The Risk of Following Jesus

It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph saw where he was laid.

Before I became a Christian, everything I heard about following Jesus Christ was good and attractive—and I think this experience is shared by many other believers. But as I started reading the Bible, I realized that Jesus does not promise that the journey will be easy for those who would want to follow Him. One has to take serious considerations about the implications of being His disciple. He, in fact likens following Him to carrying the cross on a daily basis. Our concept of the cross has been distorted due to the time and culture gap between us and the time of Jesus. For us it is a harmless or even beautiful artifact or piece of jewelry.  But during the era of the Roman Empire, only those who were about to be executed carried their crosses to the place of crucifixion. So, carrying the cross is akin to dying—and on a daily basis.

Those who take a stand for what Jesus stands for risk being hated, called names, ostracized, treated unjustly, imprisoned or even killed. The story of Joseph of Arimathea illustrates the kind of boldness every believer needs in order to identify with Jesus. Although, he was among the most respected people in the Jewish religious establishment, Joseph risked his reputation and perhaps his carrier to identify with Jesus. Hitherto he had been a secret disciple of Jesus. But Joseph was not alone. There were two other women following. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joseph had been with Jesus right for most of His public ministry. They followed their Master to the end.

Why would anyone risk being shunned by family and close friends, arrested or killed for the sake of Jesus? It is not because of what the world could offer us in this life but rather of what Jesus promises us both in this life and the life to come. Although we might lose everything—including our own lives, when we have Jesus we have everything.

Have you ever had to make hard choices for the sake of following Jesus? How are you going to live for Him today; this week?

when we have Jesus we have everything

Reflections on Human Mortality

Read Psalm 91

You turn people back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.” (Verse 3)

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom (verse 3).

When I was growing up, I didn’t really like Psalm 90. When someone in the community died, we would tag along our parents to bid the deceased “farewell.” On these occasions, Psalm 90 was read out as part of the liturgy. So I associated the psalm with death—which in itself is not far-fetched. I, like many other people, don’t want to die but the fact is we will all die. Irrespective of how long we live on this earth, our time is limited. Our lives here on earth are transient.

We, therefore, need not only to reflect on life but also on death. Or better still, we need to reflect on our lives in light of our mortality. I believe that it is only when we start taking our mortality seriously that we can start living meaningfully. Jon Bloom once said, “If God is eternal and our earthly lives are transient, then there is only one place the wise will choose to live: in God, our forever dwelling place.” For us who believe in Jesus Christ, we know that our life here on earth is not all there is to life. We have an eternal home. Our present life is like a dress rehearsal for the real thing. When we die, the curtains in heaven open for the real performance.

Every single person has a choice on how they should live their lives in preparation for eternity. We can choose to squander our time, strength and opportunities or to invest our lives in ways that honor God and advance His kingdom. We need to use our time on earth wisely, for the glory of God.

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Food for Thought:

Since your life on earth is transient, how will you invest it in serving God’s purposes? Think of the gifts, talents and opportunities God has given you as your spiritual capital.

The Presence of God

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Exodus 33:14-15 (NIV) The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”  Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.

The motif of the presence of God is pervasive in the scriptures. Although God is everywhere, He chooses to localize his manifest presence among His people. Before the Fall, God dealt directly with His people. There were no intermediaries such as priests, altars, sacrifices or a temple. In the Garden of Eden, God came to Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day” (Gen. 3:8).

During the time of the exodus, God instructed Moses to make the Ark of the Covenant—a gold-coated wooden box where the two tablets of the Ten Commandments were kept (Exodus 25:10ff). The covenant Box was always kept in the holiest section of the sanctuary and its access was limited to a few prescribed priests.  It signified the presence of God in the midst of His people.

In the New Covenant, Jesus is the Immanuel—God in our midst. Even when Jesus returned to heaven, He sent us the Holy Spirit who dwells in the life of every believer. Again, although God is omnipresent, He manifests His presence among His people.

When Christ returns, we the believers shall be with Him in the New City. Apostle John saw a vision of the New Jerusalem. What is remarkable in John’s vision is that there is no “temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Rev. 21:22). Indeed as someone has put it, “all of life—and, principally, the gospel life—is about being in God’s relational presence.”  We all should long to be in God’s presence both now and in the life to come.

What did Jesus Do?

During my college days, I used to like the WWJD wristbands and tee-shirts. I think that whoever came up with the “what would Jesus do” idea or movement had very good intentions. They must have wanted Christians to have the right kind of Christ-like attitude—and perhaps corresponding actions—in every situation they encountered.  But the truth is that we cannot know with certainty what Jesus would actually do in each and every situation we encounter. Jesus’ actions almost always shocked everyone, even those closest to Him. They were unconventional and counter-culture.

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But there was also something predictable about Jesus in whatever He did; He wanted to please the Father. I think that the more realistic motivation for us is to ask “what did Jesus do,” or WDJD if you will. He touched as cleansed lepers, ate and drank with sinners, was anointed by former prostitutes. He reached out to those regarded as the riffraff of the society. He loved those who rejected Him. He died for those who crucified Him.

