All posts by Emmanuel Mwesigwa e

Christ’s first Sermon at Nazareth

All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from His lips. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” they asked (Luke 4:22)

 From miracles to teachings, God continued to reveal His grand salvation plan for mankind. Jesus’ teachings were simple and yet filled with power, authority and Godly wisdom that quite often lead Him to quote the words of the prophets and their subsequent fulfilment in Him. Whether His audience was a crowd (Matt 5-7), or a single person (John 4:5-42), Jesus taught excellently. His message was always received with mixed reactions though His glory was always revealed.

Today we are delighted to reflect on His first sermon at Nazareth. It was a dramatic declaration of His global purpose of the salvation for this world as He struck at the core of the Jewish erroneous world view. Luke records that Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath “as was his custom.” He was handed the scroll, He unfurled it to a particular passage – Isaiah 61, and He began to read. Fascinated attention is on Him in verse 20, and open admiration in verse 22. But Jesus doesn’t stop there, He goes on to remind them of the story in 1Kings 17:8-24, of the time when there was famine in Israel, and God had sent the Prophet Elijah to a Zarephath to sustain him. I still wonder why amongst all people in Israel, God sent this great prophet to a woman who was a widow, Gentile (Sidonian), was poor and miserable with a very genuine excuse (1Kings 17:12).

Unmoved by the widow’s excuse, he kept insisting that He should be given a small meal of bread. The widow’s response is of great faith and obedience to God, and through this God restored food and water, oil and wine to the people of Israel. Zarephath didn’t square in the Jewish value system, why if anyone ought to be singled out as a model of faith, it ought to be one of the prominent men of the community, not some poor widow up north.

Jesus brought forth another example of a gentile (2Kings 5), Naaman who was an army commander of the Syrian army and a leper. He was cleansed by the power of God when all other lepers –all Hebrews were left unclean. All the Jews cared about was that vengeance had to be poured out in its fullness to the Gentiles. Jesus isn’t trying to offend the Jews but He is emphasizing to everyone the beginning of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah that a New Creation has begun in which there is good news for the poor, release for the captives, sight for the blind and liberation for all those who are oppressed. The Good News isn’t a gift for the Jews to hoard for themselves but a responsibility for everyone to share graciously with others.

Jesus reminded the Jews and us of Zarephath and Namaan so that we might pick lessons of how He reveals His glory to anyone at any time regardless of social status and level of ambition. Simply believe His great teachings, and you will realize His glory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ’s Glory Reveled through Miracles

“I have compassion on the crowd, because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” (Mark 8:2)

Still in the season of Epiphany, we revisit the manifestation of God’s salvation to different peoples – now through miracles. Over 20 miracles are recorded in the gospels! And at each, peole are amazed and recognize the Messiah more and more. Back in Mark 6 we read about Jesus feeding 5000, and now in Mark 8 we come to a very similar miracle, the feeding of the 4000. You may wonder, why did Jesus perform this miracle twice, and why did God choose to have Mark record them both? If the whole point was that Jesus is able to feed many people with just a little food, didn’t he already make that point with the 5000? And besides, although feeding 4000 is pretty good, it’s not as impressive as feeding 5000. So what is the point?

Jesus says, “I have compassion on the crowd”. This means that “His heart went out to them”. Compassion is “sympathy coupled with a desire to help”. He was moved by their need and He decided to do something about it. I praise the Lord that we serve a God who genuinely cares about the needs of His people. We should never hesitate to bring our needs to Him! He knows our situations (Job 23:10), and He cares about our need (Psa 34:15). He cares about you!

This miracle also reminds us that Jesus is the universal Savior. When Jesus fed the 5000, in Mark 6:35-44, the crowd was made up of Jews. When this miracle is performed, Jesus is in a part of the country that is mostly Gentile. He wants His disciples to know that He came to save people from every “nation, and tribe, and language, and people” (Rev. 14:6). No person in the world is off limits to the Gospel message. As religious Jews, the disciples had been raised up to consider Gentiles excluded. They had been taught that they should have no contact with someone who was not a Jew. Jesus wanted them to understand that He came into the world to save His people, wherever they might be found.  He is calling upon us today to do the same. Yes, Jesus came as the Jewish Messiah, but He came for all humanity, regardless of religion, nationality or race.

