Lent Devotions 2012: Tuesday 20th March

“He gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to them that plucked off the hair; he hid not his face from shame and spitting.” Isaiah 50: 6

Familiar words from Handel’s Messiah – for many of us – but what is involved in these words of humiliation?

Handel links these words with the famous words of Isaiah 53, “He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” in the second item of part two of the Messiah. Part one deals with the coming of the Messiah, part two with the passion and part three with the lasting significance and glory of the Messiah. The first item of part two of the Messiah quotes John the Baptist’s words, “Behold the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1.29). Handel saw Isaiah’s words as a clear prophecy of Jesus’ sufferings on our behalf.

Verse 5 of Isaiah 50 speaks of the Suffering Servant’s obedience. Verse 6 gives three details of his humiliation. Firstly, he willingly offers his back to those who would strike and lash and whip him. Secondly, he “turns the other cheek” to those who pull his hair or his beard. 900 years of English-Irish animosity date back to King John pulling the beards of Irish nobles. Thirdly he offers his face to the disgrace and shame of spitting. To spit at someone is humiliating. Today in football it is regarded as seriously as deliberately kicking another player. Jesus endured all these humiliations. Matthew and Mark both record two cases of people spitting at Jesus. In front of the high priest, “some began to spit on him and to cover his face and strike him” (Mark 14.65). Then the Roman soldiers “were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him” (Mark 15.19). In these days when people stand up for their rights, are we willing to suffer these humiliations for Jesus’ sake – if that is needed?

Modern scholars recognise four Servant Songs in Isaiah 42, 49, 50 and 53. Our verse is in the middle of the third Song in verses 4-9 of Isaiah 50, which is probably the least well-known of the four Songs. It is remarkable that Handel linked two of these Songs before scholars had identified them. Perhaps this is another indication of the inspiration of the Messiah.

How does Jesus the Messiah inspire you? Are you willing to suffer the humiliations that Jesus suffered – if that is necessary? We are fortunate in our land, but many of our brothers and sisters around the world suffer today just as Jesus did.

Lord God, please teach us to follow where you lead, even into suffering or danger. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Monday 19th March

“…saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honour and glory and might for ever and ever!’” Revelation 5:12-13

Let’s have a little imagination here – and my word, we will need imagination at full throttle – to grasp this one! The preceding verse to this tells us that there were gathered around the throne the living creatures and the elders, and the voice of many angels numbering myriads of myriads and thousands and thousands was saying with a loud voice… Try and picture this scene in your mind (bet you can’t) and then tune in with the sound. Loud as a football match crowd? Loud as Status Quo on stage and you are standing near the amplifiers? Nah…. Try and think of the pure joy and love that these beings wanted to communicate in their praise and worship of the Lord. They were, by the look of this verse, in pure rapture (and so they should be – they were, after all, in Heaven!). Two verses later, it tells us that the elders fell down and worshipped. I should think they would fall down, confronted by such a force of joy and power emanating all around them. And what was all it about? The Lamb – Christ, a pure and clean innocent thing, being slaughtered without thought or care by men in their own struggle for power. Now Christ reigns supreme in Heaven and over us, having saved us all from our own sins. What joy that His gift gives us – doesn’t it make you want to cry out at your loudest in praise? It should…..

Dear Heavenly Father, forgive us our quiet worship of You despite that You give so freely to us with Your love and care and the ultimate sacrifice of Your dear Son. We know that one day we will join the multitude that surround You, giving true praise as only You deserve. May we be ready in our hearts, minds and souls for that glorious day! In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Saturday 17th March

“But He kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest was questioning Him, and saying to Him, “Are You the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?” And Jesus said, “I am; and you shall see the son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” Mark 14 v 61 – 62

At first, Jesus does not speak. If His actions and words so far were not enough to silence His critics, then what difference would more words make? Jesus was able to stop it all there and then, but He chose not to defend Himself. Jesus was completing the fulfilment of Gods will, in a manner somewhat incomprehensible to His audience.

What person wouldn’t save themselves from the fate of death if given the choice? If this was a battle of wills, Jesus was not going to dignify them with a confession of guilt or a plea for mercy. He had nothing to prove. He was choosing to suffer and be humiliated. He continued further in belittling the power his judge and jury presumed to have over Him. For He knew that His power was so much greater, and His purpose so much more important.

Thank You God for the Gift of Jesus Christ, who saved us from our sins. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Friday 16th March

“And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” Matthew 27:46

The night before Jesus died, He prayed to the Father, in great anguish: “if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26:39). Now, as the moment of His death approaches, after hours of agony, Jesus has His answer: it is not possible; the cup will not pass; He is forsaken, and handed over to persecution and death.

And yet this is not a cry of despair. Jesus is quoting Psalm 22, the song of a righteous man who has been handed over to persecution (“Many bulls encircle me … I am poured out like water”), but who never loses faith in God’s holiness (v.3), dominion (v.28) and deliverance (v.31).

