We have just gone through the Lenten season, I know, but this random thought just hit me today:
Humanity’s greatest downfall and the dawning of humanity’s greatest hope took place in a garden.
Genesis 3 lets us in to the scene of the crime. Just like in any crime movies, the day started out like any other day. It was at the Garden of Eden.
In the middle of the humdrum, the day took a fateful turn. The questions were thrown at the unsuspecting victim — the woman. The lies were spoken; the serpent’s words were too alluring that the woman’s heart was deceived. Soon enough, the man, who was with her, also took part in the crime.
When the flesh of the forbidden fruit touched the flesh of man, the fall of humanity has begun. When their lips touched the forbidden fruit, it was the serpent’s kiss of death on humanity. And when the fruit fell to the ground that fateful day, humanity’s glory fell with it.
As sin entered into the world, it brought with it pain, tears, bloodshed, decay and death.
In another garden and in another time, we see another man. The setting of the drama is the Garden of Gethsemane.
But it wasn’t like any other night. This man was about to be sentenced to death, and he knew about it. He has seen how it will be like; he took part in making that plan. He knew how painful it will be — the physical pain of the thorns and the nails; the emotional pain of betrayal, false accusation and rejection.
He was about to pay for the crime that was committed at the Garden of Eden. This man was Jesus.
In this garden, we see him kneeling to the ground, overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death, asking the Father if it’s possible for him to be delivered from what was about to transpire (Matthew 26:38).
But when he said, “let Your will be done,” humanity’s hope was restored.
At the Garden of Eden, we see Adam’s failure and man’s descent to hell. But at the Garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus’ love taking over in order to redeem us and provide the way for us to heaven.
What Jesus did at the well when he spoke with a Samaritan woman was actually a brave act that challenged cultural and religious norms of their time.
When we read that story in John 4 today, perhaps all that we can read is a casual conversation between two people on a sunny afternoon. But that seemingly casual conversation is far from usual and it screams scandal for the Jews. More than that, this story teaches us a lot about how Jesus expects us to go beyond our borders — yes, even behind enemy lines — and share the good news to other people.
The ancient antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans is rooted on racial discrimination and religious dispute. When the nation of Israel was conquered by the Gentile nations around them, the Samaritans intermarried with unclean races. The Jews found this disgraceful, and they considered them infidels, a sinful race, enemies of the faith. Any association with the Samaritans was unacceptable.
This is where Jesus stepped in and broke the walls of religious and moral prejudices of their time. By doing this, Jesus teaches us the following lessons about discipleship.
1. Be intentional.
In the story, Jesus left Judea and departed for Galilee, and “he had to pass through Samaria” because Samaria lies between Judea and Galilee.
During their time, the Jews normally took a longer route just to avoid setting their foot on Samaritan soil. Though passing through Samaria was the quickest route, the Jews chose to cross the Jordan River and avoid the Samaritans.
But Jesus had to pass through Samaria, not because he was tired or because he was in a hurry to reach Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria because he had a mission to complete. He knew that a woman at the well in Samaria will receive his message that day.
How about you? Do you intentionally reach out to people around you? Do you make a conscious effort to go out of your way, make time for others and listen to them in order to share the gospel?
2. Be bold.
Jesus leading his disciples through Samaritan territory was scandalous enough for a rabbi. But he did more than that: he spoke with an enemy of the Jews! And if it wasn’t scandalous enough, Jesus spoke with no other than a Samaritan woman. Proper Jewish men didn’t speak directly with women other than their wives.
When Jesus did that, he bridged the centuries-old wall of sexual, racial and religious barriers between the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus risked being questioned, misunderstood or even persecuted. For him, the woman was worth the trouble. She had a great need, and he had the only answer.
Who are the Samaritans in your life? The sinful, the immoral, the people whom the world (and even well-meaning Christians) have condemned and rejected? Will you reach out to them and give them hope? Will you boldly share the gospel even when it is not socially acceptable?
3. Be strategic.
When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well, he grabbed the chance of using a present need in order to get his message across. Jesus began by asking for water from the well because he was thirsty. Then he pointed out the woman’s constant need for water. Seeing that he piqued the woman’s interest, he went on and told her about the Living Water that he offers.
If we want to reach out to others, we need to be armed with the best strategy to engage them and connect with them. We begin by listening to their needs, knowing their interests and genuinely caring for them.
Who are you trying to reach out today? What are his needs, interests and concerns? How can you connect with him more?
4. Be compassionate.
Towards the end of Jesus’ conversation with the woman, he exposed her sin and dealt with it, but he showed compassion by not condemning her. The most outrageous thing that Jesus did during that sunny afternoon was not talking to a Samaritan woman; it was offering hope and salvation to the Samaritans — the sinful, unfaithful, detestable Samaritans!
How many times have we judged, rejected and condemned others because of their sin? How many times have we felt morally superior to others just because we don’t commit the same sin that they do? How many times have we felt holier than thou, because read our Bibles and pray every day? How many times have we distanced ourselves from others just because they don’t go to the same church as ours?
