Monthly Archives: March 2018

Jerusalem and The Narrow Door

“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Luke 13:24, 35)

 The Jewish cemetery on the slopes of the Mount of Olives is a good place to start today’s reflection on Jerusalem and The Narrow Door. The cemetery is located close to the Old City, its chief merit being that it lies just across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount. According to Jewish tradition, it is here that the Resurrection of the Dead will begin once the Messiah appears on the Mount of Olives and head toward the Temple Mount. That is why the cemetery has a large number of tombs – estimated to be over 100,000 tombs or even more than double that number. So, Jerusalem may be considered to be the door into Heaven, since the Messiah will proceed from here with the resurrected folk to reign forever.

This Jerusalem is the beautiful city that received Jesus Christ, coming as king yet riding on a young donkey, in the dramatic Triumphal Entry event that we commemorate every Palm Sunday. Shortly after this, Jesus lamented over the city in words similar to those in today’s key text: ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing’ (Luke 13:24). What a paradox: The city that is supposed to be the gate of heaven instead rejects, tortures and kills God’s messengers!

The gate to heaven cannot be just a physical city – not even Jerusalem. The Lord sees differently: talk about the identity of those who will fail to enter heaven; they describe themselves as qualified – ‘we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets’; yet Jesus will ignore those descriptions (which may actually be true) and use His description to disqualify them – ‘you evildoers’ (Luke 13:25-27). What does it mean then, to ‘enter through the narrow door’? It is not about hanging out in fellowship and hearing Christian talk in your town; it is not about walking to the gate and knocking and pleading at the last hour. It is a daily ‘make every effort’ business; it is turning away from evil and doing good, and walking in righteousness every day until the Lord comes. And the principal good is to believe in Jesus Christ the Son of God and the Redeemer of mankind. He said, ‘I am the gate for the sheep’ (John 10:7).

The paradox of the city of Jerusalem should teach us something: She received ‘the king’ Jesus on such a Sunday and crucified him five days later – another prophet rejected, tortured and killed! The heaven-gate city is guilty of closing out the Saviour and his people. The good things that seem to lead us home may be such a disappointment. Remember the principal good thing – to embrace Jesus Christ the real gate.

 

 

 

Only one thing is required

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

 It may seem an obvious lesson, but we need the reminder; the lesson from Jesus’ interaction with two sisters when he visited them (Luke 10:38-42) in a certain village, which we learn in John’s gospel to have been Bethany, about 3km from Jerusalem. One was busy preparing the elements of material entertainment – eats and drinks in particular, while the other sat to listen attentively to the teachings of the Rabbi. It is good manners to entertain guests, and I believe both Martha and Mary knew it well. We all differ in our levels of generosity, and perhaps the story shows us the more generous Martha who both welcomed the Lord and ‘was distracted with much serving’; yet the context shows that there was something more important than the obvious entertainment needs and tasks.

The above story reminds me of the time disciples brought food to hungry Jesus, found him talking with a Samaritan woman at the well in Sychar, but he refused the food! They urged him, but instead he informed them of his ‘new food’ that they did not know about: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work’ (John 4:31-34). These are good things to remember during this official fasting season – the holy Lent: a special time for deeper and more careful self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. In Adam Clarke’s commentary on the Martha and Mary passage above, he inserts the quotation: ‘Many dishes, many diseases’!

Truly there is time when feasting and its attendant preparations are a distraction from more serious and needful business. It is more of a paradox when you are busy preparing eats for a small fellowship you are hosting, or a visiting Church leader, or a visiting high ranking dignitary. But if Jesus Christ did not defend the generous woman who was busy preparing for him and the apostles, will he defend you? For you it may not be serving welfare; it may be your important coursework or discussion, your business analysis or supervision, your caring for relatives or friends…  No distracting occupation or task will be excuse enough to neglect the ‘one thing that is necessary’ – to pay attention to the Lord’s teaching. Choose and commit yourself to sit attentively like Mary, read and meditate on God’s Word; listen also to the Holy Spirit in the still small voice during your attentive moments.

The good news is that thieves – who steal our food sometimes – cannot steal the bread of life you have already received. The Word of God will eternally nourish and strengthen you, and give you growth that will enable fulfill God’s purpose for your life.

