Lent Day 1 - The Joy Of Our Salvation

"Restore the joy of Your salvation to me..." - Psalm 51:12

Do you ever feel indifferent towards God? Silly question right? If we're honest, we've all been there. There are times when we just aren't feeling it. In fact, there are moments daily when I display symptoms of Gospel amnesia. I lose sight of God and His goodness and begin to look to something other than Him to be the source of my joy and satisfaction. This is the spiritual heart condition in which sin flourishes.

So how do we deal with this struggle? I submit to you that this simple request of David found in the middle of one of the most gut-wrenching and honest prayers in Scripture is a good place to start.

King David, described as a man after God's own heart, found himself in an embarrassing and scandalous mess that included adultery, deception, and eventually murder. After David was confronted by the Prophet Nathan, he is genuinely broken and composes this raw prayer of confession and repentance. I believe that David is fully aware that what got him into this mess was a lapse in seeing God as the sufficient source of his joy and satisfaction. I also believe that David knew that only through God enabling him to return to the joy in his salvation would he be able to avoid this type of destructive sinful detour again.

Maybe we haven't landed ourselves in a situation like the one David wound up in. But, let's not be fooled into thinking that if our hearts aren't regularly returning to Jesus as our joy we can't go there. It is only a matter of time before we are lured away into the deceptive trap of the enemy to look elsewhere...lust, control, success, possessions, drugs or alcohol, food, the praise of others, etc. 

This Lent, we are asking God to help us to grow as His followers, a.k.a. disciples. At the core of being a maturing disciple of Jesus is a heart that is increasingly finding joy in Him and what He has done for us. Take time today to pray that God would keep us rejoicing in Him.  

Father, I pray that you would reveal where we have lost the joy of our salvation and looked to other things as poor substitutes. I pray that by your Spirit you would restore our joy in you. Amen.

By the way, if you want to hear a musical version of Psalm 51 you can go listen to one from Jon Foreman here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh3cO1rTtqE

LENT DAY 40: THE GRAVE

Matthew 27:57-66 (ESV)
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had cut in the rock. And he rolled a great stone to the entrance of the tomb and went away. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise.’ Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, ‘He has risen from the dead,’ and the last fraud will be worse than the first.” Pilate said to them, “You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

The central claim of the historic Christian message is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Tempting though it may be for us to jump quickly from Friday to Sunday, from cross to resurrection, Matthew pauses and brings us through the silence and stillness of the grave.

Many have tried to dismantle the hope of Christianity, suggesting that Jesus had not really died or that eager disciples had stolen his body to substantiate their claims of a risen Savior. Yet Matthew’s interlude between final breath and first appearance speaks unequivocally of a death that was real, a grave that was silent, and a situation that appeared beyond hope.

Romans were thorough in carrying out capital sentences, particularly for those accused of treason. That Joseph was able to retrieve Jesus’ body meant the executioners were satisfied with their handiwork. Jews, throughout the Old Testament, would heap rocks on the vilest of criminals to represent that for some, there would be no life beyond the grave. That a great stone would cover the entrance of the tomb meant that there was no expectation of life beyond this grave. The tomb is still, dark, silent.

This is the fate that should have been ours and the destiny of humanity. And yet, our hope is that through the one who went into the tomb before us, there is a way through and out into a new world of God’s creating. It is the hope that because one transcended the grave itself, we too may experience new life with him. Matthew’s description of the grave is a reminder that the tomb was silent and yet the silence would only last one more day.

Prayer
Our Father, remind us that the darkness of the grave will soon be overcome by the brightness of the third day. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 39: THE CROSS

John 19:1-37 (ESV)
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.

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, 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.

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.

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

Re-read this again slowly and prayerfully, engaging your imagination as each scene unfolds. What do you see, hear, feel, smell, in each scene? What is all this meant to mean to you? Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the story of Christ’s death for you today.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, it was our sins that sent you to the cross. There we beheld our king. There you finished the work of our redemption. There we looked upon you, whom we had pierced. There redemption was accomplished. Thank you for your astonishing love. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 38: THE WASHING

John 13:1-15 (ESV)
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.

