40 Days of Lenten Devotionals

Lent is a season of preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection. Devotions are a great way to prepare your heart during this important season of reflection. These daily Lent devotions invite you to meditate on repentance for sin and gratitude for our Savior Jesus.

Each entry in this Lent devotional series includes:

  • Scripture passage(s) to read and reflect upon.
  • A personal devotion that reflects the theme of the Scripture.
  • A hymn or poem to close the devotion.

Listen to the daily podcast on the GRC podcast channel

Week 1

Ash Wednesday

Genesis 3:19
“…By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” 

Mark 1:14-15
After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, which is the season of preparation prior to the celebration of Good Friday and Easter. If you come from a Roman Catholic background, you are probably very familiar with the traditions of Lent. For the rest of us, here is a little explanation:

The name Ash Wednesday comes from the practice of placing ashes on the forehead of Christians to signify sorrow for and repentance from sin. (Recall the term “in sackcloth and ashes.”) That is why today you might see a few people going about their day with a smudge on their forehead. When the ashes are placed on the forehead, the priest will say something like “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” echoing the words that God spoke to Adam as he placed the curse on him after his first sin. The priest may also say something like “repent, and believe in the gospel,” echoing Jesus’ words at the beginning of his ministry.

Traditionally, during Lent, people give up some sort of food that they enjoy. Roman Catholics are also not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday or on Fridays during Lent.

You might be wondering, what does all this have to do with us? Are we supposed to get ashes on our foreheads and give up certain types of food for Lent? Well, no. I greatly fear that most people who get ashes on their foreheads and give up certain foods for Lent are doing so in an empty and thoughtless way, mistaking the form for the substance. In other words, what is important about Lent is repentance, not a dirty forehead; not denying yourself an enjoyable food, but instead denying yourself and following Christ.

Dear brothers and sisters, what matters is not what minor sacrifice you make during Lent, but the great sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ has made on behalf of all his children. That is what we want to focus on during this season: The Suffering Savior. So, we will look first at Christ’s humiliation; then at signs in John’s gospel pointing to him as Messiah; next at the events of the Passion Week; then, specifically at Jesus’ words on the cross; and, finally, the message of the cross.

T.S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled “Ash Wednesday,” in which he twice included the line, “Teach us to sit still.” May we sit still during this Lenten season, remembering, marveling, and praising our Savior for his great sacrifice of love on our behalf.

Christ's Humiliation

Philippians 2:5-8

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!

Yesterday we looked at Ash Wednesday and the practices surrounding it.  We saw that what is important is not what we do but what Christ has done.  It may be that giving up some food(s) during Lent may help you focus on our Savior and his work, or it may not.  Personally, I give up liver, eggplant, and lima beans for Lent (just kidding; I never eat those).  But when we talk about Christ’s humiliation, what do we mean?  What is involved?

The verses we read today explain what is meant by Christ’s humiliation.  As the Westminster Larger Catechism reminds us, “The estate of Christ’s humiliation was that low condition, wherein he for our sakes, emptying himself of his glory, took upon him the form of a servant, in his conception and birth, life, death, and after his death, until his resurrection.” (A46)  Amazing!  It will take us a few days to consider all that is involved here.  Entire libraries could be written about this.

But stop and consider what Christ has done.  God becomes man.  The creator becomes a creature.  The Lord of all becomes a servant.  The all-glorious one empties himself of his glory.  The one who has given birth to all creation subjects himself to a human birth.  The one who gives life to all submits himself to a painful and ignoble death.  The voice that cried “Let there be . . .” at creation now cries for mother’s milk and comfort, and then cries, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

And why did he do this?  “For our sakes”.  Truly, we cannot understand the depths of love our Savior showed, the heights of love that he has for his children.  But we can praise him, and love him, and honor and serve and worship him.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Honestly, I simply do not have the words to explain, or the mind to understand what our Lord has done.  Better to simply fall at his feet in adoration and wonder, and to gratefully proclaim:

All praise to Thee, eternal Lord,
Clothed in a garb of flesh and blood;
Choosing a manger for Thy throne,
While worlds on worlds are Thine alone. (Martin Luther)

He left His Father's throne above,
So free, so infinite His grace;
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam's helpless race;
'Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me. (Charles Wesley)

Christ's Conception & Birth

John 1:14
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Galatians 4:4
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

Luke 1:30-31
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.

Luke 2:7
and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

After reading those verses, you might be thinking: wait, is this a Lenten devotional or an advent devotional?  Let me assure you, it is a Lenten devotional.  Yesterday we considered Christ’s humiliation, and his conception and birth are the first part of that humiliation.  When we think about the birth of the baby Jesus, we properly think about it with joy.  Joy to the world, the Lord has come!  But today let’s try to think about it from Christ’s point of view.

Just imagine that you lived in the biggest, most incredible, most lovely home in the entire world, with an army of servants to attend to your every desire.  And then imagine that you gave all that up to go live in the tiniest, most broken down, wretched, barely standing dwelling.  That doesn’t even begin to compare with what our Savior did.

As the Westminster Larger Catechism explains, “Christ humbled himself in his conception and birth, in that, being from all eternity the Son of God, in the bosom of the Father, he was pleased in the fullness of time to become the son of man, made of a woman of low estate, and to be born in her” (A47, partial).  Incredible!  Look at the ways in which Christ humbled himself: from eternal God to finite man, from the bosom of the Father to the belly of Mary, from the Son of God to the son of a woman of low estate (that is, low economic and social position).  And most incredibly, he was pleased to do this!

What wondrous love is this!  This is a love we cannot fully understand, and yet it is a love that we gratefully accept.  Dear believer, how much does Jesus love you, that he would willingly humble himself in such a way, so that he might bring you salvation, so that you might have fellowship with him and the Father and the Holy Spirit, so that you might be exalted beyond anything that you deserve?!

Once again, let us praise him, and proclaim with Martin Luther:

Once did the skies before Thee bow;
A virgin’s arms contain Thee now,
While angels, who in Thee rejoice,
Now listen for Thine infant voice.

Christ’s Life on Earth

Matthew 5:17

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Romans 5:19
For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. 

Matthew 4:1
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 

Isaiah 53:3
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. 

Hebrews 4:15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.  

Hebrews 2:18
Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

Do you ever have days when you think life is really tough?  Do you sometimes wonder why your life just has to be so difficult?  We all have those days because we’re human.  Jesus became human too.  Do you ever wonder what his life on earth was like?

We don’t have to wonder because the Bible tells us.  Although Jesus was the lawgiver, he subjected himself to obeying the law, which he did perfectly.  Although he was sinless and guiltless, he suffered all the miseries of human existence: hunger, thirst, tiredness, poverty (Matthew 8:20), perhaps even sickness.  Although he came to bring the good news of salvation, he was despised and rejected by mankind, particularly by some of his own town and family, and even by one of his own chosen disciples.  And he suffered the indignity of being tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11).  “The Lord of glory was approached and tempted by the vilest and most lawless rebel in the universe.” (Johannes Vos)

As much as we properly focus on Jesus’s death on the cross, we must remember as well that much of his  life on earth was one of suffering.  And why did he suffer?  For you and for me, and for all those who believe in him.  I pray that we would be filled with the deepest gratitude and thankfulness to our suffering Savior.  And I pray that we would take comfort in our own afflictions, and would resist temptation in all its forms, remembering how much our Savior endured on our behalf and how he is willing and able to empathize with us and help us.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

For me, kind Jesus, was thine incarnation,
thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
for my salvation. (Johann Heermann)

Week 2

Christ’s Death

Matthew 26:56
“But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

Matthew 27:22-23
“What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

Isaiah 53:4-5
Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Hebrews 12:2
fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

If there is one symbol of Christianity that is immediately recognizable, it must be the cross.  You see it in churches everywhere and hanging on the necks of people everywhere (you see it in Grace Redeemer Church’s logo, too).  Why is the cross so important?  As Johannes Vos writes, “The death of Jesus Christ is the center of the Bible, the focal point of the world’s history, the central fact in the gospel message, and the foundation of our hope for eternal life.”

