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Why Jesus’s Life Matters

“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”—Isaiah 53:5 (ESV)

Does the life Christ lived matter? Why did He have to live for 33 years? Couldn’t He just come, die and resurrect in one day? We usually love to talk about Christ’s cross and blood, but we never give that much credence to the life that led to that death and resurrection.

Does it matter then? I’d say a big yes. When we talk about Christ’s atoning work, we should never separate His life from his death and resurrection. They are one package, so to speak.

You see, the real question is this: When you sin after becoming a Christian, what happens to you? Do you become a Christian again? Do you get baptised again? The answer is no! As a Christian, you are not justified by the imperfect life you live rather by Jesus’s perfect life lived for you. His life becomes yours in salvation.

What happens when you can’t resist temptation? Christ’s obedience in the wilderness becomes your obedience. What happens when you can’t submit to the will of the Father? Jesus’s submission, even to the point of death becomes yours. What about when you seek retribution? Jesus’s perfect love, even dying for those who crucified Him is credited to you in through faith alone.

That is the point. When God looks at a Christian (one who has staked their life on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection), He sees only Jesus’s perfect life as their own. In justification, our sinful life is imputed to Christ while His sinless life is imputed to us. Therefore, the goal is never to do more or try harder but to remember who we already are in Jesus Christ.

“Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered; 
the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered. 
For our atonement, while we nothing heeded, 
God interceded.”—Johann Heermann

Amen.

Why Repent when God Forgave us 2000 Years ago?

Last updated on June 20th, 2017 at 07:19 am

“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,”—Hebrews 10:12 (ESV)

Louis and Aine first met in Kindergarten aged 5 and 6 respectively.

They quickly struck a chord, becoming close friends regardless of their social background; Aine hailed from an affluent family while Louis’s was an African middle-class. This however didn’t stop their friendship.

They went on to primary, secondary, high School and were both finally admitted to study Land Economics at Makerere University. That is where Louis met Cleopatra, a beautiful light skinned girl studying to become a Geologist. He loved to call her Cleo.

Louis and Cleo had a colourful affair for the three years while at Makerere University until what would be the worst day in Louis’s life came: his best friend Aine had proposed to Cleo (and she had said yes!) He was poised to marry her a week to their graduation in January.

Louis disappeared from home and he  didn’t even graduate—he was heartbroken. He hated himself, Cleo and his long-time best friend, Aine. He loathed everything that reminded him Cleo, even the scents, colours and stories.

Amidst his loathing, he dusted off an old bible in the small hotel room he was staying. He opened it to 1 John 4 and slid down to verse 10 which says: “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” He read it again, and again and again. All that while he was thinking about how the people he called friends could stab him in the back and how God had moved, even amidst his hate, to love him.

Convinced he was. As he continued to dig into the scriptures, he encountered a God drenched in love, the love that ran red. This God always seemed to return good for evil. Louis’s heart was illuminated and the heaviness of hate started to go away each passing day. That is when he came to the faith.

Seven years later, he received a phone call from Cleo telling him that Aine had been in an accident. Without waiting, he rushed to hospital. On seeing his now bearded face, Aine broke down in tears as Louis ran down his bed to hold his right hand.

Without hesitation, Aine said to Louis just three words: “I am sorry.”

“You were my brother”, Aine continued, “these seven years have been the worst in my whole, will you please forgive me. I have learnt my lesson.” All this while Louis was looking at Aine’s face dripping with tears. Tears of repentance.

Then Louis said something. He told Aine that he had become a Christian during his breakdown and that the God he met saved him from hate. “I forgave you seven years ago”, Louis said. And he hugged his bedridden friend.

How could Aine know that he needed forgiveness if he didn’t say it? How could he show his desperation for forgiveness if he didn’t ask? He had been forgiven seven years earlier but this forgiveness became true for him only when he asked.

It’s true that God forgave our sins once on the cross, all of them past, present and future are covered in that one act of forgiveness. The problem is not God’s forgiveness but us—we have a hard time believing that God will never withhold his forgiveness.

