Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

Carrying a cross

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for March 26, 2022. Photo by Geralt on pixabay.

As they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26)

It sounds like Simon had just gotten back to town when he’s forced to carry Jesus’ cross to the place of crucifixion. In the wrong place at the wrong time, he’s dragged into the passion of our Lord.

I wonder if Simon knew who Jesus was? Did he know what happened in the Jerusalem over the past few days? Would he be proud or ashamed to tell this story in the future? Did anyone know Simon and see him carrying Jesus’ cross? Did he have to explain what he was doing?

I wonder how much the cross weighed? Was it just the cross piece, kind of like carrying a four by four post. That’s got some weight to it. Or was it a whole cross, a couple of pieces of wood to drag the half mile to Golgotha? Was it new, unused wood? Or was it stained with the blood of those who had been crucified on it in the past? Were there already holes where the nails had been driven though hands and feet? I’v got so many questions.

On a few medical mission trips, members of our team got carried away when packing large suitcases filled with medication and hygiene items for the clinics. We often had to help each other drag multiple fifty pound duffles through airports, customs, and security checkpoints. Lifting that load into a car is one thing. Dragging it hundreds of yards is another!

When I read about Simon, I can help but think of Jesus’ words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Here he teaches that discipleship is not about what you’re going to get, but what you’re giving up. Ultimately, it means giving up your life to find it again in Christ. Treasure in heaven is hard to get hold of when your hands are full of the things of this life. Something has to give.

If Jesus came to visit, I’d pick him up at the airport. I would grab his suitcase from the baggage conveyor and pull it out to my car. If we went out to eat, I would pick up the tab.

Carrying his cross might not be so bad. When you think about it, Jesus carries my cross, with all my sin, guilt and shame. In exchange, I get to carry his, a source of grace and forgiveness. His cross is so much lighter!

Lord, I’m ready to let go and hold on. Amen.

Posted in 2022 Lent Devotions

“I’d like to kill you.”

“Mirror of the Passion” Lent devotion for March 25, 2022. Photo by Abhishek Singh on Unsplash

They kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21)

It is very hard to imagine myself joining in with a crowd demanding someone’s execution. Yet in the courts, prosecutors say, “The people are seeking the death penalty.” Protestors outside prisons hold up signs demanding the death of a convicted criminal. A dummy hung from a tree and set on fire expresses the intent of a mob. Old wanted posters promised rewards for an outlaw brought in “dead or alive.”

The Jewish leaders have brought Jesus to Pilate with charges of sedition and treason. They accuse Jesus of challenging the authority of Caesar and even calling himself a king. Neither Pilate nor Herod is impressed with Jesus. They’re ready to punish him and let him go.

But the crowd shouts over and over again, “Crucify him.” They will accept nothing less than Jesus’ execution.

Sometimes we casually toss around the idea of killing someone. When somebody spills something you and you exclaim, “I’m going to kill you!” Or you’re late, and you just know that your mom or dad is going to kill you. “If looks could kill…”

The word just kind of slips out. But it also reveals something about us. Something inside us fast forwards past hitting back or getting revenge right to the extreme – taking a life. When you think about it, it’s scary to think that we might be capable of that very thing. And of course, we are. The very first sin outside of the Garden of Eden is murder. Cain gets angry and kills his brother. It’s not tossing words or rolling on the ground fighting. It’s the big one.

When Jesus spoke of anger, he placed it under the fifth commandment, “You shall not murder.” Our anger condemns us. Our temper makes us liable to judgment. We very much want to wrest vengeance away from God and take care of people problems ourselves.

Just about every discussion about anger includes the mention that Jesus himself got angry. This is true. But that was an isolated occasion. And he didn’t kill anyone. And you aren’t Jesus. So I’m not sure the comparison is valid.

When a couple of toddlers get together, they may play well together for a while. But they may also grab a toy away from the other. Such behavior can lead to pushing, hitting, biting, and eventually crying. Young children are out for blood in their own way. When we grow up, we usually learn to control the pushing, hitting, and biting. But we lash out in other ways, ignoring, snubbing, insulting, and suing each other, in effect saying, “I’d like to kill you.”

Jesus comes to take all our anger and hatred on himself. He lets sinful nature take its course and not only demand his death, but actually carry it out. He helps us see that death really doesn’t get us what we want.

What we want is life. And that’s what his death will bring.

Lord, sometimes I’m so angry. And that’s why you died. I’m humbled. Amen.

Posted in Stories

Come on in!

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Thursday, April 1, 2021. Photo by Kelli McClintock on Unsplash.

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

All it takes is one sign stating “Do Not Enter” to make you wonder, “What’s behind that door?” You try the doorknob, don’t you? Just in case someone forgot to lock it. Or a padded rope is draped across the bottom of a staircase. What do you think is up there? Want to find out? Do you think they would mind? Is anyone watching?

I imagine many were curious about the curtain draped in front of the holiest place in the tabernacle and then the temple in Jerusalem. Only the high priest, on the annual day of Atonement, could go behind that barrier. What do you think it was like back there? No one really knew.

Until today.

When Jesus breathed his last and died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” The whole thing split in two and now anyone could walk right up and see what was back there. That moment speaks volumes about the significance of Jesus’ death.

You see, one does not simply walk into God’s office. One does not even make an appointment. Sinful people do not want an audience with God. Just ask Adam and Eve, who hid in the bushes. Or Isaiah, who one day found himself in the throne room (Isaiah 6). Or Peter, when he realizes who asked him to cast his net on the other side of the boat. Or Paul who gets knocked off his horse by the very Jesus he is persecuting.

When I was growing up, you did not walk into the pastor’s office. You felt like you would need to take off your shoes before stepping onto holy ground. I looked in the door one time. I wondered what all those books were for. I wondered why it smelled like tobacco. And what was all that mess on his desk?

That all changed one day when I got the job as church janitor. My duties included cleaning the pastor’s office. I emptied the trash, cleaned out the ash trays, vacuumed the carpet and dusted the book shelves. After the first few times it wasn’t such a big deal.

It wasn’t such a big deal when I became a pastor and I had an office. I was glad to have all those books. Authors much smarter than me helped me make sense of the bible. No tobacco, though. I’ve never smoked. And it seemed like someone was always in my office. Some would walk in just to say hello. Youth would be hanging out. My children (and now grandchildren) would be playing with my collection of children’s sermon props.

Since Jesus died and paid for our sin, we can just walk right in and be with God. His death tears down the barrier between us and God, and nothing can ever separate us from his love. The torn curtain in the temple testifies to that reality. We can approach his throne with confidence, knowing that we will find grace there!

Heavenly Father, don’t let me ever forget that the curtain was torn. It is so nice to know I can come to you anytime. Amen.

Posted in Lent devotions

Jesus in the middle of my mess

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Friday, March 26, 2021. Photo by Ricardo Viana on Unsplash.

And with [Jesus] they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. (Mark 15:27)

On most days, I don’t believe Jesus minded hanging out with robbers. He didn’t mind the company of sinners and tax collectors. He was OK with lepers, blue-collar fishermen, Samaritans, Canaanites and Gentile hog-farmers. He was just one of the guys, or as the Old Testament put it, “numbered with the transgressors.” When the Word became flesh to dwell among us, “us” included these two criminals who were crucified that day with Jesus.

These two men might never have met Jesus were it not for their shared sentence. Jesus didn’t spend time with those on death row. Not until today, the day of their execution, their last day alive.

Continue reading “Jesus in the middle of my mess”