We will, of course, be looking at Jesus’ death on the cross in more detail in the coming days.  But for now let’s focus on the Larger Catechism’s explanation of how Christ humbled himself on the cross: “Christ humbled himself in his death, in that having been betrayed by Judas, forsaken by his disciples, scorned and rejected by the world, condemned by Pilate, and tormented by his persecutors; having also conflicted with the terrors of death, and the powers of darkness, felt and borne the weight of God’s wrath, he laid down his life an offering for sin, enduring the painful, shameful, and cursed death of the cross.” (A49)

It is more than we can understand or imagine.  As if being betrayed, deserted, and rejected by those closest to him was not enough, as if enduring the most shameful form of death (Galatians 3:13) was not enough, as if the struggle against death and the powers of darkness (Luke 22:44) was not enough, Jesus endured the weight of God’s wrath against sin (Isaiah 53:6,10).  Oh, how much must he love his people to endure such agony!  Even the angels long to understand such love (I Peter 1:12).  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

 'Tis mystery all! Th'Immortal dies!
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine!
'Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.  (Charles Wesley)

Christ After Death

Matthew 12:40
For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

I Corinthians 15:3-4
For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,

Psalm 16:9-10
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure,  because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.

Romans 6:9-10
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.  The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

We come now to the time of Christ’s existence about which the Bible says very little.  Even our hymns focus on Christ’s death and resurrection, and rarely mention his time in the grave (except for “Up From the Grave He Arose”).  So, what was going on during that Friday night, Saturday, and early Sunday morning?

Here again we turn for help to the Larger Catechism, where we read, “Christ’s humiliation after his death consisted in his being buried, and continuing in the state of the dead, and under the power of death till the third day, which hath been otherwise expressed in these words, He descended into hell.” (A50)  His burial was humiliating because he had no sin but, because he bore the penalty for our sins, he bore the consequence of having his physical body buried.  It was humiliating for him to be under the power of death and in the state of the dead because he himself is the lord of life, as he demonstrated by raising others from the dead.

Notice that the catechism quotes from the Apostle’s Creed.  Those four words have occasioned more controversy than perhaps any other clause in the creed.  Let me just say that the framers of the catechism took the stance that this clause refers not to the place of Christ’s body after death but to the position of his body after death.

Dear believer, consider once again the incredible love of our Lord for his people, that he would willingly subject himself to the penalty of sin to the ultimate, that he would willingly endure being under the power of death for a time.  But take heart!  Death will not have the final word!  As Martin Luther reminds us,

Christ Jesus lay in death’s strong bands
for our offenses given;
but now at God’s right hand he stands
and brings us life from heaven.
Therefore let us joyful be
and sing to God right thankfully
loud songs of hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Water to Wine

John 2:1-11
On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there,  and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” “Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”  Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.  Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so,  and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside  and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”  What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Today we will begin to look at six signs Jesus did—as recorded in the gospel of John—that point to him as the Messiah.  Notice in verse 11 above that John says this was the first sign through which Jesus revealed his glory.  When we first read this story, we might be a little puzzled.  Yes, it is an incredible miracle, but so what?  How does it show Jesus’ glory?  How does it point to him as Messiah?

First, it shows his authority.  Mary comes to Jesus, not to anyone else, when the wine runs out; the servants obey Jesus immediately, even though he is a guest and not the master of the house.

Second, notice that the water jars were used for ceremonial purification.  Jesus is demonstrating that no longer will such practices be needed because he himself will provide the complete purification for sins.

Third, since Jesus is the groom, he will provide the wine for the wedding banquet of his bride, the church.  And he will do so lavishly, saving the best wine for last.

Finally, did you catch when this event happened?  On the third day.  There would come another third day when Jesus would turn the water of sorrowful tears of despair into the wine of surprised tears of joy, on his resurrection day.

The story ends with “and his disciples believed in him.”  Do you?  Do you believe in this marvelous Savior?  I pray that you do, and that you will one day be part of the wedding banquet of the Lamb and his bride.

Healing of Official’s Son

John 4:46-54
Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. “Unless you people see signs and wonders,” Jesus told him, “you will never believe.”  The royal official said, “Sir, come down before my child dies.” “Go,” Jesus replied, “your son will live.” The man took Jesus at his word and departed.  While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.  When he inquired as to the time when his son got better, they said to him, “Yesterday, at one in the afternoon, the fever left him.” Then the father realized that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed.  This was the second sign Jesus performed after coming from Judea to Galilee.

In our society, where hospitals continue to grow in size and services offered, where medicines and drugs are readily available, and where each month seems to bring a new medical research breakthrough, I wonder if we realize how terrifying sickness and disease were in the first century.  See how this official did not send one of his servants to Jesus but went himself and begged him to come and heal his son.  Can you hear the pleading in his voice?  Little did he know that Jesus was about to give him more than he asked.

Notice that even though the man twice begged Jesus to come to his home, Jesus didn’t need to be present to heal the boy.  His power and willingness to heal is not bound by time and space.  Also, after Jesus rebuked him for wanting to see signs and wonders before he believed, the man took it to heart; the text says he took Jesus at his word and left.  He believed the word of Jesus before he had seen a sign.

Can you imagine the father’s joy as he received the news that his son was healed?  And when he realized the healing took place at the exact time Jesus said it would, he believed in Jesus.  And then he went home and led his whole household to faith in Jesus.

Yes, the official received more than he expected.  Jesus healed not only his son’s body, but also his and his family’s souls.  He did this because he is the giver of life, abundant life, eternal life.  He is the Son who has come to die so that all the Father’s chosen sons and daughters might live.  Are you one of his sons or daughters?  Praise and worship the Lord who gives you life!

Healing the Invalid Man

John 5:1-9
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades.  Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed.  One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”  “Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”  Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”  At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The first two signs we looked at this week occurred in Galilee.  Now Jesus travels to Jerusalem, where he encounters this invalid man (“invalid” could mean he was lame, or paralyzed, or disabled).  We might wonder at Jesus’ question to the man; duh, we might think, of course I want to get well.  But perhaps Jesus saw, or was questioning, whether the man had actually given up on any hope of healing after thirty-eight years.  The man’s reply shows the common belief of those who were lying near the pool, that the first one in after the water bubbled would be healed.  And since the man had no one to help him into the pool, he was doomed to lie there day after day, year after year.

Jesus, however, doesn’t help him into the pool; Jesus doesn’t need the pool to heal him.  He tells this man who cannot walk to get up and walk.  And immediately he is healed!  He gets up and walks!  Although the Bible doesn’t tell us this, I would imagine that those who witnessed this interaction might have been thinking, forget the pool, I need this man Jesus.

And isn’t that exactly the point?  We are all invalids, disabled by sin, unable to save ourselves, hoping for some miracle cure.  But as Jesus showed by giving physical healing to the invalid man, only he can give spiritual life and healing.  As he explains to the Jews after this incident, “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.” (John 5:21)

Are you trusting in Jesus alone, for life, now and forever?  Have you responded to him in repentance and faith?  I pray that you have.  I pray that all who read these devotionals are trusting in Jesus alone for salvation.

The great Physician now is near,
The sympathizing Jesus;
He speaks the drooping heart to cheer,
Oh! Hear the voice of Jesus. (William Hunter)

Feeding the Multitude

John 6:5-13
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there).  Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.  When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”  So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

This is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that appears in all four gospels.  In fact, it is so important that Jesus spends almost the rest of John 6 explaining the miracle and telling the Jews what it reveals about him (when you get the chance, read the entire chapter).  Can you imagine the people wondering where all this food will be coming from as they sit in groups on the grass?  Can you imagine the shock of the disciples as they see Jesus continue to hand them bread and fish to distribute, over and over again?  Can you imagine how tired Jesus’ hands and arms must have been?

As Jesus later explained to the crowd, don’t follow me around hoping for more wonder bread, but look for and desire the bread of life (6:27), which is … me!  I am the bread of life, who came down from heaven (6:33-35).  Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no life in you (6:53).