In this miracle, Jesus used what the disciples already possessed, that is, seven loaves and a few fish. The ingredients of the miracle were provided by the disciples. Have you ever thought that solutions to gigantic problems (like global warming, terrorism, poverty, AIDS) could be within your reach? Politicians, scientists, entrepreneurs and spiritual leaders cannot solve these problems alone, though many look up to them. Jesus is asking, “How many loaves do you have?” Most importantly, Jesus is the bread of life, and if you have Him you have the most important ingredient. If you let Him use what you have and what you are, the world is not only happier but will also see the glory of God – His salvation in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

Whatever you do: Disciples’ Discipline

 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 

knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23-24)

 School and University going youth are the target of many philosophies, ideologies, false prophets and cults. Jesus warns in Matt 7:15 – ‘watch out for false prophets’. Paul on the other hand calls upon you to ‘think of yourself with sober judgment’ (Rom 12:3) and to exercise the disciples’ discipline. Whether you have committed yourself to follow a great manifesto or a great master, this always requires discipline. Many dictionaries will define discipline as ‘the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience.’ Discipline is more positive than that: in the Bible it refers to moral discipline – the strenuous cultivation of the righteous life, or simply “sobering”. It is therefore of great benefit to be in deliberate control of your direction with purpose and a clear goal. Without discipline, one staggers and sluggishly and stagnantly rotates around the same place, to staleness, or even to false teachings!

The word ‘disciple’ means a learner, or in the widest sense refers to those who accept the teachings of someone, not only in belief but in life; the person not only accepts the views of the teacher, but that he is also in practice an adherent. The disciple needs discipline to successfully learn and live, to follow and reach the goal. The apostle Paul gives believers encouragement to exercise the disciples’ discipline when he speaks to Colossians that had received Christ Jesus as Lord:

  1. a) Walk in Him: Call upon Him in the morning and in the evening, meditate on Him constantly to make your practices conformable to His principles; think about and consult Him while in that valley of decision; when your conscience convicts you of straying or sin or indecency or money dealings, yield to the will of Christ your Lord – walk in Him. In whatever you do, focus on serving and pleasing Him, not just people.
  2. b) Rooted and built up in Him: He is your anchor without whom you will wander and get lost in the sea of the world; he is your foundation without whom your faith will collapse at the slightest wind of deception; he is your fertile soil, your source of water, minerals and nutrients without whom you will dry up and starve spiritually and die; he is your reference point from whom all your values spring.
  3. c) Abounding in thanksgiving: first and most importantly for the saving revelation of Christ as Lord and Saviour, in whom you have put your faith; and then many other reasons for thanksgiving – numerous gifts if you care to count.

Whether as a new or continuing student, or in political leadership, strategic management or just in our daily lives, the need for discipline cannot be overemphasized. Only the Lord Jesus Christ can give you the power to keep the focus.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace for God-given assignments

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8)

 The seriousness with which an assignment is treated depends on who the master is. This shows the respect accorded to the master and the satisfaction and prestige that comes with achieving for that master. Assignments from lesser masters will all be dropped in order to give priority to assignments from the greater master – partly because of the prestige and partly because the greater master facilitates and pays better. As much as this applies to our business and political affairs today, it applies similarly in the Kingdom of God. All mature Christians ought to recognize that they have mandatory God-given assignments.

Baptism is a sacrament in which, by repentance and faith we enter into God’s salvation: we are united with Christ in His death; we are granted the forgiveness of sins; we are raised with Him to new life in the Spirit.

In Confirmation, we come to be filled with the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands and to be strengthened with His for worship, witness and service, as mature Christians.

We need the Holy Spirit to carry out any God-given assignment successfully. The theme of this year is ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’ (Exod 2:9), drawn from the story of Moses’ childhood. One thing I tend to believe is that Moses’ mother must have taken extra care in raising this boy because the assignment was beyond her being that natural mother; the assignment was from the Palace – from the princess, who also promised to pay her wages. She was raising a prince! By divine extension, she was actually raising a prince for the Kingdom of God. He went to Pharaoh’s palace and was equipped for great deliverance assignments; but when he tried to do the work, he was overcome by fear and the laws of the land; he was not yet sufficiently empowered. He ended up in exile in Midian. There he would later have a life-changing encounter with God; this was the empowerment Moses needed to overcome the Egyptian powers.

As for the disciples that Jesus commissioned to be witnesses, they too required an encounter with God in order to be sufficiently empowered for the assignment. Jesus expressly instructed them not to leave Jerusalem until they “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come”. They received this encounter on the day of Pentecost, and the Holy Spirit’s power drove them to evangelize the world, the odds notwithstanding.

