no Gospel message in the absence of the cross and we can never hope to reign with Him unless we are also willing to suffer with Him (2 Timothy 2:12). Disciples of Jesus of every age must not only acknowledge that there is a price to be paid in following Jesus, but they must be willing to embrace that price. Watchman Nee once remarked that the way of the cross is splattered with blood. This is not masochism. It is just how the rules in God’s kingdom operate. This is a kingdom that thrives on sacrificial love. Its laws are diametrically opposed to those of the kingdom of the world. There will never be a point of intersection or convergence for the two. To attempt to interpret the events of the kingdom of God in the context of worldly wisdom is to miss the point, entirely. This is a kingdom whose rules are inversely related to those of the kingdoms of this world…where death is a prerequisite to life.

…to be continued

Two Types of Exodus

Moses is known to believers as the leader of that historic physical Exodus from Egypt. He was the man God used to deliver Israel from physical bondage; from the iron grip of the world’s most formidable empire then. Moses stood before Pharaoh who was regarded as a god, to demand freedom for the people of Israel with nothing in his hands but a piece of wood. But God performed unprecedented miracles with that piece of wood by the hand of Moses until Israel walked out of Egypt to their freedom in the sight of all Egypt. The exodus recorded in the Old Testament was a literal event that happened to real human beings of flesh and blood who were freed from literal slavery. This is why the authors of the New Testament exhort us to treat the record of the events in the Old Testament as our example. They are occurrences from which we can learn a lot about spirituality. But political and physical freedom do not constitute spiritual freedom. Israel struggled spiritually on their way to the Promised Land.
On Mount Sinai, God made a covenant with Israel and gave them a Moral Code, a Blueprint by which they could guard their freedom, live in prosperity, and thrive as individuals and as a nation. But Israel perpetually lapsed back into sin, even after settling down in the Promised Land. Israel was physically free, but spiritually, they lacked complete freedom. Another exodus would be necessary to accomplish spiritual freedom. Jesus came to lead this spiritual exodus. The difference between the exodus led by Moses and the one led by Jesus is that the former was limited to ancient Israelite while the latter was totally inclusive of Jew and Gentile alike. By His death and resurrection, Jesus made spiritual freedom accessible to whoever desired it. Those who believe in Him, no one else can enslave again. That is why some of the most spiritually free human beings are found in the most oppressive sociopolitical and religious environments; under despotic rule.
In actual fact, the Bible makes a startling pronouncement that no one is free (Romans 6). We are either slaves to sin or slaves unto righteousness in Christ. But those who are in Christ as slaves to righteousness are free indeed. This seems paradoxical. However, the believer has nothing to pay for deliverance from sin and by voluntarily accepting Jesus, he or she comes under His authority, not to be oppressed but to be freed from the grip of Satan. He or she enters into another kingdom, another realm where Jesus is Lord and King forever. The Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus sets the believer free from the Law of sin and death. By being voluntarily bound to Christ, the believer becomes a free child of God and an heir to the eternal kingdom together with Jesus, our Lord.
The spectrum of the Exodus that Jesus led is characterized by unprecedented eternal benefits such as freedom from fear and eternal life. The believer passes from death unto life, and shall not come into judgment. No weapon formed against them shall prosper. They endure as trees planted by the rivers of water, in Christ Jesus.

See how much God loves you:

The Pain of Pruning for Your Benefit

In His Paschal Discourse, the Lord Jesus adopted the analogy of viticulture to drive home a pertinent message to His disciples and believers after them. The time was at hand for the Lord to be crucified. The physical bond He had shared with the disciples was soon to be severed and the disciples were disturbed. Jesus sensed their despair and tactfully adopted the analogy of the vine, its branches and the husbandman to assure them of a special continuity in their relationship with Him- a less obvious but more profound spiritual bond. They would also assume a new place in the world; different from the place they had in Judaism.

Biblical texts based on agrarian lifestyles can be a little obscure in meaning, particularly to a person with limited agricultural background. As such, it is possible to, inadvertently, miss certain contextual and lexical meanings of such texts. John 15: 1-5 is a lesson in viticulture, the science of the study of grapes. In this text the Lord taught about pruning. Pruning is a type of viticultural activity which was quite common in Israel in the first century A.D. The production of grapes was dependent upon the prudence of the vinedresser, as well as his expertise in weeding and pruning the vineyard. Pruning eliminates excessive and unprofitable superfluous foliage. It stimulates further growth and fruitfulness of the branch as the long as that branch remains attached to the vine. A severed branch loses its existential nourishment as it has no inherent life of its own. Pruning makes the branch more prolific. The farmer’s aim is to make a fruitful branch even more fruitful. The process of pruning transcends the removal of bad branches and deals with the healthy branches to maximize their productivity. The fruitless branches are removed while the fruitful ones are pruned. The vintner takes the fragile branch in his skilled hands and examines it carefully before deciding which part needs to be pruned. Pruning is not random, it is purposeful. Careless pruning can endanger the very life of the branch. The branch has no say in the process of pruning and its fruitfulness always attests to the skill of the vintner. Pruning is God’s method of humbling us without humiliating us so that we may be more profitable for His kingdom. A pruned vine is a healthy, prolific vine. It is not a diseased vine. Lear more, get yourself a copy of the book, The Perfect Prescription, by Reigh Simuzoshya: