Seven utterances on the cross. (Part 7)

‘Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)

As Jesus was about to descend into the realm of the dead, he committed his spirit to the Father. As for his body, it was kept under maximum security! The Jews requested Pilate that Romans soldiers be assigned to guard the tomb against his disciples from stealing his body. God had also assigned angels to guard the tomb against the devil from stealing his body. Remember, after Moses’ death, there was a dispute between the Archangel Michael and the devil about the body of Moses and the Lord rebuked the devil. ( Jude 1:9) So both men and angels were guarding the body of Jesus. Meanwhile, his spirit ‘descended to the lower earthly regions ( Greek meros means portion or part) or the depths of the earth’ ( Ephesians 4:9) to Paradise which was the resting place for the righteous dead; where the thief on the cross was to join him. But Jesus went beyond Paradise, into Sheol ( Greek Hades), which is the abode of the wicked dead. Jesus himself had said that “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” ( Matthew 12:40) Jesus was willing to go any depth to save man and he trusted the Father to raise him up on the third day. No one has been resurrected from Sheol or Hades. All those who have been resurrected before were raised from Paradise. Psalm 18 has a strange description about a man who escaped from Sheol : ‘The cords of death entangled me. The torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. The cords of the grave ( Sheol ) coiled around me, the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called out to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice, my cry came before him, into his ears … He reached down from on high and took hold of me … He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes who are too strong for me ...’ This Psalm seems to be far- fetched (unlikely and unconvincing) because it cannot be true about the sufferings of David. Could it then be a Messianic Psalm, speaking about the aftermath of Christ’s death? Since Jesus holds the ‘keys of death and Hades’ (Revelation 1:18), it therefore means that he indeed descended beyond paradise into Hades where he even preached to ‘spirits in prison’ who disobeyed during the time of the flood. ( 1 Peter 3:19-20) There will come a day when ‘death and Hades will give up the dead that are in them (Revelation 20:13) because Jesus has conquered ‘death and Hades’ and he holds the keys ( meaning authority over that place).

Death was the last enemy ( 1 Corinthians 15:26) Jesus overcame. ‘During his days on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death.’ (Hebrews 5:7) He had authority to lay down his life and to take it up ( John 10:17) but he had to be delivered from the clutches of death. God’s Spirit can reach out for those in Hades, as the Psalmist says: ‘Where can I go from your Spirit … If I make my bed in the depths ( Hebrew: Sheol) you are there.’ ( 139: 8) God’s power was exerted in Christ when he was raised from the dead. ‘That power was like the working of his mighty strength which was exerted in Christ when God raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above call rule and authority, power and dominion.’ (Ephesians 1:19-21) Death could not contain him! The grave could not hold him! ‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.’ (Colossians 2:15) Not only did Jesus overcome death, but all the saints in Paradise, who we captives of death, were resurrected together with him, ‘when he ascended on high.’ (Ephesians 4:8) The thief probably had the shortest stay in Paradise! Hallelujah! And then in judgement he will open Hades and lead all men out to be judged. ‘Then death and Hades will be thrown into the Lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, they will be thrown into the lake of fire.’ (Revelation 20:14-15)

Just as Jesus committed his spirit to the Father, we too have committed our spirits to God, when we accepted Jesus as our Saviour. Therefore Paul wrote: ‘I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.’ (2 Timothy 1:12) ‘He who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies.’ (Romans 8:11) Sleep is a simulation of death. That is why death is also called sleep. What guarantee is there that we will wake up in the morning, unless God wakes us up each day? So will it be at the first trumpet, when the ‘dead in Christ shall rise’. ( 1 Thessalonians 4:14-16) We must be certain about the power of the resurrection, just as Jesus was certain that the power of God will raise him up from Sheol. Jesus assured his disciples that they will be raised up on the last day. “And this is the will of him who sent me that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:39-40) What a blessed assurance! Amen.

Seven utterances on the cross. (Part 6)

“It is finished.” (John 19:30)

What was it that was finished? Jesus himself had said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Matthew 5:17). He was often accused of not following the law but infact it were teachings of the elders that he didn’t follow because they were the ‘teachings of men’. ( Matthew 15:2-9) The essence of the law is to love God and man which Jesus obeyed but to men it seemed that he didn’t obey the letter of the law.

1. The law was fulfilled.

What is the law ( Torah)? What does it do? The law differentiates between good and evil, right and wrong. Man received this discernment at the garden of Eden when he ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. But he could not live by this knowledge because the Spirit of God had left him and was spiritually dead even before the law was given in writing. The law only reiterated what they already knew. For instance, there was nothing new about the ten commandments because what was stated was already known to man. Of the ten commandments, the fifth commandment stated what is to be done and the rest stated what should not be done. Now that it was given in written form, the Israelites no longer had any excuse. For that matter all ‘men are without excuse’. ( Romans 1:20) because the requirements of the law was written in their hearts . ‘Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness …‘ ( Romans 2:12-16)

What was the purpose of adding the law ( Torah)? ‘Sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses.’ (Romans 5:14) But as transgressions increased, it had to be checked untill the Seed to whom the promise referred to had come. Therefore, the law ‘was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.’ (Galatians 3:19) The law was also added so that ‘sin might be recognised as sin’ (Romans 7: 7-13) and as a result sin increased. ‘The law was added so that trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more.’ (Romans 5:20) Only by grace could a man abide by the law but ‘grace and truth came through Christ’. ( John 1:17) That is why it is said that only Jesus had succeeded to live by the Torah (law) because he alone had the Spirit of grace in him to abide by the Torah (law).

What was the effect of adding the law (Torah)? ‘But sin seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment produced in me every kind of sinful desire.’ (Romans 7:8-13) As with the knowledge of good and evil, the knowledge of the law did not decrease the desire to sin but rather increased it! In short the sinful nature failed the law! ‘For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4) When they crucified Jesus to the cross: one in whom the Torah ( law) was fulfilled, they figuratively nailed the Torah ( law) to the cross. ‘He forgave us all our sins having cancelled the written code, with its rules and regulations that was against us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.’ (Colossians 2:14) In accepting Jesus as our Saviour; the one in whom the Torah ( law ) was fulfilled, the righteous requirements of the Torah (law ) are fully met in us, thus qualifying us to receive the ‘promise of the Spirit’. (Acts 1:4, Galatians 3:14)

2. Prophecies were fulfilled.

As was his name, so was his mission! He fulfilled the mission assigned to him. It was at the end of his mission that he said, “It is finished”. He wouldn’t give up until everything was accomplished. There were hundreds of prophecies concerning every aspect of his life and the probability of all these prophecies being fulfilled in one man is astounding! The fact that he knew all was complete, so that Scriptures would be fulfilled, proves that he was full of the word. Ofcourse, he is the ‘Word that out on flesh and dwelt among us’. Therefore he is called the ‘Living Word’. The prophets themselves were eager to see the fulfillment of the prophecies! ‘Concerning this salvation the prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow.’ (1 Peter 1:10-11) The Apostles too knew the prophecies in Scripture. ( Acts 2:16, 15:15) Just as every word of prophecy concerning Christ was fulfilled, so will every word of prophecy spoken over us be fulfilled. Do we know or even remember what was said about us? Jesus knew, so did the Apostles! Paul knew he would not die in Jerusalem but will go to Rome. Paul reminded Timothy of the prophecies concerning him ( 1 Timothy 4:14, 2 Timothy 1:6) and asked him to ‘fan into flame the gift of God’. Jesus was passionate about finishing the task assigned to him – the task of taking the sin of the world – which he did completely! Therefore, he uttered, “It is finished.” Believe in the finished work of Christ on the cross. Amen.

