Combining Authority and Submission

I am continuing with my thoughts on how Jesus did not have the “Defects of Virtues” (please read my post of 25 January 2013). Today we will see how Jesus never flaunted or forced his authority but always submitted to God the Father at all times, and at the same time showed great respect to fellow man and their rightful place. One man I am alluding to is none other than John the Baptist. We will briefly look first at John, then at Jesus, and finally, the two together at the Baptism of Jesus by John, inaugurating Jesus’ mission on earth.

Jesus was almost unknown. However, unseen or unheard, the Holy Spirit has been orchestrating events behind the scenes. Already the cry from the wilderness has started rising and the people’s heart has been stirred up, despite the long delay and accompanying doubts or disappointments about the coming of the Messiah. Suddenly there was a softening of heart and a national surge at Bethabara on the banks of Jordan, to hear John pounding away his proclamation Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand. That was where all the action is taking place. The location was a strange and unlikely place for public meetings; the lonely and rough area on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, the haunt of robbers and bandits and where many fell among thieves.

Who was this person that motivated the multitudes to come and be baptized? In Jesus’ own words “what went ye out into the wilderness to see?” What kind of a man was John? Today we can call him the fire brand. His preaching was fearless and downright practical. He was not the typical seminary-trained or one of the Scribes or Pharisees with a comfortable lifestyle, with broad phylacteries, luxurious robes and exclusive privileges. His clothing was different with leather girdle and camel-hair mantle. He drank from the river and his menu included locusts and wild honey. The crowd came from every part of the country. By the way, this should say something when leaders are trying hard to attract the world to the churches! He rebuked the tax collectors for their extortion, soldiers for their violence, wealthy Spiritual leaders for their formalism to the extent of calling them vipers of a viperous brood. He told King Herod the Great where to go! He was the voice from the wilderness, far from the popular and esteemed Schools of Hillel or Shammai. Yet, they thronged to him, listened, repented and were baptized. No wonder he is compared to Elijah the Tishbite, the fiery prophet.

Though great and successful as the response of the multitude demonstrated, that was not the only compulsion or main strain of John’s mission. Many today would be joyously satisfied with that kind of success. It should be noted that John was so popular that a deputation came all the way from Sanhedrin (parliament) consisting of Priests and Levites. They asked him if he was the Christ. Note the simple but emphatic response John gave – NO! He was the voice in the wilderness, indeed, the fore-runner of the long-awaited Messiah! This part was equally important. Nay, it was more bold and hopeful. Someone much greater than him, whose shoe lace he is not worthy to loosen is coming very soon. Although he was baptizing with water, the one coming after him will baptize with fire!

Another surprising aspect that I should not miss is how John recognized Jesus. John was his kinsman by birth. However, their lives were far apart. John’s father Zacharias was a priest and lived in the far south. On the other hand, Jesus’ father Joseph was a carpenter and lived in seclusion in the valley of Galilee. Jesus had not yet publicly revealed himself as the Messiah; no public teaching or a single miracle yet. Had Zacharias his father ever told John about the miraculous visit of angel Gabriel, and the importance of his own name? Had his mother Elizabeth ever mentioned the visit of Mary with her unborn child? Or was it long forgotten after 30 years? Whatever it was, John who prepared the way, did proclaim emphatically that “he knew him not”. Apart from the Holy Spirit, whom John proclaimed Jesus would baptize in fire, I dare say that something in Jesus’ face, his look, his sinless beauty (altogether lovely) and authority convinced John. John could confront the kings and top leaders of his time, no sweat, but to this yet unknown, simple carpenter, John the national hero, became like a young student. He even thought it was inappropriate to baptize Jesus, and humbly tried to dissuade Jesus.