Did you notice how Jesus began this miracle?  He took the bread, gave thanks, and then distributed it.  Does that sound familiar?  It is what we hear each time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  As miraculous as his feeding of the multitude was, even more miraculous is Jesus feeding all his chosen ones his body and blood, for our salvation.  As we look forward to celebrating that supper together, may we rejoice in the love and grace of this most perfect and wonderful Savior.

You are the bread of life, dear Lord, to me,
your holy word the truth that rescues me.
Give me to eat and live with you above;
teach me to love your truth, for you are love. (Mary A. Lathbury)

Week 3

Healing the Blind Man

John 9:1-7
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.  As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work.  While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes.  “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.  

As Jesus and his disciples are walking in Jerusalem, they encounter a blind man.  While the disciples ask why (whose sin caused his blindness?), Jesus asks what (what can we do for him?).  Another answer to the disciples’ question would be, “Adam”.  Because of Adam’s sin, passed down to all of us, we are all spiritually blind from birth.

Jesus says that this man is blind so that Jesus can display his power to bring light and sight, and not only to this man, but to the world.  So Jesus puts mud on the man’s eyes, and sends him to the pool whose name means “sent”, and the sent man goes and washes and comes back seeing.  But not only seeing; he is now believing in the one who has been sent by God.  Notice how he refers to Jesus in the following verses (again, read the entire chapter when you have the chance; the interactions between the formerly blind man and the Pharisees are hilarious): “the man called Jesus” (v. 11), “a prophet” (v. 17), “man from God” (v. 33), and finally he believes in Jesus and worships him (v. 38).  He grows in his understanding of who Jesus is, leading him to worship his healer and Savior.  The Jews who witnessed this miracle are so taken with it that twice they mention it as testimony to Jesus, his power, and his identity (John 10:21, 11:37).

What about you?  Have your eyes been opened by Jesus?  Can you say with the formerly blind man, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (9:25)  Do you give testimony to how Jesus has opened your spiritual eyes?  I pray that you see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day.

Ye dwellers in darkness with sin-blinded eyes,
The Light of the world is Jesus!
Go, wash at His bidding, and light will arise;
The Light of the world is Jesus! (Philip P. Bliss)

Raising Lazarus From the Dead

John 11:23-26, 38-45
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”  Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance.  “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”  Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”  So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me.  I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”  When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”   The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.  Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”   

This is the last and greatest sign that Jesus gives to show he is the Messiah; from healing a boy near death, to healing a man lame for 38 years, to healing a man blind from birth, to raising a man from death.  And as the previous signs showed that Jesus is the great physician, the bread of life, and the light of the world, this sign shows he is the resurrection and the life.  Jesus has shown his power over creation, over disease and sickness, and over death itself.  What an amazing Savior!  What more can he do?  What more can he give?

Jesus tells Martha that if she believes, she will see the glory of God.  Don’t focus on the corpse, dear Martha, focus on me, the resurrection and the life.  Soon Jesus would begin the journey that would lead to his followers viewing another corpse, his own, and wondering why he couldn’t save himself, after saving so many others from disease and death.  Ah, but Jesus would save many by his death.  As Caiaphas unknowingly prophesied, “Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,  and not only for that nation, but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one,” (John 11:51-52).

What more can Jesus give?  He gave himself, a perfect and complete sacrifice for sin.  And now, even death can hold no terror for the believer.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

One short sleep past, we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die. (John Donne)

Mary Anoints Jesus

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.  Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.  Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.  But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected,  “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.”  He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial.  You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

We now begin to walk through the events of Passion Week, the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.   Mary, Martha, and Lazarus are so grateful to Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead that they throw a banquet in his honor.  While Lazarus relaxes with Jesus and his guests, Martha does what she always does: she serves.  Poor Martha; always in the shadow of her sister, but always faithfully serving.

And then Mary shows up and shocks everyone.  First she breaks a jar of incredibly expensive perfume (worth a year’s wages!); then she pours it on Jesus’ feet (only the lowest servants touched the feet of a guest!); and then she loosens her hair and wipes his feet with her hair (a Jewish woman would never loosen her hair in the presence of a man other than her husband!).  Mary’s love for Jesus was so great she broke all the grounds of propriety to show him her love.  No doubt when any of those at the banquet smelled this particular perfume again they would have remembered Mary’s shocking act of devotion.

And note carefully how Jesus responds.  He is not saying ignore the poor; they will always be around for you (plural) to care for, but I will not.  Mary, it seems, has sensed more than the disciples that Jesus’ death and burial is coming soon, and she does not want to miss her chance to care for her Lord in this way.

What about us?  How much do we love Jesus?  How much do we show him our love?  May the prayer of Elizabeth Prentiss be our prayer as well:

More love to Thee, O Christ,
More love to Thee!
Hear Thou the prayer I make
On bended knee;
This is my earnest plea:
More love, O Christ, to Thee,
More love to Thee,
More love to Thee!

Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Matthew 21:1-9
As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:  “Say to Daughter Zion,‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”  The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them.  They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on.  A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.  The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,  “Hosanna to the Son of David!”  “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Hosanna in the highest heaven!”  

Did you ever have something that you had to do, but you knew it wouldn’t be pleasant, and so you put it off as long as you could?  Jesus knew that the Jewish leaders wanted to kill him, but he proceeded directly into Jerusalem anyway.  And he did it in a way that guaranteed they wouldn’t miss him!  They would know he was there.

In fact, Jesus designed his entry to proclaim himself as Messiah.  First, he tells his disciples to say that “the Lord” needs the animals; not simply Jesus, but the Lord.  Second, Matthew notes that this fulfills the prophecy of Zechariah, a prophecy of the coming of the Davidic king.  And finally, see how the people greet Jesus: as the son of David, thus acknowledging him as the promised Messiah.

The Messiah that they have longed and prayed and waited and hoped for is now riding into Jerusalem.  What a joyous day!  And yet . . .  The words that they shout are from Psalm 118.  The very next verse of that psalm reads: “The Lord is God, and he has made his light shine on us.  With boughs in hand, join in the festal procession up to the horns of the altar.” (Psalm 118:27)  Yes, Jesus has indeed come in the name of the Lord, to place himself on the altar of God and to offer himself as the sacrifice for the sin of his people.  O blessed Savior!  O glorious King!  O marvelous Lord!  Hosanna in the highest heaven!

Ride on, ride on in majesty!
In lowly pomp ride on to die.
O Christ, your triumphs now begin
o'er captive death and conquered sin. (Henry H. Milman)

Some Greeks Seek Jesus

After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, some Gentiles come to worship at the feast, and ask to see Jesus.  Here is another indication that Jesus’ mission and salvation is not only for the Jews but for all nations.  

Jesus says that the time has come for him to be glorified and says that will happen through his death.  Like a seed that is planted and brings forth a harvest, through his death Jesus will bring many sons and daughters to glory (Hebrews 2:10).  Then Jesus asks the Father to glorify his name.  The Father’s name will be glorified by Jesus’ perfect submission to the Father’s will.  The Father has glorified his name by speaking of his love for his Son at his baptism (Mark 1:11) and at his transfiguration (Mark 9:7) and will glorify his Son by his perfect obedience and death on a cross (Philippians 2:8-9).

Jesus will be lifted up on a cross, and will draw to himself all his people by his death.  Are you one of them?  Praise the Savior who by his obedience glorified his Father and gathered in his flock!

O Lord, once lifted on the glorious tree,
As thou hast promised, draw men unto thee.
Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim,
Till all the world adore his sacred name. (George Kitchen)

Jesus Curses A Fig Tree

Matthew 21:18-22
Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.  Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.  When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.  Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.  If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

This might seem like a strange incident for two of the gospel writers (Matthew and Mark) to include.  What do we have here?  A hungry Jesus, cursing the tree in anger because there are no figs?  Well, no, not really.  As usual, Jesus is teaching his disciples—and us—a lesson.

Normally at this time of year fig trees would not be bearing fruit (Mark 11:13), but because this tree was in leaf it should have had fruit on it as well.  So Jesus curses it, making its fruitlessness permanent.  The barren fig tree is a metaphor for fruitless Israel (see Isaiah 5, Luke 13:6-9).  As God did through the prophet Isaiah, Jesus is denouncing the people of Israel who have the appearance of fruitfulness but who produce no fruits of repentance or faith.  Because they do not produce fruit, he will turn away from them in judgment (Hosea 9:10-17).  And the disciples are amazed.