Seven utterances on the cross. (Part 5)

‘Later knowing that all was now completed and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

Just as people long to quench their thirst after a physically exhausting activity, Jesus too asked for a drink and he was offered wine vinegar. He permitted his physical thirst to be quenched before his death because he was being human. To interpret that it was a spiritual thirst for souls, is to ignore his human dimension and portray him as super human. The gospel writers took note of his hunger, thirst and tiredness. Had it been a spiritual thirst, he should have declined to drink but Scripture says he received the drink. ( Vs 30) He would not have asked for a drink, if he intended to purposely decline to create an aura of his super human strength for everyone to see. But he showed himself to be human by just asking for a drink and it reminds us not to be super spiritual. Yet when he was offered wine to drink the first time, as he was about to be crucified, he refused to drink because after tasting it, he knew it was mixed with gall, a pain reliever of sorts. ( Matthew 27:34) It was the usual practice to give stupefying potions to those who were being crucified, to numb their senses so that they will not be able to sense the excruciating pain. Offering him gall and vinegar was in fulfillment of prophecy. ‘They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.’ (Psalm 69:21) He refused to drink because he was willing to face the full extent of the pain. He wanted to be alert and not sedated. He stayed sober and in his right mind throughout his ordeal. There are those who drink to alleviate their sufferings or indulge in food and entertainment or social media to forget their woes. But the Spirit gives a believer soundness of mind, just as he gave Jesus, so that we will have the presence of mind to endure our cross.

Before he let his physical thirst be quenched, he satisfied his spiritual thirst and hunger, of which he spoke many times. Once when his disciples had gone to buy food because Jesus was tired ( John 4:6), a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well and Jesus asked her for a drink. In the midst of the talk, Jesus forgot all about his thirst and she forgot to offer him a drink! Instead, he offers her ‘living waters’. Later on, when his disciples arrived with food, they urged him to eat (vs 31) but Jesus seemed to have had his fill! He said, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about … “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (Vs 32-34) So now having finished his work, he permitted his physical thirst, that he felt before his death, to be quenched. He was not overcome by the physical but was overcome by his zeal for God. He exhibited an order of priority – spiritual over the physical. He didn’t deny the physical but placed the spiritual over and above the physical. Jesus has given us a model to live by. How many times we have been overcome by the flesh! Our hunger doesn’t permit us to fast. Our sleepiness or tiredness wouldn’t permit us to pray at night. Those who cannot control their appetites are termed as ‘carnal’ or ‘worldly’ ( 1 Corinthians 3:1). Paul did not call them ‘unbelievers’ but ‘mere infants in Christ’, because though they believe, yet they are controlled by their appetites, just as infants are! Those overcome by their physical appetites are still controlled by the sinful nature and not by the Spirit. Esau, who could not control his hunger, was later called ‘godless’, though being a good man. ‘See to it that no one is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterwards, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind though he sought the blessings with tears’ (Hebrews 12:16-17) because ‘the one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction. The one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.’ (Galatians 6:8) Do not indulge in the physical at the cost of the spiritual! Amen.

Seven utterances on the cross. (Part 4)

At the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice,”Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachthani” – which means,”My God, My God why have you forsaken me.” (Matthew 27:46)

His first utterance was a prayer to God for the forgiveness of his persecutors. His second utterance was a promise to the one whom appealed to him for kindness. His third utterance was a sober charge to take care of his mother. These three utterances were made soon after he was crucified at the third hour (9 am). Then at the sixth hour (12 pm), darkness covered the land until the ninth hour (3 pm). It is interesting to note that he said nothing during these three hours. There was a prolonged silence as everyone awaited his death. His long hours of silence is a sign of his submission to God. He patiently bore the pain of his suffering and spoke nothing. In six hours he uttered just seven phrases and that reveals his fortitude (courage in pain or adversity). Our hours of agony would have been characterized by many words which would expose our character. He spoke, only if it was warranted or else he kept his mouth shut. That is a remarkable feat few of his followers have mastered ! Then at the ninth hour, after being on the cross for six hours; when it was time to give up his Spirit, he cries out something that those around him obviously didn’t understand. ‘When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He is calling Elijah.” ( Vs 47) He was probably speaking in an unknown tongue but the Gospel writer Matthew interprets it for us by the Spirit as, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?” It was more a statement of submission than of unbelief! Those words were the fulfilment of the prophecy made by David in Psalm 22, where a righteous man cries out to God in distress but God seems to be distant and silent. Time seems to pass by slowly! He could have given up his spirit anytime because he had ‘authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.’ (John 10:18). So what was he waiting for? The wrath of God to pass? He was accursed (to be under a curse) ‘because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse‘. (Deuteronomy 21:23) ‘It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer’ (Isaiah 53:10) for ‘God made him who had no sin to be a sin offering for us …’ ( 2 Corinthians 5:21 ) The darkness was therefore not an indication of God’s sorrow at his Son’s death but rather the wrath of God against sin. Could it be that as he cried out at the ninth hour, darkness left immediately? Thereafter knowing that the God’s wrath has passed by, says: ” I am thirsty”, in preparation for his death, because everything was fulfilled. This utterance on the cross gives insight into Christ’s absolute dependence and submission to God. Later on the Apostle Peter wrote: ‘Those who suffer according to God’s will should submit themselves to their faithful creator and continue to do good.’ (1 Peter 4:19) How our Lord has demonstrated it on the cross! His life simply agrees with his words, as if they are one and the same! Or in other words, his life and his words are in sync, unlike anyone we have known before! He is indeed a leader worth following. His life was a fulfilment of the prophecy made by David in Psalm 22 which is called the ‘Song of the cross’ because it describes the sufferings of a righteous man with no relief from God. It sounds like a mob scene, a lynching. The righteous man’s enemies have him. They surround him, jeering like a pack of dogs! He is helpless and exhausted! All he can do is to cry out to God. He wavers back and forth, first crying out in his misery, then taking stock of God’s goodness. Although, his cry has gone up day and night, God remains silent! A person might read Psalm 22 as an extravagant poetic description of David’s troubles because it doesn’t seem to fit David’s life but it does fit the life of Jesus. Infact Jesus and his disciples saw something more! When Jesus was dying, he had this Psalm on his lips. Afterwards, when his disciples wanted to explain Jesus’ life and sufferings, they turned to it. In it, the disciples saw a pattern and foreshadowing. The pattern is called ‘Redemptive suffering’, where a righteous man goes through tremendous suffering. But that suffering has a purpose. After it and because of it comes victory and power and salvation of the world. Hallelujah! If good men may suffer while God remains silent – if Christ himself knew these pains, though being the Son of God – then no one may be exempt! Scripture says that ‘during the days of Christ’s life on earth, he made petitions with loud cries to the one who could save him from death and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learnt obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.’ (Hebrews 5:79) This pattern helped Jesus’ followers to appreciate why Jesus, along with his followers had to suffer. Does this encourage us to submit to God today, no matter what! In the end, it will turn out for our good! Amen.

