Lent Devotions 2012: Friday 6th April

GOOD FRIDAY

“Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:46

Good Friday was a day of distinctive sounds.

The splash of water as Pilate washed his hands and sent Jesus off to be crucified. The crack of the whip which tore into the flesh of Jesus Christ as He was scourged by the Roman soldier. The thud of the hammer hitting the nails that pierced Jesus’ flesh before being sunk deeply into the wood of the cross. The loud derisive shrieks of the crowd who mocked a dying Jesus and called for His blood. The silence of the universe for three hours as Jesus suffered the pangs of hell in our place. The rip of the Temple curtain announcing that access to God was now possible through the One whose once-for-all sacrifice has accomplished forgiveness and peace with God.

But the most distinctive sound of all on that Good Friday was the voice of Jesus Christ, God’s Suffering Servant. Luke informs us that Jesus “cried out with a loud voice”. This was no dying whimper or whisper. No, it was a proclamation; an announcement. Everyone on earth and in heaven was summoned to pay attention. God’s herald had a victory to proclaim.

“Father”: the God who had forsaken Him was once again His Father; His ABBA; His daddy.

“Into Your hands”: the strong, loving hands of the Father will bring His Son, even, through death. Deuteronomy 33:27 says “and underneath are the everlasting arms” of God who will catch us no matter how far down we fall. Even in death Jesus would not let go of His Father’s hand.

“I commit my spirit”: this is a quotation from Psalm 31:5. With this declaration, Jesus concludes His mission to seek and save the lost. He had prayed that God’s will would be done, and now through His death on the cross in our place as our sacrifice, God’s will was done.

On this Good Friday, let all who have ears listen. Listen to the victory cry of the dying Jesus Christ.

Almighty God, graciously behold this Your family for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and delivered into the hands of sinful men to suffer death upon the cross; through that same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Thursday 5th April

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

The most basic nourishing food to keep one alive is bread. The first temptation the devil offered the hungering Jesus in the wilderness was to turn stones into bread. What did the 5000 want after a long day with Jesus? Bread, which He gave them. When the Israelites complained that they missed sitting by the meat pots and eating bread to the full, God rained down on them bread from heaven. What do we pray for daily? Our daily bread. Yet whilst God provides for our bodily needs, the Lord of Life sees something even more important than sustaining our mere existence when He says, “I am the Bread of Life”.

The ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus are emphatic in construction and would be recognised by the scholar to be like the great I AM. At God’s appearance to him at the burning bush, when Moses asked whom he is to say has sent him, God says, “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people, ‘I AM has sent you’”, and in the next verse: “The LORD, the God of your fathers has sent me to you”. The Hebrew word for LORD sounds like, and is derived from, I AM.

Today we consider the Last Supper, just prior to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. In His most extensive teaching, Jesus prepares His disciples for what must follow, and gives also the Institution of the Holy Sacrament. We are reminded of His word, “I am the Bread of Life”, as He broke bread and gave it to the disciples and said, “This is My body, which is given for you”.

How important is this? In the hymn What is This Bread? we sing: ‘It’s Christ’s body risen from the dead. This bread we break, this life we take, was crushed to pay for our release. O taste and see, the Lord is peace’. And marvelling at God’s grace: ‘Is this for me? I am forgiven and set free!’

This giving of Christ Himself to us is a matter of pure grace, and it makes the difference between having life and existing. He is the true Bread from Heaven, who brings forgiveness and abundant life. Feed on Him and live for ever!

In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Wednesday 4th April

“So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” 1 Corinthians 9:26-27

Paul was talking about the race to win a prize – where only one person can win a prize in a race. We are not in a race for the prize of eternal life. We don’t need to push others out of the way, but we are easily subject to our own base needs and desires, and our bodies can sometimes let us down. Paul is determined not to have any physical distractions or desires in the path towards his Lord. Paul does not want to lose his own message of Jesus’ love and salvation that he preaches so well to so many. While we are not in a race for God, the course we all travel is tricky, narrow and strewn with man-made obstacles. Sometimes we put them there ourselves. Let us all try and keep our hearts and minds focussed on where we are going and where we want to end up. God does indeed have a prize waiting for you. And for me. And for everyone who chooses to take it from His hand. Let us not be aimless with our lives, but keep moving towards the goal of eternal salvation and being with Him, forever.

Dear Lord, our own efforts to reach You would fail completely but for the gift of our beloved Saviour. We give thanks for the prize You so freely give to all of us, and give praise to You for Your love and care to all. In His name, Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Tuesday 3rd April

“All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.”
Isaiah 53:6

In this passage Isaiah is talking about the Israelites who have gone astray from God, think of how quickly they went astray after seeing God part the Red Sea during the time of Moses. Yet we, who have knowledge of Jesus and all He has done for us, have also gone astray or even rejected our Lord.

