I wrote a series of devotion for my church on the Seven Last Words of Jesus for this Lent season and sharing them here. I am happy to discuss the answers to the questions in the comments below. So feel free to engage me in a dialogue. =) First of Seven Last Words of Jesus […]
I wrote a series of devotion for my church on the Seven Last Words of Jesus for this Lent season and sharing them here. I am happy to discuss the answers to the questions in the comments below. So feel free to engage me in a dialogue. =)
First of Seven Last Words of Jesus
Luke 23:34 (NASB): “But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves.”
Theme: FORGIVENESS & LOVE
Read: Luke 22:47 – 23:34.
- Who are the “them” that Jesus referred to and what did “they” do that required forgiveness?
- In your opinion, do you think “they” deserve forgiveness? Why?
- Spend some quiet moments before the Lord and let the Holy Spirit reveal to you people whom you need to forgive, or even yourself. Allow the love of God to fill you and release forgiveness and love to the person(s).
JESUS’ TEACHING AND APPLICATION
Read Matthew 5:43-48.
On His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus not only taught about forgiveness but a leap further to love our enemies. There are two levels of forgiveness had to be extended – from Jesus the person whom the wrong was done, and also from God the Father who loves Jesus whom the wrong was done.
Our Teacher not only taught in words, He demonstrated the lesson in action to the fullest. Instead of feeling indignant and angry towards His aggressors, Jesus chose to love them before they were repentant, even while they were still doing wrong to Him. From another perspective, what were the chances that Jesus needed to forgive the people when His heart was so filled with love for them? Perhaps this casts some light to Paul’s commendation, “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8 (NASB)
- Who was Jesus’ focus when He was going through the wrong?
REFLECTION & MEDITATION
Think of moments in your life when you have been wronged and treated unjustly that may have cost you much. What were your thoughts and emotions? Who was the focus in your thoughts, emotions and actions in the process? What can you learn from the example of Jesus and His teaching that you can apply to the situation in the past, present and even future?
SONG OF MEDITATION
It’s the hardest thing to give away
And the last thing on your mind today
It always goes to those that don’t deserve
It’s the opposite of how you feel
When the pain they caused is just to real
It takes everything you have just to say the word…
It flies in the face of all your pride
It moves away the mad inside
It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
Even when the jury and the judge
Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
Help me now to do the impossible
It’ll clear the bitterness away
It can even set a prisoner free
There is no end to what it’s power can do
So, let it go and be amazed
By what you see through eyes of grace
The prisoner that it really frees is you
Show me how to love the unlovable
Show me how to reach the unreachable
Help me now to do the impossible
I want to finally set it free
So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
Help me now to give what You gave to me
The reading of the Word is a very important discipline in our spiritual growth – often referred to as feeding. Let me first established why the Word, i.e. the Bible, is referred to as spiritual food. In John 6:48, Jesus declared the second time after v.35, “I am the bread of life.” This life refers to the spiritual life. If we examine the context of the book of John, in John 1:14 the relationship between Jesus and the Word was established, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.“ So in summary:
Word –> Flesh (Jesus) –> Bread of Life (spiritual food)
Measure of Maturity
The analogy of a new believer as an infant taking milk, a softer spiritual diet can be found in 1 Cor 3:2 and 1 Pet 2:2. I find Heb 5:13-14 an interesting verse on the type of diet signifying the growth stage of the person, “For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” What is the word of righteousness? Just like how we have length and height measurements for babies & children to chart their growth, the answer to this question is key to knowing how to gauge spiritual maturity. Righteousness is lived out in relation to others around us as it deals with how we treat others – our speech and actions. It is a practice, i.e. doing, with a constant choice of good and evil. So the measure of maturity is the outworking of the Word. Just like a child, it is not the measure the quantity of milk and food it takes to gauge healthy growth but the processing & assimilation of the intake to the body.
