Lent Day 40 - Never Forsaken

“A little while and you will no longer see Me; again a little while and you will see Me.” Therefore some of His disciples said to one another, “What is this He tells us: ‘A little while and you will not see Me; again a little while and you will see Me’ ; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’ ? ” They said, “What is this He is saying, ‘A little while’ ? We don’t know what He’s talking about! ” Jesus knew they wanted to question Him, so He said to them, “Are you asking one another about what I said, ‘A little while and you will not see Me; again a little while and you will see Me’? “I assure you: You will weep and wail, but the world will rejoice. You will become sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. When a woman is in labor she has pain because her time has come. But when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the suffering because of the joy that a person has been born into the world. So you also have sorrow now. But I will see you again. Your hearts will rejoice, and no one will rob you of your joy. In that day you will not ask Me anything. “I assure you: Anything you ask the Father in My name, He will give you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete. “I have spoken these things to you in figures of speech. A time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures, but I will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in My name. I am not telling you that I will make requests to the Father on your behalf. For the Father Himself loves you, because you have loved Me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world. Again, I am leaving the world and going to the Father.” “Ah! ” His disciples said. “Now You’re speaking plainly and not using any figurative language. Now we know that You know everything and don’t need anyone to question You. By this we believe that You came from God.” Jesus responded to them, “Do you now believe? Look: An hour is coming, and has come, when each of you will be scattered to his own home, and you will leave Me alone. Yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world.” - John 16:16-33

It must have been devastatingly dark for the disciples on Holy Saturday. Earlier, in Gethsemane, “all the disciples deserted him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). On Friday, Jesus was executed. Now it was the day after the crucifixion. The day that the disciples had scattered, each to his own home (John 16:32). Each likely absorbed in his own grief, bewildered and afraid. It must have seemed like evil had won and that God was horrifyingly absent. 

Jesus had warned them about these things many times (see Matt. 16:21; John 12:20–36), but the disciples hadn’t comprehended his words. In their sorrow on that Saturday, did they remember the unchanging and faithful character of God? 

I know what it is to be absorbed in one’s own grief. Years ago, everything important to me unraveled in a period of months. My marriage, my health, and my children all seemed headed for disaster. In my sorrow, I felt utterly alone and abandoned even by God. I wanted to make sense of what God was doing, but I couldn’t. My story was still unfolding.

On Holy Saturday, the disciples were also in the middle of a story. On that day, everything looked hopelessly lost. They didn’t understand that the very next day, God would bring about the greatest, most spectacular event in history. Jesus would rise from the dead, just as he said. Everything the Lord had foretold would come true. God remained faithful to his word; his purposes could not and would not be thwarted.  

In our lives as well, God is faithful. He is faithful to his word and to his plans. He is doing immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). At the time, we may not understand it, but our sorrow will one day turn to joy (John 16:20). 

God had not forsaken the disciples and he will never forsake us. His steadfast love will endure forever (Ps. 136). 

We are each in the middle of a story. We must trust God as it unfolds, knowing that he is ever faithful. As we rely upon God’s peace to overcome our doubts, we can rest on the rock-solid promise that because of the Cross, our story will have the happiest ending of all. One day we will see how our individual story fits into the magnificent story that God has been writing since the foundation of the world.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is the author of The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering and is a regular contributor to Desiring God.

Lent Day 39 - He Is Glorious

'Then I saw in the right hand of the One seated on the throne a scroll with writing on the inside and on the back, sealed with seven seals. I also saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals? ” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or even to look in it. And I cried and cried because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or even to look in it. Then one of the elders said to me, “Stop crying. Look! The Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has been victorious so that He may open the scroll and its seven seals.” Then I saw One like a slaughtered lamb standing between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders. He had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent into all the earth. He came and took the scroll out of the right hand of the One seated on the throne. When He took the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and gold bowls filled with incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song: You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because You were slaughtered, and You redeemed people for God by Your blood from every tribe and language and people and nation. You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth. Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels around the throne, and also of the living creatures and of the elders. Their number was countless thousands, plus thousands of thousands. They said with a loud voice: The Lamb who was slaughtered is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing! I heard every creature in heaven, on earth, under the earth, on the sea, and everything in them say: Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever! The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.' - Revelation 5:1-14

When all is said and done, Jesus will be glorified. This is the truth. God is ultimately about His glory and everything that happens is for Him. And, in case we forget, HE IS WORTHY!

