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First Thoughts Blog

Category Archives: Lent 2020: The People of Passion Week

Lent - Day 42

Day 42  Saturday

JESUS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 28: 16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
 
Luke 24: 36-53
As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate before them.
 
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
 
And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus is really risen. He ate broiled fish before his disciples. One of my favorite images of a real resurrection came through actor Bruce Kuhn. As he recited this episode from Luke, Bruce pretended to pick a fish bone from his teeth. It hit me: this was a real man, risen from the dead. Still Jesus. Of course, he was also transformed, outfitted for an eternal, embodied life, always our brother and advocate.
 
The protagonist of Passion Week has won, against all odds, his great victory. He has withdrawn now until the time of his return to set all things right. So this is the age of the mission of the church. We tell the story of our hero that all might know he is a worthy and sufficient Savior. So all might bend the knee to his kingship. So that all might raise their voice in saving worship as we declare, “Jesus is Lord!” 
 
We live now connected to Jesus by his Spirit that he has sent to dwell in our hearts, to inspire our worship, to grow the fruit of love in our lives and empower our witness. We go forth under the blessing hands and shining face of the ascending, still incarnate Jesus Christ.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

For centuries, this short message by John Chrysostom, has been read every Easter in churches throughout the world. We will make it our final prayer as we anticipate our Easter worship tomorrow.
 
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Savior has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.
He destroyed Hell when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
 
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
“You, O Hell, have been troubled by encountering Him below. ”
Hell was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.
 
Hell took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
 
O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?
 
Christ is Risen, and you, o death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
 
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.
 
To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 41

Day 41  Friday

PETER, PART 4


That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 15-19
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
 

CAST NOTES

After that wonderful breakfast on the beach, Jesus turned his attention directly on Peter. “Do you love me more than these?” I imagine Peter, full of heart, delighted to be asked to express his ardor for Jesus, “You know I love you!” The second questioning, however, might have baffled him. Peter didn’t mind reassuring Jesus. But his affections were never hidden. Of course he loved Jesus. The third inquiry cut Peter to the quick. How could Jesus keep questioning the deepest, truest part of Peter’s very life? What a moment of understanding it must have been when it dawned on Peter. Three times he had denied Jesus. Three times he would be asked to affirm his love to Jesus and before others. These questions were meant for restoration!
 
Years before, as Luke 5 tells us, in the first great catch of fish, Peter had dropped to his knees, ashamed of his sinfulness before Jesus of such holy power. Jesus had assured him of forgiveness by giving him a mission: from now on you will be a fisher of people. Here on the beach Jesus restores Peter by re-missioning him. Feed my sheep! 
 
So, too, we get forgiven and restored, we get opportunity to worship and express our love not just as ends in themselves, but so we can enter the mission Jesus has for us! 
 
With this episode in mind, we can see how personal was Peter’s praise in the first letter we have from him, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1: 3). Indeed, the resurrection turned the dead despair of Peter’s denial into relief so great it made him new and filled him with living hope.
 
Peter’s final benediction in that letter also arises from his profound personal experience, “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen (1 Peter 5: 10-11).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Hold this scene of restoration and re-missioning in mind as you pray aloud Peter’s own words of praise and hope:
 
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! 
According to his great mercy, 
he has caused us to be born again 
into a living hope 
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading,
kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power 
are being guarded through faith for a salvation 
ready to be revealed in the last time.
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved with various trials,
So that the tested genuiness of your faith—
More precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—
May be found to result in praise and glory and honor
At the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Though you have not seen him, you love him.
Thought you do not now see him, you believe in him,
And rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,
Obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 
(1 Peter 1: 3-9)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

 
Imagine the joy Peter had after Jesus reinstated him! Jesus demanded that he declare his love, and Peter, tested to his core, declared his love for Jesus passionately. Jesus told him to go and feed his sheep. Peter would fulfill that command. His sermons in Acts skillfully, ardently proclaim the news about Jesus. 
 
Soren Kierkegaard wrote,
 
As God created man and woman, so too He fashioned the hero and the poet, or orator. The poet cannot do what that other does, he can only admire, love and rejoice in the hero. Yet he too is happy, and not less so, for the hero is as it were his better nature, with which he is in love, rejoicing in the fact that this after all is not himself, that his love can be admiration. He is the genius of recollection, can do nothing except call to mind what has been done. . . . He follows the option of his heart, but when he has found what he sought, he wanders before everyman’s door with his song and with his oration, that all may admire the hero as he does, be proud of the hero as he is (as quoted in Raniero Cantalamessa, Remember Jesus Christ, 2007, p. 77).
 
Peter well knew that he was not the hero of our redemption story. Jesus is the one hero. Peter rejoiced to take the part of troubadour. His two letters as well as his testimony in Acts overflow with admiration for his champion, Jesus.  
 
And so Peter urged all of us to join him as an orator for Christ, whatever the size of audience, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3: 15, NIV).
 
 

 

Lent - Day 40

Day 40  Thursday

DISCIPLES, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 21: 1-14
After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
 
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.
 
When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus was alive. But not always with them. He came and went for those forty days between his resurrection and his ascension. Sometimes he taught them the Scriptures, even ate with them (Acts 1: 3-4). Other times he was gone. They weren’t always sure what to do in between. They had gone to Galilee for a while, as the angel had commanded (Matt. 28: 7). In this episode, a restless Peter decided to do what he knew how to do, what he had done before Jesus called him: fish on the Sea of Galilee (aka the Sea of Tiberias).  
 
It was a night much like the one recorded in Luke 5. They had caught nothing. At dawn, they were near the shore and saw an early riser on shore with a charcoal fire. Déjà vu washed through them as he ordered them to cast the net again. As it filled miraculously with fish, John knew. It was Jesus! Great-hearted, impetuous Peter couldn’t wait for the boat to get there, so he leapt into the sea and swam for Jesus.  
 
There’s a great tenderness in the scene that follows. Breakfast on the beach with Jesus. Ordinary fellowship over a basic meal. Extraordinary spiritual communion with the risen Lord. Loaves and fish, so like the feast in the desert that fed five thousand. Broken bread and knowing Jesus, so like the supper at Emmaus. Word and sacrament. Learning and communing. Jesus alive giving them himself.
 
This is a snapshot of the ordinary Christian life. Week by week, gathered worship over Scripture and the Supper. Day by day, time with Jesus as we read his Word by the illumination of the Holy Spirit and pray to him by the prompting of his Spirit within. Speaking to him of ordinary concerns. Being lifted out of our little story into his big story so that our day to day becomes shot through with greater possibility and deeper meaning. The encounters that inform us over a lifetime.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Imagine this scene of breakfast on the beach with Jesus as you pray (or sing!) the words to this classic hymn by Thomas Chisholm: 
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
 
Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed thy hand hath provided—
Great is thy faithfulness, 
Lord unto me!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 39

Day 39  Wednesday

THOMAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 20: 24-30
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 
 
Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
 

CAST NOTES

We can be thankful for Thomas’ doubts. For he is our man on the scene. Thomas represents all of us who were not there when the risen Jesus appeared. He speaks for us when he voices his concern that these kinds of things just don’t happen. For all of us who feel we missed the one class when the keys to understanding were passed out, Thomas is our man. Others may have been gifted with easy faith, but we have always struggled. We want to know with certainty and there seems little to be had. Go on Thomas, and make your demands for all of us!
 
Curiously, the account does not tell us whether Thomas actually touched Jesus or not. Rather, right after Jesus’ offer, we hear Thomas declare, “My Lord and my God!” (vs. 28). Perhaps he did touch Jesus, or perhaps none of that made any difference. Jesus had come to him in risen glory and offered himself. He exhorted Thomas to put away his doubt and start believing. That was enough for Thomas. Interestingly, the biggest doubter, the last holdout, ended up being the one who made the strongest declaration of who Jesus is in all the Gospels! “My Lord and my God!” This skeptic became the boldest confessor.
 
We all need to turn a sharp eye on the doubts we have. Too often we can let our struggles with unanswerable questions provide cover for us so that we do not have to deal with the Christ who comes and calls us to himself. So we each have to ask, “Would I throw my doubts up even if they were all answered? Or am I ready and waiting for Christ to make himself known to me? Am I anxious to join doubting Thomas as the boldest believer and cry out to Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God,
Forgive my doubts.
All I ever wanted was for you to be alive.
They said you were,
But I missed it. As usual.
I was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Why didn’t you wait til I was there?
I could not release my grief to a dream.
I could not revive hope if you were a fantasy.
How awful that week of waiting was.
They rejoiced; I sulked.
Then there you were!
Inviting me to touch you.
True is the Psalm: 
In your presence is fullness of joy,
In your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
I did not need to touch after all.
All I ever wanted was not enough.
But you overflowed every expectation.
It was you, alive, everlasting, real.
Oh Jesus, my Lord and my God!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

In Thomas, we have a guy who is a big realist, and a big doubter. He demands to verify what the other witnesses saw. And once he did, he gave himself to the truth: Jesus is risen!
 
The mystical reality of faith in Jesus is that the once and for all event of Jesus’ days among us, of his cross and resurrection, can cross time and come into our immediate experience. Time and space are no obstacles.  The witnesses have passed the story from one generation to the next.  Thomas saw, and he told. Others believed and received the truth of the resurrection in their very bones. The Spirit came within them and brought about a sense of Christ’s presence they had never had before. He brought power for changed lives. He brought forgiveness and peace. He brought power to tell others. And they experienced the truth. And they told others, and they told others, and now these words are being passed to you. Jesus is risen! (Gerrit Dawson, April 28, 2019 sermon).
 
 

 

Lent - Day 38

Day 38  Tuesday

CLEOPAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 24: 13-35
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
 
So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther, but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem. And they found the eleven and those who were with them gathered together, saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
 

CAST NOTES

This is the only mention of Cleopas in the Bible. We do not know if he had been following Jesus for a while or if he had just been drawn to him during the events of Passion Week. Either way, Cleopas was both sad and baffled. Like we do after momentous happenings, these men were going over and over what had happened. Jesus played dumb! Just as he did with Mary, in the after-mirth of his return to life, he seemed to enjoy teasing out the revelation of his rising.  
 
For the rest of their walk to Emmaus, Jesus explained how the Scriptures pointed to these exact events that happened to the Christ. Their hearts burned with eagerness and anticipation. They urged Jesus to stay with them in the village. Next, Luke tells the story in a way that we cannot miss the connection with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus took bread, blessed God, broke bread and gave it to them. In this second ever enactment of the sacrament, their eyes were opened. They knew this man was their Lord Jesus.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

The famous French mathematician Blaise Pascal longed for a deeper connection to Christ, something that would bring Jesus from “head” knowledge to “heart” experience. One evening, it happened. He wrote down this experience and kept the paper in his vest pocket where it was found after his death. I invite you to make it your prayer today for a heartfelt realization that Jesus is risen and real.
 
The year of grace 1654,
Monday, 23 November . . . 
From about half-past-ten in the evening until half past midnight
FIRE
‘God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,’
Not of philosophers and scholars,
Certainty, certainty, heartfelt, joy, peace.
God of Jesus Christ.
God of Jesus Christ.
“My God and your God.”
“Thy God shall be my God.”
The world forgotten, and everything except God.
He can only be found by the ways taught in the Gospels.
Greatness of the human soul.
“O righteous Father the world had not known thee, 
But I have known thee.’
Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy. 
I have cut myself off from him.
“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters.”
My God wilt thou forsake me?
Let me be not cut off from him forever!
“And this is life eternal, that they may know thee,
The only true God and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent.”
Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 37

Day 37  Monday

MARY MAGDALENE
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 20: 1a, 11-18
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb…
 
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him, “Rabonni!” (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
 
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.
 

CAST NOTES

Hers is the most poignant of all the resurrection stories. John focusses intently and personally on Mary Magdalene. She had come to the tomb to complete the burial anointing of the body of Jesus. She wanted the chance to hold him one more time. After the horror of Friday, she wanted to see him at peace now.  
 
And so the sight which greeted her was all the more bewildering. The body was gone. Oh, was it not enough to mock him, and then beat him, and finally kill him? Now they had stolen his body as well. Jesus was not allowed to be at rest, and Mary was not allowed the certainty of her grief. This tragedy never ended. They were still doing things to him.
 
Then a strange man inside the cave asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”  She says she just wants to see him. The body, the body would be enough for her, if only they had not taken it.  
 
Then, John tells us, Mary turned around and saw Jesus. She did not recognize him. Oh just tell me where he is and I will go to him!
 
And then came the turning of the tears. Jesus spoke to her one word, “Mary.”
 
“Rabboni! My teacher!” She fell at his feet and held on to him hard. He was alive. How could it be? His voice still sounded in her mind, the voice like no other. “Mary.” She knew. Beyond hope. Beyond belief. And the rains fell again, though now she was weeping for joy. The turning of the tears.
 
We experience the wonder of resurrection when we hear Jesus call our name. It is the great mystery of Christian experience that this unique event in history can become personally accessible to us when we place our full trust in Jesus and open our hearts to him, asking him to call us by name to himself. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I never thought I would hear your voice again.
The sounds of your agony lingered from Friday.
Barely sounding like the man I had known, 
Your cracked voice cried out your agony and faith.
And then with a great cry, you were silent.
There would be no more.
No more stories, no more laughter, no more prayers.
How I yearned to comfort you!
I wanted to climb up that cross and touch your cheek,
Put my face by yours and tell you it would be all right.
Even after as we took you down I wanted to hold you,
I wanted a moment.
But sunset was coming and we had to get you to Joseph’s tomb.
All Sabbath I waited like a caged lioness,
Waiting for first light of the new week.
I wanted that moment. Even in a burial cave.
To smooth your hair, wipe your brow, 
Wrap you tight against the cold of death.
When you weren’t there, I thought I would come undone.
But you! Oh you, you were playing with me!
All risen, you let me wait to see until you called my name.
I’m not angry. Go ahead and tease.
Just say my name! 
I follow when you call. I worship where you are.
I dance where you walk alive. 
My Rabboni. My Jesus again. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 36

 

MEETING THE RISEN JESUS

Week Six

 
Fritz von Uhde. Woman, Why Weepest Thou? 1892.
 
Beyond hope and any expectation, Passion Week ended in triumph. The great reversal occurred when the verdict of “guilty” upon Jesus got reversed by the only true Sovereign Judge. In raising Jesus, the Father vindicated the Son. He answered Pilate’s declaration in presenting a battered and defeated Jesus. Now as the stone popped off the tomb, the Father declared to the world,  “Behold the man!” Jesus emerged rippling with everlasting life in a restored, renewed and eternally resurrected body.
 
Jesus began to reclaim his disheartened disciples. We see him act almost playfully as he takes his time revealing himself to Mary in the garden and the disciples along the road to Emmaus. 
 
Poignantly, he shows himself to Thomas who had missed his first appearance. And tenderly he restores Peter from a threefold denial through an opportunity to declare his love three times, and receive his mission, the mission of the church in triplicate.
 
Artist Fritz von Uhde tenderly depicts Jesus reaching to Mary as he calls her name, turning her dismay to joy. 
 

Day 36 Sunday

THE MARYS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 28: 1-10
Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.” So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
 

CAST NOTES

Mary was a popular name in New Testament times! Mary, Jesus’ mother, and Mary of Bethany who anointed Jesus were not one of the Marys named in this account. These were Mary Magdalene, from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons, and Mary the mother of James, Joseph and Salome, about whom we know little.
 
They had come early on the first day of the week to complete the burial process interrupted by the Sabbath that began Friday evening. They expected to tend the dead. Instead they found the stone rolled back, the guards paralyzed with awe, angels proclaiming resurrection and then Jesus himself alive!
 
How can we describe their experience? Master storyteller J.R.R. Tolkien coined the term eucatastrophe for this sudden reversal where something horrible becomes wonderful beyond hope. It’s a “good” catastrophe which changes everything. Tolkien wrote in a letter to his son that the eucatastrophe in a story: 
 
. . . pierces you with a joy that brings tears . . . it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature . . . feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives . . . that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our souls were made . . . the Resurrection was the greatest eucatastrophe possible . . . and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in love.
 