As the term underweight suggests, this condition means there is insufficient or no food intake. This describes the spiritual condition of a child of God who never or hardly feeds on the Word. I have friends who will take photos of mouth-watering food but never take a bite of it due to various reasons. The photo was for social media, i.e. to show others, and not for personal consumption. We can have food laid out before us, but if we do not put it into our mouths, chew and let it go into our body, the food has nothing to do with us. If I read the Bible out of obligation or sat through a church sermon glazed and dazed, without the Scriptures getting into my system, I am not feeding. As you can imagine, in such a situation, my spiritual weight will be like a stick figure, frail and weak. Perhaps so malnutrition for some that the stick man cannot even stand.
This is another extreme. It is not difficult to overeat in Singapore, both in the physical and perhaps in the spiritual too. There is no shortage of teachings, preachings, and testimonies, be it through churches, online resources, and/or seminar/conferences. Most of us have more books, CDs, MP3s then we can keep up. We keep stuffing ourselves thinking that this will help us grow. Yes, to a certain extent. Just like our physical bodies, any amount over and above what our body needs, overfeeding will first lead to indigestion. Bloatedness with gas with discomfort and the food that is supposed to be good for us becomes a burden to our system. I am reminded of Paul’s wisdom 1 Cor 8:1b “Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.” I love NKJV’s translation “Knowledge puffs up”. It gives the image of gas and air, putting up a false image of being well-fed and perhaps to growth but the person is still as skinny as a stick figure.
Continual stuffing eventually leads to a build up of excessive nutrients and fats causing obesity. You need a big quantity of food for each meal and will starve if the intake does not match up. Yet this hunger is not healthy. In fact, this is killing the body. Spiritually this can be true too. You are still feeding and having a larger appetite for the Word than ever before. Without an active lifestyle and workout, the excess food becomes fats weighing us down that we cannot even walk or run properly, as good as a dead person without the intended use of the body. While feeding can be a very fulfilling process, sweat and burn it off so that you can take more to keep a healthy spiritual weight, light enough to sprint and run a marathon but enough fuel to keep the body in good shape for the long haul. May we all develop good and strong spiritual muscles by doing the teachings of the Word!
I leave you with the wisdom from James.
14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? 17 Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.
18 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 20 But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? 22 You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. 24 You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.
“And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings. ” – Luke 16:9 NASB
This verse has always been a challenge in understanding the heart of what Jesus was trying to get at as it looks contradictory to many of His teachings. The image of the command to “make friends by means of wealth of unrighteousness is what the prodigal son did. It is only the last week that the Holy Spirit helped me to finally understand what Jesus was driving at. I believe unrighteous wealth refers to worldly wealth rather than wealth that is gained by scrupulous means. Worldly wealth is unrighteous as they are not of God and they will not exist in the eternal kingdom of God.
It is interesting to note that Jesus just before this command states one attribute that His followers do not match up to the world – shrewdness. “…for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.” – Luke 16:8b NASB. These were teachings based on the parable of the Unjust Steward who used his shrewdness to safeguard his own future after he was caught mismanaging his master’s wealth. He safeguarded himself by giving favors to make friends through his position as the steward at the expense of his master.
I see a parallel that Jesus is drawing, the earth bound servant versus the sons of light, i.e. believers. A servant who is concerned about his worldly future makes use of his limited time to ensure a life he wanted ahead. We as sons of light have an eternal future to look forward to and there are ways to lay up treasures in heaven while here on earth. Eternity definitely is a stronger cause of action than the less than 100 years of earthly life. If it is so, it does not make sense that the sons of light are not making full use of their worldly wealth that are given to them to lay up heavenly treasures.
Jesus implies in verse 9 that the heavenly treasures in this context are the friends gained through worldly wealth. I have read many commentaries on this verse for the second part “they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” and somehow the understanding did not sit within me completely although I can see where they are coming from. In some Bible translations, a footnote is used to explain “they” means “you”, referring to the believer who will enter into heaven.