“Then will appear in heaven the sign of the Son of Man, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” – Matthew 24:30-31

The Bible tells us that one day Jesus will return to the earth. Those who have decided to trust in Him will be saved for eternity. Until then, we strive each and every day with the Spirit's power to love and serve others as Christ did. We work to share the good news of Jesus with others because there are many more people that need to hear about Him. We seek to glorify God in everything we do because He has called us as His disciples and adopted us as His children.

When Jesus returns, sin and death will be no more and Satan will be defeated! Our bodies will be made new along with all of creation. Everything will be perfect again and we will be with God forever.

Yes, we will be held accountable for our actions here on earth, but not condemned. Yes, we will give an account for our lives, but we will be happy to do so because we will want to lay everything at the feet of Jesus. When this happens, we see our sin with even greater clarity, but we will also see just how glorious He is.

My prayer for you as you have read through these devotionals over the past 39 days is that Jesus would be increasingly central to your life. The Bible shows us the great and true story of God's redemption and rescue. Everything in it points to the awesomeness of Jesus and what He has done for us.

Father, I pray that as we wake up each morning, we consider the cross. That we would think about Christ and what He has done for us. That we recognize our sinfulness and desperate need for a Savior. I pray that we would also know that because of Jesus we are fully forgiven now and forever. And, that as His children we are empowered and called to do ministry in Jesus' name. I pray that we invest ourselves in spreading the Gospel to every man, woman, and child through demonstrating and declaring the good news about Jesus as we anticipate the day of Christ’s return.

Lent Day 38 - The Cry Of Vindication

"'My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from my deliverance and from my words of groaning? My God, I cry by day, but You do not answer, by night, yet I have no rest. But You are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. Our fathers trusted in You; they trusted, and You rescued them. They cried to You and were set free; they trusted in You and were not disgraced. But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by people. Everyone who sees me mocks me; they sneer and shake their heads: “He relies on the Lord ; let Him rescue him; let the Lord deliver him, since He takes pleasure in him.” You took me from the womb, making me secure while at my mother’s breast. I was given over to You at birth; You have been my God from my mother’s womb. Do not be far from me, because distress is near and there is no one to help. Many bulls surround me; strong ones of Bashan encircle me. They open their mouths against me — lions, mauling and roaring. I am poured out like water, and all my bones are disjointed; my heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength is dried up like baked clay; my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You put me into the dust of death. For dogs have surrounded me; a gang of evildoers has closed in on me; they pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my garments among themselves, and they cast lots for my clothing. But You, Lord , don’t be far away. My strength, come quickly to help me. Deliver my life from the sword, my only life from the power of these dogs. Save me from the mouth of the lion! You have rescued me from the horns of the wild oxen. I will proclaim Your name to my brothers; I will praise You in the congregation. You who fear Yahweh, praise Him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor Him! All you descendants of Israel, revere Him! For He has not despised or detested the torment of the afflicted. He did not hide His face from him but listened when he cried to Him for help. I will give praise in the great congregation because of You; I will fulfill my vows before those who fear You. The humble will eat and be satisfied; those who seek the Lord will praise Him. May your hearts live forever! All who prosper on earth will eat and bow down; all those who go down to the dust will kneel before Him — even the one who cannot preserve his life. for kingship belongs to the Lord ; He rules over the nations. All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord . All the families of the nations will bow down before You, Their descendants will serve Him; the next generation will be told about the Lord. They will come and tell a people yet to be born about His righteousness — what He has done. '" - Psalms 22:1-31

When the Jesus film is screened in cultures that have never heard of Jesus, viewers often love the movie. But the crucifixion comes as an utter shock. Many audiences jump up and cry out in protest. 

The crucifixion of Jesus has always been profoundly disturbing. For me, what’s most troubling is not the unjust trial, how the crowd turns against Jesus, or how his disciples abandon him. The most troubling part is one line. Mark 15:34: “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) This line horrifies me. It calls into question the very nature of God. Is God the kind of God that turns his back on his Son? 

Here’s the key biblical insight that changed how I read this passage. It’s a simple historical fact about how Israelites cited their Scriptures. The way they referenced a passage was to quote it, especially the first line. So when Jesus said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he expected his hearers to catch the literary allusion to Psalm 22 and to think of the whole psalm:  “[I am] scorned by everyone. . . . All who see me mock me . . . . All my bones are out of joint. . . . They divide my clothing among them and cast lots for my garment” (vv. 6, 7, 14, 18). 

Is Jesus saying “I have been forsaken by God”? No. He’s saying, “Today Psalm 22 is fulfilled in your hearing. I am the embodiment of this psalm.” Psalm 22 is not a psalm of forsakenness. It starts out that way, but it shifts to confidence in God’s deliverance: “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help” (v. 24).