Therefore, when we repent, we show our need for God’s free grace. Forgiveness is available for all but it’s only effective for those who really need it, and repentance is how we show our need every day.

AMEN.

I shall not Want?

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures.”—Psalm 23:1-2

Perhaps the most popular chapter in the whole bible, Psalm 23 has had its fair share of misrepresentations. The most popular one has to do with verse 1b which says “I shall not want”. To many of us, this means that God, our shepherd, will provide whatever we want.

The writer of this Psalm is extolling God for his grace and care and prays that like a sheep which stays under the care of the shepherd, he will stay in the care of his God and do only what his God requires, not what he wants.

The shepherd does not give the sheep what it wants, he gives it only what it needs. For starters, the sheep don’t know what they need. They are lost in the web of wants and will not waste any time crossing over into someone else’s wheat field and eating it all up before moving to the next one.

We are in so many ways like sheep. We jump onto anything that promises life even if it really spells death. We have come to the disastrous conclusion that for our lives to have worth and meaning, all we need is money or a Galaxy 8+ and then later, if we remember, we will add: “…and may be God.” But the reason we want God is not because He is God but because we think He has stuff to give to us. That is how we have reduced this beautiful Psalm to a program of self-aggrandisement.

The truth of the matter is that what the sheep need is not the corn or wheat in the plantation across; all they need is the Shepard. He leads the sheep to where he knows the grass is good not where the sheep decide to go. The shepherd does not give the sheep whatever they want, He offers only what they need—Himself.

Jesus Christ the Great Shepherd offered to die in place of the sheep so that the sheep could have Him as their Shepherd in this life and beyond it. Because He infinitely knows that what the sheep need, first and foremost, is not all the grass under the sun but Him who created the grass and makes it grow.

AMEN.

You can’t be Free and still be Afraid

Last updated on June 9th, 2017 at 01:42 pm

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.—1 John 4:18b (ESV)

Fear is a present reality in the life of a Christian. We fear of punishment, death, sickness, old age, bereavement, and above all, the fear of the unknown.

I have met people who have told me that when they were about to finish a particular level of education, say, primary school, something bad happened and the trend went on. Most of the time, what happened was similar to what had happened before: sickness, attacks of all kinds (including panic attacks). Fear was the fuel that kept this train going.

When we are afraid of something, we are captives to that which we are afraid of. So people who fear the unknown will look at the horoscope in hope that it will give them some good news about their day ahead; people who fear old age will do all they can to look and sound young; those who fear punishment will go out of the way to obey even when they don’t mean it. We are captives to what we fear.

John Stott was right when he says that “Fear and freedom are mutually incompatible…” because to fear something is to give it the weight (glory) that it should have never had in the first place. Fear is a prison.

John, in his first letter, talks about the perfect love of God which casts out all fear. He goes on to say that because God has reached down to love us, that this love of His has birthed in us a love for Him (4:19) and so the fear we had of God punishing us is cast out and replaced with love. Think about it: when you love someone, do you fear them? When they walk into the room, do you get panic attacks or you are filled with joy—a joy birthed out of the love you have for that person?

The good news is that Jesus’s cross and blood by which He defeated the powers of darkness also frees us from fear. You don’t have to fear tomorrow because your life is in the hands of Him who created tomorrow. You don’t have to look to a horoscope for good news because the real Good News is that you are perfectly loved by God with a love so fierce that it drives out all fear. “It is finished” also applies to all your fears.

So, what are those fears keep you awake at night? What are the demons that come at 3am in the morning? Be reminded that they have been crashed under the feet of Him who crashed the head of the serpent.

No guilt in life, no fear in death—
This is the power of Christ in me;
From life’s first cry to final breath,
Jesus commands my destiny.
No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;
Till He returns or calls me home—
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”

AMEN.

