Posted in Lent devotions

Full circle

Bonus “Scenes from the passion” devotion for Saturday, April 3, 2021. Photo by Stefan Kunze on Unsplash.

And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid. (Mark 15:42-47)

So we’ve come full circle. When Jesus was born, his mother Mary wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, a feeding trough that some picture as a cave in a hillside. Now that his life is over, they wrap his body in cloth and lay him in a tomb, a cave in the rock.

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Posted in Lent devotions

Pit crew

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Saturday, April 3, 2021. Photo by Andrew Roberts on Unsplash.

There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:40-41)

You can’t be a successful Nascar driver without a pit crew. You can’t be a boxer without a trainer, cornerman and a cut-man. Touring bands have road crews. Dentists have hygienists, assistants, billing and insurance specialists, and front office staff. Jesus and his disciples had support staff, many women from Galilee who traveled with them.

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Posted in Lent devotions

Sometimes you just know

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotions for Friday, April 2, 2021. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash.

And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)

The centurion simply witnessed Jesus’ death and he knew. Without hearing one parable or witnessing one miracle, he knew. Without the testimony of scripture or an angelic announcement, he knew. This was not just a man. This one was divine. He had to be the Son of God.

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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, Stories

One last breath

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Wednesday, March 31, 2021. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash.

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. (Mark 15:37)

That moment after Jesus’ final shout and breath would have been the most profound silence the world has ever known.

How many mothers have peeked into the room where their children are sleeping, just to hear the sound of their breathing? Maybe you’ve woken up at night to listen your spouse breathing next to you. The rhythmic sound of my breathing syncs with my footsteps during an early morning run. When you’re playing hide and seek, it’s hard to breathe quietly and not give yourself away. Each year you have to take a bigger and bigger breath to blow out all those candles on your birthday cake! Sometimes we audibly sigh, releasing a breath of frustration or despair.

The first breaths of Jesus brought shepherd and wise men to see the Savior in Bethlehem. The heavy breaths of a sleeping Jesus in a small boat in a big storm were interrupted by the disciples who though they were going to die. A deep sigh from Jesus gave a man a chance to hear again. His breath equips his disciples for ongoing ministry.

What will we do without his breath?

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Posted in Lent devotions

Here I come to save the day

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Tuesday, March 30, 2021. Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash.

And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” (Mk 15:35-36)

Those who hear Jesus speaking the words of Psalm 22, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” think he’s speaking the name of Elijah, the powerful Old Testament prophet. Will Elijah hear Jesus’ plea? Will he come to help? “Let’s watch and find out.”

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Posted in Lent devotions, Stories

Use his words

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Monday, March 29, 2021. Photo by David Beale on Unsplash.

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34) 

What do you pray when God feels far away? What do you say to him when everything hurts? What words do you use when you can’t find the words to express your doubts, fears, despair and pain?

The good news is that you don’t have to come up with any words. You can use his. You can let God’s words be your prayer. That’s what Jesus does. In the most painful, darkest, loneliest moment imaginable, Jesus speaks the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1). Maybe he kept going, just in not so loud a voice, “Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

We do that all the time. We say, “Our Father, who art in heaven…” the very prayer Jesus taught his disciples. We pray, “Come, Lord Jesus” from Revelation. We borrow the prayer of so many in scripture who said, “Lord, have mercy.”

Praying God’s word is an important reminder that prayer is a conversation. It is a conversation initiated by God. He speaks to us in his word, prompting our response to his powerful, living and active promises, lessons, songs and instructions.

As the very first families began to grow, “people began to call on the name of the Lord” (Genesis 4:26). The fabric of life has always included worship, prayer and praise. It was very much a part of Jesus’ life, too. When he was conceived, his mother sang a song of praise. When he was born, the angels sang. He grew up singing Sabbath psalms at home and festival psalms at Passover. He may have been singing one of them as he hung on the cross.

When we (or Jesus) pray the very words of God, it reminds us that God is not far away at all. When his word is in our heart and in our mouth (Deut. 30:14; Romans 10:8), he is still the one giving us life and breath and everything else we need to live at that very moment. We don’t have to go anywhere to find his presence. He comes to be with us. The Word became flesh to dwell among us. And he promised to never leave. Simply speak his word, and there he is, inhabiting our praises, keeping our way pure, lighting our path, and giving us life.

Heavenly Father, don’t leave me. Fill my songs, prayers and life with your word. Amen.

Posted in Lent devotions

In the dark

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Sunday, March 28, 2021. Photo by Lucy Chian on Unsplash.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.  (Mk 15:33) 

It’s noon, but the sun isn’t beating down on you. I picture ominous clouds and a threatening darkness as three men slowly die by crucifixion on Golgotha. The passersby, chief priest and scribes have all left ahead of the storm, leaving Jesus and two robbers with a few soldiers who carry out the execution.

Dark clouds like that over my house are usually accompanied by alerts on my phone of severe thunderstorms in the area, lightning strikes, tornado warnings and instructions to seek cover. This is not the time to be outside. Golfers end their rounds early, roofers call it a day, surfers head in from the waves, lifeguards whistle everyone out of the pool, and I take the dog for a walk before the rain starts.

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Posted in Lent devotions

Hang on!

“Scenes from the passion” Lent devotion for Saturday, March 27, 2021.

And those who passed by derided [Jesus], wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (Mark 15:29-32)

So now everyone gets to take one last shot at Jesus. Passersby, chief priests and scribes and even robbers being crucified demand, “Save yourself, Jesus! Come down off the cross. Let’s see what you can do!”

Jesus has spent over three years proving himself. He has shown crowds of people his authority to heal, command demons and even bring the dead to life. And yet, here he is, in the last moments of his life, still auditioning for the role of Messiah.

Ever catch yourself wondering if Jesus really has what it takes? “If Jesus really has a plan for my life, why am I so unhappy.” “If Jesus really cared, he would have helped me get that job.” “If Jesus really has the power to heal, why did my mother get sick and die?” After all these years, Jesus still has to prove himself!

So Jesus will do exactly what all these folks demand. He will indeed come down off the cross. He’ll be dead. They’ll bring his corpse down from the cross, wrap it in cloths and lay it in a tomb. Many witnessed it. Now will you believe?

A recent carnival game involved hanging from a horizontal bar. If you can hang there for two minutes without flexing or swaying, you win a prize. They make it even harder by using a bar that is bigger than usual and rotates. Few people can hang there for two whole minutes.

The real test of Jesus is not whether he can come down off the cross. That would be easy. The challenge is to stay there until you die. That is the proof of both his love and his ability to save us. When you begin with the truth that Jesus is the Christ, the King of Israel, you aren’t heckling, “Come down, Jesus,” but are praying, “Hang on, Jesus. You’re the only hope I have.”

Heavenly Father, thank you for your son Jesus, who has what it takes to hang on and save me. Amen.