The NIV translates verse 1: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” In this unexpected act of foot washing, Jesus was communicating something profound about the nature of divine love. Love is not simply what Jesus does, but love is who he is.

Often when we consider loving someone, we think in terms of actions and behaviors. We ask ourselves, “What’s the loving thing to do?” But Jesus’ unexpected, self-effacing act of service leads us to ask the antecedent question, “Who am I?” Without first asking this question, we can unknowingly place limits on our love because we are not operating out of a gospel-transformed identity. For example, if we functionally see ourselves as orphans needing to look out for ourselves instead of as God’s beloved children, we will limit our generosity towards others out of fear of not having enough. Likewise, if we think we are righteous by our own hard work, there will be boundaries to the way we are willing to serve others because our pride keeps us from serving those who “aren’t deserving.”

When we look to Christ we find a beautiful freedom to serve others, arising from the security of his identity: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant …” (Phil 2:6-7, NIV). Jesus was able to serve in a way that no one expected because he knew the Father’s love intimately. The same heart that led him to wash the disciples’ feet would lead him to the cross. Because of Christ we have the same privileged status and security with the Father, and so we become free to serve in the radical, loving ways in which he has served us.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, I forget each day who I am in Christ and the grace that envelops my life. My love has limits because I don’t embrace the truth of who you have made me to be. Help me to live out the reality of being your beloved child so that my love for others flows out of this new identity. Let me be a bewildering servant to those around me as you dismantle the limits I have placed on my love. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 37: THE PLOT

Matthew 26:1-5, 14-25 (ESV)
When Jesus had finished all these sayings, he said to his disciples, “You know that after two days the Passover is coming, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. But they said, “Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.”

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.

Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve. And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

Even when Jesus’ life was slipping away from him, he remained remarkably in control. He predicted his arrest and crucifixion before the religious leaders met to conspire against him. He knew that Judas, one of his trusted apostles, would betray him. How disturbing that must have been to Judas to know that Jesus could see right through his charade. Though humans have their plots and schemes, it is God’s plan that always prevails. Nothing can interfere with what he has purposed to do. And nothing is more central to God’s eternal plan than that Jesus, the Son of Man, would be delivered up to be crucified. His final meal, the Passover, carried symbolic import and pointed to the purpose for Jesus’ death. The Passover was an annual celebration of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. Jesus’ death would be the new Passover. Those who trust in him experience the ultimate Exodus — deliverance from the slavery of sin. As a result, they enjoy the privilege of living in the freedom of his love forevermore.

When life seems chaotic, when things seem not to cohere, great comfort may be found in remembering Jesus’ own experience at the end of his life. Though humans plotted against him and succeeded in executing their plan, nevertheless they could not thwart the plan of God. What comfort there is in knowing that nothing can interfere with the plan of him who is in control! He is at work in all the particulars for his good purposes. By looking to Jesus, particularly his death for us, we discover what is central to God’s plan for us: through Jesus’ death we find life, through his blood shed for us, we experience the exodus from enslaving sin and the freedom of living in his love.

Prayer
Gracious Father, thank you for being in control of our lives, especially when we feel desperately out of control. Center us in the one who is central to your plan for the ages. Enable us, Holy Spirit, to trust in Christ that we might experience the true Exodus. And having experienced the forgiveness of sin, may we live daily in the freedom of your love, wholeheartedly devoted to you. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 36: THE CLEANSING

Mark 11:15-19 (ESV)
And they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold and those who bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. And he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. And he was teaching them and saying to them, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” And the chief priests and the scribes heard it and were seeking a way to destroy him, for they feared him, because all the crowd was astonished at his teaching. And when evening came they went out of the city.

