Thisletter is the second in a two-part series that addresses the importance and meaning of Holy Week, which this year begins on Sunday, April 13 and extends through Sunday, April 20. Last time we looked at Palm Sunday and its message concerning Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem. This time we’ll explore Easter Sunday and its message concerning Jesus’ resurrection. I hope you are finding this series helpful as you prepare for the Holy Week celebrations that so powerfully proclaim the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Details about Easter are often debated, including its chronology and even whether it should be celebrated or not, given the pagan origins of some of its traditions. Long-time GCI members will remember that we used to have a booklet on that subject.
Most of us now realize that celebrating Jesus’ resurrection is not pagan. But we need to go further, understanding that Easter proclaims the very heart of the gospel by celebrating the most significant event in all of human history—a “game changer” for everyone who has ever lived—an event that makes all the difference in our lives now and for all eternity.
Unfortunately, Easter celebrations often present a truncated gospel—one about a transaction related to personal satisfaction and individual fulfillment. Such presentations say, in effect, “You do your part and God will do his—accept Jesus and obey him, and in return God will reward you in the here and now and grant you entrance into heaven in the afterlife.”
This sounds like a good deal, but it is really? It is true that God takes away our sin and in exchange gives us the righteousness of Christ so that we may inherit eternal life. But this is not a transaction—it is not a “deal” at all. The gospel is not about an exchange of goods and services between consenting parties. Marketing the gospel as though it is about a transaction leaves people with a very wrong impression. This approach puts the focus on us—on whether or not we desire to “buy in” to the transaction, or can afford to do so, or think it’s worth the cost. The focus of this transactional gospel is on our decision, our action. But the gospel proclaimed in Easter is not fundamentally about us, it’s about Jesus—about who he is and what he has done on our behalf.
Together with the other Holy Week celebrations, Easter points us to the “fulcrum” of human history—events that redirected all history to a different end, placing all humanity and the whole of creation on a new pathway. Everything changed with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Easter is far more than a metaphor of new life, pictured by eggs, rabbits and new spring clothing. Jesus’ bodily resurrection was far more than the culmination of his earthly ministry. Through the events of Easter Sunday, a new era began and a new phase in the ongoing ministry of Jesus commenced. Jesus now invites those who have acknowledged him as their Savior to join him in that ministry, which is announcing to all humanity the good news of the new life that is theirs in Christ. Notice the apostle Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians:
So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For he says, “In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 5:16-6:2).
God’s plan from the beginning to re-create humanity and all the cosmos reached its climax in Jesus’ bodily resurrection. This event of the past reshaped all of time, including our present and our future. Today we are living in “Easter time”—a time that calls us as followers of Jesus to live on mission, a life of great meaning and purpose.
It is my prayer that you and all those you serve in your congregation will have a joyous and deeply meaningful Holy Week this year.
Your brother in Christ,
PS: In this issue of Weekly Update, we’ve included a Holy Week meditation by Gary Deddo entitled, “Don’t Cry for Jesus.” I think you’ll find it spiritually enriching as you meditate on the profound meaning of our Lord and Savior’s death and resurrection.
40th year celebrations in Ghana
GCI in Ghana, which has about 700 members, is conducting a year-long celebration of its 40th anniversary. The celebration includes the recently held launch celebration and an upcoming youth camp.
At the launch celebration, hundreds of members thanked God, sang and danced to gospel songs. Gabriel Ojih, associate pastor of GCI’s Dallas North, USA congregation and former GCI leader in Ghana, was the featured speaker. He exhorted those present to depend on the Holy Spirit to lead them., and urged the represented congregations to be submissive to the Word of God and to patiently seek God’s grace. According to Gabriel, the church should grow in love and share that love with society through charity and unity.
Unveiling the official cloth for the anniversary, Pastor Solomon Ayitey, a founding member of GCI in Ghana, noted that the cloth signifies the unity and bond within the church. He urged members to stay united in seeking to emulate the life of Christ.
In an interview with a local newspaper, Pastor Emmanuel Okai spoke about the two schools that GCI operates in Kutunse and Atwima-Koforidua.
Update on Google competition
In February, we reported on the “Africa Connected” competition being held by Google. We learned recently that GCI was one of ten finalists in the competition.
GCI mission director for southern Africa, Tim Maguire, was in Nairobi, Kenya recently, where Google hosted the finale of the competition. “Google outdid themselves in making us 10 finalists feel like superstars! Although we did not win the competition, Google donated $10,000 to GCI’s water project in Mozambique! Thanks so much for all your support and votes, and to Google for their generosity.”