What did Jesus do? He forfeited His divine privileges, came down to our level, and suffered for our sake. He was not indifferent to human rebellion and predicament. He was not judgmental. He gave His own life for ours. That is the life He lived for us to emulate. He laid down His life for us, so we ought to lay it down for others (1 John 3:16). And yes, he told us “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them” (John 13:17).

 

Turn the Other Cheek?

Acts 22:22-28

22 The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

23 As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”

26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.”

 

The soldiers are about to flog Paul in order to get a confession out of Him. But he immediately raises a protest because he is a Roman citizen who has certain privileges and protection according to their Law. It was illegal to scourge Roman citizen before he was tried. This scourging was so brutal that it could easily lead to death. Paul, who was born a Roman citizen, had a higher status than the one who simply bought his freedom.

This passage raises a question of how believers respond in cases of injustice. Are there issues of injustice in your community—neighbourhood, church or workplace—that you think need your attention and action? How can your faith in Jesus Christ help you to respond to such issues?

As I read Paul’s protest to the Roman soldier, one question that comes to my mind is, “aren’t Christians supposed to ‘turn the other cheek?’” How should Christians respond in cases of persecution and injustice? Are we supposed to protest, resist and fight for our rights? Or should we keep silent, hoping that our suffering will highlight our Christian witness. What is the best way to honor Christ? Certainly, there are no easy and straightforward answers to these questions. We, however, can find some pointers from the scriptures.

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In the above passage, Paul puts it to the Roman soldier whether it is lawful for a Roman citizen to be flogged before they are charged. Paul is aware of his rights as a Roman citizen. Although Paul is under arrest, he knows what his rights are and he is not afraid to stand up for them. As Christians, we have an obligation to keep the laws of the land. But if such laws are repressive or inconsistent with God’s Word, we should use whatever legal ways available to us to challenge such laws.

We, however, need to ask God for wisdom. There are times when the right thing to do is to keep silence and endure suffering for the cause of the gospel. There are other times when our faith in God demands that we speak up for our rights and of those who are marginalized. The ultimate goal of every decision we make should be to honor Christ with our lives and actions.

I would like to conclude this devotional with Paul Tripp’s rather uncomfortable questions. “How balanced has your gospel been? Have you been an advocate for grace, but silent in the face of injustice? Have you been comfortable with the segregation of the Christian community or with subtle personal prejudice?”

 

The Shepherd’s Heart

Acts 20:28-31 (NIV)  Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

 

One of the widely used Biblical metaphors for spiritual leadership is that of a shepherd. Ezekiel talks about good and bad shepherds—referring to Israel’s kings and religious leaders. David is described as a shepherd of the people of Israel; Jesus described himself as a “good shepherd.” He also charged Apostle John to “feed my sheep.” Apostle Paul exhorted the Elders in Ephesus to “be shepherds of God’s flock.” And Apostle Peter calls Jesus the “chief shepherd.”

In all these analogies, there are underlying qualities of a spiritual leader. For instance
shepherds provide for the sheep. They are supposed to ensure that people under their leadership are fed on the Word of God. The Word of God provides spiritual nourishment and the basis for discerning God’s will for one’s life. Just as a parent wants the children to appreciate healthy food over junk food, the pastor’s role is to train the believer to discern truth from error based on God’s Word.

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Leaders should also have genuine interest in the welfare of their people. The parable of the lost sheep reveals the heart of the Shepherd who risks everything, including His own life to bring the wayward sheep back to the fold. The pastor has an unenviable responsibility of rebuking and disciplining believers who do not live according to God’s Word. But at the same time pastors should also comfort and restore those who have been bruised by the consequences of sin. All spiritual leaders are under-shepherds that emulate the Master-Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

Unmet Expectations

Luke 19:41-44 (NIV)  As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace– but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

A few years ago I had a conversation with a friend of mine over ministry expectations. He was not comfortable with my philosophy of ministry and the way we ran stuff at church. Every relationship revolves around expectations. The more these expectations are mutually met, the healthier the relationship. Some expectations may be expressed while others may not. Some are realistic, others aren’t.

It is always fulfilling when our expectations are met. But it can be disappointing or even devastating when our expectations remain unfulfilled. Unrealistic expectations can hurt both us and others, especially those whom we care about. Some people have expectations of their friends and colleagues that only God can meet. This of course puts a strain on their relationship.

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If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…

It is also possible to have unrealistic expectations of God. The Jewish people during the time of Jesus had a faulty understanding of the person and mission of the Messiah. They were waiting for a charismatic, political and militarily powerful liberator. It’s no wonder that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth could not fit into their frame of reference. He was too ordinary to be the “savior” they had been waiting for. When He came to them they did not recognize Him. They missed the “time of God’s coming to [them]” (Luke 19:44). And their rejection of the Savior had far reaching ramifications. That’s why Jesus wept. They rejected the One who could give them peace—the Prince of Peace. They rejected their King; they One they had been waiting for all along. But that was not all. 40 years later, the city of Jerusalem would be besieged and later destroyed together with six hundred thousand of its inhabitants.

What are your expectations of God? How do you respond when things seem not to be going your way? Could you be in a resisting God’s will because you have misconstrued God’s will and His ways?

What about your expectations of the people around you—your spouse, siblings, colleagues, etc? Are they realistic and contributing to building a healthy relationship?

My prayer is that God may help us to have realistic expectations in whatever relationships we are involved in.