Jesus is declaring: “Right now, you are witnessing Psalm 22. I seem forsaken right now, but my death is not the end of the story. God has not despised my suffering. I will be vindicated. The Lord has heard my cry. Because death is not the end. ‘Future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!’ ” (vv. 30–31).

Al Hsu is senior editor for IVP books at InterVarsity Press. 

Lent Day 37 - The Humiliation Of The Cross

"who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage. Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death — even to death on a cross. For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow — of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth — and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." - Philippians 2:6-11

“He humbled himself,” so Paul rightly describes Jesus’ death on the cross (Phil. 2:8). Today we view the word humble as a virtue, and we often mean by this term someone who is self-effacing, not seeking the limelight but willing to do lowly tasks. But Jesus’ death was not “humble” in that sense; rather it was humiliating. 

Crucifixion degrades and dehumanizes its victim. The body is stretched out on a cross, stripped of clothing and dignity, exposed, naked, shamed, disgraced. Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant as one from whom people hide their faces, as one rejected and despised (Isa. 53:3). The whipping and scourging prior to the crucifixion render the victim sub-human, and the weakened body affixed to the wood is a laughingstock, a fool to be mocked. Such a man, the crowd says, is not “one of us.” 

Yet Paul makes clear in the Christ hymn (Phil. 2:6–11) that Christ is indeed “one of us.” For love’s sake, Jesus Christ embraced humanity and became a man. Hebrews tells us that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame” (Heb. 12:2). He chose humiliation—the unspeakable torture and degradation of the cross—to condemn the world’s value system that privileges some and humiliates others. God shows no partiality, he is unimpressed by ethnicity, social status, or wealth (Acts 10:34–35; Eph. 6:9). On the cross, Christ gathered to himself the soul-destroying shame that afflicts this evil age and defeated its power on the cross. Christ endured the nails driven into his hands and feet, that he might redeem a people to be his hands and feet in humble service to others. 

Lynn H. Cohick, a professor of New Testament, serves as interim dean of humanities and theological studies at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.

Lent Day 36 - What's His Becomes Our's

"— that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." - Romans 3:22-24

Martin Luther preached: “Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh—so Christ and the church are one in spirit.” In this joyful exchange, our sin with its consequent death and damnation becomes Christ’s, while Christ’s righteousness becomes ours (1 Cor. 1:30). Righteousness is not something that we generate from within ourselves and then offer to God. Righteousness is something that God gives to us—and this is exactly why we may trust in and grow to love God. 

Our faith begins with the Holy Spirit graciously coming to us. The Spirit’s work is to bring the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ to bear on our own biographies and circumstances, beyond all limitations of time and space. The Spirit says to you, to me, to everybody: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8), and so the Father promises to forgive us all our sins, grant us Christ’s own righteousness, and raise us up to new life in the heavenly kingdom. 

How do I know that I really have faith in the promise? Thankfully, the answer lies with God. For it is Christ who does the believing in and for me, much as Paul says: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Christ dwells in me, and so the Father judges me as righteous—not as a legal fiction but as a truth, because the Father has truly given me Christ’s own righteousness, and through the Spirit, I have received it. In a right understanding of justification, there is no competition between “the faith in Christ” and “the faith of Christ.” They are the same reality.

Sarah Hinlicky Wilson is the editor of Lutheran Forum and a visiting professor at the Institute of Ecumenical Research.

Lent Day 35 - He Is Our Peace

Pax Romana was fragile, pounded precariously together with cross nails and oppressive taxation. But one night, angels shattered the repressed silence with joyful songs of “Peace on Earth!” They announced a different kind of peace to a weary people: The long-awaited Prince of Peace had broken into history in the shape of a poor working-class baby in an insignificant corner, far from the seats of Roman and temple power.

Once he went public, Jesus’ rule was not marked by military or economic might. Instead, he gave himself away, granting sight to the blind, feeding the hungry, liberating the oppressed, and affirming the dignity of women, children, and others who were marginalized in Jewish society. 

Rather than imposing security by repression and death, Jesus took on the scornful cross in loving sacrifice. In so doing, he unveiled as deceitful the powers of death that held humanity estranged from God, from one another and from the rest of creation. Christ, our peace, effected salvation, giving new life to the dead. He reconciled our relationship with God, healed from enmity to a broken humanity, and restored the entire created order. This is surely Good News of true peace, Pax Christi. Jesus is our peace.

