“Press on Toward the Face of God”
February 21, 2016: The Second Sunday In Lent
Genesis 15: 1 - 12; 17 – 18/ Psalm 27/Philippians 3: 17 - 4: 1/ Luke 13: 31 - 35
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
This is the Second Sunday in Lent and once again, the Season reminds us of the threefold accepted pattern of fasting, praying and doing works of charity and love. God is seeking for us to do these things not because of law or under compulsion, but out of the willingness of our hearts. Two Scriptures show us the attitude of the heart. Psalm 40:8 says, “I delight to do Your will, O my God. Your law is within my heart.” It is not a matter of being forced to do God’s will, but it is to delight to do it because we love pleasing God. Psalm 54:6 says, “Willingly, I will sacrifice to You.” Willingly, we will give thanks to His name for it is good and not because it is written in the Law.
Lent is also a time of reflection and a good time for us to meditate on our lives as Christians, as followers of Christ, and as disciples in the Kingdom. It is also a time of exerting effort in hearing God. Just recently, the Patriarch’s Council met and they heard God. At this time, God is telling us, in CEC, that there is a need for intense prayer, and they understand the situation that we are in. One of them said that revival only comes in the midst of desperation or devastation. The Patriarch said that we need to heed the voice of God and choose to be desperate and not wait to be devastated. Revival will come, but let us choose to be desperate and not wait until devastation comes before the revival.
Somebody said, “I do not trust on my own ability to hear God. I depend on His ability to speak to me.” This is not entirely true. God has an ability to speak to us in many ways, but there is a need for us, as Scriptures says, to incline our ears and he who has ears, let him hear. Let the reader understand for behold, something greater is here. Pay attention. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. It is not God’s fault that we do not hear because in some cases, His volume is up to a maximum. The problem is not the transmission, but the reception. It is a two-way thing. We cannot blame God for doing His part and us not doing our part. It is not His fault. God gave us sensitivity for us to use.
In Luke 13, Jesus was weeping over Jerusalem (God’s people). Jerusalem was the Church at that time. It is sad when Jesus said, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, it is you who kills the prophets.” The very people of God kill the prophets sent to them by God Himself and stones them. Looking at this, I was thinking that it was a good thing that God did not send the angel Gabriel to Jerusalem. Gabriel is an angel that could do more damage than an atomic bomb. He was the same angel sent to Zacharias who doubted the message of Gabriel saying, “Don’t you know who I am? I am Gabriel and I stand before God. I am the messenger of God. How dare you doubt the message of God through His messenger?” Gabriel, merciful as he was, did not allow him to speak for nine months. Zacharias doubted the good news that Gabriel brought.
God said in speaking to Jesus, “How often I wanted to gather Your children together in unity, in peace, bonded by love, but they would not have it.” There is a point up to which God goes, and at which point, people will have to respond. It is not God’s fault that people don’t respond, but their own. There is no shortage in the desire of Jesus to gather the people under His wings. They rejected it; they would not have it. It is not a matter of lack of action on God’s part. God is the good Shepherd who would go by any means to go after the one lost sheep. Yes, He does exert enough effort, the right amount that He knows in His wisdom, and He leaves room for response. It is not His fault that Jerusalem did not want to have it, but they need to respond. It was not a lack of action on Jesus’ part but on the Jews’ part of lack of response to His desire.
In Luke 19:42, weeping over Jerusalem, Jesus said, “If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now, they have been hidden from your eyes.” They rejected the things which make for peace, and instead pursued things against peace. There were consequences in both instances. Jesus said to them, “Because you rejected it, now, your house is being left to you desolate, bleak, uninviting, unattractive, and dry because you would not pursue things, which makes for peace. I want you all under My wings.” Worse is that in Luke 19:43-44, the enemies would go and barricade them and hem them in and level them to ground. This happened as a consequence of their rejection of the day of the visitation of God because they would not have it and they did not recognize the time of God’s visitation to them. They did not pursue peace, unity and love. They condemned people who they thought were below them and not like them. It is like the attitude of the Pharisee in the temple who said, “God, I thank you for making me holy and not making me like that guy over there who doesn’t even deserve to come near to Your altar.”
In the story of the adulterous woman in John 8, the Pharisees and the religious leaders quoted Scriptures on this woman and pressured Jesus to agree with them. They said that the woman was caught in adultery and the Bible said to stone such a person. Jesus did not disagree with them and said, “Stone her. The first one to throw is the person who has no sin.” They did not carry out the law. It was they who did not pursue what they were pushing in the first place. Jesus’ approached towards the sinner was to forgive her. He showed her love and He did not say, “It is okay. Go on with your sinful life.” Jesus said, “Sin no more.” Jesus did not agree, but He did not condemn either. He stood on the Word of God and said, “Sin no more.”
I asked you, “What would have happened if they stoned her?” She would have died. What happened because Jesus did what He did? The woman, Mary Magdalene, became a saint. The Pharisees showed a holier than thou attitude, a more knowledgeable attitude, but Jesus showed the Father’s heart. It turned out to be more effective on Mary Magdalene, on Zacchaeus, on Levi and many other people. Whenever we say, “The Bible says…,” many times, it is our own interpretation and not necessarily the heart of God and the spirit of the Law. Sometimes, it is the letter of the law that we interpret as correct. The ultimate truth is love. Jesus is the ultimate truth. God is the ultimate truth.
I saw this video of a celebrity, a Christian, who was being pressured to take a stand on a certain issue. She said, “I can’t. I am a Christian. I don’t deny that and I proclaim it. I have loved ones who are sinners in this area and I choose to love them and not condemn them. At the same time, I tell them that they need help because their lifestyle is wrong. I do not condemn them because that is not my business. My business is lifting up those who are broken-hearted; those who are helpless; those who are sinful.” Remember that the gospel is, “God was in Christ Jesus, reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their sins against them.” It doesn’t say to agree with their sins, but to forgive their sins and this is the good news.