What about us?  Are we bearing fruit?  “Trees bear leaves for themselves.  Trees bear fruit for others” (Gerard Berghoef & Lester De Koster).  Jesus said of the Father, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:2).  May the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) be ever more evident in our lives.  May we joyfully praise, love, and serve the Savior who bought us by his precious blood, and may we faithfully love and serve others in his name.  Let us ask him for grace to do that, remembering the words of Jesus to his disciples, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matthew 21:22).

Lord, thou needest not, I know,
service such as I can bring;
yet I long to prove and show
full allegiance to my King.
Thou an honor art to me:
let me be a praise to thee. (Frances Ridley Havergal)

Week 4

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

Mark 11:15-19
On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves,  and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts.  And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”  The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.  When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this incident; John does not, although he does record the time early in his ministry when Jesus had previously cleared the temple (John 2:13-22).  The temple was a huge structure, containing four sections.  Moving from inner to outer, they were: the priests’ court (where only they could go), Israel’s court (open to all Jews), the women’s court (this was as far as the women could go), and the large outer court, the court of the Gentiles (which was as far as they could go).  Worshippers coming to the temple would need to pay the temple tax and most likely buy items for sacrifices; thus, tables were set up for this.

Here’s the problem: the tables were set up not right outside the temple, but in the court of the Gentiles!  Thus, an area that was set aside for worship of God was given over to commercial transactions.  The murmurs of prayer were drowned out by the cacophony of commerce.  Jesus sees this and begins to overturn tables and benches and drive the moneychangers and merchants out of the temple.

Quoting Isaiah 56:7, he tells the people that God’s house is to be a house of prayer for all the nations.  Those Gentiles whom the Jewish merchants saw fit to inconvenience and even cast aside are among those desired by God as his worshippers!  No wonder the priests and teachers were angry at Jesus; he actually wanted them to pray with the Gentiles, not profit from them.

Praise God that now Jews and Gentiles, people of all nations and languages and people groups, can come together in praise and worship of the Savior who has laid down his life for his sheep, who has offered the complete and final sacrifice for sin!  And, pray that the gospel would go forth into all the world!

Bring distant nations near
To sing thy glorious praise;
Let ev’ry people hear
And learn thy holy ways.

Send forth thy glorious power,
that Gentiles all may see,
and earth present her store
in converts born to thee:
God, our own God, thy church O bless,
and fill the world with righteousness,
and fill the world with righteousness. (William Hurn)

Sanhedrin Plots to Kill Jesus

Matthew 26:1-5
When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.” 

Luke 22:1-2
Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching,  and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people.

The Sanhedrin was the body that exercised civil and religious, and to some extent criminal, jurisdiction over the Jewish nation. At the time of Jesus, it was composed of three groups: the chief priests; the scribes or teachers of the law; and the elders, who were heads of tribes or tribal divisions. Think of them as the Presbytery of Jerusalem combined with the Jerusalem City Council, with some authority over the Jerusalem Police Department.

While everyone else is planning to celebrate the Passover, the commemoration of God’s miraculous delivery of Israel from slavery in Egypt, this august body of men is focused on how to kill Jesus. Do you see the irony? While the Jews are preparing to kill and eat the Passover lamb, their leaders are preparing to kill the Lamb of God. The men who should have been shepherding the sheep instead plan to kill the good shepherd. And Jesus knows all about it! He tells his disciples this will happen. And not because he just has this sinking feeling, but because he and the Father have planned this all along.

Matthew 26 is not the only indication the Sanhedrin wanted to get rid of Jesus. In fact, there are about 15 references in the gospels to this desire of theirs. After Jesus raised Lazarus, they planned to kill Lazarus, too. (John 12:9-11) (There’s another irony, trying to kill a man who was supposedly dead.) But after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and his cleansing of the temple, they had finally had enough.

Oh, foolish Sanhedrin! You do not know that your rage and anger, your plotting and planning, serve only to do God’s sovereign will, as Peter explained at Pentecost: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23) God uses even the vilest sin to bring about salvation for his people. Praise him for his marvelous grace and mercy!

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.          (Martin Luther)

Preparations for Passover

Luke 22:7-13
Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.  Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”  “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked. He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters,  and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’  He will show you a large room upstairs, all furnished. Make preparations there.”  They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

In the Jewish calendar the Passover was immediately followed by the 7-day feast of unleavened bread; that is why the two are often referred to together.  The Passover lamb had to be killed at twilight on the first day (Thursday, in this instance) (Exodus 12:6), and then eaten that night.  The disciples would need to get a lamb, unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine for the meal, and prepare everything for “Jesus, party of thirteen”.

As Jesus had previously told the disciples to get a colt upon which he would ride, and simply say that the Lord needed it, so he tells them to get a room in which they can eat, and simply say that the Teacher asks for it.  A man carrying water in a jar would be easy to spot, since carrying water in a jar was something that women did, not men.  The owner of the house was perhaps a follower of Jesus, and thus eager to serve him.  In any case, the disciples found everything “just as Jesus had told them”.

Why are we focusing on such a simple incident?  Because it shows us how, despite the hatred and murderous intentions of the Jewish leaders, Jesus would celebrate the Passover as scheduled.  Jesus knew everything that was about to happen and was in full command of his and others’ activities.  And Jesus would offer himself as the true and final Passover lamb (I Corinthians 5:7) at exactly the right time.  Even as the disciples were preparing the room for the Passover, Jesus was preparing himself for the sacrifice.

Yes, Jesus is the true paschal (Passover) lamb, who saves us from death and brings us out of slavery to sin into the freedom of the children of God.  Praise Him for his great love and sacrifice on our behalf!

Where the paschal blood is poured,
death's dark angel sheathes his sword;
Israel's hosts triumphant go
through the wave that drowns the foe.

Praise we Christ, whose blood was shed,
paschal victim, paschal bread;
with sincerity and love
eat we manna from above. (Latin hymn)

Last Supper

Mark 14:17-25
When evening came, Jesus arrived with the Twelve.  While they were reclining at the table eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me—one who is eating with me.”  They were saddened, and one by one they said to him, “Surely you don’t mean me?”  “It is one of the Twelve,” he replied, “one who dips bread into the bowl with me.  The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”  While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.  “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”  

This was the last meal Jesus would eat with his disciples before the cross, the last Passover he would celebrate, and his institution of the Lord’s Supper.  Before he institutes the Lord’s Supper he informs the disciples that one of them will betray him to the Jewish authorities (it is this moment in the meal that Da Vinci portrays in his famous painting).   Jesus knows exactly what is going on and is in full control of the situation.   One of his closest chosen followers should turn against him. See his suffering from the knowledge of betrayal.

Then Jesus does something unexpected.  He takes the unleavened bread, breaks it, and gives it to his disciples, saying that it is his body.  Obviously, it is not his actual body, because his physical body is handing it to them.  In the same way, the wine is not his actual blood, which is still coursing through his veins. However, Jesus is reminding them of what he had told them previously in Galilee: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.  Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them” (John 6:54-56). He is speaking of belief in him. (John 3:16) 

O, that everyone who reads these words would eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Lamb of God!  Trust in Jesus alone for salvation.

At the Lamb's high feast we sing
praise to our victorious King,
who has washed us in the tide
flowing from his pierced side;

Praise we him whose love divine
gives his sacred blood for wine,
gives his body for the feast,
Christ the victim, Christ the priest. (Latin hymn)

Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer

John 17:1-3,6,16-17,20-21
After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:  “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. “I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.  They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.  Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,  that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 

After the Last Supper, Jesus spent a long time talking with his disciples, which John records in chapters 13-16 of his gospel.  He concludes this talk with the prayer that we find in John 17: when you get the chance, please read the entire prayer.  In this prayer, Jesus prays for the glory of the Father and the mission of the church, praying first for himself (vs. 1-5), then for his disciples (vs. 6-19), and finally for all believers (vs. 20-26).  It is a truly remarkable prayer.