How many times have we made fun of the cross-dressing homosexuals on the street? Or looked away from the stinky beggar on the road? When an ill-dressed man comes to church, do we welcome him warmly just as how we welcome the man in coat and tie?
I pray that we will see them through the eyes of Jesus; to see them with compassionate eyes and love them with the kind of love that goes beyond lip service. Jesus died for them, too. And we ought to help them follow Jesus as well.
5. Be Christ-centered.
As the afternoon chat between Jesus and the woman ended, Jesus pointed her to himself: the Messiah that they have been waiting for; the Savior of the world that will save us from hell; the Lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world.
Discipleship is not about promoting the church. It’s not about growing the church’s dwindling attendance, nor is it about building a club where we stand as the leader. Discipleship is about following Jesus and bringing people along with us. We make disciples of Jesus.
We preach Jesus to the lost. We share the gospel to the harassed, helpless and needy.
As Jesus revealed himself to the woman, her eyes were opened and she did the most amazing thing in her life: She believed the message and shared it with her neighbors. Soon enough, many other Samaritans heard Jesus’ message and believed.
I hope that through our boldness and compassion, we would be able to disciple even the people beyond our borders. As we do so, we know that our courage and obedience will result in a bountiful harvest for God’s kingdom.
Honor God. Make disciples.
I join the millions of Filipinos who warmly welcome you to our country! You probably have heard how much our nation has prepared for your arrival, and I share in my fellow countrymen’s excitement about seeing you grace Philippine streets.
Your plane has just landed about an hour ago. Together with the bells of all Catholic churches and cathedrals across the country, we say “Mabuhay! Welcome to the Philippines Pope Francis!”
Millions of Filipinos are praying for you, and I am one of them.
I pray that you will have an enjoyable stay here. I pray for your safety and protection as you go through your itinerary. May God put a hedge of protection around you, and may He thwart any plan to cause you trouble or harm.
You are a good man, and you have taken the world by surprise because of your extraordinary charm and goodness of heart. Your unconventional stance on critical issues has restored a lot of people’s hope in the church, your humility has inspired not just Catholics but the world, and your compassion for the marginalized has brought the Catholic Church back to its core mission: To extend the love of Christ to the helpless, the poor and the needy.
I pray that through your leadership, millions of people across the globe will know Jesus as the only way to the Father. I pray that through your example, millions of people will be inspired to live like Christ. I pray that you will be a powerful instrument to open the eyes of the world to see Jesus as the author and finisher of our faith, and that no other name should be exalted in Heaven and on Earth other than His name.
Truly, you are one of a kind when you said that Jesus, not you, should be the center of everything. “From now on, enough of Francis, just Jesus,” you said.
I pray that through you, people will understand that all that they are asking for, believing for, praying for and hoping for can be found in God. And that they have direct access to Him through Jesus, without needing any human mediation.
May the LORD bless you and keep you, Dear Pope, as you lead the millions of Catholics across the world to the truth of the Gospel of Christ. May your life be a powerful testimony of the truth of God, before whom we will all give an account when we finally stand before His throne of judgment and grace.
“Moses said, ‘Please show me Your glory.'” (Exodus 33:18)
After days of staying at the foot of Mount Sinai, God finally ordered Moses and his people to break camp and leave for Canaan. Their stay was far from uneventful, for there they saw the glory of God descending upon the mountain like raging fire; there they heard frightening thunderclaps whenever the LORD spoke. There they experienced the power of God, but it was time to go. The mountaintop experience was over, it was time to conquer the Promised Land.
But Moses wouldn’t leave just like that, for he had to make one final request before he obliged.
Please show me Your glory.
Moses was saying, “Lord, I will obey what You said. But first, I need to see You; how beautiful You are; how powerful you really are. I need to see more of You. It’s the most important thing for me right now. We’re about to slay giants, right? We’re about to tear down fortresses, kill ruthless armies and conquer fortified cities. Show me Your greatness first, and I will not fear anyone anymore.”
Since the first day of this 5-day prayer and fasting, I’ve been asking God to reveal something to me. Night after night, I was waiting for Him to speak, desperate to hear something from His lips. Tonight, His message was clear to me.
Seek My glory more than anything else.
It’s time for me to leave my own Sinai and march on to my Promised Land. But before I do, I’m desperate to see more of God; to see His glory in order to dispel any more questions and fears.
It’s the most important thing for me right now: To see even just a glimpse of His glory. Yes, He has already shown His power to me countless times in the past. I’ve experienced miracles and breakthroughs myself, and I no longer doubt His power and His love. But the future holds so much uncertainties, especially as I prepare to enter a new season in my life. To fear is human, to have faith is divine.
If all that I get during this fasting season is just a passing glimpse of God’s glory, I will be more than satisfied. Take away the answered prayers, take away the faith goals. Remove the blessings and the breakthroughs. If what I get is just a chance to see the glory of God, I will be more than satisfied.
God is my primary reward.