One of my favourite and humbling experiences in life was to baptize a Believing crowd in the north-eastern part of India, near the Mizo Hill Country back in 1964. To reach the muddy pond we had to trek down the hill. It was cold and standing in the pond for a long time gave me cramps and leg muscle pain. But it was a great spiritual experience for me. With that indelible memory in my life, I can never erase a mental scene of the baptism of Jesus in Jordan; Jesus standing in submission, along with the publicans, soldiers and sinners. Jesus, who knew no sin, is now lining up, not for a private ceremonial pouring a table spoon of water on the forehead, but for a full dunking sinner’s baptism! Oh, the Son of Man!

jesus baptized by john

Notice how Jesus handled the situation. John, who heard the confessions from both great and small, now like a lamb, said to Jesus “I need to be baptized by you”. This same Jesus, who in his famous Sermon on the Mount, with one sweep of his hand, set aside Moses, the very supreme law giver of Israel and said “you have heard of Moses, but I say unto you, suffer it be so now”. He told John simply “for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness”. By the way, you would have noticed, this is the second recorded words of Jesus in the whole of Scriptures. The first was his response at 12 years of age to Mother Mary during the temple visit “wist ye not that I must be about my father’s business?”

I must admit that there is an element of mystery here which is beyond me and for that matter beyond anyone else to expound. How did Jesus know, that after 30 years since birth, 18 years of waiting after his visitation at the temple, that this was the time and place – that Jesus should hang around near John the Baptist at this peculiar place? Did he get any special indication from God the Father? Or did he, as the Son of Man, take one step at a time like anyone else; or a combination of both? I will say in praise of both the Baptizer and the Baptized that they were in God’s will and not simply seeking God’s will.

John, a mere Man. Jesus, the Son of Man. Both experienced something great together; John heard the Son of God and saw him. Jesus heard from God “thou art my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” and saw the Holy Spirit in a bodily form of a Heavenly dove.

dove

God bless, Danny Paul

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Power and Tenderness – Part II

This is Part 2, the continuation of my blog post Power and Tenderness. The reference is St. Luke 4:16-30. Please take time to read it. Jesus came to the local synagogue following his usual custom, silently worshipping, Sabbath after Sabbath, since childhood. The simple one-room synagogue must have been facing Jerusalem just like Mecca does for Muslims. In all probability, men sat on one side and veiled women on the other with a dividing lattice in between. By the way, there is not much difference with my old CMS Church back in Kerala, India. Although the family came together walking, men and boys, even today, entered the church and sat on the left; women and girls sat on the right.

There must have been, on one side, an ark of painted wood containing the sacred Scrolls and on the other side was the Bima or an elevated seat for the Reader. After the prayers, two lessons were always read by those who can read and who are capable to give a short comment as well. The congregation had already known that Jesus was able to read and comment. When Jesus ascended the Bima, the leader drew aside the silk curtain of the painted ark, took the scroll and gave it to Jesus to read. We do not know whether the passage was the ordinary lesson for the day or if Jesus specially selected it. I like to believe the latter. He read graciously from Isaiah 61:1 but stopped reading before the word of vengeance, on purpose. He wanted the expression of the acceptable year of the Lord to linger and roll in their ears. He returned the scroll to the Chazzan and sat down to comment. Imagine the suspense as the whole congregation rose up to listen to him. The scripture records that every eye was fixed on him.

matrix-neo-stops-bullets-wallpaper

I am wonder-struck at the choice of location and the forthright and direct manner of his announcement. Would he have the gumption or guts to declare that the holy scriptures have confirmed that he was THE ONE (or Neo, for all of you Matrix fans, inserted by Joel, editor)? This, in spite of the fact that they were expecting their Messiah for a very long time, and there was no sign of him? Besides, there was a complete silence and no new reference for 400 years, roughly the period between the Old and the New Testament?

Even if the Messiah is to come, he is expected in regal splendour and political power and authority, matching if not excelling that of the Roman power; definitely not a common labourer. Think of the hope or prophecy of the Messiah’s place of appearance – not a despised village, like Nazareth.