Jesus also made peace through his death. When he died, the temple curtain, separating off the Holy of Holies, ripped in half (Matt. 27:51). Now access to God was no longer restricted to certain people or certain times! 

Christ has abolished “the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph. 2:15–16, ESV). Thanks to Christ’s peacemaking life, death, and ongoing ministry through the Spirit, Jesus followers are now one.

Ruth Padilla DeBorst is a Costa Rica–based scholar. She and her husband, James, lead the Center for Interdisciplinary Theological Education (CETI).

Holy Week Invitation & Reminders

As we start Holy Week and begin our final preparations to celebrate the resurrection with the global church, we invite you to take time this week to reflect. We will continue to send out daily text links to devotionals centered on the cross, and we encourage you that even if you haven't participated in fasting so far, that you would prayerfully consider replacing an activity or luxury with a little more focused attention on Jesus. The goal of fasting is not to gain God's love or to prove to others we are really good Christians. It is through fasting that we remind ourselves Jesus is better than anything in this world. If God leads you to join us for this, we know that you will be blessed by the process. 

Don't forget that we will gather on Friday evening at 6:30 to remember the Cross of Christ together. Then, on Sunday morning at 9:15 and 11 AM, we will gather to celebrate the empty tomb that signifies Jesus' victory over sin and death! Invite someone and make plans to join us. Also, please take time this week to pray daily for those around us that are unaware that Christ's death and resurrection are an invitation to all people to receive God's gift of salvation. 

Lent Day 34 - Jesus The King

“Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me.’” (Matt. 21:1–2). However trivial this errand may have seemed, it was full of biblical and theological significance. The prophet, Zechariah, had said: “See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey” (Zech. 9:9). 

When Jesus mounted the donkey—not just any donkey, but specifically a purebred colt, as Zechariah promised—he was presenting himself as Israel’s promised king. Many would have remembered the words of Zechariah and recognized what Jesus was doing. Some may have even remembered that when Solomon became Israel's king, he was presented on the donkey of his father David (1 Kings 1:38–39). When they saw Jesus riding on the foal of a donkey, they said, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” (Matt. 21:9) By using that title, they were acclaiming Jesus to be their rightful king.

There is an even older prophecy that explains why Jesus rode a donkey. Long before Zechariah, Jacob pronounced this blessing on his son Judah: “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch” (Gen. 49:10–11). Jacob's prophecy meant that Israel's true king would come from the tribe of Judah and that in some way he would be associated with the colt of a donkey. What is only hinted at in Genesis is made plain in the Gospel of Matthew: Jesus, the Son of David, from the tribe of Judah, rode into Jerusalem as Israel's rightful king.

If Jesus is the king, then all his loyal subjects must recognize his kingship. The Jews did this by calling him the Son of David and by spreading their cloaks before him. This was the ancient custom; people threw down their garments to make a carpet for the royal procession. We recognize his sovereignty by laying our hearts before him, throwing down our wills in absolute surrender, and asking Jesus to govern everything we think and say and do. 

Philip Ryken is president of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. 

Lent Day 33 - Jesus, Not Salvation Is God’s Greatest Gift to Us

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many. - Mark 10:45

He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? - Romans 8:32

3 Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father. 5 To whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. - Galatians 1:3-5

Jesus is the greatest gift there is. Yet as soon as we hear this statement, we’re apt to collapse it into a statement about some other gift, like salvation. Being given Jesus, in our minds, quickly morphs into being given forgiveness, or rescue, or eternal life. Jesus himself, the gift who perfectly embodies God’s generosity and goodness, gets bumped to the third page.

The Gospels don’t do that. From his Incarnation to his Ascension, Jesus Christ puts the liberality and largesse of God on display. It is not just at the Cross, or even in the Resurrection, that Jesus represents the grace, the gift-giving-ness, of God to us. In every miracle, every parable—simply by being in the world at all—Jesus is proclaiming, “God is good, he loves giving, and I’m here, among other things, to prove it.” Wherever we look, Jesus is talking about sharing, enacting, and ultimately being the Father’s gift to us.

For all this, the Cross and Resurrection remain its most astonishing expression. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). “The Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us” (Gal. 1:3–4). Notice that in each of these texts, the gift is Jesus, not freedom, forgiveness, justification, adoption, or whatever. Of course those things are wonderful, and of course, God gives them as well. But the logic of Paul’s rhetorical question in Romans 8:32—“He who did not spare his own Son . . . how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”—is that Jesus himself, rather than anything else in creation, is the most costly and bountiful gift God could give. If we have been given Jesus, we will be given “all things” on his coattails.

