The Journey to The Cross, Day 20

The Journey to The Cross, March 31: The Saddest Day

He was gone.  Late Friday afternoon the women had lovingly washed His body.  They hastily wrapped him in long strips of linen and put a square of cloth over His beloved face.  The men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, the Pharisee-turned-follower, got His body to the tomb.  Joseph, a rich man, had purchased the cave in the rock for his own burial someday but He willingly gave it up for His Lord.  All of this was done in haste because sundown was coming.  And with the sundown came the Sabbath, a time where no work was to be done.

And at sundown, the saddest day began.  A day where God was dead.  Buried.  Conquered.  At least, that’s what Jesus’ followers thought. Minds spinning.  Memories churning.  Tears flowing.  And fears racing.

Locked together in a room.  Wondering if they were next.  Wondering if they had wasted the last three years.  Wondering how in the world God had died.

Because they did believe in Him.  They believed Him when He said “I and the Father are one”. (John 10:30) Or, at least, they really wanted to believe.  But it made no sense.  Why didn’t He stop it?  Why was He so powerless?  And what should they do now?

Have you been there?  Behind the locked doors of your heart, wondering what in the world was going on?  Questioning everything?  Trying to make sense of what God was up to and failing miserably?

We all have.  All of us have had our saddest days, our Saturdays between death and resurrection.  You may be in one now.  But you probably can also look back at a time where your saddest Saturday turned into your happiest Sunday.  Where God broke through.  Where He peeled back just a corner of the curtain and you caught a glimpse of His grander plan.  And when you look back and see that in your personal history, you can look around and know it is coming again in your future.  He is making all things new. He is the God of resurrection. Restoration. New beginnings. Real hope.

And if you can’t look back and see it in your own experience, take a good hard look back at Good Friday.  Saddest Saturday.  And what is coming tomorrow!

Adoration: Praise God that He is always with us.  Consider praying Lamentations 3:21-22: “But this I call to mind, therefore I have hope. It is because of the Lord’s lovingkindnesses that we are not consumed, Because His [tender] compassions never fail.”

Confession: Tell God where you are struggling with doubt.  Ask Him to renew your courage and your heart as you choose to trust Him, even when He makes no sense.

Thanksgiving:  Thank God for the times that He has turned your “weeping into gladness” and “your sorrow into joy”.

 Supplication: Continue to pray for tomorrow to be a day of life-change for those who don’t know Jesus.

 

The Journey to the Cross, Day 19

March 30: Good Friday

Way, way back in the book of Exodus, God gave Moses instructions for the building of the Tabernacle, a traveling house of worship for the Israelites.  That model was transformed into a more permanent structure by King Solomon. And finally, after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed by Babylonian invaders, it was rebuilt on a less grand scale.  But no matter who built it or how it was added to later, all three structures carried some common elements.  And perhaps one of the most important was the veil.

The veil was a floor to ceiling curtain – actually, several layers of curtain – heavily embroidered and  always kept closed.  It separated the Holy Place, where the priests kept candles lit and incense burning, from the Most Holy Place, where the Ark of the Covenant resided.  The Ark represented God Himself.  And He made it very clear from the beginning that it was truly THE Most Holy Place with very limited access.  Only one time a year was anyone allowed there – and that had to be the High Priest, carrying the blood of the Atonement Offering.  If he entered unworthily or at the wrong time, the punishment was instant death.  This was not because God was capricious or uncaring.  It was simply because God is completely holy.  Completely sacred.  Completely perfect.  And completely “other”.

Many miraculous things happened on the day Jesus died.  But perhaps the most compelling is that the veil of the temple ripped in two.  At the moment Jesus died, it ripped from top to bottom.  In other words, no human hand tore it.  Instead, the hand of God Himself broke the divider that separated us from His holiness.  It was no longer needed!  Jesus, the Lamb of God, had made the final atoning sacrifice.  And because of that, we can have friendship with God.  Without a human priest. Without killing a lamb.  Without keeping the law.  Simply by His grace, extended at Calvary.  When God sees a Christ-follower, He does not check that person’s righteousness against His own.  Instead, He sees that person – you – as covered by Jesus’ righteousness.  No veil needed.  No separation ever again.  “IT IS FINISHED!”, making it a very Good Friday, indeed!

