Rev. Dr. Samson Parekh
Devotional Verse: Galatians 1:14
The Cross of Christ
Crucifixion was a method of capital punishment that probably originated with the Assyrians sometime around the 6th Century BC. It was later adopted by the Persians who used this method more systematically. Their land was considered to be holy because it belonged to their holy god Ahuramazda. If a criminal was put to death and any part of his body touched the ground, the land would be defiled. So, the criminals were hung on a cross. The Romans adopted this punishment around the 4th Century BC and used it to crucify those who rebelled against the Roman empire.
Crucifixion was the most feared form of capital punishment as the victim suffered a long and painful death, sometimes hanging for 3 days before dying. The victim was often crucified on the sides of roads with the description of his name and crime. As he hung from the cross, people would taunt him, make derogatory comments, spit on him and throw stones at him. Death ultimately occurred through constrained blood circulation, organ failure, and asphyxiation. Therefore, the cross was a symbol of utter shame, humiliation, and torture.
In contrast, the apostle Paul boasts in the cross saying, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ …” (Galatians 6:14). For him, the preaching of the cross was “the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul even risked and gave his life, preaching the cross and Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23). Paul did this because Jesus’ cross was a cross of victory over sin, Satan, self, and the ways of the world. Through the cross, Christ put the devil and his powers to shame as Colossians 2:15 says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”
Throughout his whole life, Jesus never succumbed to a single thought of sin, to Satan or to his own self-will till his death on the cross. Therefore, by dying on the cross as a sinless person, Jesus conquered sin (1 Peter 1:19), Satan (Hebrews 2:14) and his own human self (John 6:38, Luke 22:42). He crushed Satan’s power. The cross of Christ is the symbol of victory and salvation for humanity from sin, the penalty of sin and Satan. The cross is the only way back to God. When man sinned, there was a chasm between man and God that could not be filled or crossed over by human efforts. It was only through his victory over sin and death on the cross that Jesus made a way over the chasm so that we can approach God. On the cross, Jesus appeased the wrath of God and set us free from it. Now for those who are in Christ, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).
The cross in our homes is a sign of our being Christian. However, as Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 16:24, we have to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him. Accordingly, we need to live our daily life fitting to the cross and honoring the one who was crucified for us.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, make the cross of Christ very real to us so that we will live in its light at every moment. Amen.
Devotional Verse: John 12:1-6
Judas Iscariot, son of Simon Iscariot (John 6:71), most likely received their surname “Iscariot” (ishq’riyoth) from their native city of Kerioth which was about 10 miles south of Hebron (Joshua 15:25). The Hebrew term ’îš means man and qə·rî·yō·wṯ means a village so there is a possibility that Judas might be a villager.
Judas was one of the disciples and a close associate of Jesus. He usually sat next to Jesus while eating and he was entrusted with the finances for the group (John 12:6, 13:29). As a disciple, Judas lived with Jesus, he listened to his teachings, saw him perform miracles and witnessed him cast out demons and heal the sick. While he was close to Jesus, none of the gospel writers reported anything good about him. He is mentioned 28 times in the gospels and Acts. On eight occasions he is described as a betrayer of Jesus and twice he is called a traitor. His betrayal of Jesus is alluded to nine times. It is mentioned twice that Satan entered Judas and twice that he died a tragic death.
What was the reason for Judas’s poor reputation and bad behavior? It appears that it was because he was following Jesus for all the wrong reasons. Even though he was living with the Master, Judas’s inclination was towards money and prominence. Some godly women supported Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:3), and Judas was appointed to watch over the group’s finances. John 12:6 mentions that Judas was a thief and used to steal from the group’s money bag. Also, just like the other disciples, Judas misconstrued Jesus as a political Messiah who would deliver Israel from Roman slavery, establish the Kingdom of Israel and rule from David’s throne. We see this belief of the disciples reflected in Acts 1:6 just before Jesus’ ascension to heaven. It was there that they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?” (See also, Mark 10:37, Matthew 18:1-3, 19:27-30). Judas too was seeking prominence from Jesus.
Due to his ulterior motives, Judas was prone to allowing Satan to enter his heart and to manipulate him (Luke 22:3, John 13:27). He was stunned when he realized that Jesus was not going to be the King of Israel but instead was teaching his disciples about loving their enemies and his own death. Judas was disappointed in what he was hearing and decided to turn against his Master by selling Jesus to his enemies for 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15).
Judas died a tragic death as he probably hung himself from a tree (Matthew 27:5). It seems that during the earthquake that took place at the time of the death of Jesus, the tree fell over Judas’ body and his bowels gushed out due to the weight of the tree (Acts 1:18).1
The motives of our hearts are extremely important in following Jesus and serving his body, the church because we cannot deceive God with a pretense. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” and “God knows the secrets of the heart” (Psalm 44:21. See also Proverb 21:2; Jeremiah 17:10; John 2:24). If we as believers follow the Lord and work for his church with any ulterior agenda, then we will have no reward from the Lord. 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 says, “the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”
It is a privilege to work for and with the Lord. However, there can be serious consequences if we do it with an ulterior motive because “our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). We all know that it is better to avoid playing with fire.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to serve you and your kingdom with a genuine love for you, a pure heart and with right intentions. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Luke 22:39-46, Mark 14:32-42
AGONY OF JESUS
Today we will look at Luke who presents a physician’s version of the Gethsemane narrative. It is only Luke who records that Jesus was “‘in agony’ (Greek agōnia) … and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
This is a unique incident that was recorded only once in the Bible. We see that from here going forward, Jesus was fighting a battle all alone. His disciples were oblivious to his agony and slept while Jesus was struggling in prayer. Soon they were going to desert him and leave him all alone in this time of terrible distress.
Jesus’ struggle began with an agonizing prayer, asking his father to “take this cup from me” if it was his will. Jesus’ agony was of such great magnitude that his sweat fell on the ground like drops of blood. In medical science, this condition is commonly referred to as hematidrosis. Under extreme conditions of psychological stress, tiny capillaries in the sweat glands can rupture under the skin mixing blood with sweat. Often times, under these conditions a person will pass out, but if not, then hematidrosis may take place. This was the case with Jesus.
Why was Jesus in such agony? Was it because he knew that his most inhuman sufferings and gruesome death were just a few days away? Of course, this would be quite natural, but more than the physical torture, Jesus was also under extreme psychological and spiritual pressure as he was about to take upon himself the sins of the whole world.
Since mankind has never experienced a sinless nature or state, we will never be able to fully understand the sinless nature of Jesus. He was completely sinless in every way: physically, spiritually and psychologically. Jesus elevated sin from the physical to the psychological dimension (Matthew 5:28, 5:21-22, Mark 7:20-21) so the idea of sin never crossed his mind. A completely sinless Jesus took upon himself the burden of sin of all humanity. “He who did not know sin, he (God) made him sin for us …’ (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Basically, sin is to rebel against and turn one’s back on God. It is the severance of any relationship with God. This was unthinkable for Jesus who was about to be cast as a rebel against the Father with whom he had been one. His Father was going to turn his face away from him and forsake him because he was to be made sin (Matthew 27:46). As the bearer of the sins of mankind, Jesus was going to be under the terrible wrath of God (Romans 1:18). He would experience not only suffering and death but also separation from his Father.
As humans, we could never understand what was about to happen on the cross. The cup of Jesus was a symbol of all the sins of humanity, torture and suffering and separation from the Father. While all these things were beyond Jesus’s bearing as a human being, he prayed three times to God to remove the cup (Matthew 26:44). However, to fulfill the will of the Father he accepted the cup and said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38. Also 4. 34, 5.30, 14.31).
Jesus experienced excruciating agony by taking our sins upon himself so that by believing in him we can become sinless before God. He suffered being separated from the Father so that we can be reconciled with God. He suffered death so that we can live. During this Lenten Season, let us focus on the sacrificial work of Jesus, worship him, walk with him by turning away from sin and being in constant fellowship with him.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be mindful of what Jesus suffered for us to reconcile us with you. Help us to worship Jesus with grateful hearts in our daily walk. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Mark 14:1-9
Clash of Principles
The chief priests and the teachers of the Law were operating on a worldly principle: when someone becomes a threat to your authority and if you cannot subdue him, then remove him. When Jesus became a threat to their socio-religious authority, they were “looking for a sly way to arrest and kill him” (v. 1b). The Jewish leaders declared themselves to be the guardians of religion and society, but they were simply promoting worldly principles.
Jesus was living and promoting divine and spiritual principles. He had no problem visiting the house of Simon who even though healed by Jesus, carried the stigma of being a leper and was therefore shunned by society. It was no surprise that the conservative Jewish society avoided association with Simon. But Jesus did not. The One who had authority over sicknesses, demons, death and life and forgiveness of sin is now sitting in the house of a healed leper. This is true humility and demonstration of the love of the Son of God and all those who claim to be his disciples.
In contrast to the leaders of Jewish society, we see an act of true and matchless worship take place. A woman who seeks no honor worships Jesus as her Master by anointing him with the costly perfume of nard. She was unconcerned with worldly things and instead considered Jesus to be more valuable than a whole year’s wage (verse 5). While even Jesus’s disciples thought this act was a waste, the woman was fully focused on the Master and did not think twice about the financial cost (Matthew 26:8).
Once again, we see a clash of two principles. There were those who were worldly-minded and considered money to be more important than the Master. Then there was a woman who considered Master more important than her money. Jesus endorsed the act of the woman who sacrificed one-year of wages for the Master without expecting anything in return. It was Jesus who granted her a universal recognition for her act of honoring him. The woman was preparing Jesus for his death even though she was not aware of his approaching sacrifice for the salvation of humanity.