Why Jesus Christ as Lord of all Creation is so Good News

Last updated on June 10th, 2017 at 08:42 am

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”—Colossians 1:15 (ESV)

The satirical website, The Onion, published an article a while back titled Newborn Loses Faith In Humanity After Record 6 Days which talked about six-day-old little Nathan Jameson’s record breaking and picture-perfect diagnosis of this broken world:

“Though he has not yet developed the capacity for speech, extensive cognitive testing has definitively shown that the shockingly perceptive 6-day-old fully understands and accepts that human beings cannot be trusted, that they remain far too ignorant for their opinions to be reliable, that a lack of self-awareness about their own destructive tendencies pervades the species as a whole, and that most are too ineffectual to successfully pursue even the shallow self-interested agendas that rule their lives.”

We may go about denying it but all of us, in our heart of hearts, know that this world is a humanity walking on broken clutches: the wars that never end, propaganda, deceit, sickness, enmity, and a whole lot of destructive behaviours that we engage in in a quest to find life, meaning and purpose.

Everything we do under the sun is a way of finding a solution to this fallen humanity. But since the fall, nothing under the sun has proved to be a lasting solution to the ills of this world. Everything we have tried has not worked. Creatures continue to mess up creation in a bid to redeem it.

Paul, in Colossians 1:15-17, makes it aware to the little churchgoers of Colossae that Christ is indeed the one Lord of creation in this world and beyond it—through Him and for Him all things were created. That everything whether visible or invisible, above or under submits to Him because he is Lord of them all.

Here is how liberating this truth is: God the Son—Jesus Christ—has to be the above and Lord of all creation in order to redeem all creation. Only the One above creation is able to renew it. Creatures cannot redeem themselves, only  God can and by grace He has redeemed creation and one day, everything will be new.

Amen.

Are you (really) Enough?

“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”—Colossians 1:19-20, ESV

When Hollywood actor Jim Carrey appeared last year at the Golden Globe Awards to present an award, he introduced himself as “two-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey.” He also added that when he dreams, he doesn’t dream any old dream. He dreams about “being three-time Golden Globe winner Jim Carrey” because then, according to him, he would be enough, and finally stop the terrible search.

Its common knowledge that nearly everyone in church today knows Sola Gratia (grace alone) from Eph. 2:8-9. We may all wax eloquent about being saved by grace alone, through faith alone in the finished work of Jesus alone, but do we believe it? I think most of the time we don’t. Even when Paul says that “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” in Jesus, we continue to search. We look under every rock and behind every tree hoping that if we found that one thing, we would finally be enough.

Christians may not, on face value, be guilty for rejecting the Gospel, but you and I’s innocence is questioned when we add things to the already finished Christian Gospel. It may be a happy marriage, good grades in school, a good job, well-groomed kids etc. In a sense, I am led to believe that in order to be enough, I need Jesus and a happy marriage. Or Jesus and some fine knowledge in my head (knowledgeability), or Jesus and cool friends. Name it, it’s always Jesus + Something else = Enough. When we do this—which you and I do every day—we actually reject the Gospel. Where the Gospel shouts “it is Finished”, we shout back: “no sir, it is not finished, at least not yet.”

What Paul is saying is that if you got Jesus and tried to fit him into our universe, and all the billions of trillions of galaxies, he wouldn’t fit—because he is infinitely bigger than our universe. Why then won’t that Big God-Man be enough for your small life, which is just an iota in this universe? The verdict is simple, he is enough for you. Because of Jesus’s blood and cross, you are also enough. Stop the search, you have been found. It really is Finished.

Amen.

Your Perfectionist Friend

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”—John 15:13, ESV

Demands mark the lives of perfectionists. Since they only desire the “best” (however best is defined), they engage in a life-long mission of control—controlling first the situation around them and also the people in their lives. Because they have an idea of what the life they desire looks like, they use the very people God has placed in their lives as tools to reach this goal.

They make demands on how their friends should live, walk, eat, dress, speak, etc., all in order to ensure that their little standards on how life should be lived are met. On the surface, it may look like the perfectionist has you (the friend) and your wellbeing in mind but that is never the case. They have themselves in mind and whatever burdens they lay on your weak shoulders, they are not for your good but for their justification—before men and also—before God.