Finally, would he have the strength to declare his mission in his home town where he spent almost his entire life? Everybody knew him; the congregation at the synagogue, school, teachers, classmates, and neighbours and clients. All knew him as Joseph the carpenter’s son working at his shop. “A prophet is not without honour save in his country” said Jesus.

He had prepared for it for 30 years (really before the foundation of the world) and do not forget, so did the Opposer as well. The fullness of time has come. No matter how and who interprets it, the fact remains Jesus did not flinch or back down, but boldly presented his manifesto. “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.” That was moral power, courage and strength at its best!

Here comes the other part – tenderness. This time I am selecting a party scene at a religious leader’s house, call it a Pharisaic invitation. Jesus was supposed to be the guest receiving an honour but the common facilities were obviously omitted. Why then the invitation? I would not be surprised if it was, in today’s terms, a photo-op or a condescending gesture to a young Rabbi. Please take time to read St. Luke 7:36-50 (nothing like reading the text). My first surprise is, in the first place, how come this woman, the intruder of this party, was not detected at the very gate itself and mercilessly kicked out? I take it she stealthily sneaked in pretending perhaps to be a servant woman. After she managed to get in, she was street wise and smart to take refuge at Jesus’ feet. She knew it will, by then, make it too late for a cruel and embarrassing scene of her physical removal. This reminds me of Jesus’ words “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Thirdly, and I know it, by virtue of coming from the east, she will not be tolerated in the company of men. If that was not enough, she was touching a man in public! The most outrageous act was not only touching and anointing, but kissing and wiping a man’s feet with her hair. I am not at all surprised at the sentiments of the guests of that time, verse 39. The Pharisees would have been horrified at the scene. Her behaviour would require a ceremonial washing!

Now comes the combining of strength with tenderness. Jesus, as well as the neighbourhood, knew the ill reputation of this woman. She was called a sinner three times, verses 37, 39, and 47. Jesus knew the inward feelings of his host and his friends, including the danger to his own reputation (again courage and strength). Jesus also knew the heart of this penitent, weeping sinner. At first it appeared that Jesus did not notice her. After his soul-searching dialogue with the Pharisee, which she must have been listening to, Jesus addressed her face to face.

prostitute-and-jesus

What might have been her reaction when she was listening to Jesus’ dialogue with the Pharisee? Ah, here follows the tenderness of the Son of Man. Why could not Jesus simply say “your sins are forgiven” and leave it there? It is because Jesus always goes far beyond forgiveness. Jesus now, not addressing the Pharisee but turning towards her, in front of all the invited and respected guests and family members, lavishly praised her faith. Here is the combination of strength and tenderness; he said to her tenderly, “thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.” In other words, he granted or imputed righteousness to her. He restored her Self Respect. He gave her a new life and a new start in her community. I like to believe that she went home rejoicing with the peace of God that passeth all understanding. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!

God bless, Danny Paul
Ps. To get the full picture, It might be useful for the readers to turn to my previous blogs, where I wrote about moderation, defects of virtues and equal balance of all virtues etc.

The Deafening Silence

In one of my blogs I mentioned Jesus worked as a carpenter for 30 years before he started his earthly ministry, which lasted only 3 years. This has attracted a genuine curiosity among Christians and non-Christians alike to find out what he did during those years, apart from carpentry. I share this curiosity. Back in India I had read books claiming Jesus was travelled, and was once in Kashmir, India. Another author wrote that he was in Tibet. Far-fetched? Whatever it is, since the curiosity will not go away, I might as well settle down and write my humble thoughts on this interesting subject. Before I get into the unknown let me delve into the known, that is, his birth, presentation at the temple and visit of the Magi.

My prayer is that familiar carols never become too familiar. Imagine God sending angels to put on the greatest free live show on earth for the lowly shepherds. Did they have musical instruments like ours? There is an old joke among musicians; when angels worship God, they play Bach; among themselves, they play Mozart. I am sure Bach, Mozart and the rest of them would have loved to hear the angels sing and play. Perhaps God granted a short clip to George Frederick Handel when he commissioned him to write the Messiah!