Every year at Passover thousands of Jews came from all over Israel and Judea to offer sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. Since many traveled long distances, they often purchased their animal sacrifices in Jerusalem rather than hauling them from home and risking an injury or a blemish that would make them an unworthy sacrifice. It was a convenience for Jewish worshippers to purchase their sacrifices once they arrived. However, the market for these transactions had been set up in the Court of the Gentiles, where non-Jewish seekers of God came to worship. Thus, at Passover, the temple courtyard was filled with livestock, sellers of livestock and money-changers, who exchanged regional currencies for Jewish money.

When Jesus saw this, he was angry — so angry that he overturned tables and placed an embargo on merchandise. But why? Weren’t the merchants just trying to help the travelers worship God? Perhaps. But they were doing it at the expense of those from “all nations” who were seeking God, counting their worship as insignificant. In calling them “robbers” Jesus may have been referring to their greedy financial transactions and the way they were robbing Gentiles of their place of worship.

Yet something else is going on. In a similar account of his cleansing the temple, Jesus was asked for a sign of his authority. He replied, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). But he wasn’t speaking about the building; “he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). In other words, when he died, the temple and its entire system — the priesthood, the sacrifices, the glory — died with him because he himself was the Passover Lamb, high priest and Shekinah glory. Thus, when the temple curtain split at the death of Christ (Mark 15:38), the barrier between God and humanity came down for everyone. Jesus became the “house of prayer for all nations.” Today there is no need to travel to the temple in Jerusalem to worship. Nor is there any distinction between Jewish and Gentile worshippers. Worship is no longer attached to a place, but a person. Jesus is the temple. He is where we meet God.

— By The Park Forum

Prayer
Lord, we worship Jesus as the final sacrifice, priest, glory and temple. Therefore, let us join ourselves to him so that we may love his name and be his servants (Isaiah 56:6). In Christ, may all nations — those near and far — come to you in prayer (Isaiah 56:8). In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 35: THE ANNOINTING

Mark 14:3-9 (ESV)
And while he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at table, a woman came with an alabaster flask of ointment of pure nard, very costly, and she broke the flask and poured it over his head. There were some who said to themselves indignantly, “Why was the ointment wasted like that? For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they scolded her. But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Why do you trouble her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for burial. And truly, I say to you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”

“What a waste!” That is the complaint made regarding the woman’s use of her expensive perfume to anoint Jesus. Jesus will have none of it. He finds a purely cost-benefit analysis of our actions to be inadequate and bankrupt. Even though the money from the sale of the perfume could have been used to do a lot of good things, Jesus considers her act to be completely appropriate. Why? Because it is an act of worship. And he knows that life begins with what you worship.

Worship the wrong things and nothing else will come out quite right. But worship the living God who has given himself for us in the sacrifice of Jesus and you have a new sense of what matters and you will prioritize your life accordingly. Suddenly you find yourself “wasting” your life on Jesus by giving your life to his agenda rather than your own. That will include caring about justice for the poor.

Contrary to what is sometimes assumed, Jesus is not minimizing our responsibility to the poor in this passage. He actually is quoting from Deuteronomy 15, which encourages radical generosity to the poor. However, such generosity flows from worshiping God. First things first! Put God ahead of all else as the only one worthy of your worship and you will find you are pouring yourself out in all sorts of beautiful ways in service to the world.

Prayer
Lord, too often I worship the wrong things. Help me to see that my life is to be “wasted” on you and only then will it become something beautiful for you to use in your world. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 34: THE PREDICTION

John 12:20-33 (ESV)
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 devotes much of his Gospel to the last six days of Jesus’ life. In John 12, Jesus predicts “what kind of death he was going to die” — one that would loosen Satan’s death grip on the world, raise Jesus in victory from the horrors of the crucifixion and grave, and draw people from all over the world to him (v. 32). But here he also reiterates his sobering template for all who would follow after him and be known as his disciples.