Seven utterances on the cross. (Part 3)

“Dear woman, here is your son” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” (John 19:26)

The passage names all who were present at the foot of the cross, which included his mother Mary, his mother’s sister Mary, wife of Cleopas, Mary Magdalene and John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. But many others were missing, notably his own brothers because they didn’t believe in him ( John 7:5) and his disciples who said they would never leave ( Matthew 14:19) but had deserted him, including Peter! ( John 18:15) Those present at the were those who believed in him and loved him. At the foot of the cross, a new family is formed called the ‘family of believers’. Also new responsibilities and bonds are formed at the foot of the cross. Once when his family came to meet him, he asked, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers and sisters?” Pointing to his disciples, he said,”Here are my mother, my brothers and my sisters. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50) Elsewhere it says, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” (Luke 8:21) Why were they there to meet Jesus? ‘They went to take charge of him for they said, “He is out of his mind.” ( Mark 3:21) Jesus was very blunt with those who did not believe in him, be it his mother or brothers. At one point she seemed to be persuaded by his brothers but it is also said of Mary that she ‘treasured all these things in her heart’. (Luke 2:51)

Jesus looked around and saw his mother standing there together with a hand few of people who cared . All the rest had left the scene. His brothers were not to be seen for he was an embarrassment to them. Had not Mary been there, he would not have said what he said for there were his unbelieving brothers to take care of his unbelieving mother. Since she was there, he would not entrust his believing mother into the hands of his unbelieving brothers. Even in his agony, he was mindful of his mother’s state and made sure that she will be taken care of. He would rather entrust his mother to the only disciple present there, instead of letting Mary go back home to his brothers to face ridicule. ‘From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’ Not that Mary didn’t have another home to go nor any relatives to look after her. But Jesus was sensitive to the situation. Until his resurrection, she had to be shielded from accusing voices. He wouldn’t let anyone abuse her; the very tenderness he showed to the Holy Spirit and would not let anyone rail against him. We see the heart of Jesus to care for those who are his family. His family, as he himself had pointed out, consists of those who believe. Just as Jesus is mindful of the ‘family of believers’, so should his disciples be mindful ! Jesus gave John a new responsibility without being told what to do. John took her home because he understood what Jesus meant. We know what we are supposed to do for the ‘family of believers’, without even being told what to do, but we refuse to go out of the way to help fellow believers because they are not afterall our family. But the Church too is a family and its members, though strangers, are related to one another by the blood of Jesus. Just as Joseph took care for his 72 blood relatives during the famine ( Genesis 45:11), even so Jesus will take care of those who are his blood relatives. We cannot walk away from the need of a fellow believer as if we didn’t see it. Jesus might ask us to accommodate in our homes those who are being persecuted for their faith, though they are not related to us by our blood but are related to us by the blood of Jesus, until everything is peaceful for them to return to their homes. Just as Jesus was mindful of his mother even in his agony, we should be mindful of others and forget not to show kindness. Often in our pain or lack, we do not have the presence of mind to hear or take note of someone else’s pain or lack but Jesus exhibited tremendous presence of mind, which is a fruit of the Spirit. ( 2 Timothy 1:7) We are told to ‘share with God’s people who are in need and to practice hospitality.’ ( Romans 12:13) ‘Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.’ (Galatians 6:10) Amen

Seven utterances on the cross. (Part 2)

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)

The thief on the cross had a revelation about the identity of Jesus for he heard him pray: “Father forgive them …” Never in his life had he heard anyone pray that their killers be forgiven. The man had to be the Son of God to pray thus and he even heard him address God as his Father! What he heard was so profound that it moved his heart. He saw that the man did not exhibit resentment nor rant while on the cross but he silently bore the agony of injustice. He didn’t see the man trying to get down from the cross or trying to save himself. There was a peace about this man! He heard the rulers sneer at the man, saying, “He saved others . Let him save himself, if he is Christ of God, the chosen one.” ( vs 35) He also heard the soldiers mock him, saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” ( Vs 37) He saw the inscription above his cross, which read: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, The King of the Jews’ ( Vs 38). All that he heard and saw overwhelmed him but he still maintained his silence! There were others who had heard and read the same but they had no revelation about the identity of Jesus but the thief on the cross perceived that this man who was being crucified with him was not of this world. He reasoned that if Jesus is a King, then he would have a kingdom which might not be of this world! Then when the other thief hurled insults at Jesus, he broke his silence to rebuke him, saying, “We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” It was after this that he turned to Jesus to make his appeal in response to the revelation he had. He probably had seen Jesus for the first time or might have heard of him before but got to see him now in a seemingly helpless state to appeal to him. Nevertheless, he did and he had to be quick, lest it be too late because Jesus was bleeding to death, so was he! He didn’t lose any time in responding to the revelation and spontaneously made his appeal to Jesus: “Remember me when you come in your kingly power. Those who heard him say this might have jeered at him but he unashamedly made his good confession of his faith in the person of Jesus. He was resigned to his fate and did not request like the other thief to save him from the cross but instead requested that he be remembered in the next life. What he said was so profound that Jesus could not be silent though he himself was in agony. Jesus had always acknowledged faith and he had to respond to this confession immediately before he himself would transcend death into eternal life. So his response was immediate and precise, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus entered paradise before the thief did as he died first, followed by the thief, making him the first to enter after Jesus. He who was the last became the first just as Jesus had predicted. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16) Jesus reached out to save a petty criminal whom the world had despised. True to his name he was a Saviour till the end. He died saving till the end. Jesus will reach out to anyone who calls on his name, for Scripture says: ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ ( Joel 2:32) While alive, he offered life to the dying. But now as he was dying, he offered eternal life to the dying. ‘In him was life and it was the light of men. (John 1:4) How true to his statements were his last moments! He did not offer life the way the other criminal wanted but offered eternal life to the one who appealed to him. For he had said while he was alive: “I am the resurrection and life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. ( John 11:25-26) The criminal was least likely to be accepted by the righteous Pharisees but he was heartily welcomed to the kingdom by Jesus. No wonder the tax collectors and prostitutes were making their way into the kingdom when Jesus was the usherer. But his so called ‘disciples’ have been ‘exclusive’ throughout history, excluding many because they have been judgemental and narrow minded! Of them, it can be said: “You shut the kingdom of heaven at men’s faces. You yourself do not enter nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” (Matthew 28:13-24) The system judged him to be a misfit to live in this world but his faith in Jesus made him fit for the kingdom! Hallelujah! What a glorious salvation! It was Jesus’ forbearance of his persecutors that opened the doors of heaven for this criminal. Jesus did not consider him insignificant and beyond salvation. How long does it take to be saved? In an instant the thief received by faith what others have been striving for a lifetime! What does it take to be saved? Many like to believe that salvation is the reward for good works but it is not. The thief didn’t have any good works to boast about but he was saved by his timely confession, for Scripture says: ‘That if you confess with your mouth,” Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ (Romans 10:9) The thief did believe that Jesus will be raised from the dead and that he will come back to his kingdom. Respond to the truth today, if it has been revealed to you as it was revealed to the thief. Not tomorrow ‘for today is the day of salvation.’ (2 Corinthians 6:2) The thief knew he too will be forgiven because Jesus had forgiven his killers. Ask boldly like the the thief. Jesus liked his boldness! It’s the proof of your faith! Amen.