Adoration: Pray back to God Ephesians 2:13-14a (AMP): “But now [at this very moment] in Christ Jesus you who once were [so very] far away [from God] have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace and our bond of unity.”

 Confession:  Confess to God any place where you have not allowed Him full access to your life.  Ask Him to help you to walk in a different way.

Thanksgiving:  Give thanks for all the places where He has torn down the dividing wall of hostility in your own life.

Supplication: Continue to pray for the church services on Easter Sunday.  Pray that people who are on the fence about coming will be motivated to be here.  Pray that our church would be a welcoming, engaging, loving place to all who walk through our doors.

The Journey to The Cross, Day 18

The Journey to The Cross, March 29: At the Cross

And now, the sound of the hammer striking thick flesh-piercing nails rings out across the hillside.  The screams of the crucified rend the air.  Jesus and two men condemned as thieves are suspended between heaven and earth, already dead but with hours to go before their hearts give out.

And for 6 hours they hang.

His Mother weeps.

The soldiers go about the business of execution.  Waiting for the men to die.  Watching to thwart any rescue attempt.

They pass the time by casting lots for Jesus’ clothes.  He doesn’t need them on the cross.  It is just one more level of humiliation.

Seven times in six hours, Jesus spoke from the cross.  Seven agonizing, lung-searing, gut-clenching times, he pushed up on the nail through His feet to take in the air He needed to speak.

He forgave the people who had done this to Him.

He promised the thief who repented that he did not have to earn heaven. He had gained it simply by putting his faith in the man being crucified with him.

He commended His Mother’s care to His best friend, John.

He said, “I thirst.”

He cried out as His Father turned His back on Him because of our sin.

He declared, “It is finished.” The work of saving the world was done.

And then He said, “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”  In other words, “Father, I am now choosing to lay down my life, once and for all.  They didn’t kill me.  I willingly died in their place.”

And then it was done.  The eternal work of the punishment for our sin.  And the mortal work of Jesus’ heart stopping.  He was gone.  In six hours one Friday.

One day that changed the world.  That gave us hope.  That made the way for us to be in right relationship with God.  One horribly glorious day.

Adoration: Praise God for His redemptive plan.  And praise Jesus for His willingness to suffer in your place.

Confession: Ask God to bring to mind any area that needs to be confessed.  Agree with Him about your sin and ask for His help to walk in a different direction in this area.

Thanksgiving: Thank God for the specific good things He has placed in your life, including His Word that gives us the Truth that sets us free.

Supplication: Ask God to bless all who will speak on Sunday, both to adults and children.  Ask Him to speak through each person, giving them His words.

 

The Journey to The Cross, Day 17

March 28: From the Courtroom to the Cross

After the soldiers were done with Jesus, they ripped the scarlet cloth off his back and put his own clothes back on him.  They then loaded him down with the instrument of his death and commanded him to walk to the place of execution, Golgotha, the Place of the Skull.  This was not something that was done especially for Jesus; this was how all those who were condemned to crucifixion were treated.  We know from history that on this walk He would have been surrounded by 4 soldiers to keep the crowds back and to propel him forward with the flat of their swords if need be.  In front of them, another soldier would have been carrying the sign on which his charges had been painted.  Jesus’ sign said, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews”.  His accusers didn’t like it; they wanted it to read, “He SAID he was the King of the Jews”.  But Pilate would not change it and so it stayed. (John 19)

A condemned man, sentenced to death for being exactly Who He was.  The King of Glory.  The King of Kings.  The King of the Jews.

But the sign should have been painted with something different.  It should have said, “This is Jesus, the Lamb of God who bears the sins of the world”.

Or it even could have said, “This is Jesus, dying instead of Kathy Purves, Sinner”.

Because it was my sin that He carried.

My cross that He bore.

Long before I was born, He knew I would come to Him, seeking salvation.  Seeking forgiveness.  Seeking restoration.

