Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Ash Wednesday (25 Feb 2009)

[Photo Credit: Worshiphelps]

My Church has recently concluded a 7-sermon series on the Lord's Prayer. Last week was the grand summary of "Thine is the Kingdom." It has been a wonderful time wading through the rich content and heavenly intent of the famous teaching of Jesus. How appropriate it is that the ending of the series dovetails neatly into the first week of Lent. For my meditation, I was drawn to three things Jesus gave up and three thoughts on how Jesus managed to overcome such overwhelming odds.

Three Things Jesus Gave Up
This coming Wednesday (25 Feb 2009) is Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of the season of Lent, lasting 40 days. It is also a time when we remember how Christ began his ministry. Jesus gave up 3 things; his rights; his power; his self-reliance. Firstly, his willingness to give up his rights. Despite his bountiful dominion of plenty, his eternal divinity, he chooses to empty himself of the kingly privilege of the heavenly realm. He voluntarily limits himself of his divine powers. Humbly, he walks right into a world of hostility. There was no fanfare for the king of the Universe. There was no room for the mighty Prince of Peace except a humble manger. There was no recognition of the One Who created the world. Even Joseph and Mary had to endure potential shame and humiliation at his birth. This willing abdication of rights is something rarely seen in human circles. He gave up rights and privileges. Secondly, his willingness to undergo testing. even in his weakest moments. It is one thing to be tempted when full. It is yet another to be tempted when he is famished. It looks like Jesus is out to prove one thing: He is fully human, and he suffers from the same kinds of temptations that ordinary humans face.Strained physically, drained emotionally, challenged spiritually, Jesus pressed on. Remembering the Scriptures in his heart, he fought against the temptations of riches and the deception of the evil one. He knows the Scriptures so well that the devil could not penetrate the Son of God's armour. He gave up power to order spiritual forces, choosing to fight with the sole weapon of God's Word. Thirdly, his willingness to give up self-reliance. to depend only on Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is showing us that it is possible. It is also interesting to observe how the Spirit interacts with Jesus. He gave up relying on self, but depending and trusting on the Holy Spirit.

What enables Jesus to be victorious? What are his strategies to overcome the temptations? With this, we have to read Luke 4 more closely.

1) Jesus was 'full of the Holy Spirit.' He entered the desert fully prepared and completely in the companionship of the Holy Spirit. We remember Jesus's act of obedience to be baptized by John the Baptist, and subsequently receives God's blessings. This filling of the Holy Spirit marks the presence of a Person rather than the power of an energy force. Being filled with the Holy Spirit implies him able to do what the Spirit leads him to do.

2) Jesus defeated the Devil by NOT yielding to temptations. The leading of the Spirit to the desert implies that God has allowed Jesus to be tempted by the devil. This may look strange, but it seems to me that Jesus, the second Adam, has to be tempted just like Adam was tempted in the Garden of Eden. Why must the Spirit lead Jesus to be tempted? I must say that this appear strange. However, there is one reason I can think of. If Jesus has been similarly tempted like all of us, no one can then turn around and accuse Jesus of not able to understand our human weaknesses. After all, Jesus has not only gone through what humans face in life, He has to endure worse conditions amid extreme vulnerability. (Remember he was hungry).

3) Jesus is truly a worthy second Adam. A remarkable parallel can be seen between Adam and Jesus.

Adam was sent to the Garden of Eden of plenty. [Jesus was sent to the deserted wilderness.]
Adam was given a helper through Eve. [Jesus had the Holy Spirit]
Adam was given permission to eat anything except from one tree. [Jesus CHOSE to eat nothing.]
Adam was tempted once and he failed. [Jesus was tempted thrice and he resisted them all.]
Both Adam and Jesus were free to choose. [Adam did so foolishly, but Jesus obeyed wisely.]
The first Adam failed miserably. [The second Adam in Jesus, triumphed over all.]

As we remember Ash Wednesday, who do we follow? Do we copy the antics of Adam, of giving in to temptation? Or do we follow the faithfulness of Jesus, who denied the seductive pleasures of the world, and chose the path of righteousness and dedication to God? I know of people who tries to abstain from something during this 40-days of of Lent. It could be fasting regularly, from addictions like coffee, or simply a greater amount of time via prayer. Like riding the bicycle, the best way to learn to pray is pray. Similarly, one of the most profound ways to follow Christ is to learn how to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him.

Have a meaningful Lent 2009.


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