Then comes Judas to the scene as a perfect foil for the woman. He had an ulterior motive to follow the Master: he wanted financial gain and even if he had to betray the Lord, he would not shrink from it.
During the last few days of the Lenten Season, it is time for us who claim to be true disciples of Jesus to take a toll of ourselves and examine the principles we operate on in our Christian life. Are we governed by carnal and worldly principles of the priests, the teachers of the Law, Judas, and the disciples or by the divine and spiritual principles of the Lord as demonstrated by the woman who gave her best to show her love for the Master?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to live as your true disciples walking according to your principles and not accordingly to the principles of the world.
Devotional Verse: Mark 12:13-17
Paying the Dues
During Jesus’ time, Jews were ruled by the Romans who imposed three taxes on them. The first was a ground tax where the Romans took one-tenth of all the grain and one-fifth of all the wine and fruit produced by the Jews. The second was an income tax of one percent of each man’s income. The third was a poll tax of one denarius from all men between the ages of fourteen and sixty-five and all women between the ages of twelve and sixty-five. Since the Jews hated to pay taxes to their Roman enemies, the emperor selected Jews themselves to collect the taxes. Each tax collector was entitled to receive a commission on the collected amounts. Many of the Jewish tax collectors, like Zacchaeus, were very cruel when they took the taxes from their own people. Accordingly, the Jews hated the tax collectors and considered them sinners (Mark 2:16-17; Luke 5:27-32).
Among the Jews, the chief priests, teachers, and elders wanted to have Jesus arrested because he had spoken against them. So they sent some Pharisees and Herodians to try and trap Jesus into stirring up anti-Roman sentiments among the Jews just as Judas the Gaulonite had provoked the Jews by issuing the slogan, “No taxes to Rome!” So they asked Jesus whether or not they had to pay taxes to their oppressors, the Romans. If Jesus said that it was lawful to pay taxes, the Jews would turn against him. If he said it was not lawful to pay taxes, then Rome will imprison him for provoking rebellion. They believed that either way, Jesus would be trapped. But Jesus was aware of their hypocrisy and asked for a coin that had the image of the then emperor Caesar Tiberius. It was the time of the famous Pax Romana, the Roman peace, all over the world under Caesar. His subjects had the privileges of the road system and tranquility and security on the roads. Caesar provided water and sewer system, and mail and transportation system. Therefore, Jesus said that it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar for the usage of the systems he provided.
At the same time, Jesus asked the Jews to pay the rightful amount to God because every man carries God’s image. We know that it is God who gives and sustains our life, giving us all the basic amenities of life like the sun and rain (Matthew 5:45) day and night, seasons (Genesis 1), crops, water, oxygen, health, family, and all other necessities of life. It was God who provided the Jewish people with a place to worship and to have fellowship with him and his people. It was God who met their spiritual needs. Therefore, the tithe that belonged to God must be given to him for using all the natural and spiritual privileges he gave them. Even in those days, God’s people were reluctant to give their tithes to the temple despite the specific law. Knowing this, Jesus used this incident to encourage them to give tithes to God.
We can apply the above discussion to our situation today. For all the benefits that we receive from our city, county, state and federal governments, we must pay the lawful taxes owed to them. At the same time, we must bring our dues in proportion to our income to God’s church where he meets our spiritual needs (2 Corinthians 8:1-7). Through the rituals like baptism, Holy Communion, marriage, burial, etc. and through various ministries of the local church, God provides social and spiritual care for individuals, families and their children. Therefore, it is only fair that we cheerfully and generously bring a proportionate portion of our income to our church and with a genuine love for God (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I thank you for providing care in every area of my life through my government and my church. Help me to faithfully and cheerfully pay my dues to them. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Mark 12:1-12
Fruit of the Vineyard
Here, Jesus tells the Jewish leaders that it is God who planted Israel as a vineyard and made all the conducive preparations for obtaining good fruit.
Three passages from the Old Testament explain Israel’s condition before God chose them as his vineyard. (1) Deuteronomy 25:5, “A wandering Aramean was my father, he went down to Egypt … soon they became a great nation, mighty and many”. (2) Deuteronomy 7:7, “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” (3) Ezekiel 16:5-6, “you were thrown out into the open field … despised on the day of your birth. Then I passed by you and saw you squirming in your blood … I said to you, “Live.”
The people of Israel, as a nation, had a humble beginning. God chose them through Abraham and he blessed them. He also wanted them to bring his blessings to all the people of the world (Genesis 12:1-3) by their complete obedience to God’s word. If they obeyed God’s commands, he would bless them in every area of their lives (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). A blessed Israel would become a light for the nations as mentioned in Isaiah 42:6, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth (See also Isaiah 49:6, 52:10, 60:3). And all the nations will come to the God of Israel to be blessed.
However, the history of Israel till the time of Jesus shows that people of Israel constantly rebelled against God and went their own way. On many occasions, God sent prophets to warn them to turn back to him, but they would not listen. Instead, they willfully turned a deaf ear to the prophets, persecuting and killing them. Even though God sent the people of Israel into exile in Assyria (722-721 BC) and Babylon (587-586 BC), they did not obey God or turn to him in repentance. Now, as per Mark 12:8, they were going to kill Jesus, the son of God. The people of Israel had failed God drastically and greatly disappointed him.
Therefore, God chose another vineyard through Jesus (John 15:1-5), the church, and assigned to the members of the church the same task, to be the light of the world, saying, “You are the light of the world …let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:14-16). God assigned to them the same commission, saying “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
During this Lenten Season, we must inquire of ourselves and ask, “Have I become a light for others by producing good fruit that God has prescribed in his Word (2 Corinthians 6:6-7; Galatians 5:22-23; Ephesians 5:9; 2 Peter 1:5-7)?” and “Am I actively engaged in preaching the gospel to the lost and sharing the blessings of eternal life with them?”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to please you by bearing good fruit in my life and by sharing the gospel with those who are still in darkness. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Mark 11:20-25
Pray by Faith
When Jesus saw that the fig tree with good foliage had no fruit, he cursed the tree and the next day it withered up. However, Jesus is not relating the fruitlessness of the tree to its withering. Instead he used the incident to teach Peter and the other disciples a lesson about receiving an answer to prayer through faith in God.
Just as Jesus cursed the tree and it withered, so too if his disciples ask anything by faith in God, it will be done accordingly. While it seems impossible for a mountain to be thrown into the sea, God has the power to do it. For God, who created billions of galaxies ex-nihilo (out of nothing), his command over the whole earth is never in doubt, let alone the mountains. Therefore, God has the power to make any impossible thing possible (Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37).
Through faith in almighty God, many of God’s people have seen events similar to mountains being destroyed. For example, Moses saw God deliver his people from Egypt, divide the Red Sea, and provide heavenly manna in the wilderness. Joshua saw the walls of Jericho come falling down by the blowing of horns and the lifting of the voices of God’s people. Hebrews Chapter 11 describes what can be accomplished when God’s people put their faith in him. I read a story about a city that removed a whole mountain in front of a girls’ school to use the dirt to lay a road through the valley. This happened in response to the girls’ prayer of faith because they did not have a playground and they were praying for the mountain to be removed for their playground.
No matter how big our mountain may be, if we ask God by faith to remove it, God is able to answer our prayers. However, God has placed some boundaries to our requests.
- Ask without a shadow of doubt and with a conviction that it is already done (v. 23). So, we rest assured of the answer to prayer by faith when we pray. Our prayer should be a prayer of conviction of the answer.
- We should pray without holding a grudge or a thought of retaliation in our heart (v. 25). It is natural, even for a Christian, to hold a grudge and think of retaliation when offended by someone. But Jesus says that such thoughts should be removed from our heart when we pray in faith. Once the seed is removed, the tree will not grow nor bear bad fruit. Then God will remove our mountain.
- In John 14:13 Jesus says, whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified …” It means that we must ask what is appropriate to Jesus’ name. So, we cannot ask God to harm our enemy because Jesus wants us to love our enemy. The answer to prayer must glorify God.
- James 4:3 says that if we ask with wrong motives to spend on our pleasures, God will not answer our prayers. Faith always looks at the good of God’s Kingdom and the glory of God. To that end, we should direct our prayers as God will surely answer our prayers of faith.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach us to pray without ulterior motives, with a clean heart and with the conviction of an answer, knowing that through the answer to our prayers your name will be glorified. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Mark 11:1-10
The fig has long been one of the chief agricultural products in Israel for food and medicinal purposes. After the red-carpet welcome Jesus received in Jerusalem, he and his disciples ventured outside the city where he noticed a fig tree with good foliage, but no fruit. He knew it was not the season for the tree to be bearing fruit. Without going into detail as to why Jesus was seeking fruit from the fig tree when it was out of season, we will see the lesson regarding fruitfulness from this scripture.
In 2 Timothy 4:2 where Paul says to Timothy, ‘Preach the Word; be prepared ‘in season’ and ‘out of season’ we see that our spiritual life is full of up and down seasons just like the prophet Elijah experienced. Sometimes we are filled with great joy, strength, power, and victory like Elijah was on Mt. Carmel against the priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:36-39). This is a period of being “in season.” At other times, we are sad, discouraged, worried, and anxious like Elijah was when he asked God to take his life away (1 Kings 19:4). This is a period of being “out of season.”
What Paul was telling Timothy was that regardless of our condition, whether in season or out of season, we should preach the gospel because the power is in the gospel. Similarly, the Lord desires Christians to produce godly fruit all the time and in every condition. E.g., even though Paul and Silas were in the stocks in the dungeon, they were still joyful, at peace, patient, kind, hopeful, and praising God (Acts 16:24-25). They did not hold bitterness towards their enemies but instead, prayed for them. Stephen did the same by following in the footsteps of our Lord (Acts 7:59-60). The disciples of Jesus and hundreds of Christians suffered persecution and even death but they were still filled with joy, hope, peace, and love for their persecutors.