Two truths remain: Every mature Christian has an assignment from God and ought to receive and perform it with enthusiasm. Secondly, we need the Holy Spirit’s power to be able to perform any God-given assignment. Sometimes we are lost for direction and other time we are discouraged, but with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, you are sure to perform that effectively.

 

 

‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’

“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me, and I will give you your wages.’ So the woman took the child and nursed him.”  (Exod 2:9)

 Do you remember the stories about Moses? He is such a prominent figure in the Bible, involved in very interesting drama episodes: his movie has action – he killed an Egyptian enemy of some Israelite, and later led Israel to war with Amalekites and many others; the movie has comedy – he witnessed a burning bush that didn’t burn, and spoke with an invisible being as if he was mad! The movie also has magic – his stick could turn into a snake and it could perform magic (we call them miracles in the Bible), like bringing the plagues in Egypt. There are indeed many interesting stories about Moses, but for today we zoom in into his early years – his childhood especially.

The theme of this year is ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’ (Exod 2:9), drawn from the story of Moses’ childhood. Moses was born to Israelite parents in Egypt. At that time Israelites were slaves and there was a law that all Israelite baby boys should be killed; however, Moses’ parents decided to hide him and later took to leave him in the shrubs by the river. When the king’s daughter came and found him, she liked the baby very much and decided to adopt him as her son. It is at this point that she found an Israelite woman (who actually was Moses’ mother) to take care of the child until he grew up, then Moses would be brought back to live and belong to the Palace. ‘Take this child away, and nurse him for me’: when you think more deeply about these words of the Princess, many ideas and action points come to mind:

Children belong to the Palace. Children belong to God, who is the King. The Bible clearly says ‘children are a blessing and a gift from the LORD’ (Psalm 127:3). Moses’ Israelite parents turned out to have played only a limited role of producing and nursing the boy, but legally he belonged to the king (Pharaoh); we see later that Moses actually ran away and found where he truly belonged – to the King of kings, the LORD God Almighty, who called and revealed himself to an older Moses. What does it mean to belong to God? As a child, a youth or as an adult, it is important to consider how to live as one that belongs to the King of heaven. Also as a parent, it is important to consider how to care for children and youth who legally belong to the LORD.

We need to give every Child an opportunity to grow and excel in their God given gifts and potentials. For elders and parents, respecting the image of God in every child demands a Christ-like response to nurture them intentionally. We will spend more time this year drawing lessons form nurture stories in the Bible.

 

 

Epiphany: Christ the Wisdom and Power of God

“but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”  (1Cor 1:23-24)

 Epiphany is the moment of sudden and great revelation or realization: for the wise men recorded in Matthew’s second chapter, a provocatively bright star led them to this – to find and worship the new-born King; for the celebrants at the Cana wedding, turning water into wine drew their eyes and minds upon this miracle worker; for John the Baptist, the heavenly dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit rested on a man who John now identified as the Lamb of God. All these were Epiphanies – the revelation of Jesus Christ as King. Such Epiphanies continue in personal, community and national contexts: Think about Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus, when “suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him” (Acts 9) – a total conversion ensuing out of this great revelation. Follow this man to Corinth for another Epiphany.

Who were the Corinthians? When it comes to the task of preaching the gospel, there are places that are very hard – the gospel does not easily penetrate; plenty of birds are present to eat up every gospel seed that falls there, and the rock is so hard that any remnant seed just cannot start growing; or the thorns are so aggressive that any seed that dares germinate will be chocked immediately. Such was the city of Corinth – eminent among all ancient cities for wealth, and luxury, and indulgence. It was a signal illustration of the grace of God, and the power of the gospel, that a church was organized in that city of gay, fashion, luxury, and immorality; put simply, even Corinth experienced an Epiphany!

This shows that the gospel is adapted to meet and overcome all forms of wickedness, and to subdue all classes of people to itself. If it could happen in Corinth, there is not now a city on earth so gay and so reckless that the same gospel may not overcome its corruptions, and subdue it to the cross of Christ.

Albert Barnes’ introduction points to the possibility that ‘Sosthenes, who was the principal agent of the Jews in arraigning Paul before Gallio, was converted, and perhaps some other persons of distinction; but it is evident that the Corinthian church was chiefly composed of those who were in the more humble walks of life’. The two categories of people here in this city are the Jews and the Gentiles, some of high ranks in society, and majority of poor and lowly lowly status. Paul asserts that no matter what the story of Christ’s Cross sounds like to Jews or Gentiles, from both peoples have come a thrid category: those who believe, to whom the truth about Christ has been revealed. And to these that believe – those who have experienced the Epiphany – Christ crucified is the wisdom of God and the power of God. He is the same today – open your eyes, behold and embrace Christ the Lord in your life.