Jesus is the greatest gift there is. Not as a means to an end, but as the end itself, the source of all joy, the ultimate demonstration of God’s goodness and generosity. 

Andrew Wilson is teaching pastor at Kings Church London and author most recently of The Life We Never Expected. 

Lent Day 32 - The Good News Of God's Patience

7 He revealed His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel. 8 The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and rich in faithful love. 9 He will not always accuse us or be angry forever. 10 He has not dealt with us as our sins deserve or repaid us according to our offenses. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His faithful love toward those who fear Him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. - Psalm 103:7-12

My own impatience with God’s patience might be one of the defining features of my life. I become worried and anxious when I see false teaching in the church, spanning from the prosperity gospel to modern gnostic heresies. I dwell on the strife in our midst, our continued struggle for racial reconciliation and wholeness. Why, I ask, does God allow this disorder to persist?

At its core, the Cross is a sign of the patience of God. He has passed over our sins, rather than condemning us as we deserve (Rom 3:25). In fact, patience is linguistically and conceptually linked to passion (passio). In the passion of Jesus Christ on the Cross we see the concrete patience of our triune God incarnate in history.

When local congregations were tempted to licentious living by false teachers who taught them that Christ would not return, Peter reminded them:

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:8–9)

Because God is merciful, he waits. He will not bring about the judgment of the last days until the gospel has been preached to all nations (Matt. 24:14). And so, as Hermann Cremer put it, “The history of the world moves forward under the patience of God” proved in the passion of Jesus Christ.

But Christ did not patiently endure the Cross only to bring the world into the church. He also aimed to sanctify the church in the midst of the world (1 Pet. 2:24). In his own time, Christ will keep his promises to render his church spotless and radiant despite all outward appearances (Eph. 5:25–27).

Derek Rishmawy is a doctoral student in systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 

Lent Day 31 - When God Suffered

He was despised and rejected by men,
a man of suffering who knew what sickness was.
He was like someone people turned away from;[b]
He was despised, and we didn’t value Him.

4 Yet He Himself bore our sicknesses, and He carried our pains; but we in turn regarded Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced because of our transgressions,
crushed because of our iniquities; punishment for our peace was on Him, and we are healed by His wounds. 6 We all went astray like sheep; we all have turned to our own way; and the Lord has punished Him for the iniquity of us all. - Isaiah 53:4-6

I still vividly remember the first time I went to speak with an older, wiser Christian about some significant personal pain. I remember, afterward, feeling the joy of a burden lifted. I remember why I went to see that particular mentor rather than someone else. First, I knew that this friend had suffered. He had already described for me his own dark times in which he had cried and prayed to God for relief. Second, I knew my friend had somehow journeyed on beyond where I was. It was the combination—suffering and godly maturity—that made me want to confide in my friend.

This experience illustrates why many Christians throughout the ages have wanted to affirm two things about God’s saving relationship to us. Placing their faith in a crucified Savior, the early Christians declared that God has suffered. It was, in the words of the church fathers, precisely one of the Trinity who bled and died for us. But, in the same breath, our Christian forebears also declared that God—the same God who hung on a tree for our salvation—didn’t give up his transcendent majesty when he did so. God remained who he always had been: the One who is beyond human change, suffering, and death.

Thinking back to my time with my older friend, I knew I needed to talk with someone who would be a sensitive fellow sufferer. But I also knew that no amount of “I’ve been there too” camaraderie would be enough if my mentor couldn’t also somehow pull me out of the mire I’d fallen into. The same is true with God—albeit in a qualitatively different way. The reason the death of Jesus is able to defeat death, rather than capitulate to it, is that Jesus is God. He is the same God who told Moses from the burning bush, “I Am Who I Am” (Ex. 3:14). He is the One who stands beyond time and the waves of human vacillation and defenselessness. That is the One who carried his own cross to Calvary. If that One died, his death could never be mere sympathetic cosuffering with us. That death was the end of death. That death broke death’s power forever because it was the death of the Deathless One. 

Wesley Hill teaches New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, and is the author of several books, including Spiritual Friendship. 

Lent Day 30 - Love The Bears Our Burdens

6 For while we were still helpless, at the appointed moment, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For rarely will someone die for a just person — though for a good person perhaps someone might even dare to die. 8 But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! - Roman 5:6-8

The cross of Christ has sometimes been compared to the electric chair or other forms of execution, meaning we are wise to remember that it was an instrument of death in the ancient world. The cross is also often used to prompt us to give ourselves sacrificially for him and others. But comparisons to other forms of execution can miss the deeper biblical teaching about the cross. And the cross is much more than an object lesson in how we should live. 