In Colossians chapter 1, the bearing of fruit has two nuances: (1) the bearing of fruit of godly virtues described in verses 10-12 (see also Galatians 5:21-23), and (2) the bearing of fruit in the form of converts to Christ through the preaching of the gospel in v. 6. Both are important. God may not be pleased with a Christian who produces only the fruit of the Holy Spirit and godly virtues but is indifferent to the people who are going to the eternal fire of hell. Who does not obey God’s Word and does not care to snatch the sinners from the fire (Jude 23). A Christian is expected to bear both kinds of fruit because fruitfulness should be an integral part of our transformed nature and that nature should be demonstrated in our works.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives and snatch the sinners out of the fire of hell by sharing the gospel. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Mark 11:1-10
Entry in the Arena – II
We saw that when Jesus entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey, people were exuberant with joy. They saw the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9 and took Jesus to be the Messiah-King who would liberate them from the slavery of the Roman empire. However, the Lord did not deliver them. Instead, he allowed emperor Vespasian and his commander-in-chief, Titus to destroy Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70. Henry H. Milman in his book History of the Jews, book 16 writes, “The slaughter was dreadful. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The Pregnant was slit open. Soldiers climb over heaps of dead bodies to carry on slaughter. Even Titus could not stop enraged soldiers. Finally, soldiers so exhausted, could not kill anymore. So 97,000 enslaved and sent to toil in Egypt mines. Others in the Roman Empire to be butchered for amusement. Set houses on fire. So much blood was shed that fire was extinguished.” Why would the Lord allow this destruction to happen?
The Jews considered their Levitical sacrificial system of the Law sufficient for the forgiveness of sins and have a relationship with God. They did not want a Savior-Messiah to save from their sin and restore their relationship with God. But they wanted a political and royal Messiah-King to save from the oppression of earthly masters and established the Kingdom of Israel. They wanted only political and earthly security, prosperity and material blessings. Therefore, they misconstrued and mistreated Jesus.
By his teaching, miracles, casting out demons, and raising dead to life, Jesus proved beyond doubt that he was the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. But they did not acknowledge him as the Savior from sin and the giver of eternal life. And when Jesus showed no sign of saving them from Romans but started to talk about forgiveness of sin, loving their enemies, and his own death, the Jewish people rejected Jesus. Because of their misconception about Jesus, they did not believe in him as the Son of God, the Savior and the Lord of their life. They did not listen to him. They considered him a heretic. They tortured and crucified him under fabricated charges. They believed everything that John the Baptist told them except that Jesus was the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world (John 1:29, 36). They even incurred a blood-curse upon themselves by saying, “his blood is upon us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). Like Adam and Eve, they totally turned their backs on Jesus and insulted the Son of God.
Therefore, the Lord was displeased with them and did not save them but subjected them to the severe judgment of destruction by the Romans. Our response to Jesus as the Son of God and Savior from sin decides our destiny.
Unlike the Jewish people, we must have a correct understanding of Jesus. He gives us health and wealth. He saves from our sickness. He blesses us materially. He provides all our earthly needs and protection. But we do not believe in Jesus only for those things. Primarily, Jesus is the Savior who saves us from sin and its penalty. Unless we believe in him, confess our sins and accept him as the Lord of our life, we cannot be saved from sin, have a right relationship with God and re-enter the eternal and blessed Kingdom. We cannot please God. However, when we accept him as our Lord and Savior we have to be ready for anything: privileges or persecution, and even death to glorify his name (Romans 14:7-8).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to have a correct understanding of Jesus as the Savior from our sin and giver of eternal life so that we may serve him with the right intention and glorify your name. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Mark 11:1-10
Entry in the Arena – I
During his ministry, Jesus visited Jerusalem frequently. Two times during a Passover (John 2:13, 12:12), one time during an unnamed festival (John 5:1), one time at Hanukkah (John 10:22) and few other times. We now see Jesus entering Jerusalem one final time to achieve the sole objective of his life, the salvation of humanity.
Now Jesus was entering Jerusalem as the final battleground to fight Satan whose sole aim was to keep Jesus from the cross. Jesus had encountered Satan many times when he faced temptations, the casting out demons, condemning Beelzebul, healing (Luke 13:16), etc., but now he was heading for a final, fierce and bloody battle. Jesus, the promised ‘offspring of the woman’ of Genesis 3:15 was getting ready to crush the head of the Serpent. At the same time, the Serpent was going to pull together all his resources including the disciples of Jesus. The eternal destiny of humanity depended upon the victory of the ‘offspring of the woman.’
Jesus was entering the arena with hordes of people and his trusted disciples. They all were rejoicing and becoming exuberant with joy because the promised Messiah, the King of Israel was entering Jerusalem. They were shouting “Hosanna” to the King riding on a donkey. All of Jerusalem was giving him a red-carpet welcome, but their exuberance was going to be short-lived. Soon, the same crowd that welcomed Jesus would turn on him by shouting ‘crucify him! Crucify him!’ What would be the reason for the dual response?
The Jews had been under the yoke of slavery for ages. They were oppressed, enslaved and persecuted by various foreign powers like Egypt, the Babylonians, the Assyrians, and the Greeks. Now it was the Romans. After King Solomon, there was hardly any time of freedom or peace for the Jews. Their cruel masters had exploited them and any attempt to seek freedom was crushed with an iron feast by their rulers.
Therefore, the Jews had long expected a Savior-Messiah, a deliverer King, and Jesus riding on the donkey matched the description of such a person (Zechariah 9:9). Also, Jesus had earned a reputation as a healer, a teacher from God and a prophet who was bold enough to condemn the corrupt leadership of the Jews (Luke 13:31-32, 23:1-39). Jesus even raised the dead to life. Therefore, the Jews were now rejoicing as they believed Jesus would deliver them from the political oppression of the Roman empire and establish the Kingdom of Israel (Luke 19:11, Acts 1:6).
Sadly, the Jewish people were not delivered from Roman oppression but were instead subjected to more severe persecution and destruction. God allowed the Roman emperor Vespasian and his son Titus to destroy Jerusalem along with the temple. Jesus’ prophecy that “the time will come when not one stone of the temple will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down (Luke 21:6)” had come true.
Why did the Lord subject the Jewish people to the destruction instead of saving them? We will see the reason in the next devotional.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your only begotten Son as an offspring of a woman. It is through his victory over sin, Satan and death that we have been liberated from the penalty of sin. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Acts 1:8
The Cross and the Commission
In the 14th century in Hamburg, Germany Master Bertram painted the Annunciation which was the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit to be called Jesus. The painting depicted God sending the baby Jesus to earth holding a cross. Jesus is being led by the Holy Spirit who appeared in the form of a dove. This scene perfectly conveys the mission of Jesus at his birth. In the history of humanity, Jesus is the only person who knew how he was going to die at the time of his birth and the reason and objective of his planned death.
When man committed sin, he turned his back on God. Therefore, his relationship with God was broken and he was thrown out from the blessed Kingdom which God had prepared for mankind (Matthew 25:34). Jesus’ life objective was to take away the sin, restore human’s severed relationship with God and give eternal life to the depraved humanity. He achieved this by taking upon himself the sins of the whole humanity and suffering the vicarious death on the cross. Throughout his earthly life, Jesus never lost sight of his objective. Even his own disciple, Peter, was unable to deter him from this (Matthew 16:22). Jesus was totally focused on achieving his objective and preparing his disciples to be the instrument of achieving the same by spreading the good news of salvation.
So far, we have seen how to walk according to God’s Word. From now on we want to focus on Jesus’ journey towards the cross and his passion to achieve his objective as well as on our mission which Jesus has assigned to us as a mandate (Matthew 28:16ff; Mark 16:15). So, as we engage in various religious-spiritual activities, let us remind ourselves of our duty to respond to his commission with passion and bring the good news of his Kingdom to the people around us. Let the Great Commission never go out of our sight.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to focus on the commission Jesus has given to us and help us to execute it faithfully in our daily life. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Ephesians 6:11
“Stand against the devil”
So far, we have looked at two of the three positions of a Christian as discussed in Watchman Lee’s book, “Sit, Walk, Stand.” Today, we will look at the third position of “stand.” In Ephesians 6:11, we are encouraged to “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the schemes of the devil” (see also 2 Corinthians 2:11).
Christians are in constant warfare against the devil and his forces. The devil who is called the great dragon, ancient serpent and Satan (Rev. 12:9) is determined to destroy God’s design, God’s people and God’s Word (Gen 3, Job 1, Matthew 4). God’s design was to establish his blessed kingdom on earth under the stewardship of humans (Gen 1-2), but Satan destroyed it by deceiving the humans and seducing them in rebelling against God (Genesis 3). Satan then incited David to take a census against God’s instructions. As a result, seventy thousand people were killed (1 Chronicles 21:1-14). Satan prowls around God’s people like a roaring lion to devour them (1 Peter 5:8). He uses the lust of the flesh, the lust of eyes and the pride of life to take Christians away from God and make them ineffective (1 John 2:13).
In order to destroy God’s people, Satan comes against them with the full force of his army which consists of principalities and the powers of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). He devises crafty schemes to confuse and deceive God’s people. He also came to Jesus with various temptations (Matthew Ch. 4) and through Jesus’ trusted disciple Peter, the devil tried to stop Jesus from going to the cross (Matthew 16:21-23). Satan is a master of deception, accusation and persecution (Revelation 12:9, 10, 13). He masquerades himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) so that we will be tricked by his deception. His goal is to “divide and conquer” God’s people. Unfortunately, many churches and evangelical groups have lost power and testimony and became ineffective because of such division.