Perfection is heavy—very heavy both for the perfectionist and the people around that perfectionist. Such a life is marked by exhaustion due to unmet demands. But there is another perfect friend—this one is the essence of Perfection. His name is Jesus Christ.

Unlike your perfectionist friend who makes demands that you be perfect, Jesus—who is Perfection Personified meets the demand that you be perfect. Unlike your perfectionist friend who demands that you die so that they live, Jesus who is Perfection dies so that his imperfect friends will live. Unlike your perfectionist friend who won’t associate with you until you meet a certain demand, Jesus associates with all of us who can’t meet even the simplest demand (Romans 8:3-4). Jesus Christ is the Perfect Friend whose membership club is made up the failures, rugs, drunks, broke, the unemployed, beggars, sick, prostitutes, cheaters, and all the untouchables that no one wants to associate with.

Are you exhausted by the demands people around you make for you to the point of you resenting those people? Jesus is here, he does not demand perfection, the only requirement is your imperfection. Come to Jesus and find rest for you exhausted life. Come.

Amen.

Hell is for Good People

“Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”—Matthew 21:31b (ESV)

The chief priests and the elders of the temple, like many of us, ‘publically confessed’ a faith which they privately fought. In the eyes of the people, these were guys who spoke and taught God’s word but their hearts were darkened by rebellion. Then there were also prostitutes and tax collectors who had sank deep into sin but found the Gospel compelling, very good and true.

The greatest enemy to the Christian Gospel is never their bad works but yours (and my) damnable good ones! The good works that we, the good people, flaunt before others in our church groups. Those are very dangerous.

The problem is that we have come to believe that we are what we do, so those who do good stuff are good people while those who do bad stuff are bad people. The reason we do this is that we are prone to locate our identity, and ultimately our salvation in the things we do. One time when I had gone to meet a client, a certain guy looked at my hair and called me a muyaaye (lumpen, or an urban riff-raff, whatever you prefer).

On the one hand, this guy had come to identify whoever has too much hair on their head (like mine) as a lumpen. On the other hand, I was pissed and felt utterly disrespected because—I thought I was a good guy since I don’t steal or smoke pot—I do good stuff, don’t you see? But we were both wrong: locating ours and other people’s identity in ours or their performance is a disastrous love affair which has never ended well.

People who think that they are fairly good will feel disgraced when they are called lumpens (like me). To counter this, they will prove that they are not lumpens. It’s disastrous because this is exactly what the Gospel does. It calls us beggars who don’t seek after God. And to counter that, we try to prove the gospel wrong. Which is what the good people (chief priests and elders) do—prove Jesus wrong by asking Him twisted theological questions.

The people who reject the gospel (most of whom being church people) do so because they have settled for their own little gospels where they feature as messiahs themselves. They pray fervently, fast, tithe, lead worship, take readings, lead study groups etc. I don’t care if you think that I am downplaying spiritual disciplines (because it may be the case) and its beside the point here: people who like to talk about “living their lives for Jesus” (whatever that means) do so for the sole reason of squeezing justification and salvation from their own work instead of in Jesus’s work for them. Hell exists for these kinds of people because they deny the simple Christian Gospel that locates our salvation outside of us and work in Jesus and His perfect life lived for us.

Chumps who think that they are good will always have a hard time accepting that they need someone else’s life in justification (they can’t imagine trashing their catalogue of goodness titled “The Good Good Christian and his Very Good Works: A Memoir, part one of Sixty-seven.”)  While prostitutes and tax collectors who have no goodness at all will jump to it like it’s the oxygen they breathe.

It is easier for a bad person to believe that a Good Person’s life, death and resurrection makes everything okay for them than it is to convince a ‘good person’ of the same. This is why hell will be filled with so many ‘good people’.

This Lifeline is most certainly true, AMEN.