Seven utterances on the cross. (Part 1)

“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

What is it that they did not know?  They thought they were executing a criminal because Jesus was crucified with criminals. What was his crime? Blasphemy, because he claimed to be the Son of God, the Christ and equal with God. The Jews once gathered around him and said, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you but you do not believe … I and the Father are one …” Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him but Jesus said to them, ” … For which of these miracles do you stone me?” “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy because you a mere man claim to be God.” ( John 10:24-39) Did Jesus ever claim to be God ?  “Who are you?”, they asked. ” Just what I have been claiming all along,” Jesus replied … “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be …” (John 8:25-28) The Jews knew him as Joseph’s son. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary and  aren’t his brothers … all his sisters with us? …” And they took offense at him.’ (Matthew 13:54-57) What they knew about him was so little compared to what they didn’t know about him!  They didn’t  know  that he is the ‘Christ, our Passover Lamb‘ (1 Corinthians 5:7) and that ‘He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.’ (1 John 2:2)  It is outrageous that inspite of all that Jesus said and did to prove his claim, they didn’t believe him. ‘He came to that which was his very own but his own did not receive him.’ ( John 1:11) The Jews who had the law and prophets should have known but the ‘god of this age had blinded the minds of the unbelievers so that they cannot see the light of the Gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God ‘ (2 Corinthians 4:4)   However, the Gentiles were not expected to know. Jesus failed in his attempts to convince them his true identity. What seems to be a tragedy was in the perfect plan of God to get them to crucify him, for in doing so, they would unwittingly sacrifice the Passover Lamb of God. By all means the devil knew but  ‘none of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.’ (1 Corinthians 2:6-8) So what was Satan’s gamble? Probably, he didn’t expect Jesus to be resurrected from Hades, because no man had been raised from Hades before. Lazarus was raised from Paradise, so were the rest who were raised from the dead. Jesus was the first person to be raised from Hades. (Jesus did not go to Hell, as some presume because he went where men had gone. No man has gone to hell yet because the dead in Hades are waiting for judgement! The false prophet and the Antichrist will be the first to be thrown into hell. ) Guess the devil underestimated the power of the resurrection!

Who are ‘they’ that did not know?  Both the Jews and the Gentiles came together to conspire against Jesus. ‘Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed.’ (Acts 4:27)  The Jews with the help of Gentiles had crucified him.  ‘This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge and you with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.’ (Acts 2:23)  The very fact that Jesus was crucified and not stoned to death, proves that the Gentiles too were guilty because it was their form of execution. Not realising that the Gentiles too are guilty has resulted in the Church persecuting the Jews and calling them “Christ killers”. The atrocities committed by the crusaders and the Nazis were as a result of this misunderstanding. Both are guilty but the Jews are guilty of a greater sin because they knew from the law and the prophets that the Messiah was coming whereas the Gentiles were ignorant about these prophecies. Jews are therefore guilty of premeditated murder while the Gentiles are guilty of manslaughter because it was unintentional ! That is why Jesus told Pilate, “The one who handed me over to you is guilty of greater sin” ( John 19:11)  and they are the ones who have suffered the most  ( Luke 19:43-44) for they owned up the crime by saying, “Let his blood be upon us and our children.” ( Matthew 27:25)  The bloody and gruesome murder turned out to be the ultimate sacrifice! But just because God allowed it to happen, doesn’t mean the perpetrators of the crime are absolved from all guilt ! Therefore Peter said:  “You handed him over to be killed and you disowned him before Pilate though he had decided to let him go … You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead.’( Acts 3:13-15)

Who are ‘them’ that he forgave?  If ‘they’ meant both the Jews and the Gentiles, then ‘them’ would mean the same.  Both Jews and Gentiles have been equally forgiven, whether their part in the crime was big or small. Both have been unconditionally forgiven since he forgave them even before they acknowledged or confessed their guilt. It was heartfelt forgiveness because Jesus knew that men were just pawns in Satan’s hand and that they were being used by him to vent his fury because he knows that his days are numbered! What else can explain the brutality that was displayed against Jesus? The rage of hell was being revealed through men. Yet he would not hold it against men though he suffered at their hands but forgave them from his heart. Jesus exemplified through his life that ‘our struggle is not against flesh and blood but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ ( Ephesians 6:12) Since he has forgiven all men, we ought to forgive as well, from our hearts or else it will be held against us. ( Matthew 18:35) But the Jews did not accept this forgiveness. As for those who accepted his forgiveness, they were spared from the consequences of their crime. When Jerusalem was surrounded by the Romans in 70 AD, the believers remembered the words of Jesus (Luke 21:20) and fled but those who didn’t heed to his words, died fighting the Romans and the rest were exiled. The Jews have suffered through the centuries because they didn’t believe and receive his forgiveness. Unless we believe and confess our sins, we will not experience the release. Believe and receive God’s heartfelt forgiveness today. Amen.

13. Exponential power in agreement.

“Five of you will chase a hundred and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand … ” (Leviticus 26:8) If one would be able to chase a twenty, then a hundred would be able to chase two thousand, but the Bible declares that ‘a hundred will chase ten thousand’; five times more because there is exponential power in agreement! (Even in the wild we see this phenomenon at work when animals herd together to chase off a predator and predators hunt together to scatter the herds.) There were times when the nation of lsrael chased their enemies and there were also  times when they were scattered by their enemies, in keeping with God’s word. ‘If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands … All these blessings will come upon you … The Lord will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven … However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands … The lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies. You will come at them from one direction but will flee from them in seven and you will become a thing of horror to all the kingdoms on earth.” (Deuteronomy 28 :1-25) Joshua, in his farewell address to the Israelites, testified: “One of you routs a thousand because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God.” ( Joshua 23:10-11) However, Moses in his farewell address to the Israelites, predicted their rebellion and warned them of the opposite:  ‘How could one man chase a thousand or two put ten thousand to flight unless their Rock had sold them, unless the Lord had given them up?’ ( Deuteronomy 32:30) Moses was right in predicting that the promise will work against them in favour of their enemies. What else would explain why the Jews were scattered around the world and were executed in the millions? ‘These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.’ (1 Corinthians 10:11) It is time for body of Christ to put aside their differences and stand together against the divisive forces and appropriate the promise of exponential power in agreement.