Human nature is to desire control and to ‘take things into our own hands’ as often as possible. It is very hard for us, even those of us who trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, not to turn to our own ways instead of trusting and allowing God to work in our lives.

My prayer for myself and my brothers and sisters in Christ, is that we allow God to work in and through us and that we trust Him to care for us, even when things seem out of control or not as we desire them to be. The question we must ask ourselves is: does Jesus Christ, the “good shepherd” (John 10:16), gather us, lead us and guide us, or are we still wanting to go our own way like “wandering sheep”?

Lord, I thank You for the sacrifice of Your Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world. Please forgive me for going astray as the Israelites did when they did not trust You to be the “good shepherd”. Help me to keep my eyes on You and my ears attuned to Your voice. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Monday 2nd April

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace”. Numbers 6:24-26

‘Hair and beard please’, says the customer to his barber. He doesn’t have to say anything else, just sit down and relax. He trusts him because for many years he has risen from that chair admiring his job and always left feeling like a new man. There is no waiting. The barber offers him a hearty welcome and once he starts it feels like time doesn’t really matter. The barber always says how much he likes his job and gives each customer the full treatment. He really has a passion for what he does.

This story resembles our services on Sunday in so many ways. Every Sunday, the old sinful and shabby looking man is drawn back once again. God Himself gives each one a warm and personal welcome. He always starts the conversation and when He asks, ‘how are you doing?’ we know He really means it, and by the way He treats us and speaks to us, we know how much He cares.

Like a loving Father and as if He didn’t know where we are coming from, He bids to tell Him about our shortcomings. Then, Jesus begins to say that He was consumed by His zeal, that His passion for you and for me led Him to the cross where He was stricken, smitten and afflicted for our sins and that He did it to restore us to Himself and to conform us to His own image – to be children of God.

We sit there for about an hour and in the end we realize that He did most of the talking. Then He sends us on our way with the same loving words, saying that He will provide for us and keep watch over us, that He will light our ways with the brightness of His grace; that He will never look down on us but will continue to call us when we lose our way to give us His peace. We leave feeling renewed, admiring the Lord’s passion for His job, knowing that we are the work of His hands, His new creation, and that we got the full treatment.

Did I say the customer had to pay for it? That’s because this is the free gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let us pray: Lord Jesus give Your light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and guide our feet into the way of peace. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Saturday 31st March

“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

Lent is the time in the church year when we focus our hearts and our Scripture readings on the events that took place leading up to the very moment of Jesus’ death. This verse in Mark, and the handful preceding it, make up the climax of the whole Gospel, and ultimately the theme of all the Scriptures: confessing that Jesus is the Son of God.

There was a crowd of people at the scene where Jesus was crucified, and a lot of them saw Him as just a man, a criminal being punished for His crimes. In their eyes the world would be better off without Him. This centurion however, and so many others, had seen Him teach with authority, and had seen Him heal diseases with power not of this world. Jesus was fully man, yes. He felt compassion and joy, He felt anger and He felt the pain of the torture He had to endure before and on the cross. In ultimate love, He took on the filth of all our sins and the punishment we all deserved. He is so much more than fully man; He is fully God. All scriptures point to it, and we know that the story and His love do not end here, when He breathes His last breath on earth. We know that in the course of a few hours Jesus defeated Satan in hell, and on Easter morning we celebrate His return.

His life was perfect, His ministry was powerful, and His works are what save us. And this final work that He did is the most important and life-changing one. On that Easter morning Christ rose in bodily form to show Satan, and the world, that we don’t have to live in separation from God. We no longer have to be slaves to our sinful nature because He took them on Himself! It is Christ’s works, not ours, which allow us to live in the joy and freedom of this blessed news: that we, too, share in the gifts of heaven, and will also be resurrected to live with Christ in heaven.

The centurion did not only believe it in his heart, but he spoke the words confessing Christ as the Son of God. And that’s what we do as well, when we receive the ultimate gift from God, salvation. It’s hard to keep it inside, isn’t it? When we stand before God and make the same confession with our own lips, Christ will stand in our place, the sinless one, and clothe us in His purity and righteousness. The day of Jesus’ death is a sobering day, to be sure. But the day He came back, the day He rose again and promised us a life with Him, is a day of celebration and joy that we can hold to in our lives every day.

Heavenly Father, You give us so many good gifts to be thankful for. Above all things, Father, thank You for Your Son and for His life, death, and resurrection, and for the faith through your Holy Spirit to believe on Him. Continue to show me how I can share Your great love with others for the furthering of Your kingdom. I pray this in Your powerful and ever-loving name. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Friday 30th March

“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished”, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19: 30

These few words do not seem strong enough to sum up the fact that Lord Jesus gave His last breath. He only lived a short life on earth but in those three decades He carried out God’s plan to perfection, to save us miserable sinners from all of our sins forever.