He gave us back to our Father

Last updated on April 25th, 2017 at 08:15 pm

“And behold, a spirit seizes him, and he suddenly cries out. It convulses him so that he foams at the mouth, and shatters him, and will hardly leave him.”—Luke 9:39 (ESV)

The story of this boy in Luke 9:37-43 is personal to me, not that I have been attacked by evil spirits, but that I have been countlessly attacked by sin and whatever the evil spirit does to that boy, sin has done to me before.

Sin has seized, shaken, shattered and even more, it hardly left me. It has kept roaming around. I have felt powerless, broken and utterly defenceless. It seems to me that the only way Satan will have control is by beating us up! How weak of him!

What about you? When you give in to that addiction, or log into a website that promises what it cannot give, or hang around people you shouldn’t be around, or make a decision that doesn’t seem right, don’t you feel shattered? Shattered that you are at a point of no return? Do you feel like your flimsy bones are stuck until you bow down to the demands of your flesh? Do you feel weak in the knees?

If you identify with me, then this boy is our brother and his struggles are the same as ours. Sin is nothing to be proud of, for it takes whatever it wants by force. Satan doesn’t negotiate, and he surely doesn’t give any choices (for those of you who believe in your freedom to choose).

But thank God for Jesus. “While he was coming, the demon threw him to the ground and convulsed him. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit and healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.” (Luke 9:42, emphasis mine) Jesus healed the boy and gave him back to his father. You see, the evil spirit which had seized the boy had done something else: it had separated the boy from his father—it had stolen this boy from the only love he had.

Like with this boy, Jesus defeated our sin. In His life, death and resurrection, He put an end to the power of evil. At the right time, he snatched us from the claws of the beast and gave us back to our Father. Jesus saving work is also restorative; it restores our relationship with God. “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (Gal 4:6) “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”” (Rom 8:15)

That is your Lifeline, AMEN.

Easter Sunday has to be a Big Deal, even on Easter Monday.

“Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.”—Romans 5:9 (ESV)

I’ll say it. For many of us, Easter Sunday is not so much a big deal. We get excited because we are getting a 4-day break from work (to travel or sleep), and also eat some good food. We celebrate the day, and get back to our usual grind of keeping the rules and living by them.

If we are going to shout “He is risen, Hallelujah!” on Sunday and then get out our ledger books and start keeping score on Monday, I suggest we keep Easter Sunday in the same category as Fool’s Day. Because the day which is not going to radically alter me, my views, relationships, and devotion to God, is not worth much. We will just tell a few lies and hope that our friends fall for them.

If by Easter Monday we are still looking at God as a rule master who walks around with a big stick, punishing those who fail to keep His rules and rewarding those who do their best, then Jesus means nothing to us. If we still imagine God as an angry Police officer waiting to give us “a taste of our own medicine”, then the resurrection is not the Good News they told us it was. We, of all people, should be pitied.

Easter Sunday has to be bigger than our little systems of tit-for-tat. It has to unsettle us, leaving us lying on our backs and asking: “Holy smokes! Is God crazy?” The hairs on our skin have to stand as we wonder why someone would die at the hands of crooks and still forgive them as they continued to hammer nails through His feet. Easter has to be a big deal.

God has to forgive my sin and remember it no more. Not just that, He has to stop being angry at me—now—this is radical. Yes—God has to stop being mad at me—and I have to stop thinking that He is mad at me. Because if Good Friday means anything, it’s that the wrath that God had towards me was poured out, in its entirety, onto Jesus. Easter Sunday, on the other hand, is the Father’s seal of approval, that he won’t be wrathful towards me anymore. As one person said, “Easter Sunday is the Fathers Amen to the Son’s It is Finished.