There are two aspects to this agreement. The agreement with the word of God is the divine or vertical aspect and the agreement between believers on earth is the human or horizontal aspect.  Jesus spoke of these two aspects when he said : “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth have been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth have been loosed in heaven.” –  this is the divine or vertical aspect. “Again I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” – this is the  human or horizontal aspect. ( Matthew 18:18-20) Everything that happens on earth is the shadow of that which happens in the heavens. Therefore it has to be first bound in heaven before it can be bound on earth, because the spiritual realm rules over the physical realm. There are many believers who know about their authority in Christ but simply can’t agree with one another ! ‘I appeal to you brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.’ (1 Corintians 1:10) Infact we agree on more things than we disagree, irrespective of our denominations. Belief in salvation through Christ should be the common ground for all believers to stand together in unity. The modern church is yet to discover this truth about the power in agreement and when it does, history will be made, just as the early Church did! Amen.

12. Moving from reality to revelation.

As a believer, I tend to be an  ‘idealist’ ( a person who is guided more by ideals than by practical considerations) because I believe in the ideals ( the standards or principles) revealed in the word of God and I boldly profess it, expecting to see it being fulfilled in the Church. But as a ‘realist’ (a person who takes note of  a situation and deals with it accordingly ), I tend to question the ground realities, so that it can be addressed, in an effort to narrow the gap between ‘Reality and Revelation’; between what is and what is supposed to be, until the revealed will of God becomes the reality within the body of Christ.

The early Church lived up to the revelation they received for we read that ‘they were all filled with the Holy Spirit’ ( Acts 2:4, 4:31), ‘all the believers were one in heart and mind’ ( Acts 4:32), ‘all the believers were together and had everything in common’ ( Acts 2:44), ‘there were no needy persons among them’ (Acts 4:34) and ‘all of them were healed’ (Acts 5:16). We see the three gospel promises of infilling, blessing and healing being manifested in the early Church. But after the death of the Apostles and of those who had personally known some of them or have been significantly influenced by them ( referred to as the apostolic fathers), the Church was on the decline. Everytime the Church drifted away from its ideals and the gap between what was supposed to be and what is, widened, God raised men and women who would restore the Church to its position. – This downward spiral was not new to God’s people because it had beset them even in old testament times. ‘Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who has experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.’ ( Joshua 24:31) Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us to read this chilling statement, often repeated in the book of Judges, about Israel : ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.’ (Judges 21:25) This closing statement by the author of Judges, attributes the reason for their backsliding, to the lack of leadership.

Restoration of Israel happened when God raised Samuel, who was attested as a prophet (1Samuel 4:1) but he also judged Israel ( 1Samuel 7:15 ) as its last judge, since Israel asked for a king. But none of their kings were beyond reproach and as kings and priests became increasingly corrupt, God trained the spotlight on the prophets, who emerge as Israel’s real heroes. Overtime, the significance of Prophets, overtook and even surpassed that of kings. Nevertheless, neither the kings nor the people heeded to the words of the Prophets and therefore God used the Assyrians to exile the ten northern tribes and the Babylonians to exile the  two southern tribes, even letting them to set fire to his temple, so that Israel might have a change of heart for a new beginning. Seventy years later, the restoration happened under the leadership of Zerubabel, grandson of king Jehoiachin who was taken captive to Babylon. It looked like a promising start to some but ‘many of the older priests and levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of the new temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.’ ( Ezra 3:12) Before long, they faced opposition from other settlers and ‘thus the work on the house of God in Jerusalem came to a standstill until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.’ (Ezra 4:24). ‘Now Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the prophet … prophesied to the Jews … in the name of the God of Israel, who was over them. ‘Then Zerubbabel … set to work to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem. And the prophets of God were with them, helping them.’ ( Ezra 5:1-2) ‘Then Zerubbabel … and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of God and the message of the prophet Haggai because the Lord their God had sent him.( Haggai 1:12) ‘So the elders of the Jews continued to build and prosper under the preaching of Haggai the Prophet and Zechariah … The temple was completed in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius’ ( Ezra 6:14 -15), primarily due to the exhortation of the Prophets.

Likewise, the Church struggles to live upto the revelation it has received through its Apostles and teachers and needs exhortation by its prophets, to close the gap between reality and revelation; between what is and what it is supposed to be! That is why Paul wrote: ‘ Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy … everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself but he who prophesies edifies the Church. I would like everyone of you to speak in tongues but I rather have you prophesy.’ ( 1 Corinthians 14:1-5) I suppose Ezekiel the prophet would totally agree with Paul because the Spirit of the Lord took him and set him in a valley full of dry bones and asked him, “Son of Man, can these bones live?” I said, “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones … Prophesy to the breath … that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me … and they came to life and stood up on their feet – a vast army. Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel” ( Ezekiel 37:1-14) What relates to Israel relates to the Church as well. It is time that the Church rises up as a vast army against this ‘plandemic’ ( not a spelling error but was misspelt intentionally because it is after all a planned pandemic) and break into the realm of the Spirit where Revelation dictates reality, as experienced by the early Church. Amen.

11. The influence of the Church.

The Church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in everyway’ (Ephesians 1:23), is the prized possession that Jesus is looking forward to welcome in the air. Infact, the Church is the only body of value on the face of the earth that Jesus would redeem before setting the earth on fire.
“I have come to bring fire on the earth and how I wish it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)
‘The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.’ (2 Peter 3:7)
As long as the Church remains on earth, it is spared for her sake and he would do anything she asks for. (Jh 16:23-27)
‘His intent is that now through the Church the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms …‘ ( Ephesians 3:10) The magnitude of this truth is going to be revealed when the saints are Raptured and the devil loses his place in heaven. ‘And there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – the ancient serpent called the devil … He was hurled to the earth and his angels with him.’ ( Revelation 12:7-9) Why didn’t this happen before? What is it that changed the balance of power? The Raptured Church? It is also interesting to note that Satan’s battle is not directly against God, whom he hasn’t been able to vanquish, but against his Church! No wonder the Bible says :‘The God of peace will soon crush Satan under YOUR feet.’ (Romans 16:20) Why not literally under Christ’s feet? That is because we are the body of Christ, and it is under our feets that he must be crushed. Could that be the reason why just one angel was able to seize him? ‘And I saw an angel come down out of heaven … He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent who is the devil or Satan and bound him for a thousand years.’ ( Revelation 20:1-2) How did he become so weak? Looks as if Satan was trampled down by the victorious Church that rode with Christ at his second coming. ‘The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.’ ( Revelation 19:14) Wherever the Church goes, Satan seems to be losing his place. He first lost his place in heaven and now he has lost his place on earth and finds himself in the Abyss! That is the clout ( influence or power) of the true Church. Hallelujah!

