It was an event referred to as `The Last Supper’, `The Lord’s Supper’, or the new covenant. It was during the last meal Jesus had with his disciples before he was betrayed, arrested, tried, beaten, scourged and crucified.
Some of the different facets of this precious moment were captured in:
Matthew 26: 26-28 – Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Almost similar account in Mark 14:22-24)
Luke 22:19-20 – And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
1 Corinthians 11:23-25 – For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
It is disturbing to learn that some had used the Holy Communion as a means for physical healing, health or wealth. I wonder where in this straightforward command was there any inclination or link towards physical healing, health or wealth? If we have to use the term `healing’, it would refer to our deliverance and restoration from spiritual death or decay.
Matthew Henry had aptly explained: “Sin is not only a crime for which we were condemned to die, and which Christ purchased for us the pardon of, but it is a disease which tends directly to the death of our souls, and which Christ provided for the cure of. By his stripes, that is, the sufferings he underwent, he purchased for us the Spirit and grace of God, to mortify our corruptions, which are the distempers of our souls; and to put our souls in a good state of health, that they may be fit to serve God, and prepare to enjoy him.”
`In Remembrance of Me’ means to remember what Christ has done for us each time we partake of the Holy Communion. Period. Our personal reflection or response to this should be on our spiritual condition, such as how we have been following, obeying and doing his will in our lives.
I pray O Lord that our lives will bring glory to Your Name and thank You for giving us this freedom from sin and death so that we are able by Your mercy and grace to live in joyful obedience to Your will. Amen.
It has been a very reflective 2016 for me thus far, at times poignant. If there is a key or prominent word that keeps occurring, it would be Forgiveness. There has been many quotes from the bible about how we have received forgiveness, especially with Good Friday and Easter recently. After his resurrection, when Jesus appeared to his disciples, he said, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:46-47 ESV). I am ever grateful for his love and forgiveness for me but I realised it is not that simple. The other key word is repentance, without which forgiveness would not be in effect.
A big shopping mall is giving away a free gift to the first 100 customers who walk in when it opens tomorrow. Even though the gift is free, the person has to go there to get it. Of course, there will be other considerations like whether it was worth the effort and time, etc. However, it is clear that you need to go to the mall and meet the conditions to get it. In a way, repentance is the condition, the state of heart, mind and spirit that will enable one to receive forgiveness.
When I was younger, I have always thought that I was not good enough and weak willed. I find myself guilt ridden because I thought that I was not able to overcome temptations. Every time I fell, I would ask God to forgive me and somehow it would be like a hopeless vicious cycle that I would once again be asking God to forgive me for the same sins. It was even worse when I realised that my list of wrong doings kept growing. Eventually, I gave up. I gave up not only from asking for forgiveness but also from believing that I would ever be able to overcome. To add to this sorry state, I would not forgive myself for all that has happened and considered myself a hopeless case.
Many years later, I realised that as hopeless as I thought I was, it was really my pride that was the real problem. I have placed the judgement (sentence) on myself and made the decision to go it alone blaming it on my `hopeless’ state. It was I who chose not to believe in the saving power of God for my weaknesses and failures and went ahead on my own schemes and ways. It was I who decided to be the judge and controller of my past, present and future in my so called hopelessness, ironic isn’t it? I thought I could ride through my life with all my imperfect and sinful nature and carve out a decent life with some christian values thrown in. I cringed when I think that I could have gone on the rest of my life in that state.
All the years of growing up in a christian family and environment means nothing if I never really experience repentance and forgiveness in its true sense. It is like what Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36 ESV). A repentant person would be like this, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32 ESV).
Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV) and he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26 ESV). I came to this point like Martha, “Do I believe?” Will I be like Martha who said she believed even though her brother Lazarus has been dead for four days? Clearly my situation was not as drastic as hers but to believe that God will deliver me from my perceived hopelessness was drastic for me. I found it really, really hard to believe as it has been so long, so very long that I am weary just thinking about it.
I realised that my inability to forgive myself stems from my thinking that I can be the judge of who is deserving of forgiveness. This seems utterly ridiculous as who am I trying to be, God? Not only was I unrepentant, I was high and mighty too. It’s like I am stuck inside a deep, dark and murky well and someone came to rescue me by lowering a rope for me to hold on to but I said, “No need I’m fine, just let me rot in here”. This is a prime example of foolish pride.
To truly believe in God, I need to repent – acknowledge and recognise my sinful nature and the need for deliverance (to be rescued) through Jesus Christ who has paid the price for me and through him I can receive the forgiveness of sins. I believed and stopped judging my hopelessness and lay myself down before God, warts and all. I received the forgiveness of my sins whom only Jesus can wash clean and I am set free! I am forever grateful for his love and grace for me and that he will continue the work in my life as I press on to live this life in his light and joy that I may be a blessing to others and let them know that indeed, Jesus saves and is coming again. I can now testify the verse quoted earlier, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”!
Now I can say with much joy and gratefulness, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 ESV) and Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10.10b ESV).