Due to these attacks by Satan, it is imperative for us to stand firm against all the various schemes he throws our way. While Jesus has already conquered Satan through his sinless life, death, and resurrection, we must take a stand against the devil and not let him enter our territory, especially our mind. For it is Satan’s goal to get into our minds and create doubts about the Word of God as he did with Eve (Genesis 3:1-5). Whatever thoughts we allow him to sow in our minds will, of course, lead us away from the truth found in God’s Word. Therefore, by using all the spiritual weapons described in Ephesians 6:13-18, we must stand firm against the conniving schemes of the devil. This is especially true as we meditate upon the death and resurrection of Jesus during the Lent season. Satan will come at us with all his might, but by using all the weapons God has given us and through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to stand firm against the devil and his army.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be aware of the schemes of the devil and empower us to stand against him so that we will be able to know and overcome his moves. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Hebrews 4:14-16
Approaching the Throne
Today, I came across a very assuring exhortation in Hebrews 4:16, “Let us approach the throne of grace with confidence … our time of need.” I feel that it is a very timely passage given the current crisis caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Jesus is our High Priest in heaven, i.e. into the heavenly presence of God. Because of the hypostatic union of perfect divine nature and perfect human nature in Jesus, he knows and has experienced everything about humanity and divinity. Because of this, Jesus was able to completely identify with humans: both their joy and sorrows. During his life, Jesus went through all the experiences that a human being might go through except for the act of sinning. Being under direct and constant attack of the devil, Jesus experienced an onslaught of temptations, tensions, stress, apprehension, etc. He also experienced human birth, childhood, hunger, thirst, taunts, mockery, threats of death, and attacks on his life. In the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray before his ordeal on the cross of Calvary, he was troubled to the point of sweating drops of blood. Three times Jesus prayed to the Father to remove the cup of suffering from him, but that was not the will of the Father (Matthew 26:36-44). While this was the climax of Jesus’ psycho-spiritual torture (Luke 22:44), he also went through the physical torture and experienced the gruesome death on the cross of Calvary.
From these experiences we can see that our High Priest Jesus can sympathize with our greatest fears and worries. While we all experience weakness, pain, anxiety, physical-spiritual-psychological struggles of life, and even death, Jesus is there to present us before the throne of God to receive grace, mercy, and help in the time of our need.
Today is a time of great need for humanity. Everyone is afraid of the consequences of the Coronavirus infection. Many have lost their lives and many more are infected living in the fear of the contamination. Our world leaders, scientists, and medical professionals still do not have a rock-solid solution to this universal catastrophe. They seem to be powerless against the magnitude of the calamity.
At this time of unprecedented need, one thing we can do as God’s children is to approach with boldness the throne of God. This is where we will receive grace and mercy flowing continuously from our Lord. Through God’s mercy, we can confidently move forward because we know he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Nothing is hidden from him and nothing is out of his control. His sovereignty is extended over all the phenomena of the entire universe. God listens to our cry and answers our plea. He is our hope and our salvation in the time of trouble. Only he can bring humanity out of this universal devastation. Let us trust him, hope in him and continue to plead to him for his grace and mercy in this time of need.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we approach your throne with confidence, knowing that only you can show grace and mercy to us and deliver us from this Coronavirus catastrophe. Please help us. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Joel 2:12-13
Fasting During Lent
One of the major elements of Lent Season is fasting from food, entertainment, and luxuries. Some Christians fast for forty days, some seven days, some on Good Friday, and some for a couple of meals.
What is the meaning of fasting? When we fast, we should have a serious awareness that we are fasting for a special purpose; to set apart time to fellowship with God in prayer. Sometimes, it is to conduct serious spiritual business (Acts 13:1-3, setting apart Barnabas and Saul) or inquiry of oneself before God (Daniel 9:3-5). Also, there is a sense of suffering with Christ by giving up food, entertainment, luxuries, and even necessities. But Pope Francis expressed it very poignantly on February 26, 2020.
He said, “This penitential period is also the time to work on giving up gossip, rumors, and useless chatter, focusing instead on giving yourself to the Lord, who spent 40 days in the desert in fasting and prayer.” Jesus deprived himself of bread while spending time with God. But we need to deprive ourselves of the things the Pope has expressed above. That is the right kind of fast.
Pope Francis also said, “Lent is the right time to make room for the Word of God. It is time to turn off the television and open the Bible. It is the time to disconnect from your cell phone and connect to the Gospel.”
Pope Francis has expressed a naked truth. Social media, cell phones, in particular, can become a great distraction in our work and even in the study of the Word of God and prayer. Recently, a group of fine Christian young people agreed that when they take their cell phones to open the Bible application and when they see the message signs on WhatsApp, emails, etc., they are tempted to open those apps. Once they open them and get into the apps, they forget reading the Bible.
Therefore, even if we cannot fast from food, entertainment, luxuries, etc. let us learn to fast from those things that distract our attention from God, his Word, prayer, etc. Let us also learn to deprive ourselves of the work of the flesh described in Galatians 5:19-21: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, etc. Everyone cannot fast from food and drink but everyone can surely fast from the above works of the flesh that sidetrack us from a meaningful fellowship with God.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to give up the works that distract us from you, your Word and prayer so that we may focus our attention on spending time with you and be empowered. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Romans 6:4
Walk in the Newness of Life
We have been looking at a Christian’s threefold position of “Sit, Walk, and Stand” (Ephesians 1:20, 4:1, 6:11). Walking is a constant and daily movement towards our goal, the eternal kingdom. Therefore, God instructs us more frequently about walking. Today, we will look at the final walk, the “Walk in the newness of life”
Paul says in Romans 6:4, “Therefore, we have been buried with him …, so that as Christ was raised from the dead … so we too might walk in newness of life.” The basis for living in the newness of life is in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” When we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we are born anew in God’s family. Therefore, our bond with the kingdom of darkness and sin are severed (1 Peter 2:9, Isaiah 9:2). We “turn from darkness to light and from dominion of Satan to God …” (Acts 26:18). We have a new Master, Jesus Christ who bought us with a price. When he died, and was buried, he was not only cut off from the land of the living (Is 53:8) but also of sin. “The death he died, he died to sin once and for all (Romans 6:10a).
“But the life he lives after the resurrection, he lives to God” (Romans 6:10b). Thus, through death and burial, Jesus’ connection from the world of sin was completely severed. Now, the “life he lives he lives to God” (Romans 6.10b). Therefore, Paul says ‘if you are in Christ, consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ” (Romans 6:11).
Albert Barnes explains this concept well. The word sumphutos in Romans 6:5 basically means ‘to sow or plant together.’ What is planted together also sprout and grow together. We are dead to sin because we are planted together with Christ in his death and burial, and now we are risen together with Christ to live a new life for God.
Therefore, the new life we live should be like the life Jesus lives to God. We live the new life to God by being “dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed which amounts to idolatry” (Colossians 3:5. See also Ephesians 4:22, Galatians 5:19-21, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Instead, we live a new life to God by practicing what Paul instructs to us in Romans 12:9-21: Love with sincere love, hate what is evil; cling to what is good; honor one another; serve the Lord with spiritual fervor; be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer; share with needy; bless those who persecute you; rejoice with the joyful and mourn with mournful; live in harmony with one another; do not be proud or conceited and do not repay evil for evil; feed your enemy and that way, overcome evil with good.
It is not easy to walk in the newness of life because our self, Satan and sin always hinder us from pressing on towards the mark. But by the help and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to walk in the newness of life and please God.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to consider myself dead to sin and alive to you so that I will be able to live in a newness of life that will please you. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Ephesians 4:15
Speaking Truth in Love
Since we looked at “walking in the truth” in the previous devotionals, we might as well look at the important concept of speaking the truth. We saw that the truth never changes. It is like an immovable, immutable and unchangeable rock. Since the truth does not change, we adapt the manner in which the truth is to be communicated appropriately.
I will try to explain the Greek phrase “speaking the truth” by using English grammar. In Ephesians 4:15, the phrase “speaking the truth” is expressed by the use of a Greek participial form alētheuontes. In 2 Corinthians 12:6, the noun alétheia (truth) is used with the transitive verb eréō (to speak) which means “to speak” the truth. But in Ephesians 4:15 the verb ‘speak’ is not used. Only the participle is used in the present tense. So, the participle alētheuontes can best be translated as “truthing.” It means whatever results from our person by the way of thinking, hearing, speaking, doing any work, etc., must be truth and nothing but the truth. There is no trace of falsehood in our very thought, speech or deed, i.e., in our very being and nature. We sincerely aim to breathe the truth in and breathe the truth out by relying on God the Holy Spirit.
When by the help of the Holy Spirit, our nature is becoming only ‘truth,’ we cannot tolerate any untruth in us and others. Therefore, we want to correct the untruth, first in us and then in others. However, it should be done to others in love. Let us remember that love always considers others better and looks first at the interest of others (Philippians 2:3-4, 1 Corinthians 13:5)
Mostly, the truth is difficult to accept and digest. Therefore, it is to be communicated in love; in a gentle, kind and inoffensive manner. Difficult things are best heard when our defenses are not up. Our love causes the person to lower his defenses and accept the hard truth more readily.
The bottom line is that in whatever manner – speaking, seeing, hugging, acting, etc. – we communicate the truth, it must be in love, i.e., not to put one down but to bring him out of the untruth with genuine concern and by considering his interest more than ours. That might be the real meaning of the participial form alētheuontes, “truthing” in love.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to know the truth by the ministry of the Holy Spirit and help us to do the truth in love so that we will be able to help us and others, and glorify your name. Amen.
Devotional Verse: 2 John 4
Walk in the Truth -II
How do we walk in the truth? In other words, how do we adapt to a lifestyle of truth?