This is the hour of the Church as the world faces this pandemic but for the sake of the elect, it will be shortened.
“If those days had not be shortened, no one would survive but for the sake of the elect, those days will be shortened.” (Matthew 24:22) This holds true now in the Church age and thereafter during the tribulation. Let the influence of the Church be manifest at such a time as this. Come let us pray. 🙏🏻

10. Salt of the earth.

The true Church is the ‘salt of the earth’ (Matthew 5:13) and as long as it remains on earth, the world will be preserved, no matter what the enemy is upto!
‘For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work ; but the one (Holy Spirit) who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way.’ ( 2 Thessalonians 2:7)
The ‘secret power of lawlessness’ has been trying to establish the ‘new world order’, out of the chaos it orchestrates. Its agents were suspected to be behind the World wars and Revolutions that have been fought and are even thought to be behind some of the recent disasters and pandemics. If these happenings were the judgements of God, no righteous man would have perished and no wicked man would have escaped for ‘the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment until the day of judgement.’ ( 2Peter 2:9) Since we see no distinction being made between the two, these happenings are therefore not the judgements of God but rather natural calamities or manmade disasters which can affect both the righteous and the wicked alike. That was what Jesus had to say about the events that happened around him during his days on earth: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” ( Luke 13:2-5) So whether the happenings around us are natural or induced, they constitute the ‘birth pains’ Jesus spoke about : “There will be earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places …” (Luke 21:11) “All these are the beginning of birth pains.” ( Matthew 24:8) These birth pains will increase in frequency and strength as the time approaches. But until the Church is raptured, it stands in the way of total destruction of the world. Once the Church is raptured, the world will be vulnerable to the onslaught of Satan and the judgements of God will be unleashed against him and on those who worshipped the one God had condemned. “When he ( the Holy Spirit) comes he will convict the world of … judgement … because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” ( John 16:11) and “whoever does not believe stands condemned already.” ( John 3:18) But those who believe are the ‘salt of the earth’. Bible says that the LORD had made a ‘covenant of salt’ with the Levites. ‘It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.’ (Numbers 18:19) Therefore they were reminded to add salt to all their offerings. ‘Do not leave the Salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.’ ( Leviticus 2:13) We who are ‘a royal priesthood’ (1 Peter 2 : 9) have been reminded to have salt in ourselves : ‘Salt is good but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have Salt in yourselves and be at peace with each other.’ ( Mark 9:50) It is time that the Church realises this truth about its ability to preserve the earth and stand its ground in the midst of this plague to bring about a great deliverance for which the Gentiles would thank the LORD, the God of heaven. Amen.

9. The stand of the Church.

As I was pondering about the stand, the Church must take at such a time as this, I remembered this testimony about Dr.John G Lake. He ministered in South Africa between 1908-1913, when there was an outbreak of Bubonic plague. When the team of Doctors who arrived from Europe, questioned him as to how he could work without any protective gear, he testified to them that the ‘law of the Spirit of life’ was at work in him and he demonstrated under the microscope how the germs died when it came into contact with him. https://everestalexander.wordpress.com/2015/10/18/john-g-lake-bubonic-plague-testimony/

‘So we have this treasure (the Holy Spirit) in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ ( 2 Corinthians 4:7) There is an inner security cordon that cannot be breached even while other outside layers of security may be compromised. This inner spiritual defence together with the outer physical protection should be our two pronged strategy against this pandemic. Therefore let no believer be found wearing just a mask and a glove without having worn the armour of God because when masks and gloves fail to stop the contagion, the armor of God will!

Let the Church take its stand, right in the midst of this pandemic, as Aaron did : ‘Aaron did as Moses said and ran into the midst of the assembly. The plague had already started among the people, but Aaron offered incense and made atonement for them. He stood between the living and the dead and the plague stopped.’ ( Numbers 16:47-48) It is interesting to note that Aaron wore the ‘Ephod’ and the ‘Breastpiece’, as he ran into the midst of the assembly when the plague started among the people and offered incense and made atonement for them. Let’s not forget to put on the ‘Belt of Truth’ and the ‘Breastplate of Righteousness’, as we take our stand against this pandemic. Without the ‘Ephod’, the ‘Breastpiece’ could not be held in place. So also without the ‘Belt of Truth’, the ‘Breastplate of Righteousness’ would not be held in place.
‘Therefore put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, after you have done everything to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit ...’ (Ephesians 6:13-18)
‘Let us then approach the Throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.’ (Hebrews 4:16)
At a time when the nation is struggling to contain the pandemic, let the believer be reminded of this promise : “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” ( 2 Chronicles 7:14) Just as God halted the plague abruptly, when Aaron interceded, so will God contain this contagion, if the Church would stand its ground, in truth and righteousness. Amen.

8. The power of the resurrection.

The greatest display of God’s power, since the creation of the world, was at work on the day of the resurrection, not because the situation required the display of such immense power but that the Church might know the infinite power that was being bestowed on them. (Though the ten plagues and the parting of the Red sea were phenomenal, yet they happened on earth! But the resurrection happened in the underworld; in the dominion of darkness which was undoubtedly more powerful than all the nations on the face of the earth. Only the Church is more powerful than the Kingdom of darkness! )
Paul uses the following superlatives to describe that power, but I wonder whether words can fully describe this infinite power!
‘I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know … his INCOMPARABLY great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion …’ (Ephesians 1:18-21)
‘We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this ALL-SURPASSING power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7)
Paul didn’t claim that he knew this power, but said, ‘I want to know Christ and the power of the resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow , to attain to the resurrection from the dead.’ (Philippians 3:10-11)
Qn : Why did this man who encountered Jesus, on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:3-5), still say, ‘I want to know Christ’?
Qn : Why did this man who was stoned at Lystra and dragged outside the city, thinking he was dead (Acts 14:19-20), but got up and went back to the city, after he came back to life (2 Corinthians 12:2), still say, ‘I want to know the power of the resurrection’?
Qn : Why did this man who describes in detail his sufferings for the gospel in his epistles (2 Corinthians 11:23-29), still say, ‘I want to know the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings’?
Ans : In Paul’s own words : ‘I am becoming like him (Christ) in his death, and so, somehow, to attain the resurrection from the dead’ ! (Vs 11)


Is it so difficult to be part of the first resurrection ?
‘If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.’ ( Romans 6:5)
As we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ (erroneously called Easter), let us like Paul say, ‘Not that I have obtained all this or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me … Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.’ (Philippians 3:12- 14)
Amen.