What this means is that until you die (or until Jesus returns), God will deal with you in mercy and grace instead of raging anger. That you can screw up, and go into destructive behaviours, mess up your relationships, break the 10 commandments seventy times seven before ten in the morning and ultimately fall away from God and God will bring you back to Himself with grace. “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14)

Easter Sunday means that you and I have been reconciled to God and that we can never lose that reconciliation. That God’s devotion to us does not depend on our devotion to Him. And that His acceptance of us is not dependent on whether we avoid dangerous situations, or join the church choir, or lead the women’s group in Church. God accepts us because the righteous requirements that would ensure that God forever loves us were met by Jesus Christ on our behalf. (Romans 8:3-4)

Easter Sunday is a declaration that God is no longer an angry rule master but a loving Father (He has been a loving Father all this while but we are just discovering it now). As Robert Capon once wrote: “But all the while, there was one thing we most needed even from the start, and certainly will need from here on out into the New Jerusalem: the ability to take our freedom seriously and act on it, to live not in fear of mistakes but in the knowledge that no mistake can hold a candle to the love that draws us home.” Your unfaithfulness to God will never alter God’s loving faithfulness to you. Never! Let that sink in.

That is your Lifeline, AMEN.

Why the Gospel Makes so Many People Angry

Last updated on May 14th, 2017 at 04:20 pm

“And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’”—Matthew 20:11-12 (ESV)

One mark, and probably the most visible one, of a false congregation (church/Ministry) is when it’s overflowing in numbers. When people are coming from the big and small towns, walking tens of hundreds of kilometres just to be at this one place, you ought to smell the fish.

Why do I say this? Because, by its very nature, the gospel is offensive. It makes people angry, it sends more people out of church than it brings them in (fact). This world has a way it operates. Mainly, it runs on a kind of fuel called earning­. I like to call it tit-for-tat. “To get something, you have to work for it”, “Good things come to those who are prepared for them.” You have heard this.

In other words, to get something, you have to work for it. When you work hard, then you have earned the right to deserve it. You can now enjoy your kill because you went out in the woods and did the hunting (by yourself). I feel I am speaking a familiar language here.

Now enter the Gospel. It’s free and doesn’t require anything on our part. What about our work and deserving? The gospel throws that in the garbage can (it always has one garbage can reserved for such purposes). It doesn’t draw lines of those who are deserving and those who are not. It recklessly gives the same amount to all.

But then, we have people who have toiled their entire lives to deserve God’s love for them. They have worked. And then there are those whom society thinks they don’t deserve an ounce God’s love, because they haven’t worked enough (or they haven’t worked at all). They have continued to remain in wrong groups, are doing a lot of bad stuff (my friend recently lost her phone, one of these guys snatched it from her), they can’t even show up in church, not even on Easter Sunday or Christmas. These are the riffraff you hear about, the ones we love to talk about in our “holiness groups” as a way of demonstrating our own exponential holiness.

The offense of the gospel is that it accepts these riffraff without requiring them to first change. To add salt to injury, the gospel does not ask for a guarantee that they will change after they are accepted. The gospel just opens its doors and lets it the riffraff, the beggars and fools in to eat and drink until they are full, without a coupon. Not just that, it asks them to stay as long as they want because this party is for always.

Now hear the good guys: “These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” The gospel pays the same amount to those who have been working 50 years and those who started yesterday at 5:30 in the evening. What is so offensive about grace is that it gives, for free, the same amount to those who have spent their entire lives working and those who have never even showed up at the workplace.

The “good guys” are mad because they think God should pay them, in hard currency, for their sweat, tears and blood. They have endured the scorching sun, put up with annoying line managers, walked in the rain every morning just to get to work, and along the way, they have accumulated a wealth of experience. But when it comes to payday, they receive 30 shillings, same as the whippersnapper who confirmed his appointment lunchtime yesterday. How offensive!

That is why a gospel-preaching, bible-believing church will be nearly empty, these “good guys” will find another congregation where their efforts are congratulated and their picture printed on top of the Sunday Worship bulletin. Thanks Morris.

The seemingly good guys think that they are good, which is just outright foolhardy. The bible says that no one is good, that all of us have fallen short. Question is: “Where are these offended guys getting their ideas from?” They better calm down and accept the truth that they are no way better than anyone else.