Well, I am forgiven but it does not stop here as being forgiven also requires that I forgive others, among other things. It makes sense doesn’t it that as we have been forgiven, we should also forgive others. However, it is not so simple yet again. “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;” (Luke 6:37 ESV). This should be covered next.
C.S. Lewis, after serving in the British army during the First World War, “returned to Oxford University, he received a First in Honour Moderations (Greek and Latin literature) in 1920, a First in Greats (Philosophy and Ancient History) in 1922, and a First in English in 1923. In 1924 he became a philosophy tutor at University College and, in 1925, was elected a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, where he served for 29 years until 1954.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/).
In his partial autobiography `Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life”, he reflected on his conversion:
You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The prodigal son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?… The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and his compulsion is our liberation.
G.K. Chesterton, one of the dominating figures of the London literary scene in the early twentieth century, a journalist and social philosopher, converted to Catholicism at the age of 48. He wrote a poem titled `The Convert’ (1927):
After one moment when I bowed my head And the whole world turned over and came upright, And I came out where the old road shone white. I walked the ways and heard what all men said, Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed, Being not unlovable but strange and light; Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite But softly, as men smile about the dead
The sages have a hundred maps to give That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree, They rattle reason out through many a sieve That stores the sand and lets the gold go free: And all these things are less than dust to me Because my name is Lazarus and I live.
As I read about their lives and encounters with God, it made me reflect on mine. When I was 16, my family moved to a new home and I shared a bedroom with my sister and we had a dressing table with a large mirror where at a short distance, you can see yourself from head to toe. It was very useful for checking out how you look or dress before going out. Unlike my sister, I hardly checked how I dressed but that did not make me less vain. Come to think of it, my vanity was more deep rooted even though my sister is 6 years older.
I was very active in school and spent most of my time out of the house. However, when alone in my bedroom, I would at times sit at the dressing table and take a look at myself. One day, I began to talk to myself at the mirror and examined my face closely. I remembered asking myself, “Who am I?” I recalled not being able to answer that question and went on to ask more questions like `What am I here for?’, ‘What is life all about?’ and `Who is God?’ Although I was raised in a family that goes to church and I went to a Methodist school (primary), it didn’t make me a believer. I know all the church speak and was involved in a lot of the activities in church since young and even excelled in them like I did for my school activities. Somehow, I had never really known why I was involved and just played along with the activities as there was nothing wrong with them. In fact you can say they were mostly good and noble stuff.
But there was always this emptiness inside, like a vacuum that couldn’t be filled with all the hype and activities going on in my life. That’s when I asked myself those questions. I took the time to stop all the `noise’ and searched my heart. Something was stirring within me and I saw bible verses at my study table that states:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7 ESV).
They were the key verses I used to look at and quietly pray when I studied for my GCE O levels exams. It was more because I was in panic mode as I had not been studying and it was less than 3 months before the exams. I have been using God for emergencies only.
But back to the mirror reflection… this was something else. I could not let this go on. The best I can describe this feeling was I had no peace within me. There must be a reason for me to be born, to live and eventually die. It was not meant to be in vain or vain glorious. That was clear to me. It was when I acknowledged my human condition, the need to be saved from my wretchedness, and the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that the love of God swept in to fill that vacuum so perfectly that I could only bow down in humble adoration. This was why Chesterton could say he was Lazarus and he lives. Likewise I was dead to sin and the resurrection power of Christ has brought me back to life.
What then, was the road smooth sailing? It surely wasn’t. In fact, it gets harder as long as I am in this human condition and in this world. However, the BIG difference is, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding has filled that vacuum. Life becomes richer and clearer, and God is no longer an emergency number but a blessed assurance of a relationship with an omnipresent and loving God who walks and talks with me every moment of my life. It’s no longer I that live but Christ that lives in me.
I can only conclude this experience with this passage which I read to my grandmother by her hospital bed in 2001:
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life, and
I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.
(Psalm 23 ESV)
The Romans had a way to divide the times of the night into four watches. They are 3-hour divisions:
1st watch – 6pm to 9pm
2nd watch – 9pm to 12am
3rd watch – 12am to 3am
4th watch – 3am to 6am
Those who ever worked the night shift would be familiar with this in some ways. The Romans who were well known for their battles and wars, knew that the effectiveness of any watch during the night would be good only within a 3-hour period. I assume the soldiers were switched at every watch to provide high alert guards throughout the night. Otherwise, it could mean the loss of one of their areas of control to the enemy.
I have experienced working the night shift and personally, the “dead of night” would be around the fourth watch. Why I call it the “dead of the night”? Well, at such times the ‘Z’ (sleep) monster will be at its strongest and your eyelids feel like it weighed a ton. Sometimes we might ‘see’ (hallucinate) things. Perhaps this provides a clue as to why ghost stories are often told by people who ‘experienced’ it at such hours.
This brings me to the Fourth Watch from Matthew 14:22-27 (ESV):
Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”
More often than not, the parts that captured our attention would be about Jesus walking on water to the boat, Peter walking on water towards Jesus but sinking in the process, the statement made by Jesus to Peter on why he doubted and had little faith, and when the winds stopped the moment Jesus stepped into the boat. I am not saying that these were insignificant. In fact, these were spectacular, very visual and appealing to our senses. A miraculous story.