And long before I was born, He made the way for that to happen.  He took the beatings.  The crown of thorns.  The mocking, spitting and scourging.  In my place. In yours. So that means John 3:16 can be read as a personal testimony with YOUR name instead of “the world” and “whoever”.  For me, it says, “For God so loved Kathy that He gave His one and only Son so that if Kathy believes in Him she will not perish but will have eternal life.”

Now read it again.  But this time with your name: “For God so loved ____ that He gave His one and only Son so that if _____ believes in Him she will not perish but will have eternal life.”

That is why Jesus willingly walked the road to the cross. He was unwilling to have heaven without you in it.

Adoration: Consider praying Psalm 9:1-2 back to God: “I will give thanks and praise the Lord, with all my heart; I will tell aloud all Your wonders and marvelous deeds. I will rejoice and exult in you; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.”

 Confession: Ask God to bring to mind any area that needs to be confessed.  Agree with Him about your sin and ask for His help to walk in a different direction in this area.

Thanksgiving: Consider brainstorming and recording on a piece of paper a list of sins that you have committed.  Then with the fattest red marker you can find, write on top of the list FORGIVEN.  Thank Him for His amazing grace in your life!

Supplication:  Pray for the church staff and volunteers as we prepare for Easter weekend.  Ask God for His protection and thank Him in advance for all He will do on Sunday.

 

The Journey to The Cross, Day 16

March 27: Mocked and Scourged

Isaiah the prophet, about 700 years before Jesus came to earth, wrote: “But many were amazed when they saw him.  His face was so disfigured he seemed hardly human, and from his appearance, one would scarcely know he was a man.” (Isaiah 52:14, NLT)

 39 times. The law said that you could whip a man 39 times. Why? Because the 40th slash with the whip would probably kill him.

Governor Pilate seemed to think that the barely-contained mob screaming for Jesus’ crucifixion might be appeased by a near-death sentence of whipping.  So the Roman soldiers stripped Jesus and tied his hands to the post. Then 39 times, the whip whistled through the air, made contact with bare flesh, and was pulled across his back, the lead tips digging deeply into flesh until his back hung in ribbons.

Isaiah 53:5b says, “He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.”

When the whipping was done, they decide to have a little more “fun” at Jesus’ expense. They took Him behind closed doors, into the regimental headquarters where they called out the cohort – which would have been 500 men. Matthew writes, “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on Him [as a king’s robe]. And after twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and put a reed in His right hand [as a scepter]. Kneeling before Him, they ridiculed Him, saying, “Hail (rejoice), King of the Jews!” They spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him repeatedly on the head.” (Matthew 27:27-30, AMP)

Isaiah 53:3-5a (NLT) “He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.”

Adoration: Praise God using Philippians 2:6-11 “Though he (Jesus) was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.  When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

 Confession: Ask God to bring to mind any area that needs to be confessed.  Agree with Him about your sin and ask for His help to walk in a different direction in this area.

Thanksgiving:  Thank God that Jesus endured so much ill-treatment.  He understands when we are mocked, bullied and even beaten.  And He modeled for us true grace under fire as He was scorned on our behalf.

Supplication:  Continue to pray for those who are coming to Easter services, including those you have invited.  Ask God to soften the hearts of all who will attend so that they can understand just how much God loves them.

 

The Journey to The Cross, Day 15

March 26: The Trials

The Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, finally declared a verdict in Jesus’ case: guilty.  Guilty of blasphemy because He claimed to be God.

The Sanhedrin sentenced Him to death on these charges.  However, they did not have the authority to carry out the sentence.  They were under the auspices of Rome – and only Rome could enforce the death penalty. So off to Pilate, the Roman Governor, they went, with Jesus as their prisoner.  He ended up being bounced between Pilate and King Herod in a series of trials.

King Herod was delighted to have a chance to see Jesus in person because he was hoping to see a miracle.  He was looking for a good show. Pilate interviewed Him extensively and finally said, “I find no fault in Him”. But where he could have set Jesus free, he washed his hands of the whole thing instead. And at each one, they found no fault in Him.  Because there was none to find.  And with every piece of the trials, all throughout the morning, the people shouted, “Crucify Him!”