From the early days of his ministry in John, Jesus has been alluding to his “hour” — the appointed time when he would undergo suffering and death for the sins of the world. But through this humiliation Jesus also strangely radiates the “glory” of God to humanity. God “glorifies his name” not only through the earthly ministry of Christ but also his death. John foreshadows this reality early on by concluding “we have seen (or ‘beheld’) his glory … full of grace and truth” (1:14).

Equally striking is the very human Jesus we encounter here, honest enough to admit “now is my soul troubled” (v. 27) as he starts to feel the agony he is about to undergo. It is an amazing picture of a person completely abandoned to God in the face of unspeakable pain, knowing that God’s glory ultimately is the only thing that matters. And it becomes a teaching moment for the disciples as well.

Seeds are living things that must die in order to reproduce; they carry the promise of future life. On the surface, Christ’s death looks to the world like a disaster, but by falling “into the earth” (v. 24), he is able to raise up followers and bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). However, following Christ carries a cost: many of the original disciples were to die excruciating deaths themselves, leading Tertullian to conclude that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Christ’s disciples must always “die” to themselves to find “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3-5) in Christ. Here Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s observation on discipleship rings true: “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Prayer
Risen Lord, you loved us so much that you died to save us from sin. We pray that this reality gives us humility, leads us to praise you always, and gives us a boldness to live fully abandoned to your loving will. In your mercy make these things so, for we pray them in your name. Amen.

LENT DAY 33: THE CALL

Luke 9:18-27 (ESV)
Now it happened that as he was praying alone, the disciples were with him. And he asked them, “Who do the crowds say that I am?” And they answered, “John the Baptist. But others say, Elijah, and others, that one of the prophets of old has risen.” Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

And he strictly charged and commanded them to tell this to no one, saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

After spending days and nights with Jesus, witnessing his words and works first hand, Peter could make an absolute confession that Jesus was the Christ, the promised one of God. Those further from Jesus were less resolute in their faiths, often believing him to be a prophet, but those who followed him regularly knew that he was not simply a messenger, but the message itself. After Peter’s confession, Jesus tried to help them understand his mission and what it looked like to follow him, but Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting, and following him was not what they thought it was going to be like.

Jesus issues a clear call to those who might follow him, that allegiance to him requires denying yourself, taking up your cross daily and following him. Then and now his words are difficult. We live in a culture that teaches us to glorify ourselves and to pursue comfort, control and the satisfaction of our desires above all else. To deny oneself and pursue the things of God can feel like death, but that is what Jesus calls us to. He tells us that to follow him we will have to relinquish all control and endure suffering and rejection, but he also promises that this will make us like him. In him, triumph will come through suffering. Jesus is calling us to lose our lives as we know them, but only so that he might give us real and eternal life in him. Do you hear him calling you? Are you willing to deny yourself and take up your cross in order to follow him? Do you trust that he will lead you to life?

Prayer
Gracious God, we thank you that you have revealed your Son to us, that Jesus is the Christ, the deliverer we all need. Please give us the grace we need to follow you. You alone are worthy and we want to give you our lives, but need your help to do so. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 32: THE ADULTERESS

John 8:1-11 (ESV)
… but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

The Law was clear — adultery was a capital offense with two guilty parties: “If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die” (Deuteronomy 22:22). In accordance with the Law, therefore, the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus with an adulterous woman to be stoned. Where was the man? They didn’t care. After all, their concern wasn’t really with the Law. Their concern was with testing Jesus.

But Jesus wasn’t fooled. He said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” Of course, Jesus wasn’t making a recommendation for a new judicial system; no criminals would be held accountable if judges had to be without sin. Jesus was making a point – a point he frequently made to the Pharisees. He often said things to them like, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice’” (Matthew 9:13; c.f., Matthew 12:1-8; John 7:21-23). In other words, he was telling them that they were missing the most important part of the Law – that its foundation was love (Matthew 22:34-40; Matthew 7:12; Galatians 5:14). Thus, although they appeared interested in upholding the Law, they were actually breaking it because they weren’t acting on the basis of love, grace, humility and compassion.