We have glimpses of this wonderful, piercing resurrection joy. When you thought you were ruined and a solution came through at the last moment. When you knew you were going to die, then didn’t. When you thought a loved one was lost, for good, but then she came home. When you thought the relationship was broken forever and then you reconciled. But all of these are caught up, raised higher in the great, glorious reversal that the Marys were first to witness. they mocked Jesus breaks my heart. And all the more when I imagine my own participation. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER (11th C. LATIN PRAYER)

Come Christian, bring your sacrifice 
Of praise to Jesus Christ, 
Our conquering victim and 
Our Easter king. 
Jesus, the sinless lamb, 
Has saved the sinful flock and 
Reconciled us to the Father. 
 
Death and life have wrestled
In a wondrous fight,
The leader of the living
Fell to the powers of night
Dead, yet he reigns in power
His strange victory to share.  
 
Speak, Mary, friend of Christ,
What did you see on sorrow’s road?
Tell us your story.
 
“I saw the tomb of the living Christ.
I saw his resurrection glory.
I saw the witnessing angels.
I saw the head-cloth and the shroud.
Christ my hope has risen,
And goes before his own to Galilee.”
Trust Mary, believers, for only she has truth to tell,
Unlike the falsifying crowd of rumour-makers and deceivers.
 
We know that Christ is truly risen,
Defeating death and hell’s dark thrall.
So conquering king, have mercy on us all, Alleluia.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 35

Day 35  Saturday

JOSEPH OF ARIMATHEA
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 50-56
Now there was a man named Joseph, from the Jewish town of Arimathea. He was a member of the council, a good and righteous man, who had not consented to their decision and action; and he was looking for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down and wrapped it in a linen shroud and laid him in a tomb cut in stone, where no one had ever yet been laid. It was the day of Preparation, and the Sabbath was beginning. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments.
 
On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment.
 
John 19: 38-42
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.
 

CAST NOTES

Joseph does not appear until the very end of the gospels. He was an incognito disciple of Jesus. He had a place on the ruling Sanhedrin council, so for political reasons he had kept his loyalty hidden. He only makes his devotion to Jesus known after it is too late! The council had condemned Jesus; Jesus had been executed. Standing for him after the fact made no sense. Jesus needed supporters at his trial, not after. Jesus was gone, and nothing was to be gained by showing open belief. Joseph was committing political and social suicide, and so was his friend Nicodemus.
 
So why did he use, and risk, his position to approach Pilate? Why did he expose himself as a follower of Jesus as he helped take the body down? Why did he bring scandal on his family by placing the body of a condemned criminal in his own tomb? Why did he go to the expense when it was too late for the cause of Jesus?
 
Only love could have made him do it. The grief of deep love led him to cast caution to the wind. Passion made precious an otherwise useless gesture of loyalty. Without Jesus in the world, Joseph no longer cared what happened to him. All he cared about was honoring Jesus in his burial.  
 
We have known this impulse: when we spent extravagantly on a funeral; when, albeit too late, we stood up for a friend who had been unjustly dismissed; when we remodeled a home just because our departed spouse would have loved it. 
 
In the end, of course, Joseph provided a unique, known tomb for Jesus rather than the dung heap or an unmarked pauper’s grave. That meant when Jesus rose, there was a precise empty tomb to show the world. And Joseph’s love was not wasted.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Too late to speak.
Too late to stop them. 
Lord, I tried to work quietly behind the scenes.
But I was only protecting myself.
For what?
Without you, nothing I have matters.
This world is dead to me.
These positions a joke.
I know I could not save you anyway,
There were too many of them,
But I ache to have tried harder.
No more hiding!
I will get you off that cross.
Gently, with dignity that befits a king.
I will save your body from the dogs and the gawkers.
You shall have my burial place.
I will tend your tattered form
With all my love and care,
With all the power at my disposal.
Too late, I know, to save you
But not too late to let them know
I am yours, and I will love you forever.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

ENCORE

     These pliers indicate the horror of the task Joseph of Arimathea undertook. We read so quickly that he took down Jesus’ body from the cross. But crucified victims were affixed to the wood. Jesus had been spiked in the hands and feet. These thick, Roman nails had to be pried from the wood so the body could be removed. Amidst wracking grief, Joseph and any who helped him would have had to exercise brute strength simultaneously with tender care. They did not want to tear Jesus any further. This process was not immediate. It was awkward, public and intense. As you look at this picture, seeing Jesus resting in the invisible arms of his Father, note how Cigoli brings us back to the real-world labor of Joseph’s love for Jesus. He had to remove the spikes to care for his Savior in burial.
 
 

Lent - Day 34

Day 34  Friday

THE CENTURION AT THE CROSS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 47-49
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
 
Mark 15: 37-39
And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 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!”
 

CAST NOTES

Centurions were officers in the Roman army that occupied first century Israel. The name comes from the Latin for one hundred (e.g., a century), indicating they might have 100 men under their charge. Centurions fare well in the New Testament. Jesus praised the faith of a centurion who trusted that Christ could heal his servant with but a word (Luke 7: 1-10). In Acts, we read of Cornelius, a centurion known to be “a devout man who feared God with all his household” (Acts 10: 2). He received a vision from God that Peter would come to him. And so he readily accepted the gospel, being baptized as one of the first Gentile believers.
 
The centurion at the cross, despite his grim job of guarding people being crucified, seems to have been sensitive to the uniqueness of Jesus. Perhaps because he had seen a lot of guilty people die, he knew how strikingly different Jesus was. Confidently entrusting himself to his heavenly Father meant that Jesus did not internalize guilt for crimes. His equanimity revealed his innocence. The way he called upon God as his Father in his agony convicted this centurion that Jesus was indeed the unique Son of God.
 
Rome and Jerusalem may have condemned Jesus, but the centurion read the signs and saw the deeper reality.
 
So, too, the way we suffer reveals the most about our character. Agony tests our faith. When it proves real, it is pain that authenticates the connection we truly have with our God.  
 
We think of the inspiration we get from those who fight cancer with trust that, win or lose, they remain “in his grip.”  
 
Believers grieve at graveside, but they do not despair. The peace that passes understanding rises through those joined to Jesus in a way that can’t be faked.
 
People get fired, left, swindled, robbed, flooded. The mature Christian in those moments, has a heart that trusts revealed for the unbelieving world to see and marvel over.  
 
So now, while we can, for the sake of the watching world, we are called to cultivate a deep relationship with Christ through prayer, the Word and sacraments to that what is exposed in us is the real deal. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Surely this man was innocent!
I saw you Lord.  
Speak forgiveness to your enemies.
Give John and Mary to each other.
Pass hope to the thief.
I heard you Lord, cry out to a God you thought had forsaken you,
And trust him anyway.
 
I saw you in agony not curse your God nor your fate
As do so many.
You entrusted yourself to a faithful Creator. 
You died as you lived, following a plan
You knew had been written for you.
 
I heard the ripping of the Temple curtain 
All the way out on Golgotha.
Barriers coming down.
God and man meeting as one again.
Because you, Jesus of Nazareth,
Are the Holy One.
Surely this man is the Son of God! 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

Follow the story of Cornelius the centurion who became one of the first Gentile believers. As you read, consider what is it that makes a person of a different religion and ethnicity open to hearing the story of Jesus:
 
At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.
 
The next day Peter rose and went away with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 
 
Cornelius opened himself to the strange possibility that a Jewish man could bring him news of the world’s savior, and even before Peter had finished speaking, the Holy Spirit filled Cornelius and he believed.
 

Lent - Day 33

Day 33  Thursday

JESUS DIES
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 45-50
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah.” And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
 
Luke 23: 44-46
It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last.
 
John 19: 28-30
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
 

CAST NOTES

The protagonist of Passion Week reaches the worst point. The hero in a life and death struggle is fastened inextricably to death. This play appears to be a tragedy.
 
Today’s four sayings from Jesus on the cross express his excruciating suffering and his final hope.
 
I thirst. Of all the bodily alarms going off in his dying, thirst rose to insist most. In the parable Jesus told of the rich man in Hades, he yearned for but a drop of water to assuage his agony (Luke 16: 24). Now he had entered the full horror of Psalm 22, “my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”
 
My God, why have you forsaken me? The physical dissolution was not the worst. Crucified Jesus was bearing the sin of the world. He felt no trace of his Father. He quoted from Psalm 22: 1 in what has come to be known as the cry of dereliction. Abandonment. Ruin. Utter loneliness. 
 
Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. Yet, even feeling no trace of his Father, Jesus willed to trust him. He again quoted a Scripture, this time Psalm 31: 5. The second half of that verse adds, “You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.” Jesus showed faith in a faithful Father even when he felt abandoned. 
 
It is finished. In Greek it’s one word: tetelestai. It has been brought to full completion. John notes this as the fulfillment of Psalm 69: 21, “for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” Scholars such as Brant Pitre have noted that this would have completed the fourth cup of Passover which Jesus earlier declined. It would have been the sign of the new Kingdom dawning. In his death was our beginning. In his completion of suffering was our full atonement. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, on the cross you prayed the script written for you a thousand years earlier. You evoked Psalm 22 to find words for your horror and hope in your hopelessness. So we pray them with you to fill in your story,
 
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, 
From the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer,
And by night but I find no rest. . . .
All who see me mock me;
They make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
He trusts in the LORD, let him deliver him;
Let him rescue him, for he delights in him!
 
Yet you are he who took me from my mother’s womb . . . 
Be not far from me, for trouble is near,
And there is none to help.
 
I am poured out like water.
And all my bones are out of joint,
My heart is melted like wax . . . 
They have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
They stare and gloat over me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots.
 
But you, O LORD, do not be far off!
Come quickly . . . Deliver my soul . . . Save me!
 
You have rescued me!
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
In the midst of the congregation, I will praise you.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 32

Day 32  Wednesday

THE GOOD THIEF
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 38-40
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
 
Luke 23: 39-43
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
 

CAST NOTES

One of the most beautiful conversations in the Gospels occurs on the cross. Jesus was crucified between two criminals who had been condemned for robbery. At first, in Matthew’s recounting, both men railed at Jesus. But then, according to Luke, one thief had a change of heart. Tradition calls him Dismas. He realized that he was being executed for actual crimes committed, but Jesus was innocent. He believed Jesus would come to reign over a kingdom, and he entreated Jesus to “remember” him on that day.
 
We may imagine that the thief had a traditional Hebraic view of death as portrayed in the psalms. What if that darkest lament, Psalm 88, was on the minds and hearts of both men on the cross? The psalmist writes as a man whose “life draws near to Sheol” (vs. 3). He feels already discarded to the pit. He has become a man who is:
 
Like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand (vs. 5).
 
One of the great fears of death was being cut off not only from life in the world but from God himself, as if we get expunged even from God’s thoughts. When the thief entreats Jesus to remember him, it is a plea to remain in existence, not to be left to utter darkness, for to be forgotten by God would mean being cut off from God’s presence. It amazes me to consider how deeply Jesus’ reply matches the mirror-like parallel of Psalm 88: 5. The thief asks to be remembered. Jesus answers, “You will be with me.” In other words, “You will not be cut off from God’s hand. I will enter the experience of that utter forsakenness so that you will not.” 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I hated you at first, like I hated myself and everything else. 
I cursed you for doing nothing to save yourself or us,
Though people had said you were a king with power.
But just the way you took our insults, even then,
Closed my bitter mouth.
I knew I deserved to die and never see God.
The abyss opened below me.
The land of shadow.
The land forgotten by the living,
The land without the light of God.
As I hung, I knew my type of people and how they died.
You were not one of us.
What if you were a king that would reign in heaven?
What if you would not be discarded but exalted?
Could you, would you save me from the Pit?
Lord, remember me!
From your agony, you gazed at me,
Weighed my sincerity, believed my need.
You promised that I would be with you.
In the land of the blessed. 
In the company of God and his saints.
In a kingdom that never ends. 
I was falling into the grave and you grabbed my hand
I was slipping into darkness when you shined a light.
I was tumbling into everlasting loneliness 
When you made me your own. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).



ENCORE

Jesus equated his suffering with that of Jonah (see Mt. 12: 38-40). And the thief on the cross, by the words of his request, indicated familiarity with the prayer of Jonah. Read the words Jonah prayed from under the depths, first from the perspective of the thief on the cross, then from Jesus’ perspective.
 
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying,
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
    and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
    and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep,
    into the heart of the seas…
    all your waves and your billows passed over me.
Then I said, ‘I am driven away
    from your sight;
yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’
The waters closed in over me to take my life;
    the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
    at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
    whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
    O LORD my God.
When my life was fainting away,
    I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
    into your holy temple.
I with the voice of thanksgiving
    will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
    Salvation belongs to the LORD!”

 

Lent - Day 31

Day 31  Tuesday

JESUS ON THE CROSS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 23: 32-34
Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 
 
John 19: 25-27
. . . but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
 

CAST NOTES

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus always seemed to have such a complete sense of himself. He knew who he was. He knew his mission. He knew the plan of his Father and his role in it.  
 
Nevertheless, it stuns me to see how self-possessed Jesus was during his torture and crucifixion. Even a little pain makes me withdraw into myself. I fear. I doubt. I don’t care about others. But Jesus, with nails in his hands and feet, thorns crushing his head, his open back scraping the rough wood could still focus his mind. He could still notice others. As helpless as a man could be, Jesus could still bless and redeem others.
 
In the first of his seven sayings from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, because they know not what they do.” That has always seemed to me a generous assessment of us who crucified Christ! Would it have changed anything in my heart if I had known what I was doing? I fear I would reject him anyway. 
 
Yet Jesus, at precisely the time when we might expect him to despair of the humanity he came to save, recalled a deeper purpose. We were made for God. He is our greatest, indeed, our only good. And as C.S. Lewis said, “I believe . . . that the kernel of what [a person] was really seeking, even in his most depraved wishes, will be there, waiting for him in the ‘High Countries.’” Human beings want, require, crave God, even if awareness has been lost and God-hatred has ruled us. And Jesus came to answer that need. To literally “bleed out” the poison of sin in us to give us the new life of his Spirit by his forgiveness.
 
This love is not only grand in scope, but intimately specific. In a touching scene, Jesus in the agony of the cross nevertheless notices his mother Mary and his disciple John. He gives them to each other to care for each other after his departure. From the cross, he creates bonds, family, enduring care.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, your prayer staggers me:
Father, forgive them.
I don’t know how to pray that 
When I am wounded, deceived, left, forgotten or overlooked.
Yet you have placed words on lips:
Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
You are serious about my forgiving!
Lord Jesus, your thoughtfulness staggers me:
John, behold your mother.
Mary, behold your son. 
I live so compartmentalized,
Isolated by busy-ness and technology.
Yet you have placed a rule in our hearts:
Love one another as I have loved you.
You are serious about my connecting!
 
Lord Jesus, forgive me.
Lord Jesus, give me to others.
Lord Jesus, lead me to forgive.
Lord Jesus, teach me to love.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).



ENCORE

Jesus came to love us. He had a legitimate claim on us. He is our creator and he called us to himself. But we fled him. He could not force us and have us be free. On the cross he was suspended in agony by his love. Rejected by us, he nevertheless could not let us go. So he endured in love until it killed him.  
 
Those who love inevitably find that there are hours when we can go neither forward nor backward, but must wait helplessly for the other to determine our fate.  
 
From his position of hanging in the excruciating conflict between his love for us and our rejection of him, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23: 34). That Jesus prayed for our forgiveness does not surprise me. He came to give his life for us, to create a new and living way to God. But that second line worries me. We didn’t know what we were doing? Is the basis for our forgiveness the fact that we were ignorant of who we put to death?  
 
I believe that even knowing what we did, we would have done it anyway. To me, we knew enough. We human beings knew that here was the light of the world and we wanted to be left alone in the darkness. We wanted to snuff out that light. And Jesus surely knew that. Perhaps he means that we neither know the true depth of our sin nor the true extent of God’s love. However much we might know of who Christ is, our capacity to reject him in sin would be there. But never will we fully understand the depth of his love for us. Knowing the lostness in us more than we will ever grasp, still God did not spare his own Son but freely gave him up for us. There is in Christ on the cross revealed a love of God beyond measurement of height and depth (Gerrit Dawson, I Am With You Always, 2000, pp. 120-123).
 