Jesus asks the Father to glorify him so that he can glorify the Father, by his willing and perfect obedience, so that eternal life will flow to all those whom the Father has given to his Son.  Then Jesus prays for all those whom the Father has given him, and says they are not of the world even as he is not of the world.  This is truly a stunning statement!  Jesus is saying that those who believe in him have more in common with him than with other human beings!  Incredible!  But that is only because God has sanctified us and will sanctify us.  And finally, Jesus prays for all those who will believe in him, that they will be one as Jesus and the Father are one.  The unity of the Trinity is not only the model for our unity: it is the foundation for it.

“Union with Christ is the central truth of the whole doctrine of salvation.” (John Murray)  May we live joyfully and faithfully together as brothers and sisters in Christ, so that the world may see and believe that he is the Savior sent by God!

Jesus, I live to Thee,
The loveliest and best;
My life in Thee, Thy life in me,
In Thy blest love I rest. (Henry Harbaugh)

Jesus Prays in Gethsemane

Luke 22:39-46
Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him.  On reaching the place, he said to them, “Pray that you will not fall into temptation.”  He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed,  “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.  And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow.  “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them. “Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.”

Yesterday we looked at Jesus’ prayer for his disciples.  Today we look at his shorter but far more intense prayer in the garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.  Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not mention the names of disciples whom Jesus took with him into the garden, nor does he mention the three times Jesus urged them to wake up and pray.  On the other hand, only Luke mentions the angel who came to strengthen Jesus, and the incredible intensity of his anguish.  Luke thus focuses our attention entirely on Jesus.

Jesus goes to his usual place, knowing full well that Judas will find him there (John 18:2).  He moves away from his disciples, kneels down, and pours out his heart to his Father, asking that the cup of the Father’s wrath and judgment would be taken from him, but that the Father’s will be done.  His agony and intensity in prayer is such that his sweat is like drops of blood.  The intensity and depth of his anguish is so great that the Father sends an angel to strengthen him.  See the love the Son has for the Father that he will submit even to this greatest of sufferings!  See the love the Father has for the Son that he will send an angel to care for him!  See the agony and anguish that Jesus undergoes for those whom he loves, for those for whom he will endure the cross and death!  Was there ever love like this?

All three gospel accounts record that Jesus asked the Father’s—not his—will be done.  Jesus prayed this knowing what it would mean for him: tremendous physical suffering, and worse, the agony of separation from the Father for a time.  All this Jesus did for you and for me, for all his children.  May we fall on our knees and pour out our hearts in gratitude to our dear Savior and Lord!

Gethsemane can I forget?
Or there thy conflict see,
thine agony and bloody sweat,
and not remember thee? (James Montgomery)

Week 5

Betrayal and Arrest

Mark 14:43-50
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders.  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.”  Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him.  The men seized Jesus and arrested him.  Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?  Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”  Then everyone deserted him and fled.

Immediately as Jesus says to his disciples, “let’s go, my betrayer is coming”, his betrayer arrives.  See how quickly Jesus submits to his Father’s will!  And notice who has arrived to arrest him.  In the lead is Judas, “one of the Twelve”, one of Jesus’ chosen and closest followers.  With him is a crowd armed with swords and clubs.  Was it not just a few short days earlier that a crowd greeted Jesus, armed with palm branches and praises?  And look who is behind this gathering: The Sanhedrin, who have been so busy plotting to get rid of Jesus that they themselves may not have eaten the Passover meal yet.  (see John 18:28).

One disciple betrays Jesus; another disciple blindly strikes out in a foolish attempt at resistance; eventually all the disciples flee.  The men who have come to seize Jesus initially fall back when he identifies himself (John 18:4-6).  And Jesus witheringly addresses the Sanhedrin representatives present (Luke 22:52-53), asking why they didn’t arrest him in the open if they had a case against him.  The only person in this dramatic scene who stands out is Jesus.  Even in the moment of his arrest, Jesus is in full control of the situation; he is still exercising his authority.  As he had previously told the Jews, no one takes his life from him; he willingly lays it down (John 10:18).  

The one who has committed no sin, who is guilty of no crime, willingly submits to the criminal intentions of the Jewish leaders.  Do you see how the suffering and humiliation of Jesus began before he ever reached the cross?  Truly “he was despised and rejected by mankind” “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3,6).  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
that man to judge thee hath in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted! (Johann Heermann)

Jewish Trial

Matthew 26:59-68
The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death.  But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally, two came forward  and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’”  Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”  But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”  “You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on, you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.  Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him  and said, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

I use the word “trial” here, since technically, it was an ecclesiastical trial.  But really, it was a lynching- a murder plot.  Under Jewish law, no capital trial or conviction was allowed at night; no conviction or death sentence could be carried out on a feast day.  But the law was of little or no concern to the Jewish leaders.

Notice how they sought false evidence and false witnesses, and even the two who came forward gave a false account.  They were not interested in truth or justice; they had earlier decided that Jesus must die (John 11:49-53).  Initially, Jesus makes no response to their false accusations, fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 53:7).  However, when the high priest, Caiaphas, asks Jesus if he is indeed the Messiah, Jesus says, “Yes,” and then makes clear references to Psalm 110:1 and Daniel 7:13-14.  Now Caiaphas says, “We’ve got him!  He blasphemed!”  And the others agree: “He must die!”

Do you see how pathetic the Jewish leaders are in their unbelief, and their hatred of Jesus?  Do you see how Jesus alone speaks truth?  Do you see how Jesus speaks not of his coming sacrifice and death, but of his continuing reign and coming return?  Indeed, as Hebrews tells us, “For the joy set before him, he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” (Hebrews 12:2).  All glory be to the Messiah, the Son of God!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
in my place, condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood:
Hallelujah, what a Savior! (Philip Bliss)

Roman Trials

Luke 23:1-4,7,11,20-21,24-25
Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate.  And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”  So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.  Then Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again.  But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” So Pilate decided to grant their demand.  He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Does the Scripture reading for today seem a little disjointed, a little sketchy?  That’s because the entire process of the Roman trials was a mess.  The Sanhedrin take Jesus to Pilate, since they did not have authority to put him to death.  The Jews say Jesus claims to be a king, Jesus affirms that, and Pilate says I see nothing here.  So he sends him to Herod, ruler of Galilee.  Herod asks Jesus questions, but he won’t answer (vs. 9), so he mocks him and sends him back to Pilate.  Pilate tries three times (vss. 15,20,22) to tell the Sanhedrin that Jesus has done nothing deserving of death, but they won’t hear of it.  In fact, they stir up the crowd that has been gathering to demand Jesus be crucified.  Finally, Pilate gives in and surrenders Jesus to their will.

What a travesty of justice!  What a circus!  The Sanhedrin reveal themselves to be ruthless protectors of their power; Pilate and Herod reveal themselves to be pathetic excuses for rulers; and the crowd reveals itself to be easily manipulated by the Sanhedrin.  Once again, only Jesus stands out: the spotless Lamb of God, the promised Messiah, the true son of David, the suffering Servant.  

But one more has delivered up Jesus to be crucified: the Father.  As Peter reminds the Jews on Pentecost, “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.” (Acts 2:23).  O the depth of love, mercy, wisdom, and grace!  Behold the love of God for sinners!  What wondrous love is this!  Bow down before him in grateful adoration.

Guilty, vile, and helpless, we;
Spotless Lamb of God was he;
Full atonement!  Can it be?
Hallelujah!  What a Savior! (Philip Bliss)


Mark 15:25-34,37-39
 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him.  The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.  They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left.  Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days,  come down from the cross and save yourself!”  In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!  Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.  And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Brothers and sisters, let us remove our shoes; we stand here on holy ground.  What can we say about the greatest travesty of justice in the history of the world, which is also the greatest demonstration of the love of God in human history?  How can we bear to see our Savior despised and rejected by men, stricken and smitten by God, pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, and cut off from the land of the living?  We marvel with Charles Wesley, “ ’Tis mystery all!  The immortal dies; who can explore his strange design?”  “Amazing love!  How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?”