So they went away. And Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” He didn’t say, “It doesn’t matter whether you sin.” Instead, he said, in effect, “I myself am establishing your righteousness on the foundation of love and grace. Therefore, don’t sin — not because you fear its punishment, but because you have met me and have been saved by grace.”

— By The Park Forum

Prayer
Lord, We exalt the name of Jesus because his righteousness has been imputed to us through grace alone! Therefore, even as we seek to sin no more, let us long for holiness and righteousness out of a deep recognition that we have been saved by grace. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 31: THE LEPER

Mark 1:40-45 (ESV)
And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter.

Contracting leprosy was one of the most tragic things that could have happened to an individual in the ancient world. Whenever a leper was around other people, he was required to shout “unclean, unclean,” so passersby would know to keep their distance. A leper was required to live “alone, outside the camp,” so as to reduce the risk of transmitting his disease to others (Leviticus 13:45-46). To be a leper was to be isolated and humiliated perpetually.

And then Jesus came and changed everything. One of the great beauties of the Gospels is how frequently they record Jesus’ interactions with lepers. He approached them and was approached by them. He treated them with respect and kindness. He even did the unthinkable: he touched them, and his touch made them clean. Jesus healed the lepers.

Many biblical scholars have pointed out that there is an analogy between the physical condition of leprosy and the spiritual condition of sin. Sin in our hearts isolates us, both from God and from other people. Try as we might to hide it or remove it, the stain of sin remains present. Like Lady Macbeth, we try to wash away the stain of sin crying, “out damn’d spot,” all to no avail. We are unclean, and we know it.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is the contagiously clean man. When he touched a leper, Jesus did not contract leprosy. Rather, the leper became clean. Those trying in vain to remove their sin must allow themselves to be touched by the contagiously clean man. And, like the leper in the story, may we who have experienced that touch possess an uncontainable gratitude, talking freely about our encounter with the contagiously clean man.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Son who makes clean everything he touches. By his grace may our hearts and our actions be touched by him this day and everyday. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 30: THE FAST

Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV)
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, 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 him, “All these I will give you, if you will 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.’” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.

Here, we learn about three specific ways that Satan sought to tempt Jesus, each one more significant, by challenging his desire for food, urging him to display power sensationally, and encouraging him to use political power to establish God’s kingdom. In this third instance, he was tempting Jesus to bypass the cross. The devil was more than willing to give us all back to Jesus, if only Jesus would worship him instead of God. Skip the suffering, save the people, deny God, do it the easy way. For each response, Jesus relied on Scripture, the “sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17), to resist.

These temptations occurred following Jesus’ baptism. Right after Jesus was anointed for ministry, the Spirit led him into the wilderness for 40 days and nights of fasting “to be tempted by the devil.” Jesus’ time in the desert reminds us of Moses fasting for the same period on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34:28). After Moses’ 40 days and nights, God gave him the Ten Commandments for the Israelites. Thus, here we see that Jesus is the new Moses come to fulfill the law that Moses was given.

Prayer
Gracious God, we praise you that you know what it is like to be tempted in every way, as we are. Thank you for showing us how to resist temptation and thank you for enduring the cross and for fulfilling the law, for our sakes, on our behalf. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 29: THE LAMB

John 1:29-34 (ESV)
 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

In Genesis 22, Abraham took his only son Isaac to Moriah because God had commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Isaac questioned his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham responded to his child that “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” As Abraham was about to sacrifice his own son on the altar, God stopped him and provided a ram to take the place of Isaac.

Jesus is the Lamb that God provided to take away all sins. Abraham did not have to sacrifice his only son, because God chose to sacrifice his son to atone for our sins. Because of this, God views us in the way he viewed his son when John saw the Spirit descend from heaven upon him. He calls us, both men and women, his beloved sons, with whom he is well pleased (Matthew 3:17).