 

Lent - Day 30

Day 30  Monday

SIMON OF CYRENE

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 15: 21-22
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull).
 
Romans 16: 13
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, whose has been a mother to me as well.
 
Acts 11: 20-21 
. . . men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 
 

CAST NOTES

Simon was in town for the Passover festival. He had journeyed from north Africa, from a region in today’s Libya. So we know he was devout in his belief in the LORD. Simon just happened to be in the streets where the soldiers led Jesus carrying his cross. Reflecting on this passage through the centuries, Christians have always thought that Simon was needed because Jesus stumbled and fell, weak from his horrific flogging. 
 
Imagine Simon’s shock when the Roman guard suddenly picked him from the crowd. I would have feared getting crucified myself!  
 
We wonder how carrying Christ’s cross affected Simon later. Surely he paid close attention to the news about Jesus and to the reports of his resurrection. Perhaps he even met the risen Jesus.  
 
We believe Simon became a fruitful disciple from two statements. First, Mark describes him as “the father of Rufus and Alexander.” That information would only be significant to Mark’s readers if Rufus and Alexander were known believers! Simon created a heritage of faith in Jesus. Second, at the end of Romans, Paul sends greetings to Rufus. If this is the same Rufus, Paul has confirmed Simon’s legacy. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Why did you let them pick me?
I was from North Africa.
I didn’t fit the profile!
O Lord, I was so terrified.
This was not my struggle.
But I feared it would be the end of me?
When we got to Golgotha,
Would they link me with you?
 
I looked at you then, on your knees,
Collapsed under the weight of the cross.
Pity awoke first. 
“I’ve got this,” I said,
And you looked at me, 
Through blood and tears,
With love that captured my heart.
 
The mob screamed and spat.
As if they wanted you dead before you arrived.
I felt the fury and knew now
I had been linked with you.
 
Their screams and stones bowed me up.
Fear turned to pride. 
I was linked with you,
And I would get you to that Skull hill.
 
They would be guilty of your full, gruesome death. 
You would finish your purpose.
I would carry you as well as the cross if needed.
Why did you pick me?
I didn’t fit the profile of
One worthy for this honor.
But I loved you then, more than I thought possible.
And I love you now.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 29

MEETING JESUS AT THE CROSS

Week 5

 
 
 
 
Ludovico Cigoli. The Deposition from the Cross. c. 1600. 
 
 
The dark worst point of Passion Week was the six hours of crucifixion. Nature corroborated the horror as the sky went dark and the earth shook.
 
Jesus was nailed to the rough beams in his hands and feet. The word “excruciating” was invented to express the agony of being hung on a cross to die.
 
Yet even in these hours, redeeming encounters occurred. Simon of Cyrene became a disciple after he carried the cross for Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha, the place of the skull. One thief crucified next to Jesus came to faith as he pleaded to be remembered and received assurances from Jesus that he would be with him always. And Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the council who believed in Jesus, came out of hiding to arrange an honorable burial for Jesus.
 
Around 1600, Ludovico Cigoli captured the great and grievous effort it was to take a body from a cross. The spikes had to be removed from the wood and the flesh. The body had to be lowered in a winding sheet, wrapped, then carried off.
 
Jesus’ remaining loyal followers carefully tended him, pouring their love into what, to all eyes, seemed a lost cause. We note by their head-wear the presence of both Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, participating in this work far beneath their station. Here faith shone brightest, when it seemed least victorious.
 

Day 29  Sunday

SOLDIERS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 27-31
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
 
Luke 23: 36-37
The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!”
 

CAST NOTES

Who knows why they treated Jesus this way. He clearly wasn’t a danger to them. Perhaps the soldiers seethed with anger at being so far away from home. Perhaps they hated this population of Jews who, though obedient, always seemed unbowed in spirit. Perhaps they liked having a victim they were free to bully.
 
We know the delicious thrill of having a scapegoat. Maybe it was the girl in middle school with the smelly hair. Or the boy in high school who never had all his gear for gym. Or the guy with acne we called Pizza Face. As awkward as we felt, at least we weren’t like them.
 
We know the power of displaced anger. When we take out frustration at work on our spouse. When we unload in fury at the children over a simple mistake. When we jerk the dog’s collar for pulling. There’s a rage we want to release on someone who can’t fight back.
 
And of course, there’s the indignation we feel at the presence of holiness. Anger ignites in us when someone won’t participate in the gossip or the slightly shady deal or the drugs at the party.  
 
The soldiers channeled the rage of the sinner against God that is deep inside all of us. They let out the bully I hide, the mocker I disguise and the crusher I mask.  
 
And Jesus took it all. He would not save himself. Because he was saving us. The story of how they mocked Jesus breaks my heart. And all the more when I imagine my own participation. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Oh Lord Jesus, 
I scarcely dare admit my connection to this episode.
Paul called it being a God-hater.
You said what I do to the least of these I do to you.
I have called your faithful children “goody-goodies.”
I have gleefully demonized “those people” for whom you died. 
I have mocked “your glory” as a poor reason for suffering.
I have questioned angrily how you wield your sovereignty.
I have wanted to spew my venom on someone else,
Get another to carry the negative energy for me,
Transfer the shame, the guilt and the pain underneath.
You take it all. 
You answer the soldiers with acceptance.
You reply to the howls of our rage with the quiet of bread broken in an upper room.
You ask for me to pour all the poison into your cup
So that you can give me the wine of life.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

In his book, Unaplogetic, Francis Spufford describes the way the crowd piled on their hatred as Jesus made his way to the cross. The soldiers were just representative of the frustration, the projection, the venom in every heart:
 
He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers . . . the bystanders don’t see their hopes parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration. They see everything in themselves that is too weak or too afraid to confront the strapping paratroopers; and much though they hate the soldiers, they hate him more, for his pathetic slide into victimhood. Word of his loose living, his impiety, his pleasure in bad company goes round in whispers. And just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside. Something . . . furtive. He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a pedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. . . . Yeshua is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement (Francis Spufford, Unapologetic, 2013, pp. 140-141).
 
Jesus became the object of our pent-up rage at the way life is, our own helplessness to change and our own disgust that we are no better. The soldiers merely expressed more brutally the bruising will in every human heart.

 

Lent - Day 28

Day 28  Saturday

MALCHUS, BARABBAS AND JOHN MARK

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Today we meet three characters from Passion Week about which we know almost nothing. Yet each one had an encounter with Jesus. Holy imagination will lead us to ponder their stories.
 

MALCHUS

 
John 18: 10-11
Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
 
 
Luke 22: 49-51
And when those who were around him saw what would follow, they said, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus said, “No more of this!” And he touched his ear and healed him.
 

CAST NOTES FOR MALCHUS

The Gospels describe Malchus as the servant of the high priest. More literally he was a bond slave. His life was not his own. He served as a ready and ever-available assistant to Caiaphas, even late on a Passover night. He was related to another servant who would shortly challenge Peter (John 18: 26). Malchus’ job was to listen for orders and then fulfill them. He had come with the band of soldiers to get the man his master wanted. He was not allowed to be armed. He never expected a sword to be drawn against him. Imagine his emotions as a wild Peter struck out: surprise, fear, searing pain, panic that he might die as blood spattered everywhere. The roar in his head that replaced his hearing. Then the man his master called the chief of sinners reached toward him. Maybe Malchus flinched expecting more pain. But the hand soothed. The blood stopped spurting; the throb ceased; the terror went away. Calm, warmth, peace, hearing as clear as he’d ever known. This blasphemer, such a threat, suddenly seemed to be the giver of life. Could Caiaphas be wrong?
 

BARABBAS

Mark 15: 6-13
Now at the feast [Pilate] used to release for them one prison for whom they had asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out, “Crucify him.”
 

CAST NOTES FOR BARABBAS

 
Barabbas was a rebel. One of the zealots who sought to overthrow Rome’s rule by violence, whether acts of guerilla terror or outright rebellion. He had been jailed for murder. An angry, rough man, a true enemy of the state. Ironically, his name means “son of the father.” He knew he deserved death for the deaths he had dealt, and he was proud of it. Yet Pilate released him while Jesus, the true Son of the Father in heaven, sinless and full of love, was sentenced to death. Barabbas experienced literally the great exchange of Jesus’ life for his.
 
What did Barabbas feel when he was released? Did he know of Jesus? Did he experience survivor guilt? Barabbas reminds me of the famous Dickens chapter, “Recalled to life.” I hope he became a disciple!
 

CAST NOTES FOR MARK

 
Throughout Christian history, readers of the Gospel have conjectured that this young man was Mark himself. This curious incident is not relayed in the other three Gospels. We know from Acts 12: 12 that “John, whose other name was Mark,” was from Jerusalem and joined Paul on his first missionary journey. I like to think that Mark the Gospel writer was an eyewitness to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and that he humbly included this brief account of his own wilting and fleeing at the seizing of Jesus. His shame is clearly illustrated by the picture of being so afraid that he was willing to run naked through the streets. The incident motivated him through years of travels and mission for Jesus’ sake.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Malchus: I believed whatever my master told me. I was proud to serve a man so high, so learned and seemingly so just. But I have been bound to the wrong man. I cannot leave his service. But my heart is yours. You had the power to destroy us all. But instead you healed me and then let them have you. I have seen love now, and can never go back. 
 
Barabbas: Jesus, they traded you for me. You didn’t have to go to condemnation. I could see this was your decision. I thought you were a fool. That I would never look back. But you have haunted me. Somehow claimed me. I cannot get away from you. You bought my life with yours. How now shall I live?
 
Mark: Ah, Lord Jesus, running naked in the streets was the least of the sins of my youth! Yet the shame of fleeing from your need still burns me! Would I be any different today?  
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 27

Day 27  Friday

PILATE, PART 2

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 19: 1-16
Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”
 
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. 
 

CAST NOTES

What did Pilate hope to gain by flogging Jesus?
 
Pilate shows the bloody Jesus to the crowd with these words, “Behold the man!”
 
Consider how this declaration is meant to reduce Jesus to a beaten man. Consider how often the “opposition behind the opposition” wants to deface the image of God in humanity. We are constantly shown images of humanity helpless before the impulses of our lusts, our angers, our greed and our tricks. We see the good portrayed as fools, the righteous depicted as tyrants and the kind trampled. How often it is communicated that resistance to the way things are is futile. We should just take it and shut up. 
 
Jesus well could have felt defeated in the face of acute suffering, the overwhelming power of Rome and the frenzy of the mob. But he remained centered, determined and at peace. Think what strength of faith it took to reply, with all visible evidence to the contrary, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” 
 
Pilate, the man with the power, grew unhinged by Jesus’ calm and he gave into the demands of the crowd. Three times he declared that he found no guilt in Jesus. Can you see any way out for Pilate? Ultimately he lacked the strength to release him, becoming linked until the end of history with the execution of Jesus.  
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

 
These gods mean nothing to me now.
Jupiter, Mars, Artemis: all of them jokes.
The Emperor in his glory receiving adulation at the Colosseum:
A self-indulgent poser. He is no god.
But to whom shall I turn?
My officers have seen such death that they hold to no gods at all.
But I cannot believe there is nothing more.
No higher glory than man, man so easily beaten, deceived, mocked and defeated.
Is there only silence above? Emptiness within?
That King of the Jews had something.
A light. A peace. A trust.
Even beaten to a pulp he radiated beauty,
He seemed more a man then than I’ll ever be. 
Authority from above he claimed.
From above but flowing from within.
What is truth? I had mocked him.
But he was unfazed.
“My kingdom is not of this world.
 
I have come into the world to bear witness to the truth.
Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”
His voice rang with truth.
How I wish I could hear it again?
Would I hear the truth if I heard him?
Did I do the right thing?
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 26

Day 26  Thursday

PILATE, PART 1

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 11-26
Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
 
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
 
So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.
 

CAST NOTES

Pontius Pilate held his position as Governor of Judea from AD 26 to 36. His job was to keep the peace. To pacify the occupied nation of the Jews under the enforced peace of the Roman Empire. Pilate represented the rule of Caesar, the Roman Emperor. Pilate represented the Powers-That-Be.  
 
Pilate is also a symbol of all the rulers in every place who insist that they make the rules. Pilate represents all the powers and people that tell us, “Reality is what I make it to be. It’s my world, and you’re just living in it.” From insurance companies to bureaucrats to school administrations to those who keep the social gates. Pilate is the way the world is. Jesus suffered under Pilate. That means Jesus came under the control of the powers that claimed to rule the world. 
 
But in this encounter, while Pilate holds all the military and political power, the rabbi from Nazareth seems astonishingly in control. Pilate asks Jesus if he is King of the Jews. Jesus’ enigmatic literal reply was, “You say.” Then he went silent before every other accusation.
This raises questions. How do authorities usually react to ambivalent replies? To answers that seem to imply impertinence? What amazes Pilate about Jesus declining to answer any charges? What parts of this passage give us the idea that Pilate is getting unnerved by Jesus? 
 
What does washing his hands symbolize for Pilate? Compare this scene with Lady Macbeth famously wringing her hands saying, “Out, out damned spot!” How does Pilate’s attempt to be done with responsibility a futile gesture?
 
The crowd roared at Pilate, “His blood be on us and on our children!” What chills you in that demand? What is the twist in the fulfillment of their request?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Imagine Pilate speaking that night to his wife, who had urged him to have nothing to do with Jesus. Suppose she let him vent his doubts and fears.
 
Did I do the right thing? 
He was like no man I have ever seen.
Every man has fears.
But I could find none in him.
Whatever fears were his, he had already faced them.
He tried on the worst and accepted it—and it wasn’t me.
I held no threat to him after what he had been through. 
But I couldn’t figure out what that was.
I couldn’t find a way to take him back to fear.
For all my guards, I felt as if he could have walked out at any time, and no one could have stopped him.
But he didn’t. He showed no impulse to escape.
He spoke to me as if he were from another world.
He seemed to offer me a way of escape, a different world,
A different emperor. The true Sovereign.
But of course I couldn’t ask him. 
I couldn’t change allegiance, not now. 
He was like no man I had ever seen.
My helpless prisoner who was in total control of all things. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 25

Day 25  Wednesday

JUDAS, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 27: 3-10
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priest and the elders, saying, “I have sinned against innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and went out and hanged himself. But the chief priests, taking the pieces of silver, said, “It is not lawful to put them into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they took counsel and bought with them the potter’s field as a burial place for strangers. Therefore, that field is has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Thus it was fulfilled what had been spoken by the prophet Jeremiah, saying, “And they took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of him on whom a price had been set by some of the sons of Israel, and they gave them for a potter’s field, as the Lord directed me” [cf. Zec. 11:13].
 
Acts 1: 15-20
In those days Peter stood up among the brothers (the company of persons was in all about 120) and said, “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.” (Now this man acquired a field with the reward of his wickedness, and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their own language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, “May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it.” (Ps. 69: 25).
 

CAST NOTES

In a rush of loyalty Peter drew his sword to fight off Jesus’ arresters. Before the night was over, he hadn’t the courage to admit to a serving maid his faith in Jesus. The bombastic personality of Peter was on full display that final night. The Rock turned to mush. As someone once noted about the absurdity of Peter’s denying oath: he swore to God he didn’t know God!
 
John’s account takes us deeper into the devastating nature of this wilting. We recall that earlier in John 18, when the mob said they sought Jesus, he replied, “I am” and they fell to the ground for the power of his affirmation. Just a few verses later, Peter is asked if he is one of Jesus’ disciples. He replies “I am not.” Literally, the words are “Not, I am,” or ouk eimi. The contrast could not be starker. Jesus is pure I am: light, life, love, being. Peter, in denying Jesus, negates his very self! Who are you now Peter? NOT I am. Peter disowned Jesus trying to save his own skin. But to cut oneself off from Jesus is to cancel out one’s very life. It is to lose oneself.  
 