To get at the deeper meaning, we can turn to the great Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. The lead character Rodion Raskolnikov had brutally murdered an elderly woman, Lizaveta, and her sister. Raskolnikov later meets a young woman, Sonia, who has become a prostitute. He is immediately drawn to her, and after he learns that Sonia had been friends with Lizaveta, he feels compelled to confess the murders to her. Dostoyevsky wrote,

“What have you done—what have you done to yourself?” [Sonia] said in despair, and, jumping up, she flung herself on his neck, threw her arms round him, and held him tightly. . . . “There is no one—no one in the whole world now so unhappy as you!” she cried in a frenzy . . . and she suddenly broke into violent hysterical weeping. 

There we see the meaning of the Cross and the revelation of the deepest nature of God. Jesus did not consider that the glory of divinity as something to exalt in, but decided to bear the yoke of human nature. He showed himself not only to be a man of sorrows, but also a God who has borne our griefs; not merely a man wounded for our transgression, but also a God bruised for our iniquities (Isa. 53). He saw the grievous sin of humankind, and the cross is the sign of his “violent, hysterical weeping” for us. 

Jesus calls us to take up our cross (Mark 8:34), but the full weight of the cross-beamed yoke is born by him, the God who sorrows for our sins, the man who bears our griefs. This is the Lord and Savior who promises to never leave or forsake us (Matt. 28:20) and actually helps shoulder the burdens that life with him invariably entails, even when our journey takes us to the most desolate of places. 

Mark Galli, editor in chief of Christianity Today. 

Lent Day 29 - The Glory of the Cross

"31 The time for judging this world has come, when Satan, the ruler of this world, will be cast out. 32 And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to myself.” - John 12:31-32

Suffering is inevitable and unavoidable. Surrounded by cancer, mental illness, infertility, depression, loss, and ultimately death, we ask how God’s glory could shine through such tragic circumstances. For most of us, glory and suffering seem incompatible, just like something cannot be simultaneously hot and cold, wet and dry. But Christ’s journey from the cradle to the grave reveals a pattern that is stitched throughout the fabric of Scripture. For Christ, Christians, and all creation, the way of glory is the way of the Cross.

As Jesus approached his death, he said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). At first, it seems that Jesus is talking about his coming entrance into heaven. But the following verse explains that Jesus is referring to his crucifixion: “He said this to show what kind of death he was going to die.” John’s gospel builds toward the climactic hour when Jesus’ being “lifted up” on the cross is the moment he is enthroned in glory (John 12:23–32; 3:14; 8:28). From the bruised heel of Genesis 3:15 to the reigning lamb of Revelation 22, the Bible tells the story of a crucified Messiah who is glorified through suffering.

As Jonathan Edwards taught, glory is not merely another one of God’s attributes or characteristics (along with his holiness, love, power, and so forth). Rather, it is the “admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies.” Glory is the dazzling, jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring showcase of God’s character to a world darkened by sin. It is the explosive radiance produced by his holiness, love, mercy, justice, wisdom, and power—all of which come together in the most fitting way in the death of Christ.

At the Cross, we see God’s justice through the judgment of sin, God’s love through the forgiveness of sinners, God’s power through his defeat of Satan, and God’s wisdom in his upholding of holiness yet making a way for sinners. Christ’s death is the ultimate, “Thus sayeth the Lord.” It reveals the glorious harmony of God’s multifaceted character. The Cross is the crossroads of everything we know about God.

By Jeremy Treat, adjunct professor at Biola University in La Mirada, California and author of The Crucified King

Lent Day 28 - For The Nations

1 Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, 2 which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son, who was born of a descendant of David according to the flesh, 4 who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, 5 through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake, 6among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; - Romans 1:1-6

The scope of the gospel is all the nations. Paul defines its scope as “all the Gentiles.” This seems to imply that the Christians in Rome were predominantly Gentile. Paul affirms that the gospel is for everybody; its scope is universal. Paul himself was a patriotic Jew who retained his love for his people and longed passionately for their salvation. At the same time, he had been called to be the apostle to the Gentiles. If we are to be committed to world mission, we too will have to be liberated from all pride of race, nation, tribe, caste and class, and acknowledge that God’s gospel is for everybody, without exception and without distinction. This is a major theme of Romans.