However, when I tried to put myself in the shoes of the disciples on the boat, rowing across the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) which was 13 kilometers wide, with the winds and waves against them for hours in the night trying to get to the other side, I found it hard to fully understand what they were going through. The closest I experienced was a grueling physical and mental test in the past. It was on land with a group of friends carrying heavy backpacks trekking to the final campsite before reaching the summit of a mountain. We were lost and seemed to be walking in circles and it lasted through the 1st watch. Some of us began to hallucinate as we ran out of water and our torchlights were out too. I was mad at the person who had caused us to get lost, also at the guide who had abandoned us and the other half of the group ahead of us for not searching for us. We were beginning to talk stuff that made no sense… we were delirious and exhausted. Obviously, I survived the ordeal but it gave me a sense of the state of mind of the disciples on that boat.
Before the disciples went on the boat, they just witnessed Jesus miraculously feeding 5000 men with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Jesus probably sent them off at the 1st watch to go across the lake. They must have left on a high note and felt invincible being sent by the one whom they KNOW as the Son of God. With a number of rowers on a boat to cover 13 km, it was a simple task but it turned out to be a har-rowing nightmare against the wind and strong waves which lasted hours passing through the 2nd and 3rd watch! How far did they go? Perhaps three quarters of the journey, like 9 or 10 km. They should be exhausted, angry and bewildered at their situation, likely questioning why Jesus sent them on such a route. They could be thinking or saying, “He must have known the weather and winds and yet he sent us.”, “Why is he torturing us?” or “Did we do something wrong that we have to suffer like this?”
At the fourth watch, Jesus went to the disciples by walking on the water towards the boat. Their response was understandable as seeing the shadow coming towards them, they cried, “It is a ghost!” It was perhaps the toughest time of the night for them and being physically drained, it was hard to SEE that Jesus had come to save them. Probably a testing of their faith at such times and a kind of training that would build them up.
Then we read further on the passage about Peter in Matthew 14:28-31 (ESV):
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Peter became an example when he tried to act on that faith by asking to walk towards Jesus. He did walk on water but turned his FOCUS on the wind and began to sink. What was described of Peter’s action? He had little faith and he doubted.
Then it ended with Matthew 14:32-33 (ESV):
And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Was it the stopping of the winds that made the disciples respond to Jesus like this? The disciples had already experienced Jesus calming a stormy sea (see Matthew 8:23-27). This was clearly different. I believe it was the personal experience they had in their heart, soul and mind that made them acknowledge that He is truly the Son of God. It was no longer just knowing, it was experiencing, believing and growing.
I pray that at whatever times, especially the Fourth Watch, I will SEE the steadfast love of God guiding me in every step and FOCUS on Jesus that I may be found faithful to fulfill the assignment that he has given me, such that I will:
“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.” James 1:2-4 ESV
When Jesus began his ministry, he journeyed through different parts of the land and there was an encounter at one of the places he went which was briefly mentioned. It happened soon after he went on a boat to cross over to the other side and the journey across the sea became an often quoted bible story about how he calmed the stormy sea when his disciples cried out and woke him up to help them. Then the boat reached the other side, as described in Matthew 8:28:
“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way.”
I don’t think anybody wants to visit this place for fear of facing these men who were “so fierce that no one could pass that way”. The fact that they were living in tombs was enough for me to avoid the place. Most cities or countries would want to have their land known for its beauty, food or products. Nice stuff. But to be well known for having demon-possessed men blocking a road to their land would not be something you would want anyone to know.
Anyway, these two men upon seeing Jesus cried out and said, “What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). Clearly, they acknowledged Jesus and later on pleaded to be sent to a herd of pigs as they know that Jesus would cast them out from man whom he had come to save. So off they went in to a herd of pigs which perished in the sea as they all ran down into it and drowned (read Matthew 8:30-32).
I thought that the people in that land would be jumping for joy that these two men are now normal and no longer will cause fear or attack people on that road. They were set free from this horrible situation. Well, it was quite the contrary. The herdsmen of the pigs went to the city and reported the situation to the people as it was written:
“The herdsmen fled, and going into the city they told everything, especially what had happened to the demon-possessed men. And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus…”
One would expect a joyous greeting here but:
“and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their region.” (Matthew 8:33-34)
Even the herdsmen reported especially about what happened to the demon-possessed men but somehow, that did not gel with the rest of the people in that land. Perhaps it was because they had lost a good number of pigs that affected their livelihood. Wait a minute…
What about the removal of the demons that were scaring and attacking everyone along that path?
What about the deliverance of the two men who could be a father, brother or son of families affected by their situation?
What about Jesus who had saved these two men with the prospect of healing many more in that city?
Ok, we do not know any more than what was written. They BEGGED Jesus to LEAVE.
Lord, I pray for wisdom and hear my plea that I would not choose the `herd of pigs’ in my life in exchange for what would have been of eternal value.
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