It is no wonder that another gospel tells us that after the rooster crowed, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22: 62). In stepping away from Jesus, Peter had stepped away from life itself.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Simon Peter Video
 

Oh Lord, the words said that I can never get back!
The silence when I should have spoken for someone!
The moment for me to stand passed me by.
The hurt I caused; the pain I failed to prevent.
Fear ruled me. My choice for
Self-preservation. Control. Saving Face. Freedom.
I got none of those.
I am ashamed. I am enslaved to my fears.
The life drains out of me, and I am helpless to stop it.
Seizing “me” made me a shell of a person. 
Worse, I trained the life out of others.
I now weep bitter tears.
The rooster crows. Time is up.
I am too little too late. Again.
And I know I cannot too quickly resolve
The crisis, turn the story, claim the victory.
I am before you this day a full-fledged Peter at dawn.
Look upon me and see the truth of who you called.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

To deny God is to negate oneself. I once heard a preacher say, “Think of the absurdity of Peter’s denial: Peter swore to God that he didn’t know God! He didn’t want to be where he was, with everything falling apart. He didn’t want even to exist anymore with Jesus being taken away and others accusing him menacingly. So he went to the place of non-sense. The “Not me” of his denial became the “Not I am” of losing himself in denying Jesus. Declaring “I don’t know him!” was equivalent to canceling his own life.
 
Raniero Cantalamessa describes the self-destroying nature of our denials of Christ:
 
“By refusing to glorify God, man himself becomes ‘deprived of the glory of God.’ Sin offends God, that is, it saddens him greatly, but only in so far as it brings death to man whom he loves; it wounds his love. . . .
 
Sin leads to death . . . the ‘state’ of death, that is precisely what has been called ‘mortal illness,’ a state of chronic death. In this state the creature desperately tends to return to being nothing but without succeeding and lives therefore as if in an eternal agony. . . . the creature is obliged by One stronger than himself to be what he does not consent to be, that is dependent on God, and his eternal torment is that he cannot get rid of either God or of himself. . . . He would wish to be left free to return to nothingness. . . . because he does not want to be what he is, dependent on God. . . . this is the way to pure desperation.” (Raniero Cantalamessa, Life in Christ, 1990, pp. 28-29).
 
Such as the bitter agony Peter experienced that night, and that we, if we resist the truth of Christ which we know, will experience all our lives before we turn back to him. 

 

Lent - Day 24

Day 24  Tuesday

PETER, PART 3

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 69-73
Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. And a servant girl came up to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you mean.” And when he went out to the entrance, another servant girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” And again he denied it with an oath: “I do not know the man.” After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you.”
 
John 18: 15-18, 25-27
Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.
 
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
 

CAST NOTES

In a rush of loyalty Peter drew his sword to fight off Jesus’ arresters. Before the night was over, he hadn’t the courage to admit to a serving maid his faith in Jesus. The bombastic personality of Peter was on full display that final night. The Rock turned to mush. As someone once noted about the absurdity of Peter’s denying oath: he swore to God he didn’t know God!
 
John’s account takes us deeper into the devastating nature of this wilting. We recall that earlier in John 18, when the mob said they sought Jesus, he replied, “I am” and they fell to the ground for the power of his affirmation. Just a few verses later, Peter is asked if he is one of Jesus’ disciples. He replies “I am not.” Literally, the words are “Not, I am,” or ouk eimi. The contrast could not be starker. Jesus is pure I am: light, life, love, being. Peter, in denying Jesus, negates his very self! Who are you now Peter? NOT I am. Peter disowned Jesus trying to save his own skin. But to cut oneself off from Jesus is to cancel out one’s very life. It is to lose oneself.  
 
It is no wonder that another gospel tells us that after the rooster crowed, Peter “went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22: 62). In stepping away from Jesus, Peter had stepped away from life itself.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Simon Peter Video
 

Oh Lord, the words said that I can never get back!
The silence when I should have spoken for someone!
The moment for me to stand passed me by.
The hurt I caused; the pain I failed to prevent.
Fear ruled me. My choice for
Self-preservation. Control. Saving Face. Freedom.
I got none of those.
I am ashamed. I am enslaved to my fears.
The life drains out of me, and I am helpless to stop it.
Seizing “me” made me a shell of a person. 
Worse, I trained the life out of others.
I now weep bitter tears.
The rooster crows. Time is up.
I am too little too late. Again.
And I know I cannot too quickly resolve
The crisis, turn the story, claim the victory.
I am before you this day a full-fledged Peter at dawn.
Look upon me and see the truth of who you called.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

To deny God is to negate oneself. I once heard a preacher say, “Think of the absurdity of Peter’s denial: Peter swore to God that he didn’t know God! He didn’t want to be where he was, with everything falling apart. He didn’t want even to exist anymore with Jesus being taken away and others accusing him menacingly. So he went to the place of non-sense. The “Not me” of his denial became the “Not I am” of losing himself in denying Jesus. Declaring “I don’t know him!” was equivalent to canceling his own life.
 
Raniero Cantalamessa describes the self-destroying nature of our denials of Christ:
 
“By refusing to glorify God, man himself becomes ‘deprived of the glory of God.’ Sin offends God, that is, it saddens him greatly, but only in so far as it brings death to man whom he loves; it wounds his love. . . .
 
Sin leads to death . . . the ‘state’ of death, that is precisely what has been called ‘mortal illness,’ a state of chronic death. In this state the creature desperately tends to return to being nothing but without succeeding and lives therefore as if in an eternal agony. . . . the creature is obliged by One stronger than himself to be what he does not consent to be, that is dependent on God, and his eternal torment is that he cannot get rid of either God or of himself. . . . He would wish to be left free to return to nothingness. . . . because he does not want to be what he is, dependent on God. . . . this is the way to pure desperation.” (Raniero Cantalamessa, Life in Christ, 1990, pp. 28-29).
 
Such as the bitter agony Peter experienced that night, and that we, if we resist the truth of Christ which we know, will experience all our lives before we turn back to him. 

 

Lent - Day 23

Day 23  Monday

CAIAPHAS

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 11: 47-53
The chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not only for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death.
 
Matthew 26: 57-68
Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. And Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest, and going inside he sat with the guards to see the end. Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. . . . And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. 
 

CAST NOTES

The Council, called the Sanhedrin, was comprised of 70 members. The chief priest elected for the year presided over the meetings.  
 
The first passage describes a Council meeting before Passion Week when they discussed the “Jesus Problem.” There is quite a bit of irony in Caiaphas’ prophecy, which John takes time to explain to us. Politically, it was better for the nation’s peace to put one rabbi to death than allow the crowds he gathered to incite a Roman reaction. This is the old “greater good” argument used by authorities to justify unjust actions. But, of course, the Triune God remained in sovereign control. This one man would die for the nation, indeed for the world. But not to preserve a temporary political peace or for economic stability. He died to redeem us from sin and death. Jesus’ enemies became his unwitting partners in our salvation!
 
The second passage concerns the summoning of the council to try Jesus that Thursday night following his arrest. Think what urgency it takes to get 70 people together for an all night meeting! 
 
Having made the choice to “drink the cup of his Father’s will,” Jesus made little defense against the confused and false choices brought against him. His calm silence infuriated them all the more. When Caiaphas asked him directly about his identity, Jesus made a clear connection between a crucial prophecy and himself.  
 
Daniel 7: 13-14 envisions a time when “. . . there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples . . . should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away. . . . ” This was a key passage about the day when the LORD would send a glorious Redeemer to set all things right. The “Son of Man” was equivalent to the Messiah, a divine figure, and the hope of all Israel. That Jesus would claim such a passage as being about himself would have sounded like ridiculous blasphemy. For clearly, the world was not yet being put right. Or was it?!
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

There’s a Caiaphas in me, Lord,
Whenever I don’t want anything to change.
When my sight is so dim
That I can’t even glimpse what you are doing.
When my faith is so small 
That I think you have forgotten.
I do not believe you will do again 
What you have always done:
Turn ashes into beauty,
Restore the years eaten by the locust,
Bring what is lame back to strength,
Reconcile enemies,
Raise life out of death.
 
I try to swat you away.
Make do with my meager compromises.
Snuff out new beginnings and new life.
Treat your call as a threat.
Cling to my crumbs and never let go.
Lord Jesus, I have failed to see
How you are the fulfillment of all I want.
The ruin of “my life my way”
Is the gateway to everlasting life.
You died for the good of all.
I thought that meant getting rid of you,
But what blessed relief that you return again and again.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 22

JESUS' ARREST AND TRIAL

Week 4

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Antonio Ciseri. Ecce Homo (Behold the Man). 1870. 
 
 
Thursday night into Friday morning Passion Week darkened into the sham trial and conviction of Jesus as a rebel. The naked power of evil worked through those in charge, from the high priest of Israel to the Roman governor. The crowd of ordinary people exhibited the worst of human nature, intoxicated by the prospect of blood and the condemnation of fitting a scapegoat. These were our worst hours.
 
As his accusers grew less rational and more frenzied, Jesus deepened in his calm. He seemed at peace. This only fueled their fury. They, we, knew he was innocent and decided not to care. 
In this vivid painting by Antonio Ciseri (1871), we see Pilate presenting Jesus to the crowd. Crowned with thorns, arms tied behind his back, dwarfed by the mighty building of Pilate’s palace, Jesus appeared thoroughly subdued. “Behold the man!” Pilate cried out. And to the evil one and all those under his sway, this seemed like the triumph of fully defacing the image of God in humanity. The raw God-hatred deep in our hearts did this to Jesus.  
 
Only Jesus still believed this was not the end of the story.
 

Day 22  Sunday

JESUS AT HIS ARREST
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 18: 1-11
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”
 

CAST NOTES

Today we look from a different angle at the scene of Judas leading the soldiers to arrest Jesus. We note immediately the calm of Jesus. Into the garden peace of a night on the Mount of Olives came the blare of torches, the clatter of weapons and the tramping of rough feet. Jesus did not run nor shrink back. He came forward and asked an obvious question. He made them say his name, “Jesus of Nazareth.” John records that Jesus replied with two simple Greek words: ego eimi, I am. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus had spoken of himself in terms such as “I am the light of the world. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the good shepherd.” Now he speaks an unadorned, simple “I am.” We cannot help but recall the time when the LORD revealed his name to Moses as “I AM” (Exod. 3: 14). This is raw revelation. The eternal Son of God stood before them and declared his identity.
 
Teaching on this passage, my beloved Dr. Kelly quoted, “A beam of Uncreated Light/Pierced the dark Judean night.” Hearing that simple statement, the band of armed, trained soldiers fell to the ground. No one can stand in the presence of holy God unveiled. This reveal was but for a moment, but we realize with crystal clarity, that no army was overpowering Jesus. No earthly powers controlled these events. He went voluntarily, submitting himself to the plan that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit had made before the world began.
 
What do you think made the soldiers fall down? How does Peter’s action contrast with Jesus’ resolve? What made Jesus so calm?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Today, we will revisit the prayer Jesus made so shortly before his arrest, the moments with his Father in which he drew on the strength needed to face the hour. I invite you to read this prayer aloud several times. As you read, add your Amen, your “Yes” of thanks and wonder to each line.
 
Father, the hour has come. Amen
Glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you. Amen.
You have given him authority over all flesh. Amen.
To give eternal life to all whom you have given him. Amen.
And this is eternal life, that they may know you, Amen.
The only true God, Amen.
And Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Amen.
I glorified you on earth, Amen.
Having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. Amen.
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence, Amen.
With the glory that I had with you before the world existed. Amen.
(John 17: 1-5)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

ENCORE

Today’s passage brings up the concept of kenosis, which means emptying. In Philippians 2: 7, Paul wrote that though Jesus was by very nature the Son of God, “he emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Jesus laid aside the prerogatives of his divinity. He accepted the limitations of our human nature. He was God who came among us as one of us, in order to save us.
 
In today’s episode, Jesus shows that he is quite aware of who he has always, eternally been: the great I AM. Then he deliberately humbles himself by letting them arrest him. The arrest, trial and crucifixion happened solely because Jesus gave himself over. He emptied himself. Kenosis.
 
Paul would continue, “And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2: 8).
 
Charles Wesley’s magnificent hymn “And Can It Be?” expressed why kenosis matters so much to us. 
 
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.
 
Amazing love! How can it be
That thou my God shouldst die for me!

 

Lent - Day 21

Day 21  Saturday

JUDAS, PART 2
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 47-50
While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. But Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus, and seized him.
 
Luke 22: 47-8
While he was still speaking, there came a crowd, and the man called Judas, one of the twelve, was leading them. He drew near to Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus said to him, “Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
 

CAST NOTES

Jesus finished his struggle in prayer just in time. From the agony of resisting to the peace of resolution, he would hereafter show an uncanny calm in the face of his passion. He saw Judas leading the soldiers with swords and the mob with clubs.  He accepted the kiss of greeting. But he made note of the irony. Gently, it seems, he became the mirror for Judas as he called his name. “Would you betray me with a kiss?”
 
For Judas, it must have all seemed too smooth. Easy money to take them to Jesus. So predictable that he would be on the Mount of Olives amidst the trees making his prayers. So ridiculous that the authorities asked him to i.d. a man they’d seen all week in public places. 
 
Was his skin crawling as he saw it through? Did he think of turning back? Was his stomach sick or his heart pounding? There is no indication of any pause. He just saw it through for reasons we cannot fathom. 
 
We all know these moments. The millisecond before you threw the punch, knowing the fight that would follow. The clamping down on emotion just as you deliver the words that will break a heart. The pause before you press “send” on an incendiary email. The sound of an invisible door closing as you take the money, sign your name or press the trigger. No return. We did it and nothing will ever be the same. Something dies. Something is cut off. God seems to depart. The loneliness washes in like a tide. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

As before, we note how deliberate betrayal of God cuts off our ability to pray. So Judas could only cry out as a solitary man; his prayers were but self-conversations.
 
He knew what I would do. 
He told the others it was me while I was still there.
That backed me into the corner.
One more chance to say, “No” and face their stupid, pious looks.
He told me to do it quickly, as if he wanted me to do it.
It was so quick. So easy.
I greeted him like an old friend.
I called him Teacher like I always had,
But he knew I would learn no more from him.
I kissed him full on the cheek.
I can still feel the tickle from his thick beard.
For a flash, our eyes met. His gaze steady, mine in retreat.
I knew I would never touch him again.
Never see him again.
He called me by name, Judas!
He made sure no one would ever forget me.
Judas is betrayal with a soft word and a tender kiss.
I did it. Played my part. Took the extreme.
So everyone else could feel better about themselves.
But they’re not so different. 
They just lacked courage to see it through.
Only I did it. Handed over the Son of Man as smoothly as a kiss.
Only I. Alone. Unique. The baddest. The boldest. The I, I am.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

We know that Jesus knew the psalms and prayed them regularly. His many quotations of psalms in his speech reveal that Jesus knew the psalms intimately. They were ready at hand for his use. In fact, these prayers written a millennium before Jesus walked among us, provided scripts for events Jesus would experience. He could find lyrics for his life as he recalled the psalms in specific situations. Consider how these excerpts from David’s Psalm 55 might have been meaningful to Jesus during Judas’ betrayal. And consider how reading this psalm following his actions might have seared Judas’ soul. 
 
My heart is in anguish within me;
     the terrors of death have fallen
          upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
    and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like
          a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness;
I would hurry to find a shelter
    from the raging wind and tempest.”
 
For it is not an enemy who taunts
          me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals
          insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel
          together;
    within God's house we walked in
          the throng . . . 
My companion stretched out his hand
          against his friends;
    he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
    yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
    yet they were drawn swords.
 
Cast your burden on the LORD,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved.
 
But you, O God, will cast them down
    into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you.
 

 

Lent - Day 20

Day 20  Friday

DISCIPLES, PART 2: GETHSEMANE
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 14: 32-42
And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy, and they did not know what to answer him. And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
 

CAST NOTES

As Thursday night wore on, the feast was over and Jesus went out to pray. There his passion began. First the titanic struggle with the repulsion for the hours ahead. The horror of the physical torture. The shame of the mockery and false accusations. The sting of derision from a crowd that had only days earlier adored him. But worst of all, the bearing of sin. The reception of the wrath of his Father against the evil of the human race. Being cut off from any awareness of the Presence that was his very heartbeat. The sense of displeasing the Father he loved and served with his whole being. The becoming sin. Utter dereliction. Sorrow to the depths of his soul. Jesus struggled to say, “Yes” to the will of God. In those moments, he needed his disciples. He yearned for the companionship of their presence, to feel as if they were with him.  
 