The purpose of the gospel is the obedience of faith. In Romans, Paul insists more strongly than anywhere else that justification is through faith alone. Yet here he apparently writes that it is not by faith alone, but by obedience. Does the apostle contradict himself? No, we must give him credit for consistency of thought. This is the obedience that comes from faith, not the obedience of law. The proper response to the gospel is faith, indeed faith alone. Yet a true and living faith in Jesus Christ includes an element of submission (especially because its object is “Jesus Christ our Lord” [v. 4] or “the Lord Jesus Christ” [v. 7]) and leads inevitably into a lifetime of obedience.

Why did Paul desire to bring the nations to the obedience of faith? It was for the sake of the glory and honor of Christ’s name. The highest of all missionary motives is neither obedience to the Great Commission (important as that is) nor love for sinners who are alienated and perishing (strong as that incentive is, especially when we contemplate the wrath of God), but burning and passionate zeal for the glory of Jesus Christ. Before this supreme goal of the Christian mission, all unworthy motives wither and die.

Father, please give us the your heart for the nations. You are worthy of your glory. Amen.

Lent Day 27 - Gospel Change

So how do we change a person’s heart? It’s impossible. We might be able to restrain a person’s angry outbursts by tying him up and gagging him, but we are powerless to change a person’s heart.

This is where God’s plan of redemption comes into play. The gospel is not merely about “getting us saved,” as if we simply pray a prayer and are immediately transported into heaven.

“Getting saved” is not about praying a prayer and then continuing to live our lives as though nothing happened. No, when God enters our lives, we are changed from the inside out (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

The good news is that God acted in the person of Jesus Christ. Through His life, death, and resurrection we are transformed, made new. Our problem lies at the core of our being, but God transforms our hearts. God literally places His Spirit within us and changes us from the inside out.

So as we come alongside the broken, hurting people God has placed in our lives, let’s remember where our power comes from. These are not mere physical issues that we can correct through hard work. These are spiritual issues that run deeper than we can imagine. Yet God has supplied us with everything we need in order to fulfill His calling. The power to transform hearts and change lives comes from the Holy Spirit (John 6:63), through the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), and through prayer (James 5:16-20). As we use the Scriptures to give counsel to others, there is power. As we pray passionately for their hearts to change, there is power. We cannot remove the lust from another person’s heart by our own efforts, but we have the Spirit of God working through us. Through the gospel, people can be set free from the enslaving power of sin (Rom. 6). Through the gospel, we are actually empowered to uproot the sin in our hearts and live in a way that pleases God. Paul promised: “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).

*How should the truth of the gospel, and the power of the Holy Spirit affect the way we approach helping people change?

Lent Day 26 - Your Word Is Truth

Jesus said in John 17:17, “Sanctify them by the truth. Your word is truth.”

I have recently been reminded of how powerful God’s Word is in disciple-making. The other night, when putting our 4-year-old to sleep, she told me she was angry about something. I began to ask the why, what, and how of her anger, with good intentions, of course, when she stopped me as I was leaving her room and said, “Daddy, will you do my Bible verse with me?” I asked her which one, thinking it was our monthly church verse, when she replied, “The one about anger.” We proceeded to go over the verse and I instantly saw my daughter’s countenance change from anger to tenderness.

My heart melted and froze all at once. How sweet that my daughter was asking for God’s Word to counsel her with her anger, but how hard realizing that this had not been my first go-to when dealing with it as a parent.

God’s Word is essential to our discipleship, both personally and with others. Do we practically live as if it can transform us? Do we store it up in our hearts? We don’t need more self-help, more “good” ideas, more tips and tricks. We need the power of God’s Word working in us through the enabling of the Holy Spirit. We don’t need to point other disciples to anything but the Lord and His Word for guidance. For by them both we are sanctified and matured.
What are you looking to for truth today?

“Father, help us to seek your wisdom and your truth as we walk daily with You. Keep us free from the schemes and diversions of the enemy and help us to treasure Your Word in our hearts.”

By Matt Altman

Lent Day 25 - Like A Child

Some people were bringing little children to Him so He might touch them, but His disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to Me. Don’t stop them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I assure you: Whoever does not welcome the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” After taking them in His arms, He laid His hands on them and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16

I’ve recently been reminded of the preciousness of child-like faith by our youngest son’s incessant talk about God and Jesus every night at bedtime. He is probably using it at as stalling technique, but I’ve been amused at his yearnings to hear how Jesus died on the cross and how slowly, methodically and factually he takes it all in. He knows the story, but I tell it again. He knows that Jesus used to live in heaven with God and that he came to earth as a baby. He knows that Jesus grew up to be a man and that he loved people- so much that He went to a cross and laid himself down to be made fun of, beaten and nailed to a harsh, ugly cross. He’s heard how the sky grew dark and all creation stood still while the Son was separated from His Father, all for a people who didn’t deserve it.

