Holy Saturday, April 4, 2015

Mark 15:22-39 (ESV)

22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross!” 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him.

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”

In 1738, Charles Wesley wrote a hymn entitled And Can It Be? May God grant each of us similar awe and wonder.

And can it be that I should gain
An int’rest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain?
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! how can it be
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all! The 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.
’Tis mercy all! let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.

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.
’Tis mercy all, immense and free;
For, O my God, it found out me.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness Divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

Maundy Thursday, April 2, 2015

Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

How appropriate that this is the reading for Maundy Thursday, the day Jesus shared the Last Supper with his disciples knowing what lay ahead of him. Jesus gives us a model of servanthood by washing the disciples feet just before the Passover meal. The washing of feet was done only by the lowest servant who washed away the grime of the city streets from a guest’s feet.

But Jesus is not just setting an example of servanthood and humility: this act signifies the washing away of sins through his upcoming death on the cross. As we celebrate this day that communion was instituted, let us be reminded that Jesus gave up his position in Heaven beside God, emptied himself and became a servant to all mankind through his willingness to die on the cross so that we might be saved.

That indeed is something to be grasped! Oh how we look forward to the day when every knee will bow to Jesus not only on earth, but also in Heaven and under the earth; and when every tongue will declare that Jesus Christ is Lord of all!

Father in heaven,
your son humbled himself by leaving his heavenly throne to take on our human nature and to become a servant to all through his death on the cross. Help us to remember the example Jesus set for us his last night on earth that even though he was God in flesh, he was willing to serve. Help us as Jesus’ followers to be servants and willing to serve in ways that will glorify our Father God and point people to the Lord of all. Amen

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Isaiah 50:4-9a (ESV)

4 The Lord God has given me
the tongue of those who are taught,
that I may know how to sustain with a word
him who is weary.
Morning by morning he awakens;
he awakens my ear
to hear as those who are taught.
5 The Lord God has opened my ear,
and I was not rebellious;
I turned not backward.
6 I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face
from disgrace and spitting.
7 But the Lord God helps me;
therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like a flint,
and I know that I shall not be put to shame.
8 He who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
Let us stand up together.
Who is my adversary?
Let him come near to me.
9 Behold, the Lord God helps me;
who will declare me guilty?

The prophet Isaiah provides a picture of our Lord and Savior as a humble, suffering servant, one who was not rebellious but submitted Himself to the will of God, giving His back to those who strike, and His cheeks to those who pull out the beard. He did not hide His face from disgrace and spitting.

The very people He came to save would torture Him, and crucify Him; and He endured it all because He loves us. He was not guilty of any sin. Yet He bore the wrath of God for our sin, on our behalf, once and for all—for all sinners and for all sin. No exceptions.

When the soldiers were striking Jesus, spitting on Him and mocking Him, He did not lash out or defend Himself. Rather, He endured the pain and the disgrace for you, His dear child, knowing that you would be redeemed by His humble submission to God’s will. He knew that one day He would stand before Almighty God and present you as pure and holy, blameless and innocent, a child of God without blemish or stain.

And that is all that mattered to Him.

If you were the only sinner in the world, Jesus would have died on the cross to save you, and you alone. That is the promise we have in Jesus. That is the joy of His salvation. That is the fullness of His love, and the extent of His mercy and grace.

I confess to You, gracious Father, that I have sinned. Cover me with the blood of Christ, forgive my sin, that I may worship You in all Your majesty, now and forevermore.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Psalm 31:9-16 (ESV)

9 Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my eye is wasted from grief;
my soul and my body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow,
and my years with sighing;
my strength fails because of my iniquity,
and my bones waste away.
11 Because of all my adversaries I have become a reproach,
especially to my neighbors,
and an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have been forgotten like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror on every side!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O Lord;
I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand;
rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant;
save me in your steadfast love!

My times are in your hand.

I am mistaken to ever think myself abandoned and unaided.

“Our God sits not still as a listless spectator of our griefs, suffering us to be drifted like waifs upon the waters of circumstance,” Charles Spurgeon observed in a sermon preached more than a century ago.

How could He? The very hands in question were nailed to the Cross for my redemption.

Taken in hand, resting presently near the divine heart, Spurgeon assured his English congregants that God Himself ever “leads us that He may bring us home to the place where His flock shall rest forever.”