Please do not be among the mockers, the insulters, the deniers, the unbelievers.  I pray that you would say with the centurion—with full heart and in full assurance of faith—surely this man was the Son of God!  Worship him.  Give your life to the one who has given his life for you.  Praise the Savior, now and ever!

Upon the cross of Jesus
mine eye at times can see
the very dying form of One
who suffered there for me:
and from my stricken heart with tears
two wonders I confess,
the wonders of redeeming love
and my unworthiness. (Elizabeth Clephane)

What language shall I borrow
to thank thee, dearest Friend,
for this, thy dying sorrow,
thy pity without end?
Oh, make me thine forever,
and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
outlive my love to thee. (Bernard of Clairvaux)

Father, Forgive Them

Luke 23:32-34
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left.  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

Matthew 5:43-45
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Isaiah 53:12
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

We now begin to consider the seven words that Jesus spoke while on the cross.  He begins by asking the Father to forgive his persecutors and tormentors, his crucifiers.  In the midst of his physical agony and humiliation, he actually prays out loud for their forgiveness.  Incredible!  Notice, first, that Jesus is not excusing them for their sin; they are still responsible and guilty.  But, they truly do not understand that they are not crucifying a mere man but the eternal Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah.

Second, Jesus is exemplifying exactly what he told others to do: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.  Jesus didn’t just talk the talk: he walked the walk.  Third, see how Jesus fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, how on the cross he is making intercession for the transgressors, praying on their behalf to the Father for forgiveness.  How could the Father possibly forgive these vile crucifiers?  Because Jesus is bearing the sins of many - the guilty, vile, and helpless.

Jesus could pray this prayer because he was taking the place of sinners.  God could answer this prayer because he was punishing his beloved Son in the place of sinners.  If by grace you are a believer in Jesus, God has answered this prayer for you.  If you are not trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, come to him today in repentance and faith.  “If you are seeking any encouragement to repent and believe in Christ, this prayer provides it.” (James Montgomery Boice)  Fall on your knees in praise and worship of the forgiving Father and the suffering Son.

Who was the guilty who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee.
'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee:
I crucified thee.  (Johann Heermann)

With Me in Paradise--Today

Luke 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

John 14:3
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.

Revelation 2:7
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Two criminals flank Jesus, hanging on crosses of their own.  The one asks Jesus to save himself and them, despite his earlier insulting of Jesus (Matthew 27:44), but he was only asking for escape, not pardon.  The second acknowledges his guilt, accepts his punishment, repents, puts his trust in Jesus, and asks Jesus to remember him.  Here literally at the cross of Jesus we see the two responses that mankind can make to him.

See the immediate and gracious response of the Savior.  I’ll do more than remember you; I’ll take you with me.  And not just someday in the future; you will be with me now.  This incident shows us how a man in the closing hours of his life on earth, without the ability to do anything to serve God, can repent and receive forgiveness from him.  It reminds us that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.  Oh, the marvelous grace of our loving Lord!

And let’s be clear about the best part of what Jesus offers.  “What Jesus offers is better than paradise.  He offers intimacy with himself.  ‘Today you will be with me,’ Jesus said.  Being with Jesus is what makes paradise paradise.” (Philip Graham Ryken)  I pray that all those who read these words have received and are resting upon Jesus alone for salvation.  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away:
Wash all my sins away,
Wash all my sins away;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away. (William Cowper)

Week 6

Here is Your Son, Your Mother

John 19:25-27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,”  and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Luke 2:34-35
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against,  so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Although all Jesus’ disciples abandoned him at the time of his arrest, by the time of his crucifixion some of his followers had returned, along with his mother and some of the women who had supported Jesus’ ministry financially (Luke 8:1-3).  This same group of women would be the first to arrive at Jesus’ tomb, and thus the first to witness his resurrection (Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10).  But as wonderful as that blessing from God was, and as praiseworthy and admirable as their devotion to Jesus was, the focus at the cross must be on Jesus.

As Jesus hangs on the cross, he sees his mother anxiously watching him.  Even now, even yet, does she hope that Jesus will save himself and come down from the cross?  She has seen him do many incredible miracles; couldn’t he do one more?  But as Jesus looks at her, he addresses her as “woman” (still a sign of respect), not “mother.”  And he tells her that the disciple he loves (John) will now be her son.  Mary now knows that Jesus is taking his leave of her, and the sword that Simeon spoke of now pierces her heart.

But this is more than just a son taking care of his mother.  “The suffering of Jesus in seeing Mary suffer, and especially his wonderful love—a Savior’s concern for one of his own, far more than a son’s concern for his mother—these are the things on which the emphasis should be placed” (William Hendriksen).  Jesus is far more than a son to Mary; he is her King and Savior and Lord.  And even in his agony on the cross, he makes provision for her.

“If Mary needed to stand as a sinner at the cross, then you need to stand as a sinner at the cross.  If Mary needed Jesus to die for her sins, then you need Jesus to die for your sins” (Philip Graham Ryken). Sinner, here is your Savior.  Believe in him, trust him, worship him, and serve him.  He will never let you go.

My faith would lay her hand 
on that dear head of thine,
While like a penitent I stand,
and there confess my sin. (Isaac Watts)

Why Have You Forsaken Me?

Matthew 27:45-46
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.  About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).  

Psalm 22:1, 14-15
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.  

In the middle of the day, darkness descends upon the land, as the curse for sin is laid upon Jesus (Galatians 3:13), as the Lord lays our iniquities on him (Isaiah 53:6).  “If you want to know what God really thinks about sin and what he intends to do about it, look at Jesus, rejected on the cross and listen to Jesus, forsaken on the cross.” (Philip Graham Ryken)  Is it any wonder that Jesus previously asked the Father that he might not have to drink this cup?  Hearing this cry of Jesus, can we not hear the immensity, depth, and guilt of sin?  As Jesus’ heart was torn by the Father forsaking him, the Father’s heart was torn by having to forsake his Son on behalf of sinners.

This is the only time that Jesus addresses the Father as “God” rather than “Father”.  Is he already feeling, sensing, experiencing separation from the Father?  In this most anguished cry of pain, a pain none of us will or could ever know, how can we even begin to understand what is happening here?  “Here we are the spectators of a wonder, the praise and glory of which eternity will not exhaust.  It is the Lord of glory, the Son of God incarnate, the God-man, drinking the cup given him by the eternal Father, the cup of woe and of indescribable agony.  We almost hesitate to say so.  But it must be said.  It is God in our nature forsaken of God.” (John Murray)

The Father did not spare even his own beloved Son.  But because Jesus was forsaken by the Father for our sin, we will never be forsaken by the Father.  How great is the love the Father and the Son have for sinners!  Let us bow down and worship them with hearts overflowing with love and gratitude!

Well might the sun in darkness hide
And shut His glories in
When Christ, the mighty Maker, died
For man, the creature's sin (Isaac Watts)

Hark, that cry that peals aloud
Upward thro' the whelming cloud!
Thou, the Father's only Son,
Thou, his own Anointed One,
Thou dost ask him--can it be?
"Why hast thou forsaken me?" (John Ellerton)

I Am Thirsty

John 19:28-29
Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

Psalm 22:15
My mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.

Psalm 69:21
They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

Jesus’ time on the cross was now coming to an end, but he had three statements yet to utter.  And as the Scripture above tells us, he knew it was almost over.  And yet, he would continue to fulfill the prophecies of Scripture, just as he had throughout his entire life on earth.  Someone has counted 332 distinct Old Testament prophecies that Jesus fulfilled.  And Jesus knew he was fulfilling every one.