We no longer have to live in anxiety laboring to justify our existence. Our justification is in Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who took away our sins and the sins of the world.

Prayer
God, our Father, we thank you that we are your beloved sons with whom you are well pleased. We pray that you will work deep into our being the truth that we no longer have to labor for our salvation, but we can find rest knowing our identity is in the Lamb of God. Give us an understanding of the depth of the sacrifice that was made to atone for our sin so we may fall more in love with you to grasp who we are and who we shall become. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 28: THE MOURNING

Zechariah 12:10-14 (ESV)
And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves.

Although Zechariah spoke these words, they were the words of the Lord. Yet how could this be? How could God say, “They look on me, on him whom they have pierced?” Could God be wounded? Even more puzzling, could God be “pierced” – which indicated a killing? In other words, could God die?

Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy. Not only was he fully God, he was also fully man. Moreover, as the prophecy predicted, Jesus was the “only child” and “firstborn” Son of the Father (John 3:16). He died and, on the cross, he was pierced: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).

The prophecy, however, said more. It said that those who pierced him would mourn because God would pour out on them “a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy.” In other words, the Spirit would open their eyes to see what they had done and how grievous their sin had been. This mourning would be widespread yet intimate – “the land shall mourn, each family by itself.”

In part, this prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost. Peter said to his listeners, “You crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Then, upon hearing the gospel, they were “cut to the heart” and 3,000 were saved that day (Acts 2:37-41). Today, this prophecy is still being fulfilled. As the Spirit fills us with grace, we mourn over Christ’s death because we know that “he was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5). In our sorrow, however, we also rejoice because his death “brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

- By The Park Forum

Prayer
Lord, we confess that our sin pierced Jesus. Thus, we mourn and ask you to pour out your Spirit of grace and mercy. In humility, we rejoice that your lovingkindness never fails – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 27: THE COMING KING

Zechariah 9:9-10 (ESV)
 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.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim
and the war horse from Jerusalem;
and the battle bow shall be cut off,
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.

In the Ancient Near East, a king entered cities riding on a warhorse in order to convey his military power, particularly when he was entering into newly conquered cities where his rule may have been regarded as illegitimate or met with suspicion or outright rejection. The exception to this custom was when a beloved king entered his own capital city. There he would ride in on a donkey — the benevolent king.

The prophet Zechariah speaks of a day when Jerusalem would see her king return. He would conquer the enemy once and for all, secure a lasting salvation and establish a new reign of peace for all. This hope of the true king, riding on a donkey, led the crowd to shout: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” when they saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem, yes, on a donkey.

And yet this crowd soon became the angry mob that cried for blood: “Crucify Him!” Jesus, who was once welcomed as the returning king, would be met with the violent rejection of a hostile people. The true king returned to his capital city to find that it had betrayed him. Yet still, he mounted a donkey, not a warhorse, and entered in peace. And he won the ultimate victory for his treacherous people by submitting himself to their violence — our violence — confirming our guilt and achieving our forgiveness in one decisive victory. The enemy this king would conquer turned out to be us, and the cost of the victory we longed for was the death of our beloved king. And he did it. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Prayer
Lord, we rejoice and shout aloud that you would give your life to pay the price for our treachery. We praise you as our beloved king we have been waiting for. Come reign in our heart, our lives and our city. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 26: THE TREASURE OF THE NATIONS

Haggai 2:6-9 (ESV)
For thus says the Lord of hosts: “Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the Lord of hosts. “The silver is mine, and the gold is mine,” declares the Lord of hosts. “The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former,” says the Lord of hosts. “And in this place I will give peace,” declares the Lord of hosts.

The book of Haggai was written to those who had returned from Babylonian to rebuild the destroyed temple of God. It was an encouragement and a call to rebuild amidst rubble, hope despite desolation, and believe even during times of hardship and disappointment.