 

Epiphany: Revealing God’s Salvation

 “I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize… said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain…’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”  (John 1:33-34)

 The manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the wise men from the East in Matthew’s second chapter is the great Epiphany we celebrate today. Epiphany is the moment of sudden and great revelation or realization: for the wise men, a provocatively bright star led them to this; they journeyed all the way to Bethlehem and found and worshipped the new-born King. This is the opportunity to celebrate the revelation of Jesus Christ to the nations, to all people. In Jesus Christ all God’s people are gathered and blessed together, and Jeremiah’s prophecy is fully realized: Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, ‘He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd keeps his flock.’ (Jer 31:10)

Gropping in darkness is not just a bad experience faced by a few people; even Prophet John the Baptist, whose role was to prepare the way, for a long time did not know who the Messiah was. The darkness of ignorance is troublesome: When will the monster of corruption let go of our institutions? When will suffering cease and stability return to the DRC? When will a better regime come? You may compose your own ‘when’ questions; the Jews were (and some today still are) asking ‘When will the promised Messiah come?’ It is during such times that we must remember hope, a message that comes to light in Jeremiah’s four chapters (30-33) after 29 chapters of gloomy prophetic discourse. Now we read in Chapter 31, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness’ and ‘I will turn their mourning into gladness’, plus comfort for Rachel who was weeping for her children (v.3, 13, 16). Our hope comes from God, and His promises are trustworthy and real.

John the Baptist was bold to testify about his former ignorance – that he did not know who the Messiah was. John kept the hope alive, and kept preaching and baptizing and waiting, until the sign came to pass. When the Spirit of God descended on Jesus, a bright light shone before John’s eyes and he ran out of the dark dungeon and beheld and showed off the Lamb of God. This is the revelation we celebrate – God’s salvation to both Jews and Gentiles. The adults and the children need this revelation. We need to learn three important things from John: First, he kept hope alive, holding onto the Word of God; second, he spoke up and testified when he saw and got to know the Messiah; and third, he called all the people around him to follow the Messiah. God’s salvation plan is for our welfare here on earth and in eternity. Keep hope alive, testify and glorify the Lord in every victory, and share the revelation that others may be drawn to the Saviour.

 

Grace to the humble: Do not be afraid.

“But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.’” (Luke 1:30-31)

 Here comes Christmas – the time we celebrate the birth of our Saviour Jesus Christ. Many people have made the celebration into so many other rituals, traditions and fanfares, but Jesus Christ must remain central for the true Christian. In his first Chapter, Luke presents two women experiencing miracles: Mary, the much younger one, is confronted by an angel with the message of favour and an imminent child out of wedlock, while the much older retired Elizabeth is embarrassed with her very first pregnancy in her old age. Through these God was orchestrating the climax of salvation history.

‘Remaking a broken world’ is the title of Christopher Ash’s book that carries the thesis that ‘the judgment of God leads to scattering and He shows his grace and faithfulness by gathering’. In his passionate prayer, Nehemiah asked God to remember His word to His servant Moses: ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the peoples, but if you return to me and keep my commandments and do them… I will gather’ (Neh 1:8-9). Scatterings away from Eden, at Babel, to Assyria, and to Babylon were such typical judgments, while fellowship gatherings at Sinai, at the Jerusalem Temple, at the Cross, and in the glorious eternal Kingdom are such gracious blessings. The brokenness of our world is propagated by the same evil spirit that brought about the scatterings of the Biblical times – the pride of the heart. The symbol of meekest humility is the Cross of Jesus Christ, and there at Golgotha is the place where godly fellowship can be restored and our world reconstructed.

Brexit is a live example of how much confusion our pride brings upon us. The 2016 referendum to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union ended with a 52% win for those supporting ‘Leave’. Only two years earlier Scotland in their independence referendum had wisely voted to remain in the UK so that they do not lose their participation in the EU; no wonder they voted 62% for ‘Remain’ during the 2016 referendum. Now confusion looms over this former super-power, with Prime Minister Theresa May almost stuck with the Brexit deal that her Parliament does not support. Do these British know what they really want? All I can say is that the evil spirit of pride is working hard to scatter.