A man was crying one night while talking with his friend over dinner. “I can’t accept the fact that this is happening to her,” he said, lips shaking. His sister — a fine, good-hearted and devoted Christian — contracted a serious illness, and he couldn’t wrap his mind around what’s happening. “She’s a good person, she doesn’t deserve it. In fact, it was I who deserve such disease,” he said.
I was the “friend” in that conversation.
And in the middle of this emotionally charged dialogue, I was saying a silent prayer in my mind, asking the Lord for wisdom about what to say (or not to say).
Perhaps you know someone who asks the same question. Why does God allow good people to suffer?
“Why her, Lord? She’s a faithful servant of yours. She goes to church every week; diligently fulfills her ministry; she smiles at the door of the church and warmly welcomes every visitor; why her?”
“Why him, God? He’s a great father; he loves his wife so much; he treats everyone around him kindly. But you allowed him to suffer.”
“Lord, why me? Do I really deserve this?”
An early disclaimer: This writer won’t be able to answer that question, and I will not try to do so. The mind of God is a hidden mystery, and anyone who tries to fathom His thoughts or explain His ways will only fail in the attempt.
The Bible tells us the story of Job, an ordinary man just like the rest of us, but was very extraordinary in the way that he lived his life. The Bible describes him as upright, blameless, God-fearing and one who turned away from evil. He lived a prosperous life and was very famous in the land.
However, in one sudden plot twist, Job lost everything. Chapter 1 of the book tells us that God permitted the Enemy to take away everything he has, kill his children and inflict sores on his body. And so, the once rich and famous Job was left with nothing but scathing wounds, a bitter wife and three well-meaning friends who thought they knew everything.
Lord, why him?
At first, Job did an excellent job in responding to his cataclysmic circumstance. He worshipped God in the midst of his pain and recognized the LORD as the sovereign God who is the source of everything he once had. But the sting of the sores, the bitterness of his wife and the accusations of his friends finally caught up with him, and he began to curse the day of his birth while lashing out the classic question, “Why Me?!?”
As God broke His silence, here are a few things that we can learn from the story of Job.
God remains in control in the midst of our suffering.
In Chapter 1, it is notable that God was still protecting Job even while the Enemy intended to harm him. God remains to be the sovereign Lord of the universe in the midst of the holocaust, and there’s nothing in this world that can happen without His knowledge and permission.
Your Father in heaven is the all-powerful Creator of the universe. Nothing escapes His gaze; He is never blind-sided by anything or anyone. Even the Enemy is subject to His power and dominion, and when He allows suffering to come your way, you just need to go back to this basic truth:
God’s divine plan is always motivated by love.
Everything that God does is always motivated by love. God has orchestrated every story in the Bible to demonstrate the ultimate expression of His love for us — the coming of Jesus to save the world. Until today, God has never changed His stance. Suffering is an inevitable reality in this lifetime, but the reality of suffering does not diminish the greater reality that God loves us no matter what.
When you don’t understand His mind, trust His heart.
“For I know the plans I have for you; plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
God is not obligated to explain himself. We won’t understand anyway.
God is God, and He doesn’t need to explain himself. Sometimes, our foolishness leads us to believe that God owes us an explanation for the things that are happening to us. We question His plans, we doubt His power and challenge Him to prove His existence when, in fact, we only continue to exist in this world because of His grace and mercy.
If God has kept a record of wrongs, who can stand? But with Him, there is forgiveness of sins (Psalm 130:3). And because of His great love, we are not consumed (Lamentations 3:22).
When God finally spoke, He did not answer Job’s question as to why He allowed him to suffer. In contrary, God astounded him with mysteries that are too grand to decipher: The creation of the cosmos, the laws of nature and the grand schemes of the created order.
God put Job in his place, and Job understood that he was in no position to question God. His notable response: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.” (Job 42:2)
Will you keep loving a God who does not feel obliged to explain himself? Will you keep worshipping God for all that He is even in the midst of suffering?
All suffering will end.
This much is true: all suffering will end. Nothing in this world is permanent, and your suffering, too, will someday end. I don’t know when or how, but we can be confident that God will put an end to all your struggles.
For now, my prayer is that you will fight the good fight so that you may finish well. I don’t know how serious your suffering is, and I have no idea how painful it is to be in your situation; only the heart understands its own misery. But rest on this truth: You are an overcomer by the power of God. Things may not make sense for now, but God makes all things beautiful in His time. Respond well in faith.
When Jesus comes, will he find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8) Will he find you faithful?
As Job’s suffering unfolds, he had no idea what was happening in heaven as he wept in dust and ashes. He had no idea that his life will be written down for future generations. When afflictions struck in Chapter One, Job had no idea that his story can still afford a happy ending in Chapter 42.
Who knows but that your story is also being written down for future generations? Respond well.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. … Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:2-4, 12).
I said these same things to my friend during our tearful conversation. But as we finished off, I left him with this one-point challenge: in the midst of this trial, pursue God more and surrender to His lordship. God pours out His power and grace to those who seek Him.
I leave the same challenge to you.