We saw that the triune God is the only true God. His being, nature, character, and attributes are unchangeable, immovable, and immutable. Therefore, whatever he says, reveals, and does in his Word is absolute truth and nothing but the truth. This truth which is compatible with and results from God’s nature and being is also immovable, immutable, and unchangeable under any situation or circumstances. No matter what changes might take place in the world – political, social, educational, philosophical, cultural, medical, economical, terrestrial, etc. – the truth of God’s word remains unalterable.
Therefore, if we want to walk in the truth, we must know and practice the truth which is revealed in God’s Word (John 17:1; Ezra 7:10; Psalm 33:4, 119:43, 160). We must know God’s Word by meditating upon it day and night (Joshua 1:8).
We must make it a perpetual prayer to God as per Psalm 25:5, “Guide me in your truth, and teach me …” We also must submit constantly to the guidance of the Holy Spirit because Jesus said, “when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).
When the Holy Spirit reveals the truth from God’s Word, we must accept and obey the truth. We should never run away from or turn blind eyes to the truth. Even pressure from peers, colleagues, authorities, family, relatives, circumstances, etc., should never change our loyalty to the truth of God’s Word. Nothing should hinder us from obeying the truth (Galatians 5:7). When we become loyal to God’s Word we show forth out loyalty to God who gave us his truth in his Word.
Michael, Hananiah, and Azariah did not change their loyalty to the truth expressed in the first two commandments (Exodus 20:1-5) even though they were faced with death in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:16-18). All the disciples of Jesus, except Apostle John, laid their lives for proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. The history of the church is filled with God’s people who laid their lives in a most gruesome manner to obey the Word of God. John Foxe’s book Voice of the Martyrs is a record of those people of God. All of them met a ghastly death but did not change their loyalty to the Word of God and to the God of the Word.
Walking in the truth is to live our lives in conformity with the truth which the only true God has revealed in his Word. It might be costly but it is rewarding for the glory of God.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be attentive to the ministry of the Holy Spirit, to know and obey the truth of your Word in our lives, and glorify your name. Amen
Devotional Verse: 2 John 4
Walking in Truth
In 3 John 4 apostle John writes, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are ‘walking in the truth’” (2 John 4). The concept of truth is much emphasized in the Scriptures. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:4). Jesus came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14, 17, 3:21, 8:40). John uses the word ‘truth’ about 25 times in his gospel and relates most of them to Jesus. God is ‘the only true God’ (John 17:3, 3:33). Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16). So, what is the meaning of ‘true’ or ‘truth’?
Philosophical definitions might defy our understanding. Simply speaking, the Hebrew word for truth, emeth, comes from the verb aman meaning to make firm or to keep as it is. So, there is a concept of immovability and immutability. Hebrew is a pictorial language. The Hebrew emeth creates a picture of a huge, immovable, and solid mountain. No matter what happens around it or to it, it never moves, shakes or changes. It is absolutely stable and firm. It stays as it is at any given moment in time or space.
Our God is “the only true God” (John 17:3, 3:33). It means his being, nature, character, and attributes never change. Basically, that is the meaning of the name YHWH, the I AM, in Exodus 3:14. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth …” (see also Revelation 3:7, 9:33). It means in eternity past, present and future, he remains the same. Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:16). He remains unchangeable and immovable forever.
In Matthew 16:16-18 Peter’s confession of Jesus is recorded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is eternal and immovable truth like a rock. On this rock, Jesus who himself is the rock (1 Corinthians 10:4) has built his church. No matter what happens – the rock and the church will never be moved or shaken, and “the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).
Then, how do we walk in the truth? We will see it tomorrow.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for revealing yourself to us as the one and the only true God in your Word. Help us to know you more and walk in your truth. Amen.
Devotional Verse: 1 John 1:5-7
Walk in the Light -II
When we believe in Jesus as the light of our life, we come out of the darkness of sin and death and enter into eternal life (John 5:24, 8:12). Then, we must continue to live in the light as we walk on the way to heaven because Jesus told us to be the light of the world (John 5:14). 1 John 5:7 again instructs us to ‘walk in the light.’
One of the reasons for walking in the light is to have fellowship with God who is Light (1 John 1:5-7) and the Father of lights (James 1s:17). One of the faculties of light is to reveal what is in the darkness until now. Because of the darkness of sin, we were not able to comprehend the love of God and to see our fellow Christian as God’s image and object of God’s love. But since now it is revealed to us, we must reflect God’s love by loving our fellow brethren, as God loves them. Our love for fellow brethren is evidence of our true fellowship with God. Because of the fellowship with God, his love flows in and through us. If it does not, then we still ‘walk’ in darkness (1 John 1:6)
Another reason for walking in the light is to glorify our heavenly Father. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (John 5:14-16). To do good works, first, we have to crucify our flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24) which are mentioned in Galatians 5:19: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, etc. Then, we have to bear the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. By bearing the fruit of the Spirit, we reflect God’s light and people know that we have fellowship with the Light, our heavenly Father.
Yet another reason for walking in the light is to become light in the darkness (John 1:5, Matthew 5:14). Humanity is groping and stumbling in darkness to find the divine light but unable to do so because of sin (John 11:10). We as the people of faith reflect the light of Jesus to them by being his witnesses. When they look at the light of Jesus in us, they will come to him to receive that light. God chose Israel to make her “as a light for the nations” (Isa 42:6, 49:6). But because of disobedience and rebellion, Israel failed the task. Then, Jesus Christ, one from the nation of Israel, became a light for nations and chose us to be the light for all nations (Matthew 28:19). We have freely received the light of eternal life and we must freely give to others who are seeking it.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to walk in the light so that I will have fellowship with you and with my brethren, and I will be your light to others.
Devotional Verse: John 8:12
Walk in the Light
Before we start meditating on the cross during this Lenten Season, we have a couple of more “walk” and “stand” to look at. Today, we will look at “walk in the light” as mentioned in 1 John 1:7.
1 John 1:5 says, “God is light and there is no darkness in him” (see also James 1:17). When man sinned against God, humanity was deprived of the fellowship of God, and therefore, from the source of light. Because of the depravity, humanity was plunged into the darkness of sin. In the Bible, darkness is associated with sin, evil and wickedness. In Isaiah 5:20, evil and darkness are used in parallelism (see also John 3:19-20, Matthew 6:23, Ephesians 5:11-12). We are born in the darkness of sin (Psalm 51:4-5) and have the inclination to live in it. John 3:19-20 says, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.” Paul vividly describes our darkened condition in Ephesians 2:1-4.
The penalty of living in the darkness of sin is eternal darkness and the fiery lake of Sulphur (Revelation 21:8, cf. 20:15). In 2 Peter 2:4-5, the hell is described as zophos, a place of deep and gloomy darkness, and named as Tartarus, the bottomless pit.
But God, because of his agape love, wanted to save us from the darkness of sin and its dreadful penalty. Therefore, God sent his only begotten Son Jesus as a light for the darkened humanity so that whoever believes in him as Lord and Savior will not perish to the fire of hell but have everlasting life in the presence of God, who is the Light (John 3:16-18).
In every church, some people claim to be Christians but still live in the darkness of sin and have not experienced the light of Jesus. Let today’s devotion be an invitation to them to come out of the darkness of sin and surrender to Jesus Christ as Jesus says, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever comes to me will not walk in the darkness of sin, but will have the light of life.” He will not perish but will have eternal life.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, I confess that I have been living in the darkness of sin. I believe that Jesus gave his life to be a light for me. Please forgive my sin, help me walk in the light of Jesus and glorify your name. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Galatians 5:16-25
Walk by Spirit – III
The Yangtze River Bridge in China is a favored spot for people to commit suicide. Thousands have jumped to death into the river. In 2003, Chen decided to rescue whomever he could. Every weekend he comes to the bridge looking for jumpers. He has rescued many by either talking to them or wrestling with them. Asked how he can identify potential jumpers Chen answers, “It is very easy. A person who walks without spirit.” It is easy to identify people who walk in discouragement and without spirit. So also, it is easy to identify God’s people because by living in obedience to the Holy Spirit, they display the fruit of the Holy Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
They aim to love others by considering them better than themselves just as Jesus did. They look more to the interest of others (Philippians 2). It means even if a man may insult or humiliate them and seek their worst, they seek only his highest good. The joy of the Lord bubbles from their hearts and is reflected in their life even in adversities like Coronavirus. They live in peace which results from the forgiveness of sin and their complete trust in God; the trust that God is good and whatever he does is always good. Then they help others to live in peace. They remain patient, calm and composed even when they are faced with jesting, criticism, abuse, etc. When they feel defeated they endure with patience. When they have an upper hand, they are still patient just like God is (Romans 2:4). They show kindness to others regardless of their condition or position. Kindness flows from them in every direction and at all times like Mother Teresa.
For goodness, there are two Greek words:
(1) kalos mostly refers to physical qualities such as well, handsome, pretty, healthy, etc., and
(2) agathos often refers to moral goodness or inner good qualities.
Here, the word is agathos, the noble and moral character of a Christian. Faithfulness is a quality that results from faith in God. Because they have faith in God, they execute all given tasks with utter loyalty to him. They are faithful in obeying God’s word. Gentleness is variously construed as good-naturedness, good-temperedness, graciousness, etc. When they walk by the Spirit, these are the virtues they reflect in their life. Self-control is the spirit of self-mastery over the ungodly desires and love of pleasure. Self-control makes a person the master of himself so that he can become the servant of others. The above fruitfulness is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Thus, by the above fruitfulness in our lives, people know that we live in obedience to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, during this Lenten season let us search ourselves and let us make a serious commitment to be obedient to the Holy Spirit at all times and in all circumstances, produce above fruitfulness, and bring glory to our heavenly Father.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to walk in obedience to your Holy Spirit so that we may live a fruitful and godly life, and glorify your name. Amen.