Humility is important to the healing and salvation of our world: Mary humbly received favour (recognized her needy state) and accepted to be used of the Almighty God (potentially losing her planned comforts and marriage prospect), while Elizabeth was also humble enough to call the baby in Mary’s womb ‘My Lord’. We can only receive Jesus Christ today as our Saviour when we look at our needy state, humble ourselves and draw near to Him. Are you frightened by world powers? Or by a celestial revelation? Do not be afraid; just humble yourself before God and receive His will, receive His salvation plan, receive your Saviour.

 

 

Prepare the way for the Lord

“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him…And all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:4-6)

What happens when people see God’s salvation? It is news too good to keep at home; it has to go viral and all media houses had better make it the leading story, the front page headline. This may not sound like much until you understand what exactly this salvation means: you need to hear the story of that former drug addict who was liberated by the Saviour Jesus; or that former prostitute whose life has been completely transformed by the Healer Jesus – she is now settled in a home of her own! God’s salvation can only be understood in the context of action – not just theory.

The present miraculous nation of Israel and the imminent capital of Jerusalem may not be seen directly as the work of the Saviour Jesus, but the same prophets spoke of Israel’s future and of the Messiah. The God of salvation is at work in world politics and among the people He created. There are happenings in the wider cosmos as well as in our personal lives which help us to see God’s salvation. These events and transformations are so dramatic that their telling propagates the good news that Jesus saves, which brings more and more people to see and experience this salvation.

Take Paul the Apostle for example: his was not a miraculous provision in time of dire lack, or restoration of a crumbling relationship – his was a total lighting up of his dark world; Paul was going very fast in the direction of deep darkness, getting farther away from salvation. One day he saw God’s salvation – on the road to Damascus when bright light shone around him and beat him down and Jesus Christ spoke to him! The evidence that Paul saw God’s salvation is littered in his passionate letters and clear unstoppable zeal for spreading this good news, that Jesus saves. What happens when people see God’s salvation?

‘Do the work of an evangelist’ – spread the good news. This was Paul’s command to Timothy, and I have emphasized the same to those going for various outreach missions recently. John the Baptist preached, ’prepare the way’; for us today it is to tune our hearts to be the home of God’s salvation and to be ready in season and out of season to share this good news with all to whom we have been sent.

In a season when figs are not expected, Jesus cursed a fig tree that had no fruit; this is a good parable to demonstrate that for those who embrace Jesus Christ as God’s salvation, there is no off-season for bearing fruit. When people see God’s salvation, they are forever engaged all the time in spreading this good news; this will be through example of consistent life of worship, growth as Christians, as well as sharing overtly with a neighbor and groups of people at home, work or out in the mission field. May God give you the grace to live as one that has seen God’s salvation.

 

 

 

God’s Promise – Real for Sure?

scoffers will come… They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” (2Pet 3:3-4)

This is a season to encourage one another to trust God’s promises in our daily lives, but also for the far future. Jesus said, “I will come back and take you to be with me”; at his ascension, angels appeared and encourage the ‘men of Galilee’ that Jesus would come back in the same way. Paul wrote that the Lord himself will come down from heaven, and John from his revelations several times quoted the Lord Jesus Christ saying, ‘I am coming soon’. There are numerous Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments pointing to the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, but there are some people who doubt it. The study of the events of the last days and end times prophecy is called Eschatology. This also involves the question of the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.

From the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, we learn that ‘The eschatological interest of early believers was no mere fringe to their religious experience, but the very heart of its inspiration.  The coming world was not to be the product of natural development but of a Divine interposition arresting the process of history.” The early Church having received the witness of the eyewitnesses and apostles lived in constant anticipation of Christ’s second coming. John’s Revelation came at a time when some were starting to grow weary of waiting; they started questioning if this promised second coming was really going to happen. Have you questioned like this before? Or, even worse, have you met scoffers who just make fun of God’s promise as predicted in 2Pet 3:3-4?

No need to doubt: whether in our time or later, the day will surely come, and our faith should remain firm – He is only giving time and chance for more people to turn away from sin and repent. ‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air’. (1Thess 4:16-17)

Trusting God’s promise does not just end in the heart but must be lived out in all aspects of life like forthcoming exams. Those who live in eager anticipation of Christ are called upon to faithful stewardship and watchful prayer. It is not about just sitting there and waiting, but rather working to the highest profitability using the resources God has put in our care. He will gladly congratulate and reward the ‘good and faithful’ servants and admit them into a wonderful holiday and fellowship (Matt 25:23).