In verses 6 to 9, Haggai spoke of a time to come when the world would be shaken up as it had never been shaken before. Ironically, this was intended to be a comfort for people who were standing in rubble! While this may seem difficult to understand at first glance, the writer of Hebrews took comfort in the shaking of this world, as it “indicates the removal of things that are shaken … in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain … a kingdom” (Hebrews 12:26-28).

At the heart of Haggai’s declaration that all of creation (v. 6) and all nations (v. 7) would be shaken, there is the promise that “the treasures of all nations shall come in.” “Treasures” is a Hebrew word that can function as a singular or plural noun. In other words, not only will the treasures of the nations be brought to the house of God in tribute, but there will also be One, the true treasure, who fills the house and is to be prized above all the wealth of the world. For Haggai, it was only when the world was shaken that we could see what really will stand and which treasures will endure.

When your world shakes, are you shaken with it, or are you unshakable in spite of it? When the treasures of your heart disappoint you, does your heart fail, or does it take hold of the treasure of all nations?

Prayer
Father, help me to hold onto your unshakable kingdom when my world is being shaken; to remember that Jesus Christ experienced the earthquake of the cross, so I would not be moved; and to remember that while treasures in the world may fail, you are the treasure of all nations. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 25: THE GOOD SHEPHERD

Ezekiel 34:23-31 (ESV)
“And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.

“I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord God. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God,” declares the Lord God.

The image of the people of God as a flock of sheep occurs several times throughout the Bible. In the earlier part of Ezekiel 34, the current shepherds (rulers of Israel) are rebuked for their abuse of power (34:1-22). The prophet describes a situation where they had grown fat and wealthy at the expense of the very people they were supposed to care for. We are told that because of that, God would bring judgment on them. The chapter changes in its focus as the warning turns into a promise for the future in the verses above. Not only will the Lord save his sheep, he will also appoint a king who, like David, will shepherd them in such a way as to bring lasting peace (v. 25). It was peace and rest which humanity lost through sin (Genesis 3:15; 4:8) and which prophets like Ezekiel had been pointing to ever since (Isaiah 9:6-7). This is where we lift our eyes to see Jesus, who is God’s ideal shepherd-king and the opposite of the corrupt leadership described in the earlier part of the chapter.

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind (Luke 4:18). It is Jesus who weeps over Jerusalem because they didn’t know what would bring them peace (Luke 19:41). It is Jesus who lays down his life for his sheep so that we might have peace with God and one another. And it is Jesus who will one day bring everlasting peace to the world through his return (Revelation 21). In the meantime, there are seasons of disappointment and suffering that can sometimes make us lose hope that God will fulfill his promise. The injustice of the world around us can make us cynical. It is at those times that we must reflect on Jesus as our good shepherd and remember that because he laid down his life for his sheep, we will one day “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Prayer
Lord Jesus, thank you for your love and care for your sheep. Thank you for laying down your life on the cross so that I might know your peace and be adopted into your family. During this season of reflection, in light of your love for me, help me to find ways to seek peace in my relationships and lay down my life for others. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 24: THE BRANCH

Jeremiah 33:14-18 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”
 
For thus says the Lord: “David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God’s love and concern for us rise and fall according to how well we are doing in living the Christian life. After all, we ourselves frequently give and withdraw our love from others depending on whether they are living in a way that is pleasing to us. Thankfully, even though we are marked by inconsistency, God is marked by constancy.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, he reminds his people that they can count on his promises and that he will always be there for them. He promises his constancy and faithfulness: “David will never fail to have someone sit on the throne … nor will the priests ever fail to have someone offering sacrifices” (vv. 17-18). Ultimately, Jesus is the king who remains on the throne and who has offered himself as a sacrifice once and for all.