Devotional Verse: 2 Timothy 1:7
Spirit of Power
According to Acts 16:1-3 Paul found Timothy, a disciple from Derbe-Lystra whose mother was a Jewess – a good believer – and his father was a Greek. He was taught the Holy Scriptures from childhood (2 Timothy 3:15). He had sincere faith which his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois also lived. He also received the gift of God by laying on of Paul’s hands. (2 Timothy 1:5-6). Ultimately, Paul became a mentor, a senior co-worker and a guide to Timothy, and brought him to the prominence in the church.
However, as William Barclay correctly explains, “Paul’s young co-worker Timothy might be frightened and may be in despair at his spiritual father’s approaching death as he might see himself all by his own amidst the beginning decline of Christendom.” In addition, there was ongoing and severe persecution of Christians by Emperor Nero. When Paul wrote this second, and probably last letter to Timothy, Paul was facing his death because he says in 2 Timothy 4:6, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near.”
In the wake of the above situation, Paul encourages Timothy by saying, “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-control” (2 Timothy 2:7). So, be encouraged. Even though Paul is talking about the human spirit, the three attributes described in this verse belong to the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is God, the Holy Spirit who empowers our spirits with his power, love and self-control.
Today, in the wake of the breakout of COVID-19 pandemic whole world is in a state of panic. There is a lot of fear and uncertainty among people. People are obsessed with and driven by anxiety, an intense form of fear. In fact, people are afraid of each other. But we as children of God do not panic because the Holy Spirit empowers our spirit with his power, love, and self-control. We are convinced that nothing happens without the knowledge and will of our almighty God and that nothing is out of his control. So we do not fear or be anxious but boldly, lovingly and wisely go about and go through any crisis situation and live above the adverse circumstances. We soar like an eagle amidst calamity.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, please help us to be confident of the power, love, and self-control that come from the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and live boldly for your glory. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Galatians 5:16-18
Walk by Spirit – II
We saw yesterday that God the Holy Spirit is not a principle, an influence or an impersonal force. He is a person. Today we will see some of his attributes and how they are reflected in the ministry of the Holy Spirit to us.
Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another paraklétos to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16-17). In the Greek lexicons, the term paraklétos has several nuances: an advocate, intercessor, counselor, helper, and comforter. By living within us the Holy Spirit performs all these tasks.
As an advocate, he points us in the right direction and reminds us of all the things that Jesus taught (John 14:6). He is an intercessor and intercedes for us. Romans 8:26-27 says, “we do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans … the Holy Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” As a counselor, he gives us right and godly counsel in the time of need and to do the will of God. He asked Philip to go to the chariot of Ethiopian eunuch to explain the good news (Acts 8) and gave counsel to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:28). He is our helper at all times. He is a Comforter and comforts us when we go through the time of pain, sorrow, and suffering. People may comfort us from outside. But the Holy Spirit comforts us from within by ministering to our mind and spirit. Therefore, we must surrender ourselves to the voice of the Holy Spirit to experience his comfort in all circumstances.
One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment (John 16:8). This he does with the sinful world as well as with saved sinners. Ephesians 2:8 says that we are saved by grace through faith. However, being surrounded by temptations and sinfulness, we may succumb to temptations and sin in thought, word or action. Then the Holy Spirit convicts us and takes away our peace till we come to Jesus, repent and be forgiven.
Therefore, we must allow the Holy Spirit to take complete control of our body, soul, and spirit to keep us from sinning and help us walk in righteousness. Then we will experience the manifold ministry of the Holy Spirit, be blessed and become a blessing to others. We will look at other important aspects of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the next devotional.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to surrender myself to the Holy Spirit, pay close attention to his voice within me and live a life of holiness to bring glory to your name. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Ephesians 5:17-20
Walk by the Spirit
We continue to look at a Christian’s second position of “walk” by looking at “Walk by the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16-17 says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.” By “Spirit” Paul means, God, the Holy Spirit who is one of the persons of the Godhead.
What do we mean by walking in the Spirit? To understand this, we must keep two things in mind. First, the word, “walk” suggests motion or movement. It is often figuratively used to denote a man’s mode of life. Secondly, the Holy Spirit is not a principle, a force, or an influence. He is a person. Therefore, walking in Spirit may mean that we live our life under the direction of a person, God the Holy Spirit. Since the Holy Spirit desires to fulfill only the will of God, he will resist our desire to fulfill the sinful lust of the flesh and empower us to fulfill God’s will.
Apostle Paul aptly describes the above concept in Ephesians 5:18 by saying, “Do not get drunk by wine … Instead, be filed with the Holy Spirit.” Generally speaking, getting drunk deprives a person of the use of his reason because his senses are under the influence of wine. The wine controls and directs his movement and behavior. Similarly, when a Christian surrenders himself to the Holy Spirit, he is deprived of his own sinful desires and lives his life under the influence of the Holy Spirit. The more he surrenders himself to the voice of the Holy Spirit, the more power he receives from the Holy Spirit to be aware of the lust of the flesh, to keep away from it, and live his life according to God’s will by the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, during this Lenten Season let us take time to fully surrender our body, soul, and spirit to God the Holy Spirit so that we might live a godly life under his influence and please God. We will continue to look at the work and help of the Holy Spirit in the next devotion.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to surrender our whole self to God the Holy Spirit so that we may not live a life of the desire of the flesh but a life of godliness. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Proverbs 3:5-6
Walk by Faith
In 2 Corinthians 5:7 Paul says, “we walk by faith and not by sight.” This he says in the context of leaving the temporal residence of our mortal body and being in the heavenly dwelling with the Lord in heavenly and spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:4-44). Paul is convinced that he will be clothed with the yet unseen heavenly dwelling after his mortal body was done away with.
This is what our faith is all about. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen.” There are many creation theories but “by faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God” (Hebrew 11:3). Hebrews Ch. 11 gives a long list of all those who lived by faith and performed mighty deeds (vv. 4-35a) and also a brief list of all those who underwent persecution and died by faith (vv. 35b-38) because they were “longing for a better country” – a heavenly one (vv. 15) which they did not receive but saw from distance (v. 13, 39).
We did not see Jesus die on the cross and we did not know how our sins could be forgiven by Jesus. But we had faith in Jesus. Therefore, we surrendered ourselves to him by faith, and Jesus has saved us by his grace because of our faith (Ephesians 2:8). Because of his faith Abraham was fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised so he believed in God for something impossible, his own son in old age, and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:18-22).
So, when we walk by faith we act out of a conviction that God is able to bring about the outcome which he has promised even though we are not able to see it. It might be deliverance from sin, sickness, difficult situation, perilous people or claiming the promised blessings. We hold our peace and continue to follow God’s word when faced with trials and temptations. Where there is faith, there is no anxiety or apprehension. Therefore, let us continue to walk by faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him by faith” (Hebrews 11:6).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to have complete faith in you so that we will walk by faith and not by sight. Amen.
Devotional Verse: John 15:20
Cost of Obedience
Obedience to God surely brings blessings from God. However, sometimes we have to be ready to pay a heavy price or make significant sacrifices to be obedient. This happens because the world is always at square with the will and Word of God. The world constantly tempts us and try to contaminates us with sinfulness. God’s word always instructs us to keep away from them: E.g. “Do not be conformed to this world (Romans 12:2), “Do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15), “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Colossians 3:2).
Therefore, there is a tension between people of God who follow God’s word and the people of sin who follow the desires of the world which is described in 1 John 2:16, “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.” When we want to obey God’s will and word, we are bound to face the resistance or even persecution from the people of the world. Besides, the Devil who is our perennial and staunch enemy prowls around us like a roaring lion to devour us (1 Peter 5:8) and provokes his subjects to persecute us.
The Bible is full of the names of God’s people who faced severe persecution till death to obey God’s Word. Abraham left his country and came to Canaan (Genesis 12) and was willing to sacrifice his own son Isaac according to the word of God (Genesis 22). Queen Jezebel wanted to kill prophet Elijah for his victory over her god Baal (1 Kings 18). King Zedekiah had prophet Jeremiah put into a cistern to die for telling the word of God (Jeremiah 38). John the Baptist, Stephen, apostle Paul and many others are examples of suffering persecution and death for obeying the word of God. All the disciples except apostle John were persecuted and killed for obeying the word of God.
The Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is record of so many God’s people who underwent severe suffering and death to obey God’s word. God’s will for us is to leave our comfort zone, live godly life and bring people in God’s kingdom. When we obey God by doing these things, we have to make sacrifices and pay a price.
However, Jesus says in John 15:20, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” So, making sacrifices for obeying God’s word seems to be a part of the normal Christian life. At the same time, Jesus has said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33), and “Surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age “ (Matthew 28:20). Let us take courage from our Lord’s promise and live a life obedience to him.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to obey your word amid this wicked world and help us to walk in obedience to your word at any cost. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Deuteronomy 28:1-2
Walking in Obedience-II
In yesterday’s devotional we saw that obedience to the Lord demonstrates our love for him. In addition to Christians walking in obedience to the Lord, it is important for us to show our loyalty to the Lord. Just as obedience and love are two sides of the same coin, so also are loyalty and obedience. Therefore, without obedience to the Lord, one cannot demonstrate his loyalty to the Lord and please him.
In Genesis 2:16 God commanded man to: “not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In this instance, God was testing both man’s loyalty and obedience to him. While God was the King of the whole creation, he wanted man to rule over the earth as his vassal. Thus, man was to serve as God’s steward and representative in order to keep the earth in harmony with him. God would test the loyalty of his vassal to see whether he would listen and fully obey him. Sadly, man decided to follow what he thought was right in his own eyes and did not obey God and was not loyal to him.