Here’s my understanding of verse 9 after a whole lot of re-reading of the chapter, meditation and asking the Lord. “They” refers to the friends gained through worldly wealth. These friends are able to welcome the believer into heaven because they become believers themselves. The worldly wealth was a bait for a greater purpose – the Great Commission. The bait is used with genuine love for these friends and not selfish gains. The treasures in heaven is not worldly wealth but people whom we love in this world. This reminds me of Apostle Paul’s declaration that “I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” 1 Corinthians 9:22b NASB
A word of caution was given by Jesus after this statement ending with two distinct choices – God or mammon. World wealth is not our master but Lord Jesus Christ. Worldly wealth is a tool given by the Lord to further His kingdom through us. Jesus is not giving us a negative example or a model to learn shrewdness through the parable. Instead He wants us to see the poverty of our intentional living on earth as compared to one who has only earthly goals. A sobering thought to consider with a warning to have God as god and not the tool of worldly wealth.
“He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you? And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” – Luke 16:1-13
I pray that all of us have a company of friends in heaven waiting for us and we in turn wait for many more to join us!
“”Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.””Luke 6:46-49 NASB
There is a desire and cry for many to go deep with the Lord. Most, if not all, will consider reading and knowing the Word as priority to growing deep. It is a great starting point but definitely not an end. Otherwise it is no different from studying in a college and graduating with a certification after exams to test the student’s understanding and knowledge of the topic.
Key in verse 47: “Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them”
This is a description of the person who has a deep foundation. There is no secret here as to how this person built his deep and firm foundation. There are three action words – Come, Hear and Act. In Greek, they are in present continuous tense and should be read as:
“Everyone who is coming to Me and is hearing My words and is acting on them…”
Step 1 – Coming to God
Knowing the Word of God is only one-third of the process of going deep if it can be mathematically apportioned. Before knowing the Word is an important step — drawing near to Jesus. Reading the autobiography or even cyber stalking a person is not equivalent to knowing the person. Simply reading the Bible is gaining knowledge about Him without knowing Him in person. Jesus has given each believer the entry into the presence of God through His blood. We can attend a dinner hosted by our nation’s president, but it is our decision to go up to introduce ourselves and get to know him on a personal level. The Word is the roadmap to finding God in person. It points us to Him and not an end to itself. There must be a relationship built where a two-way communication is possible. The going to God is the first step of initiating the relationship as all believers have access to His Presence.
Step 2 – Getting to Know
After expressing our desire to know God when we approach Him, we incline our ears to listen. Listening is an important aspect of getting to know a person. This is the time when we know the heart of God, and how we can please Him. Reading the Word is not just about the text and info, but through it to connect with God. In the stillness of God’s presence, we meditate on the Word, allowing the Holy Spirit to direct our thoughts and understanding towards our Beloved.
Step 3 – Walking with Him
The final part is the one that seals the first two steps. It is only when we walk life in obedience to His teachings and instructions that we truly know Him. It is when you work or live with a person that you truly know the person. It is the same spiritually that we work alongside with Him and get to know Him through the Holy Spirit living within!
These steps help me to demystify the process of growing deeper spiritually. They are simple and easy to understand but it is a continuous cycle that goes on in our entire life since it is impossible to know God 100% as He is infinite while we are finite.
For many years, I find it hard to reconcile Jacob’s blessings and his scheming ways. I am a firm believer that the end does not justify the means and the life of Jacob seems to suggest otherwise. The recent weeks, Jacob is once again brought into focus.
Jacob was grabbing hold of Esau’s heel at birth (Gen 25:26). This was why he was named Jacob, meaning “he catches by the heel, i.e. he supplants”. These twin brothers were already at war within the womb, causing their mother Rebekah much distress (Gen 25:22). The first round winner was Esau as he emerged firstborn of the womb, pushing himself out before Jacob. This is not surprising as Esau was possibly stronger physically, who grew up to be a hunter. The fight did not stopped there. Jacob still wanted to be the firstborn. He quickly bagged in the win for round two when he traded his bowl of red lentil soup for the birthright of Esau. The final victory was with the aid of his mother Rebekah. Jacob deceived his own father, Isaac, and received the firstborn blessing. Very unorthodox means of getting to the ends which are hard to accept as acts that lead to blessings.