 

 

It costs everything to be Christ’s disciple

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26)

 Read the above scripture again; and some people will wonder if Jesus really meant what he said! There is a prominent term in Economics: Opportunity Cost – this is “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”, according to the New Oxford American Dictionary; it is the trade-off or value of what you have to give up in order to choose something else. So, what is the opportunity cost of choosing Jesus Christ? Was that the question He tried to answer in the unpopular verse above? Let me encourage you in the same line with a few more biblical citations – you are required to: give up your people, give up your possessions, give up your privileges in order to be a true follower of Jesus Christ.

When Moses was of age, he gave up his privileges and foster people in the African palace where he had been brought up for 40 years, and chose to defend the people of God to whom he truly belonged. This even drove him into exile – further away from his people and possessions! That was his path to finally enter the service of Yahweh.

In the early Church, ‘those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need’ (Acts 4:35-37). In this vein, Barnabas ‘sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet’. This giving up of possessions was great and God was happy; Ananias and his wife who were part of the same community were killed by God for lying that they had given up all yet they had retained some!

Paul said, ‘I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…  I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ’ (Php 3:8). Indeed, he gave up his riches, his relatives, and also gave up his rights. He later explains to the Corinthians how he gave up the right to take a wife along on mission, and the right to earn allowances from his mission work – all so that he would not hinder the gospel of Christ (1Cor 9).

What is the craziest riskiest thing you have done in your pursuit of God? Fasting for three days and three nights? Losing the comfort of your family or familiar friend? Enduring the shame of peers who look down on your new-found faith? Yes, all that is possible. There is an ultra-high opportunity cost when you choose Jesus; it costs everything. My prayer is that you’ll be fully convinced; take the courage, release what you’re holding on to, lift up your hands and give up all; as your Master Jesus Christ must rank above your most loved people, your most treasured possessions and your comforting life privileges, and you will be His true disciple.

 

 

 

Alive Again

“Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” (Luke 15:23-24)

 The famous parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15 presents two worldviews about the main character – the younger son, who went up the crest of affluence and lived large and luxuriously with foolishness, then sank into the valley of absolute poverty; while scrapping and scraping, wallowing in the mire of want and lack, he saw a ray of wisdom; the hunger and suffering beat the madness out of the young man’s head and he came to his God-given senses. He composed a humble confession that would move to compassion the heart of any father however tough or careless. Many sinners are just mad; they see a mirage and are convinced it is a reality; they have heard how stories of wild living have ended in pain and disappointment, but still go down that ‘easy’ road. From rock-bottom the young man now arose and set out on the narrow and hard path that few people find.

That was repentance – metanoeō (Greek): to think differently or afterwards, that is, reconsider. When he arrived, the two worldviews were revealed: the first is embodied in the elder brother who became angry and refused to welcome his ‘resurrected’ sibling. Distancing himself, he says, ‘this son of yours…’ and reminds the father of the young man’s many sins, while praising himself. This was his first act of disobedience, which revealed the opportunistic mindset harbored by the elder brother all along. Wasn’t this the reluctant mindset among the Jews? Jonah was angry when the people of Nineveh repented; the Jews complained when Jesus went for ministry at Zacchaeus’ house. All these and more were demonstrations of God reaching out to ‘a prodigal son’, and some ‘elder brother’ gets angry. We are warned against this selfish and opportunistic mindset when the Lord saves us by his grace.

What about their father? He is a good good father… He embodied the second and most important worldview. Twice he gives the reason for the celebration: the young man ‘was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ He told this to the servants who made ready for the party, and he told the same to his elder son – an emphasis that we should not miss by all means. It is the reason to celebrate! It is comforting that no matter how deep you feel you’ve fallen, no matter what the servants think, no matter what the elder brother says, the Father is determined to celebrate the return of a prodigal.

He is determined to save the Gentiles, the Samaritans, the ‘labeled sinners’, and He is determined to save you. Have you received the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour? Come join the party as more repent and return home. Are you still confused, disappointed, lost or even dead in sin? Just arise and start the journey to the Father; His arms are wide open to receive, forgive and embrace you back as a child – Alive Again!