Think of the beginning with the humble birth and ending with the worst kind of death imaginable. Not lying down, falling asleep and waking up in heaven, the kind of death most of us would prefer to have. But this horrible death that holds everything, so that we can escape from Satan and hell. The hope that lies in the resurrection, the peace and comfort that this brings to us, and the love of Christ Jesus our Saviour whom we know loves us more than we can ever love Him in return.

How humble that makes me feel. The beginning, the ministry, the end, topped off with a sponge filled with sour wine for thirst. Not even a last request for an untainted drink!

Thank You Lord Jesus that from heaven to earth You came. You lived the life planned for You. Then, when the centurion who stood facing You saw the way that You breathed Your last, it was all recorded as one of the many things that help us know and believe that, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Thursday 29th March

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

The True Vine

Here Jesus is reminding His disciples that in order to bear fruit they must be connected to the vine, Jesus Christ. Growing grapes was something all the disciples would have been familiar with. They would understand that if a branch was cut away from the vine it would not bear any fruit. It would be the same as cutting an apple tree branch. Unless the branch is connected to the tree it cannot live and bear fruit.

Jesus is not only talking about bringing others to know Christ, He is talking about our prayer life (verse 7), the joy we have in our lives (verse 11), and the love we give (verse 12). He is most likely also talking about the fruit of the Spirit described in Galatians 5:22-24 and 2 Peter 1:5-8.

If we want to “bear” this kind of fruit in our lives – answers to prayer, joy despite our circumstances, and sacrificial love for others – we need to be attached to the vine, Jesus Christ. In order to be attached to Jesus Christ, we need to believe that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour. Going to church, spending time in worship and in fellowship with other believers, spending time in prayer and reading God’s word will keep us connected to the vine. Then we will see much fruit in our lives and God will be glorified.

I am so thankful, Lord, that Jesus is the true vine and that I am one of His branches. Forgive me when I get so caught up with my life that I do not take time to stay connected to the vine. Help me to glorify You, Lord, with my life by bearing much fruit.

Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Wednesday 28th March

“but they who wait for the LORD
shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not be faint.”
Isaiah 40:31

The promise – that those who put their faith in God will never grow weary – was made to faithful Jews long before Jesus was born. How much easier, therefore, should it be for us Christians to achieve the same promise after Jesus acted as the sacrificial Lamb of God to intercede on our behalf?

We thank You, Lord, for that amazing promise, made in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament. May we always remember it and lean on it for Your strength and endurance. Amen.

Lent Devotions 2012: Tuesday 27th March

“As many were astonished at you –
his appearance was so marred,
beyond human semblance,
and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…”
Isaiah 52:14

This verse is found at the beginning of the last of four Suffering servant song in Isaiah (Is. 52:13-53:12). Here we see a prophetic glimpse into the future; a vision of the battered and bruised Jesus Christ at His crucifixion.

There are many verses in the Bible that we just skip over and don’t really pay much attention to. One such verse is Mark 15:15, which reads, “and having scourged Jesus, he delivered Him to be crucified.” Most of us do not know what scourging is, so we lightly pass over it without giving it much thought. But scourging was commonly administered before one was crucified. The prisoner would be stripped naked, bound to a post with his arms above his head, and beaten with a flagellum. This was a whip with leather thongs plaited with bits of bone, lead or bronze, The lashes would cause deep contusions as they would literally rip off ribbons of flesh. At this time, there were no prescribed number of lashes, and often this procedure would kill the prisoner.

Jesus was also dressed in a purple robe as the soldiers spat on Him and battered Him with their fists. A crown of thorns was fashioned and beat down around His ears with a reed. At the conclusion of this flogging and mocking, Jesus was forced to carry His cross beam out of Jerusalem, causing Him to collapse under it. Finally, He was nailed to the cross and forced to suffer the humiliation of this most heinous of deaths.

 

Truly His body was marred beyond recognition. But these wounds were not merely the stripes of cruel injustice; no, Isaiah continues by saying “he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace” (Is. 53:5). His punishment was my punishment. And it is His suffering and death that brings me peace and healing.

 

So now we too are “astonished at You”, for You, Jesus Christ, did this willingly for me. Truly Your grace is “astonishing”; Your cross is “astonishing”; and Your forgiveness is “astonishing”.

Still not sure? Gaze up at His scourged, beaten, and crucified body hanging on the cross.

Lord Jesus, You were scourged, beaten, mocked, and crucified because of my sin. Forgive me, and always cause my eyes to look to You and Your cross for my peace and salvation, Amen.