Tagged: Jesus

The Two Gardens

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.

Fast forward.

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. 

Beyond borders

3-jesus-and-samaritan-woman-9003-_I4C8789

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.

Let’s begin.

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.

#RadicalExperience

taxi-cab

I had a radical experience last week that changed me forever.

I was in Manila last Aug. 7 to meet up with a friend. It was already past 11pm, and I needed to reach my destination as quickly as I can. So I hailed a cab, told the driver my destination and looked outside the window as per usual.

I’m the type of person who normally engages random people on the street in a conversation. I love hearing stories, and I want to understand the people’s plight, their dreams, their day-to-day life, et cetera. Taxi drivers are among my favorite subjects. Well, they are human beings, too, who long to speak with another human being in the midst of a stressful day on the road.

As we passed by De La Salle University-Manila, we saw a huge crowd of college students. It was Happy Thursday for DLSU Taft students, so it’s obvious that this bunch of kolehiyalas just came out from a party. The cab driver began his litany on his skepticism about today’s generation. What future do we still expect for our nation if our young people are intoxicated with trivial things, he asked.

At that moment, I sensed that the Spirit was tugging into my heart to preach the Gospel to this man. My heart was racing inside my chest. That would be the first time that I will share the Gospel to a total stranger. The Spirit’s tugging was too strong to ignore, and I felt the urgency to lead the conversation to the Word because time was running out.

Help me Lord to speak, teach me what to say, I prayed.

Our conversation continued and shifted from one topic to another, including hazing, drugs, the Reproductive Health law and his view on celibacy. As I prayed in my mind, the driver suddenly asked, “Nagbabasa ka naman ng Bible di ba?” (You read the Bible, right?)

Bull’s eye.

I grabbed that chance to lead the chit-chat to the Gospel. I asked him about his family and he shared a bit about his life. Then I told him about Jesus, and that no amount of good works can ever take us to Heaven, and that salvation comes only by putting our faith on the finish work of Jesus on the cross. He was responsive to the message, and I can see that I got his attention.

I reached my destination a few minutes after, so I wrapped up our talk as he pulled over. I asked for his name, Tatay Nardo, and asked if I could pray for him. He cheerfully agreed.

After praying, he asked if I’m a Christian and said that his hope for the nation was restored. I told him that it’s my full time job at the moment, to reach out and train the next generation for Jesus. I invited him to church and told him the nearest one in his location. We bid goodbye as he thanked me for praying for him, saying he was deeply moved.

I am in faith that the seed that was sown in Tatay Nardo’s heart that night will grow. That moment changed me forever, knowing that I am a missionary of the Word wherever I go. And as I write this down right now, I sense a new message coming from God.

Jello, are you ready for your next target?

What is it, Lord?

Take the bus.

Good Lord! *Nervous laugh*

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20;24)

A different Jesus

The name “Jesus” conjures an almost universal image in all of us.

For children, he was a tiny baby boy wrapped in swaddling clothes, sweetly flashing his cute, innocent smile to Joseph, Mary, the shepherds and the three wise men.

For grownups, he was probably a brawny carpenter with rough hands, calloused by all the day’s work. His feet, dusty from walking into cities and towns to speak parables, feed thousands, cast out demons and raise the dead. His hair? Oh, his hair must have been dried out by the scorching sun or sticky with sweat after getting away from a thick crowd of people eager to make him king or kill him for his absurd teachings.

Everything in his appearance tells people to look away.

There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance,
nothing to attract us to him.

Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

He was a lonely savior, left by his disciples and friends, forsaken even by his own Father. His eyes were bloodshot, staring out into the sky, waiting for a heavenly rescue that did not come. His body was beaten like fresh meat, hands and feet nailed to wooden planks. And when he called out to heaven, his voice — the voice that commanded demons to flee, the voice that told the lame to stand up, or the dead to rise — the voice that used to evoke such power was frail, shaking, dying.

Stripped of his robes.

Crowned with thorns that stuck out of his eyes.

A king with no glory. A ruler with no kingdom. A commander without an army. A savior that needed saving.

Yes, the name “Jesus” conjures an almost universal image in all of us. He is either a tiny baby boy in the manger, a tired messiah on the road, or a bleeding savior on the cross. It’s about time that we see a different Jesus — the same loving savior in the eyes of Heaven.

His face is not the same unattractive face, for it now shines like the noonday sun in all its brilliance.

His eyes are not the same bloodshot eyes. They are blazing like fire.

His feet, no longer crippled by a nail, are like bronze glowing in a furnace.

On his hands are not nails, but stars — seven stars. How big His hands might be!

His hair, the hair that was drenched in blood and sweat? Oh, they now shine gloriously; white as snow and fine like a lamb’s wool.

And when He speaks, the entire universe falls silent. His voice is like the sound of rushing waters, thundering like mighty ocean waves. His words take the sharpness of a double-edged sword, ready to strike down the nations and bring forth the fierce wrath of the Almighty Father.

He now wears a long robe with a golden sash, replacing the blood-stained robe they took from him.

He is no longer a king without glory; for on His head are many crowns. He is no longer a commander without an army, for the armies of Heaven bow at His feet and follow His command. He is no longer a ruler with no kingdom, because the kingdoms of the world have become His kingdom forever.

No wonder demons flee from His presence. No wonder even the waves obey Him. No wonder His name, the Name that is above every name, will someday make every knee to bow, and every tongue to confess that He is the Lord of all.