7. The greatest escape.

Exodus is a thrilling story of the great escape, when a band of slaves escaped from the most powerful nation on earth. God remembered his covenant with Abraham and promised the Israelites to ‘rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey’. (Exodus 3:8)
The great escape happened because the Israelites obeyed a simple instruction given by the Lord.
“Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month Abib (also called Nisan) each man is to take a lamb … take care of it until the fourteenth day … slaughter them at twilight. Then take some of the blood and put it on the sides and doorframes of their houses, where they eat the lambs … Eat it in haste, it is the Lord’s passover.” (Exodus 12:3-11)
“The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.” (Exodus 12:13)
All the Israelites did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. And on that very day the Lord brought the Israelites out of Egypt by their divisions.’ ( Exodus 12 :50-51)
By faith Moses kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel‘ (Hebrews 11:28)

However the greatest escape that ever happened in the history of mankind, was when a band of captives escaped the grip of death and Hades, ‘for Christ, the Passover Lamb was sacrificed’ (1 Corinthians 5:7) and ‘he rescued them from the dominion of darkness and brought them into the Kingdom of the Son he loves.’ (Colossians 1:13)
‘The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of their tombs and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people. (Matthew 27:52-53)
‘When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ (Ephesians 4:8)
The greatest escape happened when the Jews, together with the help of the Gentiles, unwittingly fulfilled ‘God’s set purpose and foreknowledge’, when they ‘put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.’ (Acts 2:23-24)

But the story doesn’t end there. We too ‘have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood.’ (1Peter 1:2)
All we have to do is obey a simple instruction, to escape the grip of sin, Satan, death, Hades and Hell.
‘That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord”, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.’ (Romans 10:9-10)
Amen.

6. The Goodness of God.

We seldom doubt the existence of God and his ability but we often question the willingness of God, because we haven’t understood the goodness of God yet !
A man with leprosy came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.
( Mt 8 : 3 ) Jesus touched him instantly, as if to assure him of God’s willingness, inspite of his faith being far from perfect. The goodness of God was being revealed to the world in Christ, just as it was revealed to Moses, in the cleft of the rock – In Exodus 33 : 17 – 18, we read : And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do everything you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory” ( Hebrew : kābôd means splendor or glory )
It was through Moses that God had displayed his awesome power, as he led a band of slaves to freedom from the most powerful civilization on earth and it was through him that God had dramatically parted the waters of the Red Sea for the Israelites to miraculously escape from the Egyptian army who pursued them. And on the other side, he had also seen God’s mercy and forbearance in dealing with the Israelites, when they rebelled against him in the desert. Overwhelmed by the goodness of God, he was eager to see the face of the person behind these spectacular deeds. ( During his first encounter with God at Horeb, when God appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush, he was afraid to look at God when he heard God say : “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob.” At this Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3 : 6 ) But since then he had come a long way and experienced the goodness of the God, along the way. )
And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence … There is a place near me where you may stand on the rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen … And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished …” (Ex 33 : 18 – 34 :7 ) –
When asked to reveal his face, God revealed his character instead and this self description of God became for the Jews a profound summary of God’s nature. The Old Testament quotes or alludes to this passage more than any other. God doesn’t seem to glory in his splendor and power but he seems to glory in his good nature. We glory in our looks and introduce ourselves to others by our names and by our achievements but God introduced himself to Moses by his character ! Put in the cleft of a rock, Moses heard the description of the goodness of God, as he passed by. That is why Scripture says : ‘He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel : The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love …’ (Psalm 103 : 7 )
And that Rock was Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 10 : 4 ) It is in ‘Christ the Rock’ that we receive this revelation about the goodness of God.
In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form …’ ( Colossians 2 : 9 ) So Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” ( John 14 : 9 )
The word ‘euangelion’ which in Greek means ‘good news’, was translated as ‘Gospel’ (Old English : ‘gõd spell’ means ‘good message’ ) It is the goodness of God that makes the message of the Gospel so good to those who hear it. The saints of old had themselves appealed to the goodness of God, in the face of adversity.
‘I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’ ( Psalm 27 : 13 ) NASB
Give me a sign of your goodness that my enemies may see it and be put to shame.’ ( Psalm 86 : 17 )
And we ourselves have chanted the popular refrain : ‘God is good, all the time; all the time, God is good !’
The sacrifice on the cross is the ultimate expression of the goodness of God, where his heart was revealed to mankind when he was pierced for their transgressions and crushed for their iniquities’. ( Isaiah 53 : 5 )
God demonstrated his love for us in this : While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ ( Romans 5 : 8 ) If we ever tend to doubt the goodness of God, the sacrifice on the cross should assure us of his infinite goodness. Amen !

5. Return to Bethel.

Jacob’s encounter with God at Peniel should have marked the end of his wanderings and the beginning of his spiritual journey into God, but it was not ! He had come a long way since he first met God at Bethel, when he fled from home, twenty years ago. But after his transformation into ‘Israel’ ( which was an Old testament shadow of the born again experience ), a new spiritual standard was set by God, that he had to live upto, for the rest of his life ! He reconciled with his estranged brother Esau, ( that story should remind us what is expected from us who have been born again ) and with that his past was effectively put behind him ; so he thought ! He settled in Succoth and there he made a place for himself and shelters for his livestock ( Genesis 33 : 17 ). But Jacob seemed to be oblivious of the vow he made to God at Bethel, twenty years back, when he fled from his brother.
If God will be with me and will watch over me … so that I return safely to my father’s house, … this stone that I set up as a pillar will be God’s house …” ( Genesis 28 : 20 – 22 )
Then trouble began to brew around him ! His daughter Dinah was violated by Shechem the Hivite. In fury, her two brothers, Simeon and Levi, put all the males in the city of Shechem to the sword. Jacob feared an attack by the Canaanites and Perizzites and realized he would be vulnerable, if they join forces against him and attack him (Genesis 34 : 25 – 30). So he decided to leave Succoth immediately.
‘Then God said to Jacob,“Go up to Bethel and settle there and build an altar there to God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” ( Genesis 35 : 1 )
So Jacob said to his household, “Get rid of your foreign gods … and purify yourselves … then come, let us go up to Bethel …” (Genesis 35 : 2 – 3 )
Then they set out and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them.’ ( Genesis 35 : 5 )
Then they moved on from Bethel.’ ( Gen 35 : 16 )
But before long, he suffered a heartbreak ! Rachel, the love of his life, died while giving birth to Benjamin and was buried on the way to Ephrath. ( Genesis 35 : 17 – 20 )
Israel moved on again …’ (Genesis 35 : 21 )
Then the unthinkable happened ! ‘While Israel was living in that region he heard of the incest Reuben had committed. ( Genesis 35 : 22 )
Tragedies struck him one after another ! But why were these incidents happening to ‘Israel’, the man transformed by God ?
The answer seems to be obvious ! He left Bethel, in violation of God’s command and became vulnerable outside the will of God.
Have we wandered from ‘Bethel’, the place of our first consecration ? Have we fallen below the spiritual standard set by the Holy Spirit, that day at ‘Peniel’, when our lives were transformed ? Are we now struggling to make the promise work ?
After beginning with the Spirit, are we now trying to attain our GOAL by human effort?’ ( Galatians 3 : 3 )
Let’s return to Bethel and spare ourselves needless heartbreaks ! The promise is not attained by striving but by yielding to the Holy Spirit, just as we first did, the day we were born again. Amen.