Note again what he asked from them: Sit here. Remain here. Watch. Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.
 
Note again how they responded: He found them sleeping. Their eyes were very heavy. They did not know what to answer him. 
 
The moment was too much. We know well how hard it is to keep watch, to be vigilantly attentive, to one who is suffering without relief. By a hospital bed. Knocking on the door to break the news of a suicide. Listening on the phone to the story of break up by betrayal. Watching an adult child make a destructive choice and being helpless to stop it. It can all be so overwhelming that we just can’t stay with it. Our heads are so heavy we nearly fall over. We do not know how to answer the need of the moment.
 
All Jesus wanted was the companionship of those who stayed with him. Our hearts break to know we could not give it to him in his supreme solitary struggle.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord Jesus, what happened to me?
When you needed me, actually needed something from me,
I fell asleep.
The darkness thick like a curtain.
The air was so heavy, it pushed me down.
I saw you go to the ground.
You didn’t look like my Jesus.
All of a sudden, the rabbi I loved
“Had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
And no beauty that we should desire him.”
I felt goaded to despise you, to hide my face from the sight of you.
I fought against the feeling,
But you looked like a beaten man who needs a kick.
“Feeble and crushed,” like one who deserved it.
I knew better but I could not move toward you,
Could not fight the sleep,
Could not stave off my failure in your hour of need. 
You were the sin-bearer, and 
I could take no part of it, even if I wanted to, which I didn’t.
You were alone as you had to be,
And it stabs me to the heart to know my part in your lonely hell.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

In The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis created the great Lion Aslan as an allegory for Jesus. In chapter 14, Lewis describes how Aslan walked dejectedly toward the Stone Table to give himself as a sacrifice for the boy Edmund’s betrayal. Two other children, Lucy and Susan, followed at a distance, until Aslan noticed them. He asked them,
 
“Oh children, children, why are you following me?”
 
“Please, may we come with you—wherever you’re going?” said Susan.
 
“I should be glad of company tonight. Yes, you may come, if you will promise to stop when I tell you, and after that leave me to go on alone.”
 
“Oh, thank you, thank you. And we will,” said the two girls.
 
Forward they went again and one of the girls walked on each side of the Lion. But how slowly he walked! And his great, royal head drooped so that his nose nearly touched the grass. Presently he stumbled and gave a low moan.
 
"Aslan! Dear Aslan!” said Lucy, “what is wrong? Can’t you tell us?” “Are you ill, dear Aslan?” asked Susan.
 
“No,” said Aslan. “I am sad and lonely. Lay your hands on my mane so that I can feel you are there and let us walk like that.”
 
So the two girls bury their hands in his thick mane and walk with Aslan, keeping company with him as long as possible.
 
Compare and contrast this scene with Jesus and his disciples in Gethsemane.
 

 

Lent - Day 19

Day 19  Thursday

SIMON PETER, PART 2
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 22: 31-34
“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.”
 
Mark 14: 27-31
And Jesus said to them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.
 

CAST NOTES

On the last night, Jesus knew his disciples would fall away. Peter’s great heart could not imagine running away. Prison. A fight. Death. He felt like he would face it all.
 
It seemed the deep faith in Peter particularly grated on the evil one. In a mysterious passage, Jesus speaks of Satan “demanding” to sift Peter. This reminds us of the Book of Job when Satan got permission from God to test Job with affliction (Job 2: 1-8). Somehow, Jesus in his prayers to his Father had learned of this specific desire from the opposition behind all earthly opposition. 
 
I find it difficult, even treacherous, to discern which part of our suffering comes from the way a fallen world is, the actions of sinful people against us, the results of our own choices, or particular activity of Satan. All these seem to combine. And we don’t need to figure out which is which in order to see the effect of “sifting.” The old way of separating the edible grains of wheat from the inedible sheaf, or chaff, was a violent process. It involved beating the wheat stalk against a stone or hard earth threshing floor until the kernels were loosened. We’ve all experienced such painful sifting. And how later what remains, or grows, is a greater good than we could have expected.
 
In this instance, Jesus interposed his prayers against Satan’s desire to sift Peter.  Storms rage. Winds howl. Evil yammers and yells. But Jesus quietly pits his words, “But I have prayed for you” against all the shredding forces. Paul reminds us that even now Jesus intercedes for us (Rom. 8: 34). These prayers did not prevent Peter from being tempted, or even from failing. Nor do Jesus’ prayers prevent our being tempted or making choices. But the prayers of Jesus did assure that Peter would recover and grow stronger. And they assure us that good grain will rise as the chaff falls away during sifting. God still works what is meant for evil into good, over time, for those who love him (Rom. 8: 28). 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I swore I would be true, and I meant it.
I would never . . .
You can count on me . . .
I’m not like all the others . . .
I am prepared to suffer for you . . .
 
But again you crushed me
With your predictions.
 
And again you surprised me 
With assurances and a mission.
 
You have prayed for me.
 
With all that is upon you,
All your cares, all the needs,
You have prayed for me.
For me!
 
You put your faith in the gap for me.
You take the brunt.
You bear the load.
You keep watch.
You stand for me as you kneel before your Father.
 
My faith will not fail, you have prayed it.
But there will be something from which I must turn again.
Some place I will go from which I must come back.
 
You will crush me, and surprise me
You will soothe me and you will send me.
 
You have prayed for me. 
I can only rest in those prayers. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 18

Day 18  Wednesday

THE DISCIPLES, PART 1: AT THE LAST SUPPER
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Luke 22: 14-30
And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table. For the Son of Man goes as it has been determined, but woe to that man by whom he is betrayed!” And they began to question one another, which of them it could be who was going to do this.
 
A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves. 
 
You are those who have stayed with me in my trials, and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”
 

CAST NOTES

The Passion Week accounts focus heavily on the words and actions of Judas and Peter. But there were ten other disciples in the other room. In today’s accounts, they function as one character. As a collective that includes all of us.
 
Curiously, Luke uses the word “apostles” at the beginning of our passage. That’s a term which means “sent ones.” It is most often used after Pentecost when the disciples were sent in the power of the Spirit to be witnesses for Jesus throughout the world. On Jesus’ last night, the disciples were certainly not acting like the men who would within a few months be turning the world upside down with the gospel.
 
Yet the deliberate choice of this out of place word indicates the faith Jesus continued to have in those he called to himself.
 
This stuns us, because the disciples had just given the strongest evidence yet of their general cluelessness! 
 
Jesus had just interrupted the Passover meal with news about himself. This annual sacred meal included the retelling of the wondrous deeds of the LORD in the Exodus. The story telling happened while certain foods were eaten and cups of wine were raised at particular moments. Jesus took the bread that represented the miraculous manna with which the LORD fed his people and declared it to be about his body which would be sacrificed for them. He took up the third cup, the cup of redemption, and declared it to be his blood, the new covenant by which God redeems his people. Jesus had just made Passover to be the Lord’s Supper!
 
The disciples responded by starting a dispute over which one of them would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven! Every time we get distracted from what matters most by a focus on our own ambitions and concerns, we step into the character of clueless disciples.
 
Yet, Jesus remained ever patient. He assured them of future communion with him in the kingdom to come.  
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

You break the bread, and I wonder if it’s gluten free.
You offer your very self to me, 
Yet I obsess over whether it’s just a symbol.
You lift the cup of wine and I want to know 
Is it wine or grape juice?
You create a new covenant in your blood, 
And I still think the one with the most toys wins.
You give us a sacred way to remember you 
And I am on my phone.
You create one body in one bread, and we let this divide us.
 
Lord, how do you endure your church?
How do you keep faith in us?
 
Yet in your brilliance, you take the result of our faithlessness—your death—and make it the sign of your everlasting, unconditional, redemptive love.
 
Grant us grace, Lord Jesus, to eat your body and drink your blood in such a way that we become more and more one with you and each other.
 
Grant us grace to look up from our lives and see you. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 17

Day 17  Tuesday

SIMON PETER, PART 1
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 13: 1-17
Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”
 
When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”
 

CAST NOTES

Simon Peter is a large character. He’s all in. He’s the man of grand statements and dramatic gestures. 
 
As Simon, he made the bold confession “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16: 16). In reply, Jesus called him “blessed” and named him Peter (which means rock), as the foundation for Christ’s church (Matt. 16: 18). Then just minutes later replied to Jesus’ prediction of his suffering, “Far be it from you, Lord!” (Matt. 16: 22). And Jesus had to say to his Rock, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me” (Matt. 16: 23). 
 
In this passage, just hours before Jesus’ arrest, we again see Peter’s hot and cold, large, all-out-there character. 
 
Jesus stripped himself to stoop down to wash his disciples’ feet, the lowliest of servile acts. Peter was horrified! He wanted to prevent his Lord this humiliation. But when Jesus declared it to be a condition of being joined to him, Peter asked for a whole bath! He loved Jesus utterly. Often confusedly, but always whole-heartedly. 
 
What do you admire about Peter? For me, it’s the fact that even in his failures, Peter loved Jesus so passionately. He moves me to open more of my heart to Christ. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Lord, you always surprise me!
You asked me to fish where there are no fish.
And then the boat nearly sank with the catch.
Instead of joy, I felt the terror of my sin.
You crushed me with your holiness.
But then you called me to fish with you for people. 
 
You left us alone to row in the wind and the waves.
When we were nearly spent, you came walking on the water.
I wanted to join you there upon the water.
And you told me “Come!” 
Eyes on you I walked above the sea,
But then I looked down and my fear crushed me.
I squealed like a child for you to save me.
Of course you stretched out your hand.
 
You let me call you Lord and Christ, the very Son of God.
You said I could be your Rock.
Then you told me you had to go to Jerusalem to die. 
How could I let you?
Then you crushed me when you called me Satan.
I only wanted to save you and ended up hampering you. 
But always you forgave.
 
Tonight when we should have been serving you,
You stooped with the basin and the towel.
How could I let you?
But then you crushed me again,
Threatening that I had no share with you.
But Lord, I only want to be with you!
Why do you twist me around like this?
 
I am ever undone by you.
Ever remade by you.
Ever restored by you.
I so often miss the point,
I do not see you coming.
But do not give up on me.
You know, Lord, you know, I love you.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 16

Day 16 Monday

JUDAS, PART 1
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 14-16
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
 
Luke 22: 1-6
Now the Feast of Unleavened Bread drew near, which is called the Passover. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to put him to death, for they feared the people. 
 
Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was of the number of the twelve. He went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers how he might betray him to them. And they were glad, and agreed to give him money. So he consented and sought an opportunity to betray him to them in the absence of a crowd.
 
John 12: 4-6
But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it.
 
CAST NOTES
Why did Judas do it? The question endures through the centuries. Why destroy your life to hand over Jesus when they would have captured him soon anyway?
 
John’s Gospel gives Judas a base motive: he was a thief. The greed of a robber provides a presenting motive. It gives Judas a “carrot” to grab. But isn’t there more below the surface of stealing?
 
Luke says “Satan entered into” him. True enough. Judas became a pawn of the evil one. But that’s still not enough. Satan tempts us through our proclivities and weaknesses. He gets hold of us as we yield to temptation. And then creates havoc in our lives.
 
But I want to know more. Had Judas ever loved Jesus? Had he ever had higher motives than the meager money bag of the disciples? 
 
Why did Judas want Jesus stopped? What greater good would that bring?
 
In this first of three days looking at the character of Judas, we acknowledge the mysterious nature of evil. We destroy people we love. We choose disruption over harmony. We wreak devastation when we could have sown peace.
 
Judas was no different than I am. I approach his character with the fear and trembling that I may never get to the bottom of why he, and I, choose evil.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Judas traded prayer for conversations with himself. Instead of praising God, he could only rehearse his deeds. Instead of asking God, he could devise plots. When we enter sin deliberately, we interrupt our communion and enter an endless self-loop of solo conversation. Consider if you hear yourself in this one:
 
My God, it was thrilling!
What will you give me if I deliver him to you?
Hand him over. 
Betray his location to you 
So you can find him quietly.
I had the leverage.
I had something to exchange for coin.
To sell him out to buy me out
Of this life, this wandering, 
This dead end death trap of traipsing after him.
Coin to set me up in a real life.
My heart pounded with the possibilities.
 
Sure I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach
When I struck the deal.
The thrill was also fear.
Something hollowed out inside me.
I was losing something I hadn’t known I had.
 
But no going back.
Turn fear to contempt.
Sneer at his lap dog disciples.
Suck on my secret every time
He delivered another brilliant line.
He was going down.
 
I would deliver him. 
They would thank me.
They would respect me.
A man who knows how to deal,
To trade in power and secrets,
Make the Mover move.
I would deliver him,
But who would deliver me?
 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 15

MOVING INTO THE LAST NIGHT

Week 3

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Andrea Mantegna. The Agony in the Garden. 1455. 
 
 
By midweek, Judas had made a deal with the religious leaders to lead them to Jesus when he was away from the crowds.  
 
In his last day at the Temple, Jesus watched a poor widow offer two copper coins and found encouragement in her faith to give gratefully all she had. Then, he prepared for his final Passover celebration with his disciples. 
 
Before the meal, he took the servant’s role and washed their feet, giving them a picture of what it meant to live from his love. Then, during the sacred meal itself, Jesus inaugurated the sacrament that would continue in his memory until the end of time.
 
He sadly predicted the betrayal of Judas, the denial of Peter and the falling away of the disciples. We will see ourselves in each of these characters.
 
Jesus’ deepest struggle occurred after dinner in the Garden of Gethsemane. His work of bearing the sin of the world had begun and his heart recoiled at the spiritual and physical agony that lay ahead.  
When he had resolved his resistance into obedience, calm pervaded Jesus as he faced those who came to arrest him.
 
In this vibrant painting by Andrea Mantegna (1455) we see Jesus in the Garden resolving “Nevertheless, not what I will, but what you will be done.” And we see our representatives on the scene, Peter, James and John asleep in a heap, even as the mob comes to arrest Jesus.
 

Day 15 Sunday

THE FAITHFUL WIDOW
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 12: 41-44
And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
 

CAST NOTES

The widow brought two copper coins, the equivalent of a penny, which in those days was 1/64 of a denarius, a day’s wage for a common laborer. So, in today’s terms, it was about $1.25.
 
Jesus found her offering to be more than the enormous gifts of the well to do. They gave out of abundance, out of surplus. She gave out of scarcity, out of the “capital” she had for daily sustenance. In fact, she left herself no reserve for living. 
 
We might consider her foolish. After all, what difference would her gift actually make in the annual budget of the Temple? In what normal logic would it ever seem either prudent for herself or helpful to the Temple for her to give her last resource?
 
Yet, there was precedence. The widow of Zarephath was preparing what she thought was her final meal from a handful of flour and a bit of oil. But when she agreed to share that morsel with the prophet Elijah, the LORD multiplied her flour and oil for days and days (1 Kings 17: 8-16). When five loaves and two fish were offered to feed five thousand, by the Lord’s prayers they were all fed with baskets left over (John 6: 1-14).
 
She gave out of her poverty because she considered even that to be a participation in the LORD’s abundance. When wealth is an end in itself, we never feel we have enough. When God is our all, a morsel becomes riches. Indeed, the heart of faith was revealed all the way from the father of faith, Abraham, who discovered in ever increasing depths that “The LORD will provide” (Gen. 12: 1, 22: 8).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I rise this day to give you thanks.
The night has passed. Another day is granted.
My heart beats. I breathe. I see. 
My mind can still remember.
Days of growing up. A sister. Brothers.
Mother telling me of your mighty deeds.
Father saying prayers around the table.
Days with a husband, days of raising children.
So much given to me. So much now gone.
But I do not embitter your gifts because I held them only briefly.
They were never mine to keep.
But they are mine to give thanks for and to give to you.
Once again.
So I find that I yet have strength to rise from bed,
A voice to say prayers aloud,
Water for washing and for drinking.
Bread to eat. You give me all of this today.
 