The next time you hear or sing of His name, let the image of the Powerful King cause you to bow down in reverence just as much as the image of the Loving Savior causes you to worship in awe.

***

References:

Isaiah 53

Revelation 1:12-18

Revelation 19:11-16

The Christmas Story [retold]

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We all know what happened in Bethlehem during the first Christmas Eve. But, haven’t you ever wondered what happened in Heaven when Jesus was sent into the world?

This is a risky attempt to imagine the untold drama that took place in Heaven during the first Christmas Eve.

***

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman… 

The time and setting were already in place; the divine plan was about to unfold.

It was the time when Emperor Ceasar Augustus ordered a census to be done on all residents of the entire Roman Empire. Down in Bethlehem, thousands of people from different towns flocked to the city for the census.

Joseph, along with the pregnant Mary, obliged to the decree and went from Galilee to Bethlehem, notwithstanding the risk of traveling for miles. Mary could give birth to a child any moment.

It was the first Christmas Eve.

Up in Heaven, everyone was in a state of panic. They’ve heard of this plan many years ago, but they couldn’t believe that the day had come to carry out this suicide mission.

Some of the angels talked among themselves. “Why does the Son have to go into the world and live with mortal men? Why does he have to leave the Kingdom and give up all that he enjoys here?”

“There could be a better plan than to deliver the Son into the world of these mortals and risk his life in the hands of the Dragon,” an angel said.

“I’M SURE —,” one of the angels strongly interjected, “— that the Chief’s ways are higher than our ways. That’s how much He loves these people.”

Every one of them fell silent. They felt a mixture of pain, fear and sorrow.

Meanwhile, Joseph and Mary were looking for a place to stay, for it was time for Mary to give birth. But because thousands of people were staying in the city for the census, they found no available inn for the night. Pressed by the urgency of the situation, and as if they were at the right place and time, the couple found an empty stable with a manger.

In Heaven, in the inner room of the Great Palace, the Chief Commander and His Son were having a private talk. Father and Son. The Chief Commander, looking intently into His Son’s eyes, was explaining why the plan had to be carried out. He was fighting back the tears. It was only a few minutes before the appointed time.

“My Son, the fullness of time has come when you will go into the world to live among mortal men. Their world is dark and bereft of love, and the only way for them to understand love completely is by sending you to live with them. Through you, they will know how much we love them, and this love will seep into their entire being and will change the way they live.

“By going down into the world and sharing with their humanity, they will know that we understand their feeble state, and they will understand how much we love them. Come into the world, Son, that they may have life, and have it to the full. After all of these have passed, you will sit at my right hand once again and will rule the nations.”

The Son, in a firm and loving manner, answered:

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The Chief Commander caught His Son in a tight embrace. Love overflowed from them and exploded in the entire kingdom. The impact was felt by the billions of angels and all the living creatures around the throne. Everyone fell facedown; hearts pumping at the intensity of the emotion in the entire place.

And as if by a flash of lightning, the Son was gone from their sight…

In the most touching moment, down in Bethlehem, a baby’s cry was heard.

It was the day when time stopped, and the timeline of mankind’s history was divided.

Mary and Joseph looked at the baby with loving eyes.

The Chief Commander and all the angels in Heaven were looking down intently at the humble scene. His Son, who used to be majestic, glorious, powerful and almighty, now lay helplessly on a lowly manger, in a feeble body of a mortal baby. Vulnerable to pain, sickness and death. Bound by time and physical decay.

Mary held the boy close to her, and, struggling to look for anything to keep the baby warm, they wrapped him in swaddling clothes.

Somewhere in the region, a group of shepherds were tending to their flock. And, as if to deliver the royal invitation to an unlikely set of visitors, an angel of the Lord appeared before them, saying, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

Then, in Heaven, the Chief Commander said, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

To the shepherds’ astonishment, the angel was joined by a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Blinding lights and beautiful music filled the night; the shepherds fell on their knees because of sheer amazement. The glory of the LORD was displayed as the angels sang.

When the angels left, the shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem to find the new-born King. There, in a stable, they found Mary, Joseph and a baby boy wrapped in swaddling clothes.

All of these were too great and deep for Mary to comprehend, but she treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

The news spread and reached the knowledge of the Magi, a group of influential men from Iran who have power to select and install kings for kingdoms in the East.

Upon learning of the Messiah’s birth, the Magi prepared at once for a grand caravan en route to Jerusalem. With the long stretch of desert ahead of them and the number of months that the journey would take, the Magi, which traditionally travel in groups of twelve, took the finest gifts they can bring for the newborn King.

Their number was so great that King Herod and the entire Jerusalem were disturbed by their entourage. Powerful, wealthy and influential men from a powerful country coming to an unpopular city. King-makers, looking for a new-born baby to worship and be made King.

Two years after the birth of the Son, and with the aid of a northern star that guided them through the journey, the Magi reached the house where Mary, Joseph and the child were staying.

They brought gifts of gold, incense and myrrh fit for a King and a new kingdom. The powerful Magi, who traveled long and wide to proclaim a new King, bowed down and worshiped the little child.

A new King has been proclaimed, a new Kingdom has been established.

The Son lived for 33 years, died, rose again and changed the world forever by his love.

————————————————————————————————————————

References:

Galatians 4:4; Luke 2:8-19;  Hebrews 1:6; Hebrews 10:5-7; Matthew 1:18-2:23; John 3:16; John 10:10