Don’t Cry for Jesus
A Holy Week meditation by Gary Deddo
“Don’t Cry for Jesus” was one of the most memorable sermons I have ever heard. It was given by Dr. Lewis Smedes (pictured below) at a Fuller Seminary chapel service. I was there as a student during Holy Week in hopes of being better prepared to fully appreciate Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. My prayers were answered in an obvious way that day. I heard a message that has stuck with me ever since.
What was Professor Smedes getting at that struck me as being so profoundly right? He wanted us to see as clearly and precisely as possible that Jesus was no victim and that he didn’t want us to pity him or feel sorry for him. I thought at the time, “What? How can we not feel sorry for him after all he went through for us?” As Smedes developed the message I saw what he meant and how true it was.
Professor Smedes had us consider two things: first, the actual way the story of Jesus is told to us by the New Testament writers and second, a comparison of Jesus with the Greek tragic heroes like the demigod Achilles.
Let me first briefly recount for you the upshot of that comparison. The Greek gods, as great as they were, suffered often because of their own immoral activities and those involving the other gods. But their greatest sufferings were tragic because they were due to circumstances beyond their own control. These gods were born with their various strengths and weaknesses. No one of them “had it all.” They were always born into situations not of their own making and often involving jealousies, revenge plots and grabs for power between various other gods.
These tragic heroes were always victims of their circumstances as the inevitable wheel of fate at some point turned against them. But it was their vulnerabilities that would inevitably lead to their most tragic suffering and defeat, like Achilles’ lamentable heel. Were it not for the fact that despite all his armor, Achilles’ heel was exposed and that his goddess mother was prevented by his unwitting mortal father from completing the daily rituals that would have made Achilles immortal, Paris’ arrow would never have found its fatal target. In some versions of the myth, the god Apollo, for his own reasons, intervened and guided that arrow to pierce Achilles just at that one and only tiny unprotected point. How can you not feel sorry for Achilles? The unfairness of it all. Through no fault of his own, the greatest of all Greek warriors was brought down.
Though we certainly don’t think of Jesus as a Greek tragic hero, I realized upon further reflection that his cross is often described in tragic terms. Jesus is often portrayed as a victim of circumstances that go all the way back to the fall of humanity. Jesus is sent to be our Savior because humanity has rebelled and needs to be reconciled and regenerated if we are to share in God’s eternal and triune fellowship and communion and for God’s original intention at creation to be realized.
In the New Testament we find Jesus, the Son of God, living at a time when the Jewish nation is occupied by the pagan Romans. Among his own people, the Pharisees and Sadducees, the religious leaders, are involved in their own disputes with each other. Yet they manage to form an alliance to plot Jesus’ arrest and execution. Closer to him, there is a traitor among his own disciples, Judas, who betrays him—with a kiss, no less. Jesus is betrayed first into the hands of the court of the high priests and then into the hands of Pilate, who is himself caught between the rival forces of the Emperor and the potentially riotous crowds.
Finally, Jesus suffers the brutally cruel treatment of the Roman soldiers who strip, mock and whip him, then lead him to Golgotha where he is put to death on the machinery of Roman execution, a cross.
Given these tragic circumstances surrounding Jesus’ sacrifice, why should we not consider Jesus a tragic victim? Not because he didn’t pay an unimaginably high price for us and our salvation. Not because he didn’t actually suffer and die. But simply because he was no victim of those circumstances and because he had no fatal flaw!
The cost of our salvation was foreseen and anticipated before the foundations of the earth were even laid. God was not taken by surprise at the Fall nor by our subsequent need for costly deliverance. But our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, counted the cost (as it were) from all eternity and agreed they were ready and willing to gladly pay the price for our deliverance from evil and for our reconciliation. So the plan for creation was carried out knowing full well the price to be paid to put things right, for God’s righteousness to be done.
Jesus knew why he had come and what his saving work would cost. His mission was freely chosen. He was freely sent and freely given by the Father out of their joint abounding love for the world. Jesus repeatedly told his disciples what he would have to go through, even though they could not imagine his being so completely rejected by their religious leaders and political authorities that it would lead to his death. Jesus was anything but unaware, naive, about the path he would have to take to make all things new.
Jesus tells us that, like a good shepherd, when danger comes to his sheep, he lays his life down—and also takes it up (John 10:17). Jesus freely, voluntarily, not only gives up his life but also receives it back. When Pilate thinks he has to remind Jesus that he has the power of life and death over him, Jesus has to remind Pilate that he has no power except what has been allowed him by God, his Father (John 19:10-11).
In the garden, when one of his disciples takes it upon himself to defend Jesus with a sword, Jesus reminds them that all of his Father’s angelic hosts are available to protect him at any moment if he were to call on them (Matthew 26:53). Jesus is no victim of fate, of circumstances, or of powers greater than himself. He is in charge. He goes forth to Jerusalem only when his hour has come—not sooner, not later.