And more. Today I will go to your house.
To the meeting place. Where your name dwells.
Where the world comes to pray.
And I will pray, I will give thanks.
And this day, oh this glorious day, I get to matter.
Because you have given me coin to share.
To contribute to your house. 
To have a place among those who come as one who also gives.
 
You have given me so much!
All I have comes from you and I give it all to you in praise.
 
I will go to your House.
In your presence is fullness of joy.
In your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
No good thing do you withhold. . . . 
How rich I am with your wealth
No thing would I withhold from you,
My Father, my King, my God, my Hope!
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 14

Day 14 Saturday

THE TEACHABLE TEACHER
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 12: 28-34
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.
 

CAST NOTES

Amidst the defeats and conviction of Passion Week, there are a few bright spots. This encounter is one of them. Religious leaders had been trying to trap Jesus with trick questions. They were not seeking knowledge, but merely to disgrace Jesus with clever theological tactics. But Jesus continually answered them brilliantly. And bluntly. They were not used to hearing a young man say, “You are quite wrong” (Mark 12: 27). No doubt these leaders were furious with shame.  
 
One of the scribes, however, was drawn to Jesus. His question about the greatest commandment was not a trick. He wanted to be sure his life was centered on what mattered most. He saw in Jesus the Source he had always sought. 
 
It would be easy to overlook the courage of this scribe. There was nothing to be gained by siding with Jesus in front of those he just humiliated. There was no professional advancement awaiting an academic who spoke to Jesus as if he knew more than the elders. Rather there would be severe social consequences to one who showed allegiance to Jesus in this moment, when Jesus was definitely trending down in public opinion. This scribe backed a loser. 
 
But he gained ultimate treasure! The scribe and Jesus exchanged Scripture passages together. They were in fellowship as each one enhanced the other with the passages quoted. The scribe paraphrased a verse dear to Jesus’ mission, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hos. 6: 6). Amidst the severity of Jesus’ Passion Week teaching, he did not overlook one who actually got the point. Rather he blessed the scribe, saying “You are not far from the kingdom of God!”
  
Our God delights in our praying back his Word to him. He loves when we find a friend and proclaim together the glories of our Redeemer. He fills us when we magnify him meditating upon his mighty acts and returning praise to him, both alone and in gathered worship. 
 
Make note of what difference it makes in your life to answer Scripture with Scripture in prayer and conversation.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

I knew what they were doing.
Trying to trip you in technicalities.
They raised the contradiction of their compromised lives.
Would you place Caesar above the law?
Would you foment rebellion against Caesar?
The cynical Sadducees, so wealthy and worldly,
In need of no one, deluded that having all now is enough.
Would you get lost in their metaphysics?
Would you prove to be just a rube from the north?
But you did not back down.
You dared to look power in the face 
And unmask its hypocrisy and lies.
 
You seemed to know God himself, not just thoughts about him.
You saw the Word as a whole and knew its heart.
 
So I had to ask you.
Do you see what I see? Do I see rightly what we’ve all lost?
 
What really matters most?
 
You knew. You know.
Love.
Loving the one true God with everything.
Loving one another.
That’s under, before, within every sacrifice, every law.
 
In that moment, we touched spirits.
We exchanged Scripture.
You blessed me.
I am not far, you said, not far from the Kingdom.
 
The others hated me for that.
I praised you while they scorned you.
I will pay in position and place.
But I would pay anything to speak to you again.
You said I am near.
O take me the rest of the way.
For I would love you as I love the LORD I AM.
I would join you in the way you love us. 
I love you, Lord Jesus,
Take me into your Kingdom.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

Lent - Day 13

Day 13 Friday

SHEEP AND GOATS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 25: 14-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
 
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
 

CAST NOTES

This is the final parable recorded from Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. As such, it has a sense of being climactic, of being the last word on the measure of our discipleship. For that reason, this is one of the most terrifying teachings of Jesus!
 
The force of the parable is to conclude that the basis for our final judgment will not be our worship, faith or theology. It will be our compassion, or lack of it, toward the least of the least. The parable is meant to shock us.  
 
It calls us to identify which side we are on in the drama of Jesus. Are we the goats or the sheep? Our choice is made through our action or nonaction toward the least of the least. Nonaction occurs through drift, inattention and blindness. We may not even know we have slipped into the goat category! Action occurs through intention, awareness and sacrifice. We don’t become sheep by accident, heritage or general agreement with the mission. We have to act. 
 
To hear Jesus’ teaching, it is particularly important not to take cover too quickly in the theology of “It’s grace not works!” This day, with this Scripture before us, we are asked to sit with Jesus’ words as if they were the only thing he ever said. As if they were the last thing he wanted us to remember. And then see to what the Spirit calls us through them.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

How often I have said, “Lord, when did I see you hungry?”
For I looked upon hungry children and thought
“Those people! Their parents ought to get a job.”
 
I seldom thought of the imprisoned, except to wish their population would increase. When I did, I thought, “They deserve it. If you don’t want the time, don’t do the crime.”
 
I have ignored, shut out or feared strangers.
They are not one of us. They do not belong here.
 
I am embarrassed about the naked:
People who do not hide their neediness,
They are just raw want, obvious problems, whiners.
Like people with no clothes, they are without covering.
 
Without covering of friendships. Or connections.
Or influence.
They may be contagious. 
 
Being with the naked could make me seem that apparent, that needy, that much of a drain.
 
I never saw you when I tried not to see them.
Yet there you were.
All the time.
Waiting for me.
 
I of such great faith. I who sing hymns loudly.
I who read your Word and proclaim your name.
I totally missed you.
O forgive me.
Make me more concerned to be compassionate than correct
To stink of bodies embraced than clean with isolation of the least neglected.
 
I yet breathe, say it is not too late!
I yet have some strength, some choice,
O let me find you in your poor.
 
You are here, not where I want to look, 
But where you say you are.
I will go to you today.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 12

Day 12 Thursday

THE TENANTS OF THE VINEYARD
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 21: 33-46
“Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally, he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:     
 
“‘The stone that the builders rejected          
has become the cornerstone;     
this was the Lord’s doing,              
and it is marvelous in our eyes’? 
 
Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” 
 
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
 

CAST NOTES

The vineyard had long been a symbol for Israel. The LORD had planted his people in the Promised Land, tending and caring for them in expectation that his vineyard would yield a harvest of righteousness to bless the world. The Jerusalem Temple even had a gilded grape vine carved above its columns.
 
But the vineyard was also a symbol of national failure. The people did not produce the expected fruit. Before Israel’s destruction and exile in 587 BC, Isaiah had prophesied the way the nation had failed,  
 
For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel . . . 
And he looked for justice, 
but behold, bloodshed;
For righteousness, but behold, an outcry!  (Isa. 5: 7).
 
Amidst such persistent failure, the LORD’s people yearned for a Redeemer.  Psalm 80 paints this longing in terms of the vineyard, 
 
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted,
and for the son whom you made strong for yourself! 
But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
 
This psalm mysteriously prays not only for Israel as, collectively, the LORD’s son, but for a particular son, the redeemer of the vineyard yet to come.
 
As Jesus told his parable, he knew his audience would realize that he understood himself as the Redeemer of the vineyard of Israel. They understood that Jesus connected the current religious leaders to the historic, persistent rejection of the LORD’s prophets. The prophets who offered life and hope following repentance were consistently rejected, often violently.
 
The warning applies well to us. For the Word of God still confronts our settled lives. We still resist any call to change, to admit we are not doing just fine, to acknowledge the need to repent. The call of Jesus still provokes fierce opposition in our jaded, self-satisfied hearts. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Praying Psalm 80 with yielded hearts can save us from the resistance of the wicked tenants that resides in us: 
 
Restore us, O God of hosts;
let your face shine, that we may be saved!
 
You brought a vine out of Egypt;
you drove out the nations and planted it,
You cleared the ground for it;
it took deep root and filled the land. . . . 
 
It sent out its branches to the sea
and its shoots to the River.
Why then have you broken down its walls,
so that all who pass along the way pluck its fruit?
 
Turn again, O God of hosts!
Look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted,
and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. . . . 
But let your hand be on the man of your right hand,
the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!
Then we shall not turn back from you;
give us life, and we will call upon your name!
 
Restore us, O LORD God of hosts!
Let your face shine, that we may be saved! 
(excerpted from Psalm 80: 7-19)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

Lent - Day 11

Day 11 Wednesday

TWO SONS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 21: 28-32
And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?”
 
“What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.
 

CAST NOTES

This is the first of six parables Matthew records Jesus telling during Passion Week. The characters in these stories represent characters in the drama of Jesus. Because each parable makes the contrast between belief and unbelief very clear. In these stories, Jesus raised the stakes for everyone listening to him. He inspired his disciples and provoked his detractors.
 
The meaning of this parable is not hidden. Jesus explained the characters. The son that says, “Yes” but does not do his father’s will represents the learned elders, the chief priests and experts in the Scriptures. They learned the Word. They enacted the LORD’s worship. They strove to obey the law and serve God. But along the way, they lost the point. They became concerned with external righteousness. They lost the quality of mercy. Their hearts hardened from being pliable to God to being rigid with pride. 
 
The son that says, “No” but ends up doing his father’s request represents the people who previously lived in open rebellion to the Law of God, such as the tax collectors and prostitutes. They lived compromised lives. Even when they knew better. They got so far down the wrong road that most would have thought it was too late to change. But Jesus’ call to them awoke what was still soft and open and yearning in their hearts. It’s never too late. They repented and changed.  
 
Jesus reveals the upside down nature of the Kingdom of God. The notoriously “wrong” may end up being more responsive to his call than the apparently “right.” In today’s measure of righteousness, this means that racists, sexual abusers, bigots, homophobes, exploiters and power mongers may hear the call to turn and be made new before those of us who check every box for what makes us aware, woke, responsible and with-it in today’s world.  
 
Luther reminded us that we all need to repent of our righteousness as well as our sin. For our resumes do not connect us to the Father. Rather, a constant line into the heart that needs mercy and saving keeps us relating to the one Savior.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

O Father, I have focused on doing right and being right.
I went to school.
I got decent grades.
I obeyed most of the rules.
I made up for what I did wrong.
I learned the codes for how to speak, dress and act.
I got a job. I played the game. I did well.
 
I’m glad I’m not like other people.
So many wasted their lives.
So many don’t know how to act.
They overstate rather than underplay.
They grab and gobble rather than receive politely.
They don’t say thanks and they don’t think about others.
 
And yet when I come before you 
I realize that all my right-ness is but filthy rags.
I repent of my goodness for it hides a complacent, 
In-curved heart.
 
I long for the joy of the dramatically lost who come home to you.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).


ENCORE

The brilliance of Jesus’ teaching includes deceptive simplicity. Many of his parables draw contrasts that are much clearer than the murky tangle of our ordinary lives. We might want to protest, “But Jesus, it’s just not that simple! Life is more complicated than that!” He riles us.
 
And therein lies his brilliance! Jesus forces his listeners to choose. Are you a good son or a bad son? Are you a wise or foolish maiden? Which kind of ground are you for the seed of God’s Word: hard, thorny, rocky or fertile? Are you true-hearted or double-minded?
 
Of course, we are not simply one or the other. There is a wandering prodigal son in me as well as a judgmental older brother. Sometimes I am prepared to receive Jesus the bridegroom, sometimes I am not. Sometimes my heart is full of thorns and other times it is receptive. Sometimes I am not like either son in today’s parable: once in a while I say, “Yes" and actually follow through! 
 
Jesus knows the nuances and paradoxes of life. But he speaks in such stark contrasts not because he is a simpleton. But because he wants to provoke us to choice. He wants to move us from where we are. He may well frighten us, infuriate us or convict us. He may make us want to question or even argue. But the one thing he never, ever lets his listeners do is to be indifferent. 
 
Today, as always, we have to make a choice about which kind of son we will be. He just demands it. Because the Christ who loves us as we are won’t leave us stuck as we are!

 

Lent - Day 10

Day 10 Tuesday

GENTILE SEEKERS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 12: 20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 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. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 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.
 
“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. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
 
John 12: 44-50
And Jesus cried out and said, “Whoever believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me. I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness. If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”
 

CAST NOTES

As we’ve noted, not just Jews came to the Passover celebration in Jerusalem.
 
People came from around the world, including this group of Greeks. Greek was the common language across the Roman world, and Greek thought was the pinnacle of philosophy. So these Gentile seekers seem to be educated spiritual questers.
 
In a week when many wished Jesus would just go away, these non-Jewish seekers arrive with a great statement of faith, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”
 
This seemed to be a signal to Jesus that circumstances were moving toward the climax of his life, his Passover of death and resurrection.
The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Christ’s glory was first in his humiliation of his shameful crucifixion. The arrival of Gentiles meant the fulfilling of his mission was at hand:
 
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.
 
Jesus, the new Temple, began the renewed people of God. He fulfilled the original promise of Abraham that the whole world would be blessed through the LORD’s people.
 
But the joy of his mission being nearly complete sank into the troubling awareness of what would soon be required. His soul grew troubled and he sought reassurance from his Father.
 
The Greek questers seem almost forgotten in this story. Their request to Jesus has cued the final episodes, the inevitable entry into glory that passes through suffering and death. Did they ever meet Jesus? Did they become disciples? Did they hear him say, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in the world will keep it for eternal life?” 
 
We, as the audience to this drama, must make the connection. We are the bridge. Will we continue their quest right into the words and mission of Jesus? 
 
Jesus grew passionate: he cried out. He made it clear. To see him was to see the Father. To be part of him was to be part of the mission of the Triune God. The choice remained stark: light or dark, life or death, blindness or sight.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Sir, we would see Jesus.
And know him to be the object of all our questing.
The one true goal.
The fountain of life.
The source.
Lord Jesus Christ, all our fresh springs are in you.
True image of the Father.
True image of man as meant to be.
Lifted up in shame that becomes glory.
Life out of death.
Impassioned seeker of the lost.
We seek the one who seeks us.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 9

Day 9 Monday

THE MERCHANTS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 2: 13-17
The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
 
Matthew 21: 12-13
And Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” 
 

CAST NOTES

John tells of this episode early on in his Gospel, whereas Matthew, Mark and Luke recount it toward the beginning of Passion Week. Perhaps there was more than one clearing of the Temple by Jesus. Or, as we have seen, perhaps John was narrating with theology providing his order rather than our usual chronology.
 
Either way, the Temple was meant to be the meeting place between the LORD I AM and humanity. People came from all over the world to pray and offer sacrifices at the site where the LORD said his name would dwell. In the Temple atonement for sin was made, prayers of praise and petition were offered, God’s Word was taught. As predicted by Solomon when the first Temple opened, people would stream to Jerusalem from everywhere to seek the LORD (1 Kings 8: 41-44).
 
In particular, people came to Jerusalem during the high feasts, such as the Passover. Rather than travel with animals to sacrifice, people purchased animals in the temple precincts. They also had to exchange their local currency for Temple currency. So there was legitimate trade occurring for, at least on the face of it, very spiritual reasons.
 
But as is so often the case, in home, business or church, logistics and merchandising can get in the way of the original purpose. Many of us have been to holy places and lamented how commercialized the site has become. So even in Jesus’ day, the Temple courts were crowded with tables of trade. People were paying prices set more for profit than fair value.  
 
Jesus, as the Son of his heavenly Father on a mission to save the world, grew disturbed that people truly seeking God were being squeezed out by all the getting and spending. He longed for people to meet his Father in prayer, not only the people of Israel but from all the world.
 
With that passion, and with the authority of the LORD himself, Jesus overturned the tables, scattered the coins, and drove out the merchants with a whip. It was a powerful, sustained, deliberate action. And it was no doubt provocative. Business people don’t like to have legitimate business interrupted, especially during high season.
 