Throughout the Bible, God expects man to walk in obedience to his word and to demonstrate their loyalty to him. In return, God blesses those who are loyal to him by their obedience. When Abraham obeyed God in sacrificing his only son Isaac, God said to Abraham in Genesis 22:17-18, “I will surely bless you … and through your offspring, all nations on earth will be blessed because you obeyed me.” Accordingly, God made Abraham the father of many nations. (Genesis 17:5)
When man fails to obey and be loyal to God, he loses the divine blessings. In Genesis 2:17 God spelled out the penalty of man’s disobedience saying, “when you eat of it you will surely die.” When man did not obey God and became disloyal to him, man’s relationship with God was severed and sin and death entered into the world. Ultimately man’s disobedience resulted in Jesus’s death on the cross.
In Deuteronomy 28:2-13, God promised blessings to his people in every area of their lives. In exchange, God demanded from his people complete obedience and loyalty. V.1 and v.14 forms an inclusio. Deuteronomy 1:1 says, “If you fully obey the Lord your God … All these blessings will come upon you …, and v.14 says, “Do not turn aside from any of the commands I give you today, to the right or to the left…” Thus, obedience and loyalty of God’s people bring God’s blessings. In Luke 11:28, when a woman called Jesus’ mother blessed, he replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Therefore, unlike Adam, let us show our undivided loyalty to the Lord by obeying his word.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to obey your commands at all times and be completely loyal to you. Amen.
Devotional Verse: 2 John 6
Walk in Obedience
In the last two devotionals we saw the importance for Christians to walk practically in the world and as Paul encouraged us, to walk in love (Ephesians 5:2). In today’s devotional we will see that walking in love is analogous to walking in obedience. 2 John 6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.” To love the Lord and to walk in obedience to him are mentioned in apposition quite a few times in the Bible. Deuteronomy 11:22 says, “If you carefully observe all these commands I am giving you to follow – to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him … then you will dispossess nations larger than you.” (see also Deuteronomy 10:12, 19:9, Joshua 22:5). The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:167, “I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly.” In John 14:23-24 Jesus says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my word … Anyone who does not love me will not obey my words.” John also states in 1 John 2:5, “If anyone obeys God’s word, love for God is truly made complete in them.”
From the above scriptures, it can be seen that love for God and obedience to God are two sides of the same coin. One results from the other. One cannot claim to love God without obedience to his word. Love for God is necessarily demonstrated in our obedience to his word. Real love for God compels a Christian to obey God’s commands at all cost.
As Christians, we do not obey God’s commands in order to be saved. We obey God’s commands because we love God. He is the one who saved us from sin, reconciled us with himself and “seated us with him in the heavenly realm in Christ” as citizens of his eternal Kingdom. Real love for God compels all Christians to walk in obedience to God. While absolute obedience is impossible for us, the Holy Spirit helps us grow in our walk of obedience to God. This brings great joy to our heavenly Father. As we read in 1 Samuel 15:22-24, “Has the Lord as great a delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obedience to the voice of God? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice …”
To bring joy to God’s heart through our obedience to him is not always easy for us. Sometimes we have to pay a heavy price or make significant sacrifices in order to be obedient. We will explore these situations in the next devotional.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to walk in obedience to your word in all circumstances, so that we will honor you and convey our love to you. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Philippians 2:3-8
Walking in Love -II
As we saw in yesterday’s devotional, the word “agape” is a type of love that is Christlike, selfless, unconditional and does not expect anything in return. It is a love than even considers the interest of one’s enemies. The Apostle Paul described agape love very powerfully in Philippians 2:3-4 saying, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition … but consider others better than yourself. Look not only to your interest but also to the interest of others.”
Of course, agape love does not come naturally to mankind. By nature, humans are selfish, self-centered and egotistical. Even after coming to know our Lord, Jesus Christ, we still carry with us these non-loving tendencies. There are two ideas that people tend to have that negatively impact their ability to love other people. One is the idea that “I am better than other people” and the second idea is that “I have more power, possessions, money, knowledge, wisdom, etc. than others.” This “better” and “more” psychology, as William Barclay describes it, comes from man’s desire for personal prestige. “Prestige is for many people is an even greater temptation than wealth. To be admired and respected, to have a platform seat, to have one’s opinion sought, to be known by name and appearance, even to be flattered and applauded, are for many people most desirable things.” Seeking prominence to satisfy one’s ego is the opposite of agape love.
In Philippians we saw that the church was threatened with the above psychology which caused disunity. Paul exhorts those in the church to consider others better than themselves and to consider their interests more important than their own. Paul gives the example of our Lord Jesus Christ who out of his agape love for us became a servant to others, set his heart on our interest, emptied himself of all but love and ultimately gave his life for our redemption.
Where there is agape love, there is no need to be “better” or to have “more”. There is no need for comparison or competition or apprehension in accepting the others regardless of who they are or what they do. Therefore, God says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5, “Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” The aim of a disciple of Christ ought not to be the love of self, but rather the love of others.
When Paul asks us to walk in love in Ephesians 5:2, he wants us to demonstrate Christlike agape love by considering others as better than ourselves and looking out for their best interests rather than just focusing on our own. Therefore, “let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves with agape love has been born of God and knows God.”
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to love others by considering them better than myself and looking to their best interests more than my own.
Devotional Verse: Ephesians 5:2
Walk in Love
Today we will examine the second position of Christians, “Walk”. While we are “seated with Christ in the heavenly realms in Christ” (Ephesians 2:6), we also walk in the world. In many places in the Bible, we are encouraged to “walk”. Today we will look at Ephesians 5:1 where Paul says, “Therefore, be imitators of God … and walk in love”. In order to walk in love, we must understand what love is.
There are seven words for love in the Greek language. They denote various kinds of relationships:
1. “Philautia” which denotes excessive love for oneself. It is more like narcissism seeking pleasure for self.
2. “Ludus” denotes playful or teasing love. It is childlike and innocent love.
3. “Philia” denotes deeper love between two friends like David and Jonathan.
4. “Erose” denotes erotic or passionate love mostly between young couples.
5. “Storge” is a familial love mostly between parents and children.
6. “Pragma” denotes mature love between a long time married and an elderly couple.
7. “Agape” is completely selfless, compassionate and unconditional love with no expectations in return. It keeps flowing regardless of the other person’s position, activity, or condition. It continues to flow even to the staunch enemies.
When Paul asks us to walk in love in Ephesians 5:2, he uses the word “agape”. The first six kinds of love in the above list have some conditionality and some expectations attached to them. But agape is the divine love with which God loved the world (John 3:16). There is no string attached or expectations spelled out in return. It keeps flowing to God’s children as well as to his enemies. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own agape love for us in this: While we were still sinners – and God’s enemies (5:10) – Christ died for us”.
This is true love. Therefore, Paul encourages us in Ephesians 5:2 by saying, “Walk in love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us …” Peter also exhorts us by saying, “Above all, love each other deeply because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). When we love our loved ones and even our enemies with such unselfish and unconditional love, and when we accept others with all their shortcomings, we reflect the agape love of Jesus. Therefore, Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” We will follow up further on the agape love in the next devotional.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to understand your agape love for us and help us to walk in that love by reflecting it in and through our daily life. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Ephesians 2:6
“Seated in Christ”
Watchman Nee’s book, Sit, Walk, Stand, is an inspiring look at Ephesians, wherein he asserts that when we surrender ourselves to Christ, positionally we are “in Christ”. Therefore, he further asserts that Christians are in a threefold position at the same time: (1) we “sit” with Jesus in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 1:20, 2:6), (2) we “walk” through our daily Christian life on earth (Ephesians 4:1, 5:2) and (3) we “stand” against Satan in our warfare with him (Ephesians 6:11, 13, 14).
We will examine the first position today. “Sitting” implies a position of relaxation and rest as Nee says, “To sit down is to rest our whole weight – our load, ourselves, our future, everything – upon the Lord. We let him bear the responsibility and cease to carry it ourselves.” We rest in God and enjoy “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realm in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Some of those blessings are the salvation from sin, assurance of eternal life, peace with God and assurance that Jesus will carry our load of anxiety and care at all times (Psalm 55:22, Matthew 11:28; 1 Peter 5:7).
There was once an old Indian woman who was walking to her village carrying a heavy basket of wheat on her head. A farmer from her village saw that she was tired and struggling with the basket of wheat so he asked her to board his cart and to take a rest. After the woman got into the cart and sat down, the farmer noticed that the woman was still carrying the heavy basket on her head. She could have taken her heavy burden and placed it alongside her in the cart. Instead, she continued carrying her burden inside the cart. What a foolish woman the farmer thought!
We all sometimes carry our heavy burdens and feelings of anxiety ourselves, forfeiting our peace and bearing needless pain. We do this because we are not fully “seated in Christ” and are not trusting Jesus to help carry our burdens. While being “in Christ” we still sometimes try to carry the basket of burden ourselves. Therefore, as we spend time with God during this Lenten season, let us learn to be fully seated in Christ, be burden-free and enjoy our position of rest in Jesus by giving our heavy loads over to him.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be assured of our heavenly position in Jesus, shift our needless burden to him and enjoy a life of peace and rest in him. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Luke 8:21
We see that when we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and surrender ourselves to him, we become his followers and “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and God’s special possession” (1 Peter 2:9). However, how do we and others know that we have become God’s precious possession and now we belong to him?
The key to demonstrate our belongingness to God is our complete obedience to God’s will which is expressly stated in God’s Word. Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).