As we snuggled in bed, his soft curls against my cheek and is wide eyes gazing heavenward, his sweet voice said, “God was in heaben, right Mama?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“And God was getting a plan…God was thinking…of a plan. Right, Mama?”

“Baby,” I responded, “That was the plan.”

May we never get over the fact that THIS WAS THE PLAN. For Jesus to die so that I might live. It’s so hard to take in and believe! There really was no other way for us to be saved. As I share this simple but profound truth with our son, may it rest on our hearts fresh- again. God’s plan was to give up His Son and give us hope for resurrected lives.

Father, may we live with child-like faith that your plan was enough. May my heart receive this truth today and accept your love and grace for me and not constantly search for my own self-salvation plan. Like a child clings to his mother for safety let me rest in your unfailing love and trust your plan not only for my eternal salvation but for you to work out the details of my life in a way that makes sense to YOU. I give up control of trying to figure it all out. I would never have figured out a plan for salvation- and you had that covered. I’ll trust you that you’ve got this small yet significant plan for my life figured out as well.  

By Jada Shock

Lent Day 24 - Empowered By The Spirit

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witness in Jerusalem and in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth. - Acts 1:8

Jesus spent time with the 12 disciples, teaching them loving them and showing them the Father. The Holy Spirit can help us do the same. 

What are we doing today to continue discipleship? We are still commissioned to go out to our inner circle, family, friends, neighbors, co workers and continue to move out from there.

Father God I pray that you would put people in my path that need to hear the Good News. Soften their heart to hear and understand your word. God I pray you are not put in a box. Give me wisdom as I go out to do your work. 

By Tim Delperdang

Lent Day 23 - Who Am I

Who Am I?

How do you answer that question?  Where do you get your significance, your value or do you feel like you don’t have any?  How about purpose?  Do you believe you have a purpose for being alive?  Have you ever asked yourself why you do the things you do, spend time the way you do, spend money the way you do, think about yourself the way you do, think about other people the way you do, react to others the way you do, worry about the things you worry about, get angry about the things you get angry about, get hurt by the things you are hurt by?  These thoughts, feelings, and behaviors reveal your belief about yourself.  Your perceived value, significance, and purpose in life . . . or lack thereof.  Your identity.  Who you think you are.

The way to see things as they really are is to see them the way God does.  Assuming you are a believer in Jesus Christ, this is what the God of creation, the eternal Father, says about you:  You are His child (born one), born of Him, born into His family.  He is your Father and He has freely bestowed on you, lavished on you, the greatness of His divine love.  (I John 2:29-3:1)

You have been adopted into His family.  Chosen by the Father “to be holy and blameless before Him”, having the same duties, privileges, and benefits as sons born into the family.  God chose you and brought you into His family “to the praise of the glory of His grace.”  (Eph. 1:4-6)

The Father continually proves His love for us “in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)   Jesus died in our place in order that God could “bless you with every spiritual blessing . . . in Christ.”  (Eph. 1:3)   In Christ, united with Him resulting in being identified with Him so closely as to have the same standing with the Father as Jesus, God’s Son!  So much so we can call the Father “Abba”, meaning dearest daddy!  (Rom. 8:15)  God identifies you with His Son and loves you just like He does His Son!  God gives us our true identity, having made clear our value to Him by suffering horribly and dying on our behalf.

If you are looking to find value and purpose anywhere else, you won’t find it.  Your identity is in Jesus Christ who is infinitely valuable.
By Tim Brown

Lent Day 22 - The Fragrance of Christ

"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him."  2 Corinthians 2:14

After reading about Mary pouring perfume on Jesus' feet in John 12 last week, and the whole house being filled with the fragrance, this verse came to mind.  We are to do the same thing: let God lead us and through us spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus wherever He puts us.  
As we live this way as disciples, we won't need letters of recommendation (2 Cor. 3:1).  The people who smell the fragrance of Jesus through us will be our letters.  Continuing on with 2 Corinthians 3, verses 2 & 3 say, "You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody.  You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."  

Who are the "letters" written with the Spirit as a result of our ministry? Our children, neighbors, co-workers?

And, no, having letters is not because we are great. "Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.  He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant - not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." (2 Cor. 3:5-6)

God, continue to use us to spread the fragrant knowledge of Christ to those around us.  May many "letters" be written as a result of the ministry of each member of our church body.  Thank you for making us ministers of a new covenant - one that gives life.  

By Traci Altman