Jesus’ suffering is not the result of any large or small flaw in him. Far from it. There is not even a fleeting shadow of personal weakness evident in his confident exercise of divine omnipotence as he fulfills his redemptive mission. Rather it is by means of his strength and authority operating in full concert with his Father that he arrives at the right moment to exert saving power over sin, evil and death itself. His act of self-giving is a work of deliberate might based on the strength of his holy love.
Jesus is no tragic hero, but the willing, omnipotent, Lord and Savior.
Perhaps most astonishing are Jesus’ words spoken on the way to Golgotha, even as he bore the heavy weight of the cross-beam of his own crucifixion. Beholding the women standing by, no doubt exceedingly distraught and anguished, welling up from the depths of his compassion, Jesus found the strength to tell them something they and we need to know: “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t weep for me” (Luke 23:28).
Jesus does not want us to pity him as a hapless victim who suffers because it couldn’t be avoided, because it was inevitable, destined by forces he could not resist. He is not looking for our pity—he trod that road, the Via Dolorosa as it is called, on purpose, by divine design. He intentionally took that journey and nothing, not even torture at the violent hands of human wickedness, could stop him. We may weep for ourselves, if we must, that is, be sorrowful for our sins. But Jesus didn’t come looking to gather our tears. Rather his costly love calls for giving him our thanks, our praise, our gratitude, our love, our absolute trust and loyalty—indeed our very lives in eternal worship.
Jesus not only freely but also gladly gave his life that we might have resurrected life in him. So the author of Hebrews sums it up: “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
For joy? Yes, for joy. But how can that be? In short, because Jesus was no fool. The price he paid was worth it and he knew it. He has no regrets! He did not enjoy the suffering. Not at all. It was excruciating. But he rejoiced in what he with the Father and Spirit would accomplish by means of his extravagant self-sacrifice. Jesus was no victim but the victor. The surety of his victory gave him a great joy that saw him through his agonies. Crucifixion would lead by the grace and power of God to resurrection and a new heaven and earth.
Jesus was no reluctant Savior but the conquering Servant-King of all creation.
That’s the good news that Professor Smedes preached and from that moment on, I saw that I could no longer think, preach or teach as if Jesus was a victim that we should feel sorry for.
All those illustrations of the cross that I had heard in both liberal and conservative Christian contexts that made it seem that Jesus was a victim, I had to forswear. These made Jesus out to be anything and everything—from a mother rabbit frozen in a blizzard to save her little bunny child, to an innocent toddler run over by a train or ground up in the gears of a drawbridge—all this occurring while his helpless father looks on in horror from a distance. Somehow caught off-guard and facing a horrible dilemma, this father-victim had to choose between his son and humanity. And so he pulls the lever that seals their respective fates. In these illustrations both the Son and the Father are depicted as victims of circumstances and of their own limitations that call for our pity. As tragic characters they match, if not exceed, the sorry state memorialized in the myth of Achilles.
Perhaps more theological than these misguided analogies are certain interpretations of the cross that pit the Father against the Son. The Father is sometimes said to be taking his wrath out on the Son—punishing him to satisfy his righteousness. In this case, the tragedy occurs between the Father and the Son (some, who have rejected the idea of the cross altogether, have gone so far as to claim that if so, the Father is the victimizer and the Son the victim!). Or the Son is depicted as having to overcome the resistance of the Father to being merciful and forgiving by appealing to his own suffering to gain the Father’s pity and so get him to relent of his wrath. From these perspectives, the wills, attitudes and aims of the Father and the Son are at odds and can be resolved only by the Son’s suffering. How tragic! “Only that it wasn’t so!” we reply out of pity.
Sometimes we imagine a modern adversarial court scene where the Father is represented as the judge who wants to condemn the guilty party, and Jesus is the defense lawyer hoping to help the defendant avoid the penalty required by the law. Fortunately, Jesus figures out a way to keep us from the punishment we deserve. It’s a plan that the Father can’t argue with since it doesn’t seem to involve any violation of the law. Finding no grounds for objection, the Father-Judge has to concede: Jesus wins the court case for us.
But the biblical revelation shows us the Triune God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are of one mind, one purpose, united in being and in act all for the one and same end, our salvation. The Father sends the Son in the power of the Spirit. The Son freely comes and serves out of love for the Father and with joy in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers the Son to overcome temptation and undo evil itself in order to set free the captives, open the eyes of the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed and bring in the Lord’s promised Jubilee (Luke 4:18-19).