How do we know the will of God? Two scripture portions are helpful in this matter. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. THEN you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not depend upon your understanding; in ALL your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight …”
Our Lord Jesus is the prime example of complete obedience to the will of the Father. In John 3:34 He says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” and in John 6:38 he says, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” Therefore, even though Jesus was reluctant to accept the cup in Gethsemane, he said, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from Me. Yet not my will but thy will be done” (Luke 22:42). And ultimately he obeyed the will of the Father by “becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8). Thus, from birth to death Jesus became obedient to the will of his Father and demonstrated that he was the Son of God.
Complete obedience to the will of God is a Titanic task. However, with the help of God and the Holy Spirit we can certainly focus our whole attention on that task and press on towards that goal with determination and earnestness.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be completely obedient to your will and demonstrate to the people that we belong to you so that your name will be glorified. Amen.
Devotional Verse: Galatians 2:20
The Cross of Ashes
One of the symbols of the Lenten Season is the image of the cross marked with ashes on the forehead of the penitent. The cross indeed points to the vicarious sacrifice of Jesus for the remission of the sins of humanity. At the same time, the cross is a mark of the repentant sinner who is a true follower of Jesus. By accepting the image of the cross on the forehead, the penitents accept and declare that they are a true follower of Jesus and they belong only to Jesus.
A few years ago a sow gave birth to some piglets just outside our seminary in India. In order to show that the piglets belonged to him, the owner of the sow had the piglets’ ears branded with his initials. The brand was a symbol that showed that no one else had a claim to those piglets. In the USA, ranchers also brand their cattle with specific symbols that identify to whom the animal belongs. Unlike the piglets and cattle, we as Christians are given the free will to decide who we wish to follow and with whom we identify. Through the symbol of the Cross, Christians can demonstrate that we are the followers of Jesus, that we identify with Him and that we are true believers in the message He has brought to mankind.
Even though we do not practice marking the foreheads with cross of ashes, we who have repented of our sins and surrendered our lives to Jesus surely belong to him. No one else has claim or right over us. This can be clearly seen from Romans 14:8, “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.” God says to his people in Isaiah 43.1, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, YOU ARE MINE.” In 2 Corinthians 1:21-22 Paul says, “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit…(NIV).” In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 he says, “you are not your own, you were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies,” “So that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in EVERY WAY; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to be constantly aware that through our faith in Jesus we belong to you so that we may live a fruitful life that will please you and glorify your name. Amen.
Devotional Verse: John 10:10
Traditionally the ashes are made by burning the palm leaves from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ arrival to Jerusalem. So, it seems that the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem was also associated with the beginning of the Lenten Season. When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding on a donkey, the Jews perceived it as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah 9.9. They believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah-King who would deliver them from the slavery and atrocities of the Roman empire.
At that time, the Roman Empire ruled the world with crushing authority and exercised complete control over the Jews. Jews were ruled with an iron fist by the Romans. For example, if a Roman soldier touched any Jew with his spear, the Jew would have to stop whatever he was doing, carry the load of the soldier and walk one mile behind him (Mt. 5.41). If a Roman soldier asked a Jew to remove his tunic (outer garment) and give it to the soldier (Mt. 5.40) the Jew had to comply. Life was extremely difficult in Judea under the cruel rule of the Roman empire. Therefore, the Jews interpreted Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem as the beginning of their political liberation from Rome.
While the Jews had misconstrued the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zech. 9.9, Jesus did come as the promised Messiah. But he came to deliver them from their slavery to sin and not from their oppression by the Romans. Therefore, when Jesus showed no sign of liberating the Jews from Roman slavery, the same crowd that originally shouted “Hosanna” at his entry into Jerusalem, quickly turned against Jesus and shouted ‘crucify him” at his trial before the Roman governor Pilate.
Having the right understanding of Jesus, the Messiah-King, is absolutely necessary in order for us to be liberated from our slavery to sin. Jesus is indeed the source of blessings in various areas of our lives, but he provides us salvation from our sin and gives eternal life.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to have a right understanding of Jesus as our Savior from spiritual slavery to sin and as a giver of eternal life.
Devotional Verse: 1 John 2:1-2
The cross of Jesus divides the whole of humanity into two groups.
(1) First group consists of those who turn their back to Jesus and do not believe in him as the Son of God and Savior from sin. They definitely have to repent of their sins in order to be saved from sin, the penalty of sin and eternal hell of fire (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 21:8). This is what Peter preached in Acts 10:43, “… everyone who believes in him (Jesus) receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” They need “repentance without regret, leading to salvation” as per 2 Corinthians 7:10.
(2) Second group consists of those who “believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing they have eternal life in his name” (John 20:3). They have “eternal life and will not be condemned but have crossed over from death to eternal life.” These are believers. However, the believers are asked to confess their sins and be cleansed (1 John 1:8ff). This is because they are still prone to be contaminated by the sins as they live in the world full of temptations, sinfulness, and unrighteousness.
On one hand, our staunch enemy “the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). On the other hand, we still live in the flesh, and the flesh is prone to want what it wants. In Romans 7:21–23, Paul admits the battle with his flesh. In last evening’s prayer meeting, a sister prayed, “Heavenly Father, deliver us from the spirit of jealousy, unforgiveness, bitterness, selfishness, and pride” and the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrew 12:1) What a realistic prayer from the mouth of a born-again woman! Our human EGO and flesh drive us to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” and deprive us of the love of the Father (1 John 2:15f). It is clear from 1 John 1:8–9 that even those who have been born again and redeemed by the blood of Jesus still might be tainted with the above sins. These sins become a hindrance in our fellowship with God and with his people. Our prayers are not heard because as Isaiah asserts, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (66:18).
Nonetheless, our heavenly Father has so graciously made a provision for forgiveness through the Advocate, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). Therefore, during this Lent season, a time set apart to examine ourselves, let us look within ourselves, and if we find any unrighteousness in us, let us repent and be forgiven so that Jesus will continue “to make us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18, NLT).
Prayer: Heavenly Father, bring us to the realization of our hidden sins so that we will repent and be cleansed, and continue to be transformed in the image of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen
Devotional Verse: Job 42:6
The Ashes – II
Ashes are a mark of our mortality. At the same time, putting dust on one’s head is a sign of sorrow, lamentation and repentance in the Old Testament as well as in the New Testament. It was an outer manifestation of inner repentance. Job, having been rebuked by God, confesses, “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Other examples are found in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1 & 3, Isaiah 61:3, Jeremiah 6:26, Ezekiel 27:30, and Daniel 9:3. In the New Testament, Jesus alludes to the practice in Matthew 11:21: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons. In his book, De Poenitentia, Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must “live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes.”
Today we do not apply ashes to the forehead as an outward sign of repentance. But we repent of sins from our hearts because Christianity is a heart religion. 1 Sam. 16:7 says, “… man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” In the context of entertaining foreign gods in their hearts, the Psalmist says to God’s people in Psalm 44:21, “would not God have discovered it, since he knows the secrets of the heart?” Jeremiah 17:10 is another good example of this fact. Romans 8:27 says, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit …” It is surprising to read in John 2:23 that many people in Jerusalem saw the signs of Jesus and believed in his name but Jesus did not entrust himself to them. The reason is given in v. 24, “because he knew all men”, i.e. he knew what was in their hearts. Therefore, as Joel correctly asserts in 2:13, “Rent your hearts and not your garments.”
Now, a believer would say, “I have believed in Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I am a born again person. All my sins are forgiven. Do I still need to repent of my sins and ask forgiveness?” This concern will be addressed in the next devotional.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to realize our sinfulness and repent with our whole heart. Amen
Devotional Verse: Genesis 18:27
The Ashes – I
Ashes were one of the elements, used on the first day of the Lenten Season. What is the significance of the ashes in Bible?
Humans are made of dust (and ashes). In Genesis 18:27, Abraham said to God, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes.” So, the ashes remind us of our insignificance and mortality. Man is like grass. 1 Peter 1:24 says, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall …” The Psalmist also says “As for man, his days are like grass – he blooms like a flower of the field; when wind passes over, it vanishes, and its place remembers it no more …” (Ps. 103:15)
The Lent Season must help us to have a good look at ourselves and help us realize that we are mortal beings and have nothing to boast about or be proud of. We have to live our lives in humility as mentioned in Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others better than yourselves.”
Our prime example of humility is Lord Jesus Christ himself “who, being in very nature of God, did not consider equality with God … but made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant … he humbled himself … even to the death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8).
May God grant us the strength, wisdom and help to walk in humility by following in the footprints of our Master during this Lenten Season and ever after.
Devotional Verse: Joel 2:12-13
Lent is an annual Christian observance that is a time of prayer and fasting in observance of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting and facing temptations from Satan in the wilderness. Although the 40 days were at the beginning of his ministry, they are clubbed with his suffering during Passion Week, probably because this is a period for Christians to commit to fasting, giving up certain comforts and luxuries and repenting from sin in preparation for the resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday. The first day of the Lenten Season this year is Wednesday, February 26, 2020.
Ash Wednesday, originally called dies cinerum (day of ashes), is mentioned in the earliest copies of the Gregorian Sacramentary. The concept originated in the Roman Catholic church somewhere in the 6th century. Though the exact origin of the day is not clear, the custom of marking one’s forehead with the cross of ashes on this day is said to have originated during the papacy of Gregory the Great (A.D. 590-604). The ashes are made from the burning of the last Palm Sundays’ palm branches mixed with water and olive oil.
One of the earliest descriptions of Ash Wednesday is found in the writings of the Anglo-Saxon abbot Aelfric (A.D. 955-1020). In his book Lives of the Saints, he writes, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.”
Of course, today we do not literally cover ourselves with ashes or clothe ourselves in sackcloth, but there is a significance to be found in the symbols. During this Lenten Season, we will address the significance and apply the same to our own lives.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, please help us to understand the significance of the Lenten Season and apply it to our own lives. Amen.