Evil’s terrifying yet doomed offensive is launched, in the end, not against my feeble resistance but against nothing less than the power of God’s grace.

O thou who hearest when sinners cry
Though all my crimes before thee lie.
Behold them not with angry look.
But blot their memory from thy book.
Amen.
(–from Isaac Watt’s paraphrase of Psalm 51)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mark 11:1-11 (ESV)

1 Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, “Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’” 4 And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it. 5 And some of those standing there said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” 6 And they told them what Jesus had said, and they let them go. 7 And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. 8 And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. 9 And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! 10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!”

11 And he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple. And when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

How do you react when Jesus sends someone in need to you? We all lead busy lives; few, if any of us, are waiting for someone to appear who wants something from us. Yet, who in your life doesn’t want something from you?

Let’s assume God is in control of everything. Among other things, this would mean that all of the people who have been a part of your life have played their part for a reason. And some of them—even if you won’t allow that all of them—have wanted something from you. This would mean that God has sent some (if not all) people into your life with needs that he wants you to meet.

So, how do you react?

If you are like me, often you react in a less than generous way. And, if you are like me, and in this I hope you are not, you sometimes are stingy with what you have when others express a need for it. After all, it’s “mine.”

Let’s assume that God is not only in control of everything, but that he made everything. That would mean that everything really belongs to God, and that nothing is “mine” (or “yours”).

If you are like me, this is a very hard thing to accept, for I have listened to voices all of my life that say “mine!”

But now, as our Lent closes, let’s consider that Jesus sends people with needs into our lives so that we may give them what they need to see him and proclaim “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Lord Jesus, blessed be Your Holy Name! Take and use whatever you have given me to enable others to proclaim you are the Christ, the Son of God. Amen.

Palm Sunday, March 29, 2015

:19-29 (ESV)

19 Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
20 This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the Lord’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O Lord!
O Lord, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
27 The Lord is God,
and he has made his light to shine upon us.
Bind the festal sacrifice with cords,
up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. (Psalm 118:22)

The Jewish leaders rejected him. The Roman prefect washed his hands of him. The crowd chose Barabbas instead of him. His closest followers abandoned him. In the end, Jesus was alone.

Not only did the psalmist foresee this, so too did the prophet Isaiah.

“…he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:2-3)

It had to be that way. Only Jesus could walk this walk. The journey to and though the cross would be solitary. One and only one could pay for the sins of many.

However, rejection, loneliness and sorrow paved the way for something else. The sacrificial, substitutionary death of Jesus formed a foundation, a cornerstone for something strong, something eternal. He said, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

On what foundation do we build our lives? It is the most important question we can ask. There are only two answers: either we build our lives on Jesus, or we don’t.

And the outcome for those who don’t is catastrophic. Jesus said, “… everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:26-27)

Lord Jesus, I choose to build my life on your solid foundation. Amen.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

John 12:27-33 (ESV)

27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

Consider the last two verses. Here, the Good News was delivered in Christ’s final teaching at the Temple on the day before Passover. On that day in Jerusalem, the conclusion of Jesus’ public ministry links expiation to crucifixion.

The fix is in for unrighteousness, nonalignment with God. Ditto satanic dominion over this world, for the clock is now ticking for evil’s power, the power of the Prince of this world, derived de facto from man’s incapacity to overcome sin.

The Cross, lifting up our Lord from the earth, will defeat the moral defect of our sins. Overcoming the hopelessness of rebellion against God, the Cross offers to all humankind redemption and restoration to the Creator. As has been famously observed, Jesus bridges the gulf between heaven and earth with three nails and two pieces of wood.

“Here is the power to expiate our sins, and not only ours, but also those of the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The sacrifice Of Christ makes pure what was hitherto unholy: us. It is an expiation of our sins, a restorative cleansing in which the spotless Lamb of God makes amends for our living without righteousness before the All-Holy.

Now, in his ascension to glory, does Christ have any role to play in our salvation before the sheep and the goats are to be eternally divided?

“Christ did not enter into the Most Holy Place made by humans, which is only a copy of the real one. He went up into heaven itself, and is there now to help us.” (Hebrews 9:24) The work our Lord in expiation of our sins continues in the place of sacrifice yonder, at the altar not made with human hands. There, in the place where “he ever liveth to make intercession for them”(Hebrews 7:25), Jesus wordlessly intercedes on our behalf with the Father.