So an innocent man – who was fully God as well – was condemned to die.

Did God the Father suddenly become powerless?  Step off His throne? Look away or fall asleep? Did Jesus lose His power?  The One who raised the dead couldn’t prevent His own death?

Of course not.

In the garden when he was arrested, Jesus told Peter, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will immediately provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53, NLT) (That would be 60,000 angels!)

God chose to send His one and only Son.

And the Son also chose to die. Not for His crimes.

But for yours. For mine.

No judge, council, governor or king would have changed the verdict or the death sentence that went with it.  Not because Jesus was guilty.

But because I am. We are.  And punishment was justly deserved.

Adoration: Praise God that, even when it looks like evil is winning, the Truth is that His higher ways always prevail in the life of a Christ-follower.  Consider praying Isaiah 55:8-9 (NLT), which says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”

 Confession: Ask God to show you any area in your life where you are doubting His higher ways.  Ask Him for the grace to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; (and) not depend on your own understanding.” Proverbs 3:5 (NLT)

Thanksgiving: Thank God for His protection and watch care over us and for the freedom to worship that we enjoy.

Supplication:  Ask God for His heart for every part of your life and every person in your daily life.  Seek His wisdom and ways in every choice you make.

 

 

The Journey to The Cross, Day 14

The Journey to The Cross, March 25: Denied!

After Jesus is arrested in the garden, a series of trials commenced.  The first one was before the Jewish religious leaders, the ones who had orchestrated His arrest.  It was an illegal trial because it was held in the middle of the night.  Most of the disciples had scattered to the four winds – but Peter and John had followed at a distance.  Peter found himself in the courtyard of the home of the High Priest, the trial location, where various people had gathered around the fire. Over the course of time, three different people asked him if he was one of the followers of Jesus.  And three times, he denied that he ever knew Him.

He denied the Man who invited him to walk on the water.

He denied the Man who gave him the ability to step on the waves.

And he denied the Man who rescued him from the wind and waves when fear swamped him and he went under.

This was The Man he denied ever knowing, let alone following.

Jesus had warned him it was coming. And Peter had insisted that he would never deny Him.

But when the moment came, fear overcame love.  And history.  And every bit of knowledge Peter had about Jesus.  He listened to his fears and denied the One who loved him the most.

How often do I do that?  I know that I have a constant Friend in Jesus.  And I know that His love for me is greater than anything I can imagine.  But when what I fear looms large, I often cower beneath it.  I forget who I am and Whose I am.  And I deny Him, too.

I let fear stop me from sharing my faith.

I let fear stop me from speaking the Truth in love.

I let fear stop me from inviting my coworker to church.

I let fear stop me from loving unconditionally.

And when I do, I deny my Lord.

Praise God for His forgiveness.  And just like Jesus forgave Peter and restored him, He continuously offers us forgiveness.  Thanks be to God!

Adoration: Consider praying: Psalm 31:1-2 (NLT) “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”

 Confession: Confess any lack of faith.  Pray the prayer of the man Jesus met in Mark 19:24 (NLT) “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!”

 Thanksgiving:  Thank God for the people in your life who did not allow fear to keep them from sharing Christ with you.

Supplication:  Pray for an increased boldness to share your faith.

 

The Journey to The Cross, Day 13

March 24: Betrayed!

Have you ever been betrayed?  It is painful!  And Jesus endured that pain as well.  Judas Iscariot had been one of the hand-picked followers of Jesus.  He had spent three years with Him and the other disciples, traveling the area.  He had witnessed incredible miracles along the way, from the healing of the blind to the dead being raised.

But Jesus did not meet Judas’ expectations.  You see, Judas loved money more than he loved God.  And when following Jesus did not turn into a money-maker, he resorted to stealing from the disciples’ money bag along the way.

Did Jesus not know about this?  Of course He did!  But He allowed Judas to exercise free-will, just like He allows it in us.  Judas had chance after chance to make choice after choice to change his ways.  To truly follow Jesus – not just with his feet, but with his whole heart.