4. From Jacob to Israel.

Twenty years had passed by since Jacob had his first encounter with God at Bethel in a dream, as he was fleeing from his brother (Genesis 28 : 12 – 17 ) and then he had this strange night time encounter with God at Jabbok, on his way back home. He wrestled with God till daybreak and was told, “Your name will no longer be Jacob ( his name in Hebrew meant ‘he grasps the heel’ or figuratively, ‘he deceives’ ) but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.” ( Genesis 32 : 24 – 28 )
Jacob had been scheming all his life to appropriate the blessings of God. He had cheated his brother and deceived his father to inherit the blessing. And in doing so, he had incurred the wrath of his brother and had to flee for his life. But after his first encounter with God, he strived to be an honest person, while working for his Uncle Laban, who cheated him ten times by playing on his love for Rachel. ( Genesis 31 : 38 – 42 ) He ran off with his family and possessions, only to be caught up by Laban with whom he made a treaty at Mizpah. But soon after Jacob made peace with Laban, the news came that his brother Esau was coming to meet him with four hundred men. In great fear and distress, Jacob prayed to God, but found no comfort. (Genesis 32 : 6 – 12 )
He had once played on the love his brother had for food and cheated him of his birth right. Then when he realized that his father still wanted to bless the elder, he deceived his father and swindled the blessing from his brother. But now his past was soon catching up with him ! He thought of pacifying his brother with gifts and making restitution for his sin. But not assured of forgiveness, he sent his family across the ford of Jabbok and spent the night alone, wrestling with God and emerged as a ‘new man’ at daybreak! Herein you see the travail of a man to become a ‘new creation’.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation ; the old is gone, the new has come! ( 2 Corinthians 5 : 17 )
( Just as it takes nine months for a woman to conceive and deliver a new born, so also the process of rebirth takes time. )
Speaking of his travails, Paul said, “My dear children, I am again in the pains of Childbirth until Christ is formed in you.” ( Galatians 4 : 19 )
God had planted the incorruptible seed of his word in Jacob’s heart when he was told at Bethel, “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” ( Genesis 28 : 15 )
Even so, ‘he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Philippians 1 : 6 )
For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. (1Peter 1 : 23 )
Just as it took twenty years for Jacob to become Israel; to go from ‘Bethel’ ( which means ‘the house of God’ ) to seeing ‘Peniel’ ( which means ‘the face of God’ ), so also every man will go through the process of rebirth, before Christ is formed in them. Amen.

3. God of Covenants.

All through the Bible we see many covenants and we ourselves had considered three out of the seven covenants in the Bible, in my earlier posts. Every ‘Covenant’ ( Hebrew : berit means an association with two parties with various responsibilities, benefits and penalties ; ‘to cut a covenant’ means ‘to make a covenant’, a figure of the act of ceremonially cutting an animal into two parts, with an implication of serious consequences for not fulfilling the covenant ) was founded on one or many promises made by one or both parties and their violations demanded punishment. We people in the modern world are more familiar with the term ‘Contract’ and the phrases ‘Terms and conditions’ and ‘Breach of Contract’, where if one party breaches the contract, the other party is absolved from all obligations and has the right to seek compensation from the other, for losses incurred. But unlike a contract, if one of the parties violates the sanctity of a covenant, the other party is still obligated to fulfill his or her part of the promise, whether or not the first party is taken to task. ( Doesn’t that sound like a marriage covenant ? ) Now it makes sense when Scripture says, ‘If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.’ ( 2 Timothy 2 : 13 ) God desired an everlasting relationship with man and he was the one who initiated these covenants with those that he chose, just as he did with Abraham and his descendants, with David and his descendants and now with the Church, the bride of Christ. God had modelled marriage to be a covenant relationship ( But we have made it look like a contract ! ) and that is why he hates divorce. “I hate divorce,” says the LORD God of Israel, … So guard yourself in your spirit and do not break faith. ( Malachi 2 : 16 )

As we considered in my earlier post, he is a God of promises by which he woos those he choose, as he did Abraham and cut an everlasting blood covenant with him. Abraham therefore, could depart in peace because he believed that the ‘zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish’ the task of testifying to his descendants, as he himself would not be alive to oversee their adherence to the covenant. It was God’s responsibility to bring Abraham’s descendants to the faith of their forefathers. Now we understand why the Lord appeared to Jacob at Bethel, while he was fleeing from his brother Esau and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Issac … I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” ( Genesis 28 : 10 – 15 ) God made all these wonderful promises to Jacob when he didn’t deserve any but because of his covenant with Abraham.

If we have a covenant with God, we can rest assured that God will take care of our children, even after we depart because he is faithful to keep his covenant with our children’s children.

From everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.’ ( Psalm 103 : 17 – 18 ) Amen.

2. God of promises.

When God Almighty wanted Abram’s attention, he promised this childless nomad more land and children. Unlike politicians who make promises to get the our attention, which they can’t or won’t fulfill, God is able and faithful to fulfill them. Just as God made a covenant with Abram based on those promises, so also has he made a covenant with us in the blood of Jesus upon better promises. More than getting our attention, God’s promises sustain us, when we are down and under, as it did Joseph when he was put in the dungeon, David when driven out into the wilderness and many more. And finally God’s promises are a revelation of his plans and purposes concerning us, as it was revealed to Abram when the Lord said, “… all the people on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12 : 3 )

Hold on to your promises today and it will go well with you ‘for no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.’ ( 2Co 1 : 20 )

1. Destined to overcome.

They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.’ ( Rev 12 : 11 )
God who knows the end from beginning, has declared the Church victorious over its arch enemy the devil. It definitely didn’t look like that to John who ‘was on the island Patmos because of the ‘word of God’ and the ‘testimony of Jesus.’ ( Rev 1 : 9 ) and it certainly doesn’t look like that to us either. But ‘the Revelation of Jesus Christ … to show his servants what must soon take place’, was intended to encourage the Church, because we get to know the outcome of the battle, even before it is over !
Everytime the nation of Israel went out to war in obedience to the word from God, they were invariably foretold the outcome of the war.
This is what the Lord says to you: Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s … You will not have to fight this battle. Take your positions; stand firm and see the deliverance the Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem.” ( 2 Chron 20 : 15 – 17 )
So what they were supposed to do was to put on the armour and take their positions .
Therefore put on the full armour of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything to stand. Stand firm then …’ (Eph 6 : 13 – 14 )
Faith in the ‘blood of the lamb’ is the shield with which we can ‘extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one’ and the spoken ‘word of the testimony’ in our hearts about Christ is the ‘sword of the Spirit’ with which we can strike terror in the hearts of the enemy.
The Church is the only army on earth that is armed to fight the invisible realm and let us learn to wield our weapons. Let’s not forget that those who are in the frontiers of this fight against this pandemic are but human and they are already overwhelmed, trying to contain it in the physical. So let the Church battle it out in the spiritual, since ‘in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.’ ( Ro 8 : 37 ) Amen.