God did not intervene in any of these sibling rivalry. Some people believed that it is already ordained for Jacob to be blessed so God chose not to intervene. If it is ordained, all the more there is no need for Jacob to do what he did as the prophecy will come to pass without him helping God in such manner. Surely there are consequences to sin, even King David lost a son because of his adultery and murder after his genuine repentance. Why is Jacob favoured despite his scrupulous actions?
This was from a still, soft voice within that I wanted to brush off as ridiculous. Yet there was a solid and deep truth that I cannot dismiss flippantly. Surely God looks at the heart and how can it be that a scheming man has a good heart? It was almost like a court room within me and I was a prosecutor of Jacob whom I never met! It is of course a losing battle in this court room and out of it, I learnt a precious lesson.
Jacob’s heart was fixed on eternal blessings and never swayed by the present. He knew what was valuable and precious – the birthright and firstborn blessings of his father. It was out of the deep longings of his heart that he took every opportunity to grab hold of them. This same longing of the heart was seen in how he was willing to work another 7 years for Rachel after being cheated to marry Rachel’s sister. The final fight was at Bethel. His fight for eternal blessings which only the Lord can offer. It left him with a limp but with a new name and locked him into his eternal blessed destiny. This encounter ended Jacob’s trail of scheming narratives as I believed his heart was finally filled to the brim by God. This was his destiny.
His trickery of both the birthright and firstborn blessings led to his exile from the house, a fugitive. He did not enjoy the blessings he schemed for during those years. A man who was described as “a peaceful man, living in tents” (Gen 25:27 NASB) now found himself cast into the “wild world” and in the open field to shepherd sheep even though he was still under the protection of his extended family. A modern day drastic career change will be from a computer guy to a construction worker overnight. The birthright to his father’s inheritance was with Esau since he was on the run. This does not look like the blessed life he fought for. Having to leave home is the consequence of his scheming ways.
Rather than seeing him as a cold-blooded man, Jacob was a hot-blooded man fixated on what his heart’s desires. He pursued hard and even prevailed against God. It is interesting that the Bible described him as peaceful and some versions use the word “complete” for a schemer. Peaceful perhaps meaning that he does not shed blood as compared to Esau who is a hunter. The description of Jacob was not negative. His name that describes him as a supplanter is not a negative word in military terms but one of strategy. Comparing Jacob’s heart attitude with how Esau despised his birthright, Jacob’s thirst made him the man whom God used to bless the nations.
Do I desire God’s blessings enough to contend with Him throughout the night, knowing that I would never prevail? I wish I can give a loud yes but in full honesty, my prayer would be “God give me the portion you have for me”. The thought of putting up a fight with the Lord for blessings would never crossed my mind. This sounds like a very submissive and obedient prayer but is this a true reflection of my heart? Maybe it is a coverup. Perhaps I dare not believe that God will give me the desires of my heart or that He has my interests covered. If it is so, then I am not honest with Him with my heart. Or I know that the desires of my heart are not aligned to his? Whichever is the case, the hypocrisy of my heart is revealed. Jacob, despite his immature and unorthodox ways, was true to his heart and to God, believed in it and walked it.
This is a repentance call for me. It is so easy for my heart to be distracted and won out, hiding behind the word “resignation to God’s will” when the tough gets going or I am swimming against the tide. The fear of failure holds me back from engaging the Lord in a wrestle for blessings. It is not about winning, but it is a matter of how desperate do I want it. Jacob set his heart on the blessings of God and this gave God the opening to correct his ways, repent and change. So the key is to set my heart towards God and with that, He can do His work within me so that His promised destiny for me can be fulfilled as He moulds and shapes me along the way.
Jesus could sleep in the storm because He was certain of His authority over it. On the flip side, the storm obeyed Jesus because it was unable to ruffle His feathers. In a way, Jesus had to sleep to calm the storm, demonstrating His complete restedness in God. Perhaps this is not a show to the storm but a lesson to us about the restedness in God despite circumstances.
“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” – John 14:27 NASB
This peace is power in the Kingdom of God. Nothing can shake His people if we grab hold of this peace, not even in the strongest and most devastating storms. It is not just silence or absence of conflict. But one that is completely rested in God’s sovereignty over creation and the devil.
Peace I need. Peace I receive.