Jesus was thirsty.  And please understand that he did not say this simply so that he would be offered wine vinegar and thus fulfill prophecy: he was really thirsty!  He was truly human, and he experienced to the full the incredible thirst of a dying man.  See how completely he entered into our humanity.  The wine offered to him was a sour wine used by the soldiers to quench their thirst; it was not the wine mixed with myrrh he had previously refused as a sedative (Mark 15:23).  Imagine yourself being thirstier than you have ever been, and being given sour wine to drink.  Blech!  Water would have been so much better,

And notice how the sponge was lifted to his lips.  They used a hyssop plant; this was the same plant that was used to sprinkle blood on the doorposts at the first Passover (Exodus 12:22) so that the angel of death would pass over that house.  Jesus tasted death on our behalf; Jesus is the true Passover lamb.  Jesus was “willing to suffer burning thirst in order that for his people he might be the everlasting fountain of living water.” (William Hendriksen)  As Jesus had earlier said to the Jews, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

Have you tasted that soul-refreshing stream?  Has your deepest thirst been quenched by the Savior?  Come to Jesus today, drink, and live!

 I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water, thirsty one;
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him. (Horatius Bonar)

It Is Finished

John 19:30
When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 10:17-18
The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Hebrews 10:12-14
But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.  For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

One short verse, three brief words (in the original Greek, one word), but what a wealth of meaning they contain!  Notice first that Jesus gives up his spirit; he lays down his life; it is not taken from him, as he had previously told the Jews.  And don’t miss that Jesus said he would not only lay down his life but would also take it up again, a strong hint of his resurrection still to come.

Also, Jesus’ cry wasn’t something like, whew, glad this is over.  “When Jesus said, ‘It is finished,’ he was not uttering a sigh of relief or a moan of resignation.  Jesus was announcing and proclaiming victory.” (Philip Graham Ryken)  Yes, Jesus knew that his burial, resurrection, and ascension had yet to occur, but they would happen, as surely as his incarnation, life on earth, and shortly his death had occurred.  But he had finished paying the price for sin; he had offered full redemption.

The word that Jesus uttered was used to indicate that a debt had been paid in full, that no further payment was sought or necessary.  As the writer of Hebrews reminds us, that one sacrifice for sin makes perfect forever all those whom Jesus saves.  If we try to add any human effort or accomplishment to Jesus’ sacrifice, “we have polluted the river whose streams whereof make glad the city of God.  And the gravest perversion that it entails is that it robs the Redeemer of the glory of his once-for-all accomplishment.” (John Murray)  Jesus paid it all.  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

Have you received the complete sacrifice for sin that Jesus made, and are you resting in him alone for salvation?  Cease your efforts to save yourself, and with joy and gladness hear the dying Savior’s cry: It is finished!

"It is finished!" O what pleasure
do these precious words afford;
heav'nly blessings, without measure,
flow to us from Christ the Lord:
"It is finished!
It is finished!
It is finished!"
Saints the dying words record;
saints the dying words record. (Jonathan Evans)

Into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit

Luke 23:44-46
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon,  for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Psalm 31:5
Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

“Well might the sun in darkness hide, and shut his glories in, when Christ, the mighty Maker, died for man the creature’s sin.” (Isaac Watts)  God blots out the sun so that the focus may be on the Son.  As Jesus pays the price for sin God calls us out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Peter 2:9).

As Jesus dies, the curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place is torn in two.  Matthew and Mark mention that it was torn from top to bottom, not the way it would normally happen.  Hebrews explains the significance of this event, that the way into the presence of God is now open to all who will come to him through Jesus Christ (Hebrews 6:19-20, 9:11-12, 10:19-20).  The Most Holy Place was entered only once a year, on the day of atonement, and only by the high priest.  But now anyone who believes in Christ came come directly into God’s presence.

Even as Jesus speaks his dying words he quotes and fulfills Scripture.   He adds the word “Father”, showing the intimate and loving relationship they have.  And he commits his spirit, his human and divine spirit, to the Father.  His spirit will return to the Father’s presence, to await the resurrection of his body from the grave.  There is no conflict between the Father and the Son in the work of redemption; they are united with the Holy Spirit in the work of salvation.  “It was as Jesus’ Father that God sent his Son into the world to die, and it is as Jesus’ Father that God was waiting at the end to receive him back joyously into heaven.” (James Montgomery Boice)  And so, for the joy set before him, Jesus endures the cross (Hebrews 12:2), and now breathes his last.

Brothers and sisters, let us bow our heads.  Let us worship our Lord, who loved us to the uttermost.  Let us commit ourselves into his loving hands.

Seven times He spake seven words of love;
And all three hours His silence cried
For mercy on the souls of men:
Jesus, our Lord, is crucified! (Frederick W. Faber)

Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly
Here its guilt may estimate
Mark the sacrifice appointed
See who bears the awful load
'Tis the Word, the Lord's Anointed
Son of Man and Son of God. (Thomas Kelly)

The Necessity of the Cross

Acts 2:22-23
Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.  This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  

Luke 24:25-26
 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?”  

Hebrews 9:22
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.  

Why did Jesus have to die?  Wasn’t there some other way for him to rescue God’s children?  Couldn’t God come up with another way to save sinners?  Couldn’t he just somehow wave away our sin?  Did he have to make his son suffer so much?  Perhaps you have asked these questions, or maybe your children have asked you these questions.  How then do we answer such questions?

The cross was necessary to fulfill God’s eternal plan.  In Peter’s Pentecost sermon he stated that it was not just the wickedness of men that delivered Jesus to the cross: it was “God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge”.  God used those wicked men to carry out his plan of redemption.  Jesus chided the two travelers on the road to Emmaus for not understanding how the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would have to suffer death on behalf of his people.  

But why?  Why was that God’s plan?  Very simply, because God, out of his infinite mercy, out of his “mere good pleasure”, decided to save sinners.  He was under no obligation to do that, but he did.  “In a word, while it was not inherently necessary for God to save, yet, since salvation had been purposed, it was necessary to secure this salvation through a satisfaction that could be rendered only through substitutionary sacrifice and blood-bought redemption.” (John Murray)

Sin is an offense against a holy God.  The cross was necessary to pay for sin.  As Hebrews reminds us, there is no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.  And that blood has to be of infinite worth, the blood of the God-man Jesus (I Peter 1:18-19).  “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.” (John Owen)  Brothers and sisters, the cross was necessary to save you.  Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?  I pray that you do, and that you will praise him for all eternity for his sacrificial love for you.

There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin;
he only could unlock the gate
of heav'n, and let us in. (Cecil Frances Alexander)

Week 7

The Offense of the Cross

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 13:11-13
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.

The cross has become such a familiar symbol that I wonder if we forget what it means.  So many people wear a cross around their neck; you see it on athletes all the time.  Has the cross become merely a fashion accessory?  How often as believers, do we see a cross, or sing about the cross, and don’t give it a second thought?  We need to be reminded how offensive the cross was.

To the Romans, death by crucifixion was the most horrific and degrading form of capital punishment.  It was also an incredibly painful way to die.  They reserved this form of punishment for the lowest and the vilest of criminals.  It was such an offensive way to die that they forbid that any Roman citizen be crucified.  So for Christians, to worship a crucified man was just unthinkable to the Romans.

But to the Jews, crucifixion was even more detestable, if that is possible.  A man who was punished by death on a cross was said to be cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).  Those verses speak of a man hanging on a tree, which is why the New Testament writers often use the word “tree” instead of “cross” when talking about Christ’s death (Acts 5:30, 10:39, 13:27-29; Galatians 3:13; I Peter 2:24).  Additionally, the crucifixion had to take place outside the city walls, it was so offensive, so for Jewish believers to worship a man who was hung on a tree was abominable to the Jews as well.

“The cross was an abomination to the Romans and a curse to the Jews.  To this day it remains offensive to everyone who thinks he or she is a good person” (Philip Graham Ryken).  The cross says you are a sinner, and you cannot save yourself; it says you need a Savior, the Savior, the one who “endured the cross, scorning its shame” on your behalf.  Confess your sin and helplessness to him.  Bow down before him in repentance and faith.

My soul looks back to see
the burdens thou didst bear,
when hanging on the cursed tree,
and knows her guilt was there. (Isaac Watts)

The Peace of the Cross

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

Ephesians 2:14-16
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

Isaiah 53:5
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

If you look at the cross, see the entire scene, perhaps one of the last words that comes to your mind is “peace”.  There is such agony and hatred and scorn present there.  And yet, the Scriptures tell us that the cross was the greatest instrument of peace in the history of the world.  And that peace is not simply a cessation of hostilities but true reconciliation.