So it is for Jesus. He has heard the answer we all dread when we pray in desperation and fear: ‘no’. As a human being, He experiences forsakenness by God in being handed over to His persecutors. But He remains united to God, both as the faithful believer who refuses to despair, and as the incarnate Son of God whose union between Godhead and flesh can never be dissolved.

In our baptisms, we are united with Jesus in this moment (Romans 6:3). All our forsakenness, all our anguish, all our experience of the silent ‘no’ from heaven in response to our prayers is united with that of Christ. But at the same time, we are united with the inextinguishable hope of Christ the incarnate Son of God, and share in His vindication.

This is the paradox of the Cross: the moment that shows most fully our forsakenness by God is the moment that shows (and, indeed, effects) most fully God’s acceptance and salvation of us.

You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from him,
but heard when he cried to him.
(Psalm 22:23-24)

Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Thursday 15th March

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’” John 11:25-26

Recently a friend of mine said she had attended a Humanist funeral service. She commented that it was nice enough; fine tributes were given and many memories were shared, but she said that she found it lacking something. Although my friend does not attend church, she put her finger on a very real problem. At the time of death, when everything else has been stripped away, what do we rely on? Do we seek tributes or memories? Iif so they ring hollow in our ears as they are sadly lacking the ability to give comfort and peace at such a time.

No, we need hope, even in the midst of the most hopeless of situations. And this is where Martha found herself. She was standing outside the tomb of her brother Lazarus as she spoke with Jesus. Her pain and sorrow were real; no tribute to or memory of her brother could soothe, let alone erase it.

Into this void steps Jesus Christ, and He speaks. His words deliver what they say – resurrection and life. These words are not mere platitudes or greeting card slogans: no, they are life-giving words. He speaks and even the dead listen. He commands it and the dead rise. Only the One who has conquered death can freely give life to all who trust in His promises. When all else has been taken from us, and death has stripped us of all we held dear, it is only the words and promises of Jesus that matter: “I am the resurrection and the Life”. On the Last Day we will hear His voice and we will rise with Him to eternal life.

Match that, humanist funeral.

Lord of Life, You triumphed over death and the grave and You give eternal life to all who trust in You, Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Wednesday 14th March

“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20:24

NEWS FLASH!

The Olympics are coming to town! Do you think the athletes are prepared? Yes. Do you think there will be any ‘walk-ons’ (half-hearted competitors)? No. Near our home in Colorado, in Colorado Springs, is the training centre for U.S. athletes who will be competing for medals in the 2012 Olympics. One of their mottos is: ‘It’s not just every four years, it’s every day’. Their routines are strict: running faster, jumping higher, lifting more weights, painstakingly counting calories and monitoring heart rates. Striving for more speed, precision, and endurance, their focus is squarely on the prize: a gold medal.

The race Paul speaks of is of even greater importance and with a much loftier goal: life as a Christian with a reward of eternal life! While an athlete may be tempted off-course by parties, sleep, and pizzas, the distractions and temptations of a Christian are more deadly: idle gossip, laziness, skipping worship, violent or risqué movies and music, apathy. As an athlete trains and races, so must we as Christians train and discipline ourselves to finish the course which the Lord Himself has given to us. Like Paul, we have been given a ministry, to bear the message of salvation….EVERY DAY. Let’s live this ministry out loud! Pray when you arise, read the Bible, the Holy Word of God, listen to Lutheran Radio during cleaning and workouts, pray more, share the Good News with family and friends.

Through discipline and hard work, our athletes might have a chance at the Gold. As bold, repentant, and forgiven Christians, prepared through the study of God’s Word, strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, and by the grace of God our Father, we can be sure of our prize: Eternal life with Christ in heaven. Don’t just be a ‘walk-on’ Christian.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace;
Lift up your eyes, and seek His face.
Life with its way before us lies;
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

(LSB 664 v. 2)

 Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Tuesday 13th March

“They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave sour wine to drink.” Psalm 69: 1

During the season of Lent, Christians focus on their spiritual lives, the Passion of Christ, and their own suffering. The season of Lent is a penitential time for Christians. We focus on our sin, our depravity, our utmost need for a Saviour. Sin is our greatest enemy. Sin attacks us via Satan’s temptations, worldly lusts and desires, and the sinful lust and desire of our own corrupt human flesh. The Holy Spirit shows us our filthy sin. We see it. We despise it. Yet, at times we revel in it. So often when sin attacks we capitulate to it. We need spiritual help. We need a Saviour. We need salvation. Only God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is able to save us from spiritual abuse, sin’s attacks.

In this psalm, David offers this prayer for help in the midst of attacks and sufferings imposed on him by his enemies. As Jesus is the promised Son of David (2 Samuel 7:8-16), these afflictions of David foreshadow the even greater afflictions of Christ. Hence, this psalm is quoted in the New Testament with reference to Christ.

We too can use this psalm as our prayer. We ask God for help in the midst of suffering from attacks by our worldly and spiritual enemies. Jesus the Christ is very aware of our afflictions. Jesus, true God and true man, lived among those who hated him. His enemies persecuted him to death – literally.