I believe that using the term “loved ones” is selective. We say, “God bless you and your loved ones.” What about the other people? All people should be our loved ones, because all people are God’s loved ones. We shouldn’t have a selective few for our loved ones. All should be loved by us and beloved by us. In Mark 2, Jesus ate with tax gatherers and sinners. According to the margin in my Bible, sinners are those irreligious Jews and who were not as holy as the elite Pharisees, scribes and teachers of the Law. They were marginalized, second-class citizens in the Church. Today, if we will imagine this picture of Jesus in the house of a Bureau of Custom’s official or of BIR officials who probably have made it in the news, many of us would frown on this thinking why Jesus would associate with them. What we sometimes do is alienate with our religion, with our knowledge which makes arrogant instead of drawing with love.
In knowing God and making Him known, we need to understand God’s heart and nature that He is love. Make God known as love, not as somebody who is strict about His law that if we don’t agree or we reject one verse of His word, we will burn in hell for eternity. In evangelizing or in witnessing to people, we are not to scare them out of hell. The gospel is not an eternal life insurance. The gospel is all about binding up the broken-hearted, bringing good news to the poor, delivering and setting free those who are in chains. The chains are the chains of sin and we need to free people from these. They are not to be that they are in chains, but rather be delivered from them not from a statement of God’s retribution and punishment but God’s good news that there is hope for them. The Gospel is the good news of forgiveness, not retribution.
If we are to be great in the eyes of God and in the kingdom of God, the greatness is not to be seen on how knowledgeable we are or how holy we are. Greatness is not seen in the form. Greatness is seen in being like God and in partaking of His divine nature. The Pharisees wanted praise and validation of men. I must confess that I was guilty of this and I used to pray, “Lord, will You please use me, my hands to lay them on some influential person who is sick and heal them through my hands so that they will know that I am a man of God.” God rebuked me. God’s greatness is most known not in the fact that He created an awesome universe or that He could do magic or perform miracles or signs and wonders. God is most known for His nature that He would give His life for His enemies’ sake and die for them.
If you are a follower of Christ and an obedient Christian to God, you would like to be like Him and be known by the fruit of His spirit of love. Miracles and signs and wonders will follow you, but we seek to be like God and to partake of His divine nature. God’s greatness is seen more in His love rather in His spectacular works. Likewise, our validation as children of God is not seen in knowledge, in superiority of speech or of wisdom. So what if you can quote verses? The Pharisees did and also Satan did. Paul said that he had a resume to brag and yet he did not. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-4, Paul had a résumé to brag yet he didn't. He said, “When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power.” The sum total of word is truth, not a verse here and there. We get closer to the truth, not just by knowing a literature about God, but by knowing Him the person Himself.
In 1 Corinthians 1:22, Paul says, “Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified.” The message of the cross is laying your down life for others. We become enemies of the message of the cross if we preach something else than God loves the world so much that He sent His Son to give His life for them. This message was a scandal to the Jews and to the religious leaders, but it was good news for the sinners. Guess who got blessed? Guess who got the good news of great joy? It was the sinners who shouted, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Praise God for our deliverance.” The Jews were saying, “Hush your people.” They can’t be hushed because they received the good news. They understood the good news.
Seek to be like Jesus, not the credentials on which the world puts a premium on. The Son of Man did not come to destroy lives but to save them. Paul could have had the confidence in the flesh, but counted it loss in comparison to the surpassing value of knowing and being one with Christ and being found in Him and like Him. All the things that the world praises are nothing compared to being found to be like Jesus. People respond better to this. They are drawn by love and they are turned off by a person on a high horse and showing a holier than thou attitude. The heart of God is, “I want to deliver you.”
In Mark 1, there was this leper who came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” A leper is ostracized and probably, the religious leaders gave this picture to this leper and probably to Mary Magdalene and the like that made them feel anxious about God’s forgiveness. Maybe they thought, “God would judge me.” In revealing the heart of God, Jesus said, “I am willing.” He did not argue why he was a leper and what he did as a consequence. God’s heart is to show mercy. His anger is but for a moment and His mercy endures forever. Sometimes, we have a tendency to preach His mercy is but for a moment, and His anger is for trillions of years. Because the people saw the mercy shown to the leper, the people flocked to Jesus to that point they were so confident that He would not judge them and be angry at them that they tore through a roof. They had confidence which is also why we say, “Father, we have confidence to come to the place where You are.” Sinful as we, we say, “I am not worthy that You should enter my roof, but I have confidence and just say the word.” Jesus said, “Yes, I am willing. Come!”
This is the heart of God and this is what Jesus showed. The religious leaders sneered and said, “The Bible said that no one can forgive sin but God alone.” They argued with Jesus, the Word of God. I encourage you to know Him. Know that He is love. He is compassion and make Him known as such. Do not see Him as an angry judge, but as a loving Father God. Be in intense prayer. Pray for and love those who are lost in sin. I also ask you to pray for those who condemn sinners; those who don’t understand that the sinners should be loved not condemned. Pray for those who hate their enemies. You just don’t love your enemies, but also love those who propel you to hate your enemies. Pray for wisdom and for enlightenment because they are also lost and ignorant of God’s love and they need God’s love and forgiveness themselves.
Don’t just have a few loved ones. Love everyone because this is the heart of God. We are to make Him known as such. God is love. God is compassion. He has mercy and forgiveness and He brings good news to us. This is the message of the Gospel and this is the way it is in the kingdom of our God.