But Jesus, who was himself the new meeting place between God and humanity, was emptying the temple of the old system of atonement, clearing the decks, for the beginning anew of the people of God who would become a living temple founded on himself (1 Pet. 2: 4-10).
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER
 

Unrepentant Merchants
 
Who does he think he is?
Striding in here like he owns the place!
Something should be done.
He’s a menace to all honest working people.
We’ll never get the money sorted out.
We’ll never make up for losing our business today
The height of the feast.
He needs to pay.
Why did no one stop him?
Where were the guards? Don’t we pay for security?
Everyone was afraid.
Did you see the look in his eye?
He’s a big boy, that carpenter’s son.
I wasn’t going to step into that.
But I can tell you, they’ll hear about it from me.
He’s not even from around here.
This is out of hand, out of control.
Something has to be done.
He needs to be stopped so we can go back to normal.
 
Repentant Merchants (based on 1 Peter 2)
 
We come to you Lord Jesus as to a living stone,
The very corner and foundation of a spiritual house
Where spiritual sacrifices of praise may be offered to our Redeemer.
Build us into your living Temple.
Fit us into your body, the church.
We belong to you.
We gather to worship you, forming the Temple of your praise 
Anew, over and over again.
In your Temple we proclaim your excellencies.
You have called us out of darkness
And into your marvelous light . . . 
You have made of us one people,
Out of all nations, tribes and races,
For your cherished possession to be the light of the world.
 
Forgive us when we have clogged the way to you with coming and going, getting and spending, viewing and gaming. We have been restless in our consuming, going from thing to thing while missing the Main Thing! Drive far from us all sinful desires. Don’t let us do anything to block people from you. Make your church, your people, a home of prayer and praise for all.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 8

Linda Richardson. Anointing at Bethany. 21st c.

ENCOUNTERS EARLY IN THE WEEK

WEEK TWO

In the first days of Passion Week, Jesus openly taught and acted in Jerusalem. It was the week of the year’s biggest feast, Passover. So the city was swollen with visitors from around the nation and world.  
 
Jesus did not play it safe. Quite the opposite. He cleared the Temple of money changers. He convicted the religious leaders of rejecting the LORD’s own Son. Jesus not only expected their rejection, he seemed to invite it.  
 
Opposition grew. Yet so also devotion. So from the business, political and religious sectors, opposition grew intensely. In these responses, we see our own hearts revealed. For we know ourselves to be both resistant and receptive to Jesus, to welcome him and fear him, to desire him and scorn him. 
The week began with Mary of Bethany anointing Jesus’ head and feet. The expensive nard was fit for royalty. Jesus declared her service “a beautiful thing,” preparing him for his burial. The oil and aroma of a king would be upon him through the events of this epic week.  
 
British artist Linda Richardson writes of her painting, “I love this moment in Holy Week, knowing that Jesus had friends who loved him, touched and honoured his body, shared his life, his food, his laughter and his love. Touch the painting, touch Jesus face and imagine what you would say to him and as you smell the beautiful fragrance. What do you think he would say to you?”
 
 

Day 8 Sunday

MARY OF BETHANY PREPARES JESUS
 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 26: 6-13
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head as he reclined at table. And when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this could have been sold for a large sum and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”
 
John 12: 1-8
Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
 

CAST NOTES

Matthew and John give us two perspectives on the same story. We learn from John that the woman who anointed Jesus was Mary, the sister of Martha who had served Jesus a great dinner (Luke 10: 38-42) and the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead (John 11). These three seem to have had a unique relationship with Jesus, taking the role of steady friends. When Lazarus was ill, the sisters sent a message saying, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11: 3). The word used is the love of friendship, of brotherly affection. Mary had earlier been praised by Jesus for understanding that “but one thing is necessary” (Luke 10: 42) as she sat at Jesus’ feet listening to his teaching.
 
This Mary of Bethany is not the same Mary who is the mother of Jesus or Mary Magdalene whom we will engage on Days 36 and 37. This dinner at Bethany seems to be in honor of Jesus for his raising of Lazarus, though it was held at the house of Simon, who had once been a leper. While they were still at table, Mary made her extravagant gesture.  
 
The ointment could well have been worth a year’s wages. It was a once-in-a-lifetime gift. Once the alabaster flask was broken open, the nard had to be used. This was the kind of anointing a king would receive; the ointment smelled like royalty. The aroma would linger powerfully on the skin for days: through the hours of fear, stress and bleeding. Mary gave Jesus a king’s anointing before he died a criminal’s death. 
 
The intimacy of touching his head and wiping his feet with her hair provoked the disciples with jealousy, which Judas expressed in a hypocritical concern for the poor. But Jesus called her gift “a beautiful thing.” It was a final, grand gesture of love. Seemingly futile but expressive of the heart.  
 
So we wonder, “If I knew he would suffer and die within a few days, what would I give Jesus to show him my love and offer him comfort?”
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

You speak the words of life.
You fill my heart.
You wept at my tears.
You wept for my brother’s death.
You spoke the words that raised him to life.
You are the Lord of life who gives life,
And you are on your way to die.
 
Though the others do not want to admit it.
I see the strain on your face.
I know the wind rises stronger against you.
I know that you go to meet those who will kill you.
 
Oh, receive this!
You know you have my heart. Now have this gift.
It is fit for a king. It brings the aroma of royalty.
Its odor will linger through these days.
 
Breathe it in. Let the pungency rise amidst
The smells of tears, strain and fear, of sweat and blood.
I touch your hair, your head, with this oil.
You do not flinch as I dare to come so close.
I wash your feet with the oil of kings, and 
Give you all glory as I wipe your tired feet with my hair. 
Oh receive this and remember love as you stride into hate.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - Day 7

Day 7  Saturday

THE CROWD ON PALM SUNDAY
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 12: 12-15, 19
The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written,   
 
“Fear not, daughter of Zion;    
behold, your king is coming,            
sitting on a donkey’s colt!” 
 
So the Pharisees said to one another, “You see that you are gaining nothing. Look, the world has gone after him.”
 
Luke 19: 37-40
As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”
 
Luke 19: 41-42 
And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.”
 
Matthew 23: 37 
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often I would have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
 

CAST NOTES

During Passover, Jerusalem was filled with pilgrims from all over the world. It was a homecoming for the people of God, who gathered to sacrifice the lambs and keep the feast of the LORD’s deliverance, the very foundation of their identity as a people. 
 
Jerusalem itself is a cast member and so are its crowds.
 
The expectation of the time was that the Messiah, the Christ, would arrive in Jerusalem to take up his throne and reign, ushering in a new age of freedom from enemies, of peace, worship, joy and fruitfulness. Israel would be at last restored as the jewel of nations as the LORD of all the earth ruled through his Messiah from Jerusalem.
 
This beginning of Passion Week included a moment in which the crowd, representing humanity at large, had to recognize the arrival of the King. “See, the whole world has gone after him.” Even creation had a part to play as God came to set all things right. “I tell you if these were silent, the very stones would cry out!”
 
Yet, we see from this scene that people are easily swayed, changeable, enthusiastic in both worship and scorn. Jesus wept over the city which cheered him. He knew the history of rejecting prophets. He felt sorrow that people ran from his sheltering love like chicks scattering from their mother hen.  
 
So the crowds and the holy city of Jerusalem are a key character in this drama, representing both the faithfulness and the betrayal, both the sin and the belief, in the human heart. It is from these crowds on the stage of this city that the characters of Passion Week, both the courageous and the cowardly, will emerge. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Pray aloud these passages associated with Palm Sunday from the very beginning. Allow yourself to pray as one standing in the crowd watching Jesus enter the city. Let these verses awaken the ancient longing in you for God to come at last to make all things right. 
 
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
Righteous and having salvation is he,
Humble and mounted on a donkey,
On a colt, the foal of a donkey . . .
And he shall speak peace to the nations;
His rule shall be from sea to sea . . .
As for you also, because of the blood of the covenant with you,
I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.
Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope. 
(Zechariah 9: 9-11)
 
This is the day that the LORD has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Save us, we pray, O LORD!
O LORD, we pray, give us success!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.
We bless you from the house of the LORD.
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.
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
You are my God, I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
His steadfast love endures forever.
(Psalm 118: 24-29)
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 6

Day 6  Friday

THE FACE OF THE OPPOSITION
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5: 18).
 
Luke 18: 9-14
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt. “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner.’ I tell you this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
 

CAST NOTES

We have already seen that the opposition to Jesus resides in every human heart, in the collective spirit of the world and in the malevolence of the spiritual Enemy of God and his creation. That shared, unseen resistance takes particular expression in the human enemies that Jesus faced during Passion Week.
 
When we read that “the Jews” sought to kill Jesus, we do not read with anti-Semitic eyes. That would be to miss the point. When we read “the Jews” in the gospel, we know he means, “the people who already knew better.” We think then today of church people. Of those who know the Scriptures, who go to worship and keep the feasts of the church. They could not grasp the surprising twist that God would take up frail human flesh. It seemed like blasphemy. I’m quite sure I would have missed it too!
 
In today’s parable, we also meet the most zealous of the LORD’s people. The Pharisees had devoted themselves to strict observance of holiness. Their mission was to preserve the distinctiveness of God’s people during Roman occupation and the great pluralizing force of Greek culture. The Pharisees had a good impulse toward holiness. Good motivations, however, often tumbled into crushing legalism. The difficulty arose when this rigorous observance became legalistic, more concerned with rules than heart, with judgment than mercy.
 
Along with the Pharisees, our drama includes other religious elites who became part of the opposition to Jesus. The scribes and lawyers were scholars of Scriptural law. They learned not only what the Bible said in detail, but the traditional commentaries and interpretations of Scripture. These were trained theologians, always engaged in debates.  
 
The ruling council was called the Sanhedrin. Comprised of only 70 members (plus whoever presided as chief priest for the year), many of them priests and/or Pharisees, the council was the elite of the elite. There was also a group called the Saducees. They represented “old money” and aristocratic social standing. The Saducees rejected any belief in a future resurrection. Generally, they liked the way things were and would resist any upstart like Jesus. 
 
Which of these groups do you most see yourself in? Are you more prone to legalism or worldly compromise? Do you ever get afflicted with spiritual indifference because you have been a believer so long? Has leadership in the church ever burned you out on faith?
 
How could identifying more with the tax collector in this parable restore you to a more vibrant relationship with Christ and a deeper love of others?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Again Lord Jesus, I read the gospels and am led to confess. Sometimes, I have been the face of the opposition toward you. This day, I want to own your descriptions of the Pharisees as often true of me:
 
O Lord Jesus, with the tax collector, I bow my head, beat my breast and cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
 
I preach but do not practice. I give other people tasks and burdens but do not myself life a finger (Matthew 23: 2-4).
 
By my indifference, blindness, snobbiness, overlooking, scorn or judgment, I have “shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces” (Matthew 23: 13).
 
I have been picky about particular points of behavior while neglecting “justice, mercy and faithfulness” (Matthew 23: 23).
 
I have cleaned the outside of my life while inside I have remained “full of greed and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23: 25).
 
You could well say of me Jesus, when I am all dressed up with my resume in hand and smooth speech on my lips that within “I am full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23: 27).
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 5

Day 5  Thursday

JESUS ANTICIPATES THE CRISIS OF PASSION WEEK
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Mark 8: 27-38
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. 
 
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
 
And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? For what can a man give in return for his life? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
 

CAST NOTES

This week, we have been setting the stage for the drama of Passion Week. We have already met the “invisible” yet central characters of the Father and the sinful human heart. We have considered the heart of mission that beat through Jesus and the reality of the spiritual Enemy he faced. 
 
Today we consider how Passion Week did not just happen to an unaware and surprised Jesus. He anticipated the crisis. In fact, he sought out this final conflict and brought it all to a head according to his own timing at Passover.
 
Let’s follow the plot line. 
 
Jesus lived to please his Father and to enact his mission to save the world.
 
As he ministered, however, he was aware that the opposition toward him would grow and that this was part of his Father’s plan.
 
Jesus told his disciples long before it happened that the religious leaders would reject him. He would be sentenced to death, but this would not be a final defeat, for he would rise in victory three days later.  
 
Jesus knew that Jerusalem was the Holy City, the nation’s capital, the site of the Temple in which the LORD’s presence resided. There the resistance to the Kingdom Jesus inaugurated would be most severe.
Even Thomas knew that going to Jerusalem meant escalating the conflict to a fatal level: “Let us also go [to Jerusalem], that we may die with him” (John 11: 16).
 
Still, Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem (Luke 9: 51).
 
How is your understanding of Passion Week affected by knowing that Jesus predicted what would happen?
 
Could you name three qualities of character required of Jesus to enter Jerusalem fully aware of the outcome?
 
Could you describe a time when life looked like the opposition was writing the script but then you discovered that God held the “pen” all along?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Once again, let’s step into the character of Jesus by taking words he prayed on our lips. Pray aloud this prayer of Jesus several times. Step into Jesus’ awareness of what awaited him and his understanding of why he had to go on:
 
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. Father, glorify your name. . . . Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. He said this to show by what kind of death he would die (John 12: 27-33).
 
And add your own prayers,
 
Father, I know that difficult passages await me. I will experience sudden reversals. Acute pain. Poignant losses. Betrayals and rejections. Agonizing defeats. We cannot avoid passing through the valley of the shadow of death. You do not save your children from these hours. But you do save us in the midst of such times and you carry us through. 
 
Before I get surprised again by reversal, I want to set my heart. Father, glorify your name through me. Draw others to yourself even when, especially when, I am lifted up in suffering. Allow me to say with Jesus, whatever befalls, ‘For this purpose I have come to this hour.’ That you might be seen in me. 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 4

Day 4  Wednesday

THE OPPOSITION BEHIND THE OPPOSITION
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Genesis 3: 1, 4-5
The serpent said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’? . . .” “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 
 
Matthew 4: 1, 8-10
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil… The devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.  And he said to [Jesus], all these I will give you, if you fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”
 
John 8: 44 
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”
 
Revelation 12: 9 
And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth and his angels were thrown down with him.
 
1 John 3: 8b  
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
 

CAST NOTES

The Biblical story has from the beginning acknowledged the existence of an adversary. We translate the Greek word diabolos as the devil, which means the slanderer, the one who maligns us. We translate satanas as Satan, the adversary, the accuser. The two words are used interchangeably. Jesus also refers to him as “the evil one” (Matt. 6: 13).
 
The devil appears as early as Genesis 3 in the guise of the serpent who tempts Eve.
 
There is no explanation given for why God’s good creation has a tempting serpent in the Garden. It’s just the way it is. Scripture gives little information about how Satan came to be or even why he is the way he is. But Scripture is clear from beginning to end that the devil and his minions exist.
 
Jesus was tempted by the devil to take short cuts in his redemptive work, and he considered Peter’s suggestion that he decline crucifixion to be the words of Satan himself (Mark 8: 33).
But he came to destroy the works of the devil. Satan introduced the temptation that, when taken, caused death to enter the world. Jesus would, by dying a criminal’s death as an innocent man, destroy the power of death. He would break the Accuser’s argument by taking away the fear of death. 
 
Through death, Jesus “destroyed the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [will] deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb. 2: 14-15).
 

PRAYING AGAINST THE CHARACTER

Father, we know that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6: 12).
 
Father, deliver us from evil. Deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6: 13).
 
For by your Word, we reject his temptations and his accusations:
 
Get behind me Satan, for you do not set my mind on the things of God, but of man (Mark 8: 33).
 
You seek to sift me like wheat (Luke 22: 31). 
 
You seek to devour me like a lion (1 Peter 5: 8). 
 
You seek to deceive and to accuse (Genesis 3: 13, Revelation 12: 9-10).
 
The Lord rebuke you! (Jude 9).
 
I resist you in Christ’s name (James 4: 7). 
 
For greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world (1 John 4: 4). 
 
The Son of God appeared to destroy your works (1 John 3: 8). And indeed he has!
 
Jesus, Son of God, you partook of flesh and blood that through death you might destroy . . . the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2: 14-15).
 
Jesus, you give us eternal life, and we will never perish, and no one can snatch us out of your hand. For your Father, who has given us to you is greater than all (John 10: 28-9).
 
Jesus, you are the propitiation for our sins and our advocate before the Father (1 John 2: 1-2). We are yours forever and therefore we are yours this day.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 3

Day 3  Tuesday

THE OPPOSITION IN OUR HEARTS 
  

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 1: 11 
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.
 
John 3: 19 
And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than the light, because their works were evil.
 