How does that work? The faithful here below are only seen through the showing forth of his precious blood once offered on Calvary’s tree. Heaven sees us only in Jesus, not naked and alone.

O Father, who for our redemption didst give thine only-begotten Son to the death of the Cross, and by his glorious Resurrection hast delivered us from the power of our enemy: grant us so to daily die from sin, that we may ever more live with him in the joy of his Resurrection. Amen.

Friday, March 27, 2015

John 12:20-26 (ESV)

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. 21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

Jesus here refers to his death not as something in the distant future, but as imminent. He, like the grain of wheat, must die in order to bring life.

While Jesus first refers to himself, he also refers to his disciples and followers. They, too, must die to themselves in order to serve and follow Him. We are to delight in the Lord more than life in this world. Following Christ is about self-sacrifice, following the example the Christ has shown us at the cross.

With Easter drawing near, is this something we have fully considered? Have we committed ourselves to following Christ while simultaneously holding onto our worldly lives? Or have we died to those lives in order to fully serve and follow Christ?

Heavenly Father, I pray that I glorify you in all I do. I want to honor you with my life fully, and die to my former self and truly devote my life to following you and serving you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Psalm 51:7-13 (ESV)

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have broken rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you.

The hyssop plant was used by the Israelites to sprinkle blood on the doorframes of their homes at the first Passover (Exodus 12:21-23). Hyssop was also used to sprinkle blood in cleansing and consecration ceremonies. Indeed under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).

David understood the truth of the matter: sin separates us from God and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. In appealing to God to purge him with hyssop, David is asking Him to cover his sin in the blood of the sacrificial lamb, that he would be restored to a right relationship with God. His psalm serves as a beautiful expression of repentance, a changed heart looking to turn away from sin and live to the glory of the Father.

Our sacrificial Lamb is Jesus. He alone can cleanse us from our sin and blot out our iniquities. We are all sinners; there is no secret in that. And our God is merciful, forgiving and loving. There is no secret in that either.

So come before Him and lay your sin at the foot of the cross; turn away from your sin and turn toward Jesus. Receive your forgiveness; He is waiting for you. He will restore to you the joy of His salvation and will uphold you with His righteous right hand. He is the Lord of our salvation; in Him we hope all the day long.

Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean. Create in me a clean heart, O God and renew a right spirit within me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me Your peace.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Psalm 51:1-6 (ESV)

1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!

3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

The Psalm has a rich liturgical history. Medieval England observed Ash Wednesday with the recitation of it (along with the 6 other penitential Psalms) to mark the beginning of Lent. Psalm 51 was retained in the Ash Wednesday service of the 1549 Anglican Prayer Book, as were prayers concerning the imposition of ashes from the English variant of the Roman Rite.

Psalm 51 was recited daily for 1300 years in monastic chapels. The devotional quality of the Psalm finds resonance over the centuries in public rites and worship because of the private uses to which it has been put.

Cassiodorus in sixth-century Spain argued that instead of wallowing in their sins, believers should put the message of the Psalms into effect and become good penitents. To make a break with past sins, he argued, one must find words with which the pain of guilty shame can be expressed. That’s hard for us to accomplish because we are all steeped in our sins. In turning to the Psalms– reading them or hearing them read–we can trigger the inner work needed for contrition after achieving the acknowledgement of doing what is wrong. Cassiodorus singled out Psalm 51 in particular as having the profundity to almost miraculously move us to introspection and sorrow over our separation from God.

Other fathers of the early church found in David a perfect model for penitents because his words and actions provide a unified language for the disparate moral sentiments of the entire Christian community. In touching on the power of Psalm 51, St. Augustine admonished his congregation that:

Nathan the prophet has not been sent to you. David has been sent to you. Hear him clamoring, and likewise clamor; hear him moaning, and moan with him; hear him weeping, and add your tears; hear he is corrected, and share in his delight.

Merciful Father, who sent thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for salvation through thine only Son Jesus Christ our Lord, give us grace to heed holy cautions presented to us against eternal loss, and teach us through thy Spirit to forsake our sins, that we may with great joy greet thee on our ascension unto the matchless life of glory, heaven itself. Amen.