For the scene and the background, God selected the fields that were close to where Ruth, the Saviour’s ancestress gleaned, and where David the unknown, youngest and almost disqualified son had followed the ewes with young! Look again at the sharp contrast. Historians now confirm this field was not very far from the Little Paradise Mountain where Herod the Great built his magnificent palace and fort. Yes, the true and rightful king of the universe was not found in a palace but a stable. Yes, the Son of Man had no place to lay his head.

I need not go over Mary presenting the Lord of the Temple to the temple of the Lord! It was very touching that Mary could only afford two young pigeons, the prescribed offering for the poor instead of a yearling lamb. Have you noticed the perfect timing of God for two separate persons from different backgrounds and gender to be there at the precise moment? There are Anna, an 84-year-old widow and Simeon, an old man led by the Holy Spirit (pre-pentecost). There is a very special word for this in Sanskrit. In India, we call this not coincidence but “muhartham”.

The story is not finished yet and this should not be taken lightly; God escorted Gentile wise men from the East, probably from Median or Persian origin, to the Saviour of the World – with a star! This incidence is of paramount importance to historical Christianity. Isaiah prophesied in 60:3, though rarely quoted, that Gentile kings shall come to thy light. This passage is equally important to the prophecy of virgin birth by the same prophet, Isaiah 7:14. It is in order to make one more rare scriptural reference, Psalms 72:10-14. Yes, kings will bring gifts! The point is, in this case, God intervened to present the Saviour of the world directly to the Gentile world. God is no respecter of persons.

The only other information we have, in regard to his childhood years, from the Gospel writers, is the visit of the family to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve years old (Luke 2:49-52). The family returned to Nazareth and he was subject unto them (his parents) ….And Jesus increased in wisdom and in favour with God and man. Nazareth was, therefore, the place where he spent all but three of his mortal years.

It is clear that his growth was a gradual development and was, strictly, a Human Development. He did not come with infinite knowledge and power, but He experienced the short-comings of human infancy and childhood. He grew as other children – only stainless.

The knowns, like the stable for birth, the swaddling clothes, the two pigeons for the poor class offering and the working as a low labourer are the clearest indications that Jesus identified completely with the people he came to seek and to save. “Behold they that wear soft clothing are in king’s houses,” Jesus said. He emptied himself when he took up humanity.

As a young boy, he learned to read the Shema (Deut.6:4) and the Hallel, first from Joseph and Mary, later from the local synagogue school. He definitely knew how to write. His knowledge of the sacred writings was deep and He must have known them by heart. He had advanced much more as evidenced with his usual questions or answers to the teachers and lawyers, using the words “Have ye not read”? His real knowledge was not from the books and schools alone, but from nature and from the still small voice of God.

One thing is clear. He demonstrated, once and for all, the dignity of labour, the importance of hard work and the fact that with the sweat of thy brow shall thou eat.

In some ways Jesus was not alone during this long period of preparation. There was Moses, 40 years in the wilderness; David with the sheep–folds till Samuel found him; Gideon threshing wheat by the wine press; Amos in the sycamore groves of Tekoa; and Saul of Tarsus till the Damascus Road.

The gospel writers wrote the simple truth without giving any speculative construction. They understood that Jesus devoted thirty years of his life in obscurity, studying, learning, working hard, shouldering family responsibilities and, most of all, preparing for the mission on earth. One author wrote that “we should not have expected it, but it was so and therefore the Gospel Writers leave it so.”

John the beloved apostle did not explain it. St. Mark, the friend and “son” of St. Peter was silent on this. Only St. Luke the physician wrote for us the incident at the temple. He most probably heard directly from mother Mary. Let me close with one of the fantastic short and sweet pieces in sacred scriptures – “his mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:51). The next verse (v.52) explains it all “and Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and man.”

I would not at all call those years of the Lord silent. It was deafening to the whole world and to you and me!

God bless, Danny Paul