Mark 7: 20-23  
What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.
 

CAST NOTES

Another central character in the drama of Passion Week is the collective heart of a humanity that opposes God. This shared resistance takes center stage through various characters we will meet. But it is important to realize that each antagonist in this story draws from the sinful nature in which we all share.
 
The eternal Son came to us as the man Jesus in order to restore humanity to our intended place of intimate fellowship with God. He came to give us abundant life (John 10: 10).
 
For the most part, though, humanity did not respond positively to Jesus. The world at large did not recognize him as the Son of God (John 1: 10). His own particular people, those who knew the Scriptures, did not receive him as Lord and Savior (John 1: 11). The light entered the world but people preferred darkness (John 3: 19). 
 
Our self-will, embedded deep in every soul, persisted in declining God’s love even when God showed up personally as Jesus.
 
The source of resistance to God is the in-curved heart of sinful humanity. We prefer not to acknowledge God nor give him thanks (Rom. 1: 21). We have ever wanted our lives to be “our will, our way.”
 
This collective resistance to God in each heart has become the “spirit of the world” (1 Cor. 2: 12) which sweeps us away from “your will be done” to “my will be done.”
 
Where do you see your self-will show itself most often? 
 
When are you most likely to stay in the dark rather than come into the light of God? 
 
What draws you out of the dark of self-will and toward your Redeemer?
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

In 1630, Johann Heerman penned one of the most devastatingly accurate Passion Week hymns. Try on these verses as a means of prayer:
 
Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
That we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
O most afflicted!
 
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. 
 
Join your mind and heart to this prayer based on Romans 1: 18-32:
 
Gracious Triune God, full of steadfast love and mercy, we agree with Scripture’s honest assessment of us. We confess that what can be known about you is plain to see: your eternal power and divine nature shine through creation.  
 
Yet although we know in our bones that you exist, we do not honor you as God day to day, nor do we give sufficient thanks. 
 
Trying to live without you, trying to make sense of the world while forgetting you, has led to futility in our thinking. Without you to enlighten us, our foolish hearts are darkened. 
 
Claiming to be wise, we exchange your glory for tokens of created things. We devote ourselves to art, sports, business, medicine, construction, family, education—all good things, except when we make them ultimate goals. In the end they cannot fill the ache we have for you. 
 
But still we try to live without you. We exchange the truth of God for lies, time and again. It never works. So we, personally and as a human race, have been filled with all manner of destructive unrighteousness: covetousness, malice, disordered sexuality, envy, murder, strife, deceit, gossip, slander, insolence, rebelliousness and arrogance. 
 
We are inventive in evil and creative in disobedience, but dead, flat and boring in connecting to you. We have become foolish, faithless, heartless and ruthless. We are the opposition you met in your days among us. We are the enemies who resisted you and finally put you to death. Oh, how we need a Savior! 
 
Conclude your prayers aloud with the last two stanzas of Heerman’s hymn:
 
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.
 
Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
I do adore thee, and will every pray thee,
Think on thy pity and the love unswerving,
Not my deserving.
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 2

Day 2  Monday 

THE MISSION OF JESUS    

 

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).


FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

Matthew 9: 9-13 
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew, sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. 
 
And as Jesus reclined at table at the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
 
Mark 10: 45  
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.
 
Luke 19: 10 
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.
 
John 3: 17 
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
 

CAST NOTES

In today’s passages we can connect Jesus’ love for his Father with his sense of mission. For Jesus, the purpose of the drama of Passion Week is to love his Father by redeeming lost humanity. Let’s follow the thread of the story line: 
 
The heart of Jesus is his love for his Father.
 
The mission of Jesus was (and is) to do his Father’s will.
 
The will of the Father and the Son toward us is to call sinners, to seek and to save the lost, to give the Son’s life as a ransom for many, that the world might be saved through him.
 
The purpose of Jesus enacting his eternal love for his Father from within our humanity is our eternal salvation! To take away our sins. To include us in the Triune life! To give us a share in the Son’s sonship! To make everything sad come untrue and inaugurate the creation of the new heavens and earth.  
 
To put it another way, Passion Week is the climax of the story of the Redeemer. The final battle of the hero along the way of his journey to save his people. He came from heaven to fight against the enemies of humankind and thus bring back to his Father a great gift: human beings ransomed, freed, restored and forgiven.
 
So Jesus can answer these ultimate questions for himself.
 
Why have you come here?
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10: 10
 
What gift do you bring us?
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10: 28  
 
What promise do you make?
Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you. John 14: 19b-20.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Once again, we will pray with Jesus using the words from his lips in Scripture. Pray these passages aloud several times, imagining Jesus in various Biblical situations. Feel his passion for us—for you—as you enter into the prayers he made on our behalf.
 
As Jesus prepares to teach his disciples:
I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation, I will praise you (Hebrews 2: 12; Psalm 22: 22).
 
As Jesus prays in Gethsemane before his arrest, 
And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. . . . I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them (John 17: 3, 24).
 
As he arrives in heaven after his ascension, making intercession for us,
Behold, I and the children God has given me (Hebrews 2: 13; Isaiah 8: 18).
 
Finish your prayers by recalling aloud the redeeming purpose of the Gospels:
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

 

Lent - Day 1

INTRODUCING THE CHARACTERS

WEEK ONE

Context is crucial to understanding the people and events of Jesus’ passion. This week, we will set the stage by introducing the protagonist of the drama, Jesus himself. We will consider passages in which the heart of Jesus is revealed: his relationship with his Father in the power of the Spirit. And we will explore his mission to seek and to save the lost.  

 
We will also encounter his antagonists. World-wide opposition to the rule of God resides actively in every human heart. That opposition expressed itself in the particular resistance of the religious leaders who opposed Jesus. There was, however, a power behind the face of his enemies, the Evil One, who has ever tempted humanity toward the destruction that is sin.  
 
Finally, we will see the high stakes and heartfelt struggle Jesus went through as he entered the Holy City to reclaim its allegiance. Jerusalem and its crowds from around the world form the tableau in which our redemption, Christ’s Passover, would be worked out. 
 
In 1320, Pietro Lorenzetti breathed fresh, colorful life into his rendering of the traditional icon of Jesus’ triumphal entry. We can see the moment when humanity joined creation in acknowledging that the king of all had come to us. We rejoiced in his humility, to ride on a donkey. And we exulted in his majesty. He was worthy of our praises, short-lived though they will prove to be.
 

Day 1 Sunday

THE FATHER

 
Begin by reading aloud the purpose of the Scriptures:
 
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).
 
Of course, Jesus is the main character on the stage of Passion Week. But he is always oriented toward an invisible character: the Father. Everything Jesus does and says flows from his ardent, intimate love for him. To understand Jesus, we have to grasp how the Father/Son relationship is at the heart of this story.
 

FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

John 4: 34 
My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.
 
John 5: 19-20 
The Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.
 
John 6: 38  
For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but the will of him who sent me.
 
John 10: 30  
I and the Father are one.
 
John 14: 31 
I do as the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.
 
John 17: 24b 
. . . you loved me before the foundation of the world.
 

CAST NOTES

In his every word and action, Jesus’ heart beats for his Father. Love for his Father is the constant backdrop of Jesus’ ministry. He is the backbone of Jesus’ faithfulness through his trials. The Father is the central, yet invisible character in the drama of Passion Week.
 
In today’s passages, we see that Jesus feeds on doing his Father’s will. Obeying God sustains him. It’s the very source of his vision and his labor. 
 
Jesus never wanted to do anything except to imitate the character of his heavenly Father through his faithful, earthly humanity. There’s a wonderful, boy-like feeling to his words, “Whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” Like Father, like Son. The two are so close that Jesus can say they are one. This love story he tells precedes the foundation of the world!
 
To understand the drama of Passion Week, let’s consider: 
 
God is love (1 John 4: 8). Love means relationship. The one God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God exists as an eternal relationship of love. The divine persons ever give themselves to one another in creative, uninhibited love. A chief quality of love is that it brings forth life. From this Triune love, the world was made.
 
The Father spoke the world into being through the Word that is his Son (Col. 1: 16) and shaped that world into its intended form through his creating Spirit (Gen. 1: 2). Humanity was meant for a life of flourishing relationship with God and one another as we exercised a benevolent dominion over creation.
 
Yet, the Triune God’s good world fell into darkness and death through human sin.
 
To save his creation, for our sake, the eternal Son entered the world as one of us in Jesus.
 
In Jesus, that eternal relationship of love between the Father and the Son was lived out in our world as Jesus the man loved and served and worshiped his Father.
 
Jesus loved his Father in perfect faithfulness, fulfilling what humanity was always meant to be. This was, and is, his passion. 
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

Today, let’s step into the character of Jesus by taking words he prayed on our lips. Pray aloud these prayers of Jesus several times. Step into Jesus’ passion for his Father. Pray with him in order to know the heartbeat of his life. As you do so, imagine Jesus speaking to his Father in various situations: 
 
At Jesus’ baptism as he consecrates himself for ministry, 
 
Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book (Hebrews 10: 7, Psalm 40: 7-8).
 
As Jesus rejoices when his disciples return from healing and preaching in his name, 
 
I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will (Luke 10: 21).
 
As Jesus prepares for his arrest and trial:  
 
[May] they all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you sent me (John 17: 21).

 

Now connect the gift of these recorded prayers to the intent of the Gospel as you read aloud:
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).

 

 

Lent - INTRODUCTION

Each Maundy Thursday, we stand by the tomb and sing the question, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” The event happened two millennia ago in a land far across the sea. It occurred amidst people who spoke a language very few of us today can understand. How could we possibly have been there? But still we sing the answer, “Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.” The distant story moves us still. Convicts us. Gathers us up. Changes us. Because it’s not just ancient history. The unbroken witness of the people who belong to Jesus is that we are included in his passion and resurrection!
 
The four Gospels devote nearly a third of their content just to the eight days we call Passion Week, the time from Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday to his resurrection on Easter. His whole ministry becomes concentrated in this week in Jerusalem. It has all come down to this. Here we see most clearly who Jesus is. Here we see most starkly the human reaction to Jesus the Son of God who came to love and save us. We see acts of humble, sacrificial devotion. We see acts of foul betrayal. We encounter embarrassing denials and beautiful gestures. Through the parables he told during Passion Week, we hear Jesus describe the various ways people respond to him. We see his bravery as he engages the questions and accusations of the earthly authorities. Passion Week provides a window into the heart of Jesus and the hearts of those who encountered Jesus on his mission to save the world. As such, it provides a window into our hearts as well. 
 
Scripture teaches that Jesus suffered and died for us (2 Cor. 5: 16). He could do this because the man Jesus is also the Son of God and our Creator (Col. 1: 16; John 1: 3). As Maker, Jesus is connected to all of us. So what Jesus did as a man he also did as the God who relates to each one of us. His life, death and resurrection are of the highest significance to the human race. But each of us has to get spiritually joined to these events to access their full benefit. We get united to this Jesus by his Spirit through faith (Rom. 6: 3-4; Eph. 2: 8-10; Gal. 4: 4-6). Believing in Christ and entrusting ourselves utterly to him, we get taken into Jesus’ story as the defining narrative of our lives. His story becomes our story. We get the benefits, and the mission, of all he said and did. Then, we realize, yes, we were there! 
 
So by interacting with the characters of Passion Week, we can engage with our own responses to Jesus. We can find courage. We can be warned. We can be moved to love Christ more dearly. We can expose our own fierce desire to protect ourselves. We can see just how much it took for Jesus to persist in fidelity to his Father through the rage and rejection of the world in order to fulfill his plan of rescue for the human race. Yes, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble. Because I know I was there. I know I am like each and all of the people and powers Jesus encountered. And, despite myself, I want so much to grow in faithfulness to Jesus. 
 
I hope you will join me in encountering the people of Passion Week over these next 42 days. I pray that as you take up this study, you will grow closer to Jesus so that during Passion Week 2020 you will experience ever more deeply the sorrow and the triumph, the horror and the splendor of the week Jesus gave himself utterly so that we might be saved thoroughly from sin, evil and death. 
 

HOW TO USE THIS STUDY

 
Entering the Drama
 
I have precious memories of an Easter afternoon when my father took me to see a Passion Play at Orange Bowl Stadium in Miami. The field had become a stage on which the events of Jesus’ final week were enacted before the great crowd. Passion plays, of course, are a great and ancient Christian tradition around the world. For Passion Week is high drama. This is the climax of Jesus’ life among us. Every encounter is charged with significance. Every person who takes the stage has an eternally important role to play. Every line spoken remains inestimably important to us. 
 
So I’m inviting you to consider the characters the Gospels record as part of Passion Week as actors in a play. The script contains the drama of our redemption. As in any play, there is a protagonist, a hero, who of course is Jesus. There are also antagonists, both spiritual and human. There are mixed characters, the ones most like us, who can be faithful in one moment and faithless in the next.  
 
While the historical events of Holy Week are unrepeatable, the spiritual dynamics of these intense days continually play out in our daily lives. Drama shows us ordinary life in concentrated form. The gospel accounts of the drama of Jesus’ final week can be revealing and encouraging to us as we seek to live out loyal love for Jesus amidst our ordinary temptations, sufferings, resistance and distractions.
 
Each day in Lent offers three sections, sometimes four, for engaging with the characters and situations of Passion Week:
 

FOLLOWING THE SCRIPT

 
Here we meet the characters through the passages in Scripture where they take the stage. Some days we will look back before Passion Week to learn the motivations for their actions in Jesus’ final days. The verses are the scripts for the scenes in which these people play their Passion Week roles. They are our source material.
 

CAST NOTES

 
During rehearsals, directors offer notes to the actors about their parts. They help the players go more deeply into character. They give ideas for how better to express feelings and motivations. In this section, we will make a bridge between our world and the world of the Biblical characters. Though we may be centuries, continents and cultures removed from their lives, human emotions remain constant across all times and places. These notes attempt to draw us close to the people of Passion Week. This is a time for you to connect to the characters.
 

PRAYING IN CHARACTER

 
Praying with people draws us close to them. Praying as someone takes us deeply inside the heart and soul of a person. Based on our scripts and notes, each day we will have opportunity to step into the Biblical character and pray from his or her perspective. In this way, we will feel more personally Jesus’ interactions with each person. We will come to experience how we are like each character. And we will engage our Lord as he draws each of us more deeply into himself.
 

ENCORES

 
About a dozen days contain bonus material. To stay with our theatre theme, we’re calling these encores. Just a bit of extra for reflection and prayer. 
 

DAILY QUOTES TO PRAY

 
For an actor to bring a character to life, the lines have to be learned so well that they come off the page and into the present moment. We won’t be learning all the lines of the scripts we read. But we will daily be reading aloud two key Scripture passages that relate to our study. These verses take us straight to the heart of why we read the Bible: so we may have present and vital communion with the Triune God and one another.
 
1) 1 John 1: 3. Every script from Passion Week is a witness to the things Jesus said and did. The ancient account becomes presently powerful by the work of the Holy Spirit in our reading and contemplating. This passage from 1 John explains how the ancient word reaches across the miles and centuries to draw in each new generation of believers. We draw as close to Jesus as the disciples who were with him when we encounter Jesus through worship, Word, sacrament and prayer. This is a key passage to know:
 
 
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1: 3).
 
2) John 20: 31. John concludes his Gospel by reminding his readers of his purpose in writing. It’s not just to provide an exciting account of an interesting person. We read the scripts of the Gospels in order to be brought to belief: active devotion of our lives to Jesus as the Savior, the Lord and the Son of God who became Son of Man on our behalf. Such active belief creates life by the power of his life. We come out of the darkness into the light. We are born anew into living hope. We pass from death to everlasting life:
 
 
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20: 31).
 
So I will be inviting you to say aloud these two verses every day of Lent. By the end of our 42 days, you will have committed them to memory and their meaning will have opened to you in new, unexpected and enlivening ways.
 
In Lent 2020, my prayer is that you will meet the people of Passion Week in such a way that you are taken deeply into the heart of the drama of our redemption. And that from such identification, you will be strengthened for daily discipleship and a glorious celebration of Jesus’ Easter victory.
 
Gerrit Dawson