At the cross, no exception is made. Our sin is judged and condemned in Jesus. The wrath of God aims to burn away evil and the sin in us that has corrupted our very natures. Dying in him we are separated and rescued from the evil in us for eternal life. We are given a share in Christ’s restored and sanctified humanity. God’s wrath serves his mercy. His righteousness serves his love. There is no tension between the attributes of God nor between the Father and the Son. There is no tragic relationship at the heart of the gospel. At the cross the Son “through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished [without flaw] to God” (Hebrews 9:14). Our salvation is the united work of the whole Triune God, our Savior—Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
At the foot of the cross, Christ doesn’t call us to join him in a great pity-party: the Father feeling sorry for the Son, the Son feeling sorry for the Father, Jesus feeling sorry for us and we feeling oh so sorry for him. For Jesus was no tragic victim. Rather, we gather at the foot of the cross to worship in unspeakable awe, with adoration, thanksgiving, praise and prayer for the costly victory of Christ. By his joyful and freely given life, he righteously restored us to fellowship and eternal communion with God our Triune Redeemer.
Death of Dana Loter’s mother
We are saddened to learn of the death of Margaret Loter, mother of Dana Loter who leads the pastoral team serving the GCI congregation in Davenport, Iowa. Margaret was a longtime GCI member. Her funeral will be this Friday.
Cards may be sent to:
2420 Davie Street
Davenport, IA 52804
Mohan Jayasekera hospitalized
Mohan Jayasekera who pastors a GCI church in Perth, Australia and oversees GCI churches in Sri Lanka, is hospitalized in Perth following what seems to have been a mild stroke. His wife Nihara reports that when Mohan arose in the morning a few days ago, his mouth was drooping and his speech was slurred, so she called for an ambulance. Mohan remains in the hospital for observation and testing. He is mobile and coherent.
We’ll keep you updated on Mohan’s condition and ask for your prayers for Mohan, his family and the churches that he serves.
Journey with the Master
Journey with the Master (JWM) is a series of weekend intensives offered by GCI in the US through Generations Ministries (GenMin). The program provides “space” for young adults and older teens to explore these important questions:
Who is God? Why the big deal about Father, Son and Holy Spirit? What role does the Trinity play in my everyday life?
What is the Lord up to in my personal life? My family life? The life of my local church?
How do I actively discern and participate in the move of the Holy Spirit?
What is calling and what is my calling?
What are my spiritual gifts? How do I bring these divine gifts to bear in the local church?
What are my typical ways of communicating with other people? How might I more fully show love through my communication?
GenMin has offered JWM for several years and has seen tremendous growth in the participants. There is something transformative about “unplugging” for a weekend, in the company of peers and older mentors, to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying. Because JWM is offered over the course of three weekends (generally spaced 4-6 months apart), each session builds on the previous one. However, participants aren’t lost if they can only show up for one or two weekends.
GenMin coordinator Anthony Mullins is planning to conduct JWM later this year in Seattle, New York City and possibly Southern California. If you or someone you know is interested in participating, email Anthony at Anthony.Mullins@gci.org and see further details on the GenMin website.
Kernani Cheny is a bi-vocational pastor serving GCI’s congregation in Martinique, a French island between Saint Lucia and Dominica. Martinique is referred to as “a little bit of France in the French Caribbean Islands.” Kernani says that his first name is from his father, derived from the Hebrew word “hanini,” which is used three times in Scripture. It means “God is gracious.”
Kernani, who is now 40 years old, grew up attending GCI with his parents. “I grew up in Fort-de-France, the Martinique capital. After graduating from a university in France with a bachelor’s degree in electronics and robotics, I returned to Martinique and began teaching technology and computer science in a secondary school. I also served as the manager of a vocational training center in socio-cultural activities. It was an interesting experience: training people who work with children and teens. This job gave me opportunity to travel and to work on pedagogy and education with many people around the world.”
In 2000, Kernani married Juliette. “We don’t have children but God gave us love for all children.” In 2007, Kernani was commissioned with Charles Voyer to be the pastoral team for his congregation. At the time, Kernani was involved with the teens and young adults. He notes that Juliette’s personal ministy is in encouraging people.
When asked what he enjoys most about being a pastor, Kernani said, “GCI Martinique is a warm and wonderful church. I’m thankful to God for the diversity of experiences with children, teens, young and elderly people. I enjoy especially the brotherhood in the congregation.” About GCI, Kerani said that he loves that it really is an international family.
Kernani’s most memorable times in ministry have been at retreats with teens. When asked about his passion, Kernani said that one passion is pedagogy—the art and science of teaching. “But my greatest passion is teaching about Jesus—a message that is simple, deep, relational and transformational.”
Kernani says he feels closest to God, “during the night when I watch the stars in the sky—it’s so amazing and beautiful. I feel the majesty and the intimacy of God.”