And when we accept that we are not good, that in fact, we are worse off that we can dare imagine, that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect glory (better still, that we fall short every day), the gospel of God’s free grace that requires nothing on our part but gives everything to us becomes Good News for every day. You are not better than the other guy; it’s just that God is Good enough to save you and the other guy. While all of us were still sinning, Christ died for all the ungodly.

That is your very long (but relieving) Lifeline, AMEN.

Palm Sunday: How shall we be Triumphant?

Today Christians all over the world, even those who have not been to church in a long time, will grace the pews for Palm Sunday. Palms will be all over the place and we will be waving hosanna with the joy of a little kid who has just unpacked his new toy.

When Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem (Luke 9:53), we know that a lot of theological and Prophetic bombs are about to go off. He is walking to His death. “Jesus setting His face towards Jerusalem” could literally be translated as Jesus setting his face towards his grave and Palm Sunday is when He walks into jaws of death like a lamb walking towards the bloodied altar.

The road leading into Jerusalem is by now beaming with life, it is Palm Sunday. Jubilation and celebration. Shouts of praise and adoration. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” We should not forget that by this time the palms are shaking. By today’s standards, this was a red carpet reception only fitting for dignitaries and Hollywood blockbuster movie stars.

But there is something else: this King who is coming to town is mounted on a donkey! A donkey! And surely, the jubilant ones would have noticed this. They would have asked themselves why he was not on horseback. By the look of things, this is not your typical king.

The jubilations in town are a sign of the triumph about to come, but how? How shall we be triumph? Indeed if you read the story of this triumphant King, it doesn’t go well in the next few days. The lips that shout “Blessed is the King” on Palm Sunday will be the same lips that shout “crucify Him!” on Good Friday.

What is going on? How shall we be triumphant? When Jesus enters Jerusalem mounted on an ass (a donkey), He is making a statement that his backers gravely miss: the battle will be won by dying. Indeed, a donkey is the antithesis of a horse. While a horse is a sign of battle, a donkey is one of peace. The King comes in peace; He comes for peace, to die in it.

The dilemma of the people waving palm branches on Palm Sunday is that they also have an idea of how they shall be triumphant. And their idea is different from Jesus’s. Theirs is one of conquering, drawing swords and bleeding the enemy out.

Our church today cannot be any different. We may accept and celebrate the fact that it’s Palm Sunday and Jesus is in town but when it gets to climbing the hill to face our death, we rather stay downhill and monitor the proceedings from below. While Jesus insists that winning will only come by dying, we insist on living. Where he makes it clear that we can only win by bleeding ourselves out, we insist on winning by bleeding out the enemy.

Today’s church has outrightly refused to die. “Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it.” (Luke 17:33) The Gospel of Jesus is very clear: it’s only in dying that we will ever be able to live. But we insist on living. We insist on doing it our way, because we have convinced ourselves that if we work harder, we get to keep our lives.

But getting our hands dirty doesn’t guarantee life. If anything, it guarantees death. Those who insist on living will eventually die a death they will never come back from. God’s ferocious judgement awaits everyone who tries to earn salvation by doing more, trying harder, getting better or trying to hold tightly on their rotten life instead of just dropping dead.

God only accepts corpses because He alone knows what to do with them. To use the words of Robert Capon, Jesus “never meets a corpse that doesn’t sit up right on the spot.” When we die, we give up on the one thing that will always condemn us—our rotten life. “For one who has died has been set free from sin.” (Romans 6:7) But in death, we are able to receive a new and better life, Jesus’s life. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:4)

In this case, Palm Sunday is a call to die to our rotten life. A call to give up on our life so that we will be resurrected into a new one—a life in Christ. It through dying that we get to live. The Good News is that God has offered His body, in exchange for our rotten ones and when we give up on this awful life, we soon realise that things are better on the other side. The garments are white and the sins have been forgiven and forgotten—this is the joy of the redeemed. You can only be hid in Him if you die with Him. So how shall we be triumphant? By dying.