Jesus suffered in His body when scourged by the soldiers and nailed to the cross. But much greater was the suffering of His soul, for He felt the heavy burden of our sins resting upon Him and experienced the full measure of God’s wrath. All this suffering was laid upon our Saviour by God Himself who, making use of the wickedness of Judas, Caiaphas, Pontius Pilate, and the soldiers, visited on Him the iniquity of us all. Therefore, we with our sins mocked, scourged, and crucified the Lord (IS 43:24). We are the ones that should smite upon our breasts and repent.

Martin Luther said the life of a Christian should be one of daily repentance. Not just during the season of Lent, but every day of the year we call out to God asking for forgiveness of our sin. The Good News is that, for Christ’s sake, we are forgiven. Christ suffered in our place. In our Baptism our sin was imputed to Him and His righteousness imputed to us. This is the greatest gift of all – redemption. As we journey through this Lenten season let us call upon the Lord to deliver us from our enemies, spiritual and physical. Let us turn to the one who experienced these same afflictions for us and triumphed over them that we would have freedom from sin, death, and Satan.

Let heaven and earth praise him… …for God will save Zion. (Psalm 69: 34-35.) Amen.

 

Lent Devotions 2012: Monday 12th March

“The next day, John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’!” John 1:29

Could there ever be more Gospel in one sentence? Here we are told of the one Who removes our sin from us. Why us? Because we too are in the world. We are told this person is Jesus. He is also described as the “lamb of God”. Why “lamb”? Is it just a cute picture of a gentle animal and a quaint description of the humbleness of God? No. It is much more! The lamb was the choice sacrificial animal of the Lord. “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male… the whole congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight” (Exodus 12:5-6). This Passover was celebrated year after year in Israel’s history, by way of a sacrifice, to remind them of the Salvation of the Lord. This was one of the most memorable ceremonies for the children of God until the time came when God would reveal that there would only be one sacrifice, once and for all, whereby men and women would look back and say, ‘Yes, this is the Salvation of God’. This was the very moment when the lamb became His story!

Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ made the story His when, as a lamb, He sacrificed Himself for the world. That’s how He took our sin away. John the Baptist saw it. And it is his prayer that you and I see it. So do we see it?

“He was oppressed, and He was afflicted… like a lamb led to the slaughter” Isaiah 53:7. We use every piece of Scripture to describe the good news about Jesus, as Philip did for the eunuch. We look at our own lives and we see how much we need Jesus because of our sin. We desire His grace. We desire His mercy. We long for the means by which He grants these blessings to us! What are His means? His Word! Read His Word, for here even you and I have been given a prophecy. One day “no longer will there be anything accursed, but rather will there be the throne of God and the Lamb and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face and His name will be on their foreheads… they will need no light from a lamp or a sun, for the Lord God will be their light and they will reign forever and ever”. Revelation 22:3-5.

Let us pray: Lord God; Lamb of God, thank you for taking away the sins of the world, for having mercy on us and for granting us your peace. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Saturday 10th March

“’What is truth?’ Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews, and said, ‘I find no basis for the charge against him.’” John 18:38

Do we know the truth? We are sure we do, because we have the written word (truth) of God in the Holy Bible, the ‘Workshop Manual’ for mankind’s salvation. Through our faith in Christ Jesus we are assured of salvation.

Caiaphas distorted the truth to protect his own power, Pilate was frightened of the truth as it threatened his power, but we have nothing to fear from the ‘POWER’ that is Christ Jesus. It is all ours through His love. What is this POWER? It is TRUTH. What does this TRUTH give us? SALVATION through His love.

Thank You for this Lord God, Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Friday 9th March

“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 into his own home.” John 19: 26-27

When Jesus was presented at the temple, 40 days after His birth, Simeon told Jesus’ mother Mary that a sword would pierce through her soul (Luke 2:35). Now, standing at the foot of the cross and watching her son die, Mary must have felt the anguish of that sword. The angel Gabriel had promised that her son Jesus would be great and reign over the house of Jacob forever (Luke 1:32, 33) and yet here He was, dying the most shameful death possible. Mary must have felt as though God had truly abandoned them both.

And yet, in the midst of His suffering, Jesus shows His tender love for His mother, placing her in the care of “the disciple whom he loved”. How often when we are in the midst of suffering do we feel as though God has abandoned us! But He will never leave or forsake us. Through the water of Holy Baptism, we became God’s dear children and members of His body, the church. His love for us is so deep that He gave His only son to die for us, so that we might receive the free gift of life eternal with Him. Just as Jesus cared for His mother, so God also provides care for us – through our families, government, doctors, nurses etc. – and through our Christian brothers and sisters. We are joined together each week at His table when we receive the gifts of His body and blood, which nourish and sustain us. “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine!
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my friend,
In whose sweet praise
I all my days
Could gladly spend.

(LSB 430)

Amen.