Jesus is the righteous Branch who offers us his righteousness so that we never fear being rejected by God. Because of that we can bring our own failures and faithlessness to God. Jesus will not turn his back on us. Each day we can bring our repentance and know he will receive it. We can count on God giving us a fresh start because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We all need that fresh start each day. If you come to him asking for it, God will be faithful to give it to you.

Prayer
Lord Jesus, I thank you that your mercies are new every morning and your faithfulness is great. Give me grace to repent today of those things which are displeasing to you, counting on the fact that you will never leave me nor forsake me as I seek to walk in your ways. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

LENT DAY 23: THE SPIRIT

Isaiah 61:1-3 (ESV)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion —
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

In the last of our Isaiah texts we end with a hope-giving passage about Spirit-led transformation. The Lord’s anointed, who has been described in previous chapters as both a king and a servant, has come to announce good news for the poor, the brokenhearted, the captives and the imprisoned. This anointed one is both a servant who is filled with compassion for those in need and also a king who has the power to enact this transformation.

It’s hard not to read this passage without a sense of yearning, joy and hope. Our hearts are drawn to the hope that our mourning can turn into beauty, gladness, praise, righteousness and glory. Our lives are far different from the world of the exiled Jews, yet this passage speaks into the deep recesses of our disillusioned hearts. We resonate with the sense that we too are impoverished, brokenhearted, alienated and trapped by prisons of our own making. We are searching for something or someone who can rescue us from the predicaments in which we often find ourselves because life is beyond our ability to control with our intelligence, money or sheer willpower. Who is this anointed one who leads us to believe that we are not alone, abandoned to our own pathetic and impotent devices?

Of all the Old Testament passages that he could have used to begin his public ministry, Jesus reads from this Isaiah passage and concludes with the audacious declaration, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). As you consider the things that lead you to feel alone and powerless, remember that the hope of transformation presented in Isaiah has been accomplished, and Jesus is the long-awaited fulfillment of the yearnings of our hearts.

Prayer
Heavenly Father, you have accomplished through Christ, the anointed one, what I could never do in my own abilities. Yet, in the course of my day-to-day life I turn back to myself, instinctively putting my hope for change in almost everything but you. Help me to see more of the fullness of what Christ has accomplished so that I might place my hope in him and experience the greater healing, freedom and comfort that he graciously gives. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Devotional from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City

LENT DAY 22: THE WATERS

Isaiah 55:1-7 (ESV)
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;
and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live;
and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,
and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.


In these verses, the Holy One of Israel is crying out through Isaiah, pleading with his people on the eve of destruction to return to the true fountain of life. It is an emphatic call to come without barrier to the eternal spring of living waters. Verses 2 and 3 make clear that this water is the word of God. The invitation is to drink deeply: to receive the word, reason with it, delight in it, to listen to it like they had never listened before. “Listen diligently” (v. 2) is literally, “Listen-listen!” a call for undivided and sustained attention. Ultimately, this word is meant to save them (v. 3), transform them (v. 7), and make them a blessing to the entire world (v. 5). They are being called into communion with their compassionate God (v. 7). But they refuse to hear him (6:9).

Lent is a time for us to admit the same tendencies displayed by Isaiah’s audience. For reasons conscious and less conscious, we are prone to neglect God’s word, and ultimately, God himself. Given enough time apart from the Scriptures, a kind of spiritual amnesia sets in, where we forget the taste that is sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10). Lent is an invitation to see Christ as the woman at the well came to see him — as the pure, limitless satisfaction for our thirsty souls. It is our invitation to return to that well and drink deeply. Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

Prayer
Gracious Lord, in compassion you call us. By your mercy, open our ears to hear your voice, and hearing you, to return. Remove the scales from our eyes and unveil for us the wonders of your word. Your glories are revealed there. Be our delight. Be our satisfaction. Awaken in us a new sense of expectancy, as those who put their trust in you will never be put to shame. Glorious LORD, we are yours. In Christ’s Name, Amen.