Peace was necessary because sin had separated us from God, had alienated us from God, made us enemies of God.  There was only one place to look for peace.  “I look at the cross of Christ.  There I see that sin is so black and damnable, that nothing but the blood of God’s own Son can wash it away.  There I see that sin has so separated me from my holy Maker, that all the angels in heaven could never have made peace between us.  Nothing could reconcile us, short of the death of Christ.” (J.C. Ryle)

Because Jesus paid the penalty for sin, because he satisfied the just demands of a holy God, because his perfect righteousness is applied to sinners, we are reconciled to God, and have peace with him.  And, even more, we have peace with others who have trusted in the Savior.  How can enemies be reconciled?  “Only then when sinners have been reconciled to God through the cross will they be truly reconciled to each other.” (William Hendriksen)  

Have you received the peace that only Christ can bring?  Then praise him for his incredible mercy and love.  Have you been reconciled to God?  Then remember that you are reconciled to other believers, and love and rejoice with them.  May the peace of God and the ministry of reconciliation (II Corinthians 5:18-20) flow from us to others.

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin?
The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed?
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest. (Edward H. Bickersteth)

The Power of the Cross

I Corinthians 1:18
 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 

 Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.  

I Corinthians 1:22-24
Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

On a cross hangs a dying man, stripped of his clothes and his dignity, mocked by onlookers, bleeding and barely able to speak, forsaken for a time by God himself.  Yet this is the most powerful man in human history.  How is this possible?  The Jews believed a man hung on a tree was cursed by God.  The Greeks believed a man crucified was so contemptible they could barely mention it in polite conversation.  And yet, through the folly of preaching Christ crucified, God is pleased to save sinners (I Corinthians 1:21).

The power of the cross is the power of love.  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)  God loves his fallen, rebellious, ungrateful creation so much that he gives his own Son for its redemption.  See how much the Son loves his people, that he would suffer so on their behalf!  “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?” (Isaac Watts)

The power of the cross is the power of forgiveness.  God forgives the sin of guilty, helpless sinners, only because his Son has taken their place and received their punishment, and his righteousness has been placed upon them.  The cross is not limited in its power; none, none are beyond its reach.  “I feel sure that there is a way to heaven for the very vilest of men, when I look at the cross.” (J.C. Ryle)

The power of the cross is the power of salvation.  “’The word of the cross’ has power to raise the sinner from spiritual death and to provide newness of life.” (Simon J. Kistemaker)  The cross has resurrection power, not just in the future, but now, to everyone who believes.

Do you know that resurrection power?  “The mere knowing Christ’s name will never save you.  You must know His cross, and His blood, or else you will die in your sins.” (J.C. Ryle)  Come to the Savior, and experience his power to save!

Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow'r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more:
Be saved, to sin no more,
Be saved, to sin no more;
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved to sin no more. (William Cowper)

The Triumph of the Cross

Colossians 2:13-15
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,  having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

John 19:19
Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews

Hebrews 2:14-15
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.   

There is one aspect to the crucifixion of Jesus that does not get a lot of attention, but we ought not to miss it.  Pilate had a notice nailed to the cross which proclaimed Jesus as king of the Jews.  The chief priests wanted it taken down, but Pilate refused.  This notice wasn’t Pilate’s way of mocking the chief priests, or his acknowledgment of what Jesus had said; it was to indicate the specific crime of the person hanging there on the cross.

Paul takes up this image when he says that God also nailed something to the cross.  God nailed the charge of our legal indebtedness, the guilt of our sins, the record of our lawbreaking, to the cross.  As we saw last week, it is finished; it is canceled; it is paid in full.  “This is the triumph of the cross.  God canceled the entire debt of our sin by nailing it to the cross.  He forgave all our sins when Jesus died on the cross.” (Philip Graham Ryken)  O marvelous Savior!  O loving Father!

The second image that Paul uses is that of a victorious Roman conqueror parading his captives through the streets for all to see and rejoice in his victory.  By his death on the cross Jesus decisively defeated the devil and all his hosts.  “It was that triumph alone that released believers from the bondage of fear and inspired the confidence and composure of faith.” (John Murray)  “The cross was God’s victory parade.” (Ryken)  Hallelujah!  We are free!  Hallelujah!  What a Savior!

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
—my sin, not in part, but the whole,
is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more;
praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul! (Horatio G. Spafford)

O love of God! O sin of man!
In this dread act your strength is tried;
And victory remains with love:
Jesus, our Lord, is crucified! (Frederick W. Faber)

The Boast of the Cross

Galatians 6:14
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  

Philippians 3:7-8
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.  

No one likes a boaster.  No one enjoys someone who is always boasting about something he has or does.  Paul opposed those who boasted in their circumcision and in their keeping of the law.  He said that if anyone could boast in their religious observance, it was he (Philippians 3:4-6).  But he considered all that to be garbage (literally, dung).  He would only boast in Christ, in the cross of Christ.

Why?  Why would Paul boast in what others considered to be a shameful, disgusting, degrading manner of death?  Because Paul saw that the cross of Jesus Christ was 1) the mirror of God’s attributes, his love, mercy, grace, power, and wisdom; 2) the means of the redemption of sinners; 3) the magnet by which God would draw people from every language and nation to Christ.  (William Hendriksen)  

We can boast in the cross of Christ because it means the death of sin, the defeat of the devil, the purchase of a people for God’s own possession, and the death of death itself.  We can boast in the cross because the death of Jesus means the life of all his ransomed people.  As today we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, let us boast in the sacrifice of our beloved Savior on the cross.

The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food;
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good. (T.S. Eliot)

“I lay these thoughts before your mind.  What you think now about the cross of Christ, I cannot tell.  But I can wish you nothing better than this,—that you may be able to say with the Apostle Paul, before you die or meet the Lord, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’.”  (J.C. Ryle)

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
save in the death of Christ, my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood. (Isaac Watts)

Jesus, keep me near the cross,
There a precious fountain;
Free to all, a healing stream,
Flows from Calv'ry's mountain.

In the cross, in the cross
Be my glory ever,
Till my ransomed soul shall find
Rest beyond the river. (Fanny J. Crosby)


John 19:38-42
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.  He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.  Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs.  At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.  Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.  

Isaiah 53:9
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.   

Early in these devotionals, we looked at Christ’s time after death; we will now briefly look again at his burial.  Joseph was a rich man (Matthew 27:57) and a member of the Sanhedrin (Luke 23:50).  Yet now he boldly asks for the body of Jesus, probably knowing that the rest of the Sanhedrin would find out what he had done.  Nicodemus, another member of the Sanhedrin (John 3:1, 7:50), helps Joseph retrieve Jesus’ body and prepare it for burial.  Notice that Nicodemus brings a large quantity of myrrh, and recall that Mary had earlier anointed Jesus with something similar to myrrh (John 12:3), and the magi had presented Jesus with the gift of myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

Joseph placed the body in his own tomb (Matthew 27:60), a tomb which had not seen any decay (see Psalm 16:10).  Thus Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled, that although Jesus was judged to be a wicked man, he was buried in the grave of a rich man.  See how lovingly Joseph and Nicodemus cared for their Lord even after his death!  Luke tells us that some of the women followed them, and also prepared spices and ointments for Jesus’ body (Luke 23:55-56), loving him even until (so they thought) the end.

But what of us?  What does the burial of Jesus mean for us?  “The burial of Jesus was a necessary element in his humiliation.  By means of it he sanctified the grave for all his followers.” (William Hendriksen)  Yes, brothers and sisters, as we have been united to Christ in his death we will surely be united to him in his resurrection (Romans 6:4).  The Saturday of sorrow will yield to the Sunday of jubilation.  “We are more sure to arise out of our graves than out of our beds.” (Thomas Watson)  Come blessed morn of resurrection!!!

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior,
Waiting the coming day, Jesus my Lord!

Vainly they watch his bed, Jesus my Savior,
Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus my Lord! (Robert Lowry)

Copyright © 2024 Steven Hoogerhyde
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, NIV Copyright © 1973, 1978,1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.