But in the end, Judas loved money more than he loved Jesus.  He saw an opportunity to “make a buck” by selling Jesus’ location to the religious leaders.  That way they could come and arrest Jesus without causing a riot.  And Judas got a bag full of silver for his troubles.

I like to think that I am not at all like Judas. I like to think that I love God more than I love anything or anyone else. But I am more like him than I care to admit.

When I choose to not invite a friend to church because it might make me look like a religious freak, I am choosing my comfort over God’s commands.  And I am more like Judas than Jesus.

When I choose to not give to the Lord the first of my time, talent and treasure, I am choosing to trust my own wisdom instead of God’s Word.  And I am more like Judas than Jesus.

When I choose sleep, social media or my work-out over spending time with God, I am choosing to feed what is mortal in me instead of what is eternal.  And I am more like Judas than Jesus.

Judas chose his path.  And I can choose mine.

Will I follow the ways of Judas? Or the ways of Jesus?

Adoration:  Praise God for second chances!  Thank Him for His heart that is always willing to forgive. Consider praying back to Him the words of Micah 7:18 (NIrV): Lord, who is a God like you?    You forgive sin.  You forgive your people when they do what is wrong. You don’t stay angry forever.  Instead, you take delight in showing  your faithful love to them.”

 Confession:  Ask God to show Him where you are following the ways of Judas instead of Jesus. Consider echoing David’s prayer in Psalm 51:10 (NLT): “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right and steadfast spirit within me.”

Thanksgiving: Thank God for His many blessings in your life, in spite of the fact that you have chosen sin over righteousness at times.

Supplication: Based on Matthew 5:43-44, pray for the people in your life who have betrayed you.  Ask God to bless them.

 

The Journey to The Cross, Day 12

The Journey to The Cross, March 23: Not My Will

It is now late in the evening in the garden with Jesus.  The sun is long set.  And the disciples are asleep.  They have no idea what is coming next.

But Jesus knew.  He knew the price tag on the gift he was being asked by the Father to give to the world.  It would cost Him everything.  In a few hours He would be humiliated.  Scorned.  Spit upon.  Mocked.  Beaten with fists.  Slapped across the face.  Beaten with a leather whip embedded with sharp bits of lead.  A crown of thorns jammed into his forehead.

The crowds screaming for his execution, longing for his blood to flow.

And then the walk through the jeering crowd, carrying His cross.  More jeering crowds.  And the women who loved Him following behind, weeping.

Then the nails.  Hand, hand, both feet together.  The jolt as the cross was lifted and then dropped into place.  And the agony of trying to breathe in that position.  Pushing up on the nail in his feet to take in a gasp of air.  Giving into the excruciating pain of pierced flesh, tendon and bone and dropping again against the nails in his hands.  More jeering.  More scorn.  More humiliation.

All of that was horrible enough.

But the worst came at the moment that His Father turned away from Him.  For the first time ever, from eternity past until this moment, He was out of fellowship with His Father.  Rejected.  Abandoned.  Forsaken. Not because of His sin.  But because that is the punishment we deserve.

And yet, even knowing all this, He prayed the prayer that never fails in the garden that night: “Your will be done.”  He told the Father His desires – to not have to face this torture, this agony, this suffering.  But then He surrendered, yielding to His Father’s plan.  Trusting that the pain was necessary.  Believing still that His Father was good.  Entrusting Himself to the only One who mattered.  All for the love of you.

If Jesus could willingly pray to the Father, “I trust You – so do what You know is best, fulfill Your plan and purpose, do Your will instead of mine” in the face of Calvary, how much more should we in our daily lives?

Adoration:  Praise God the Father for making a way for you to have a friendship with Him, unblocked by sin.  Praise Jesus for being willing to do the Father’s will.  Consider using the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 (AMP), which says, “He (God the Father) made Christ who knew no sin to [judicially] be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God [that is, we would be made acceptable to Him and placed in a right relationship with Him by His gracious lovingkindness].”

 Confession: Confess to God where you have taken the suffering and death of Jesus lightly.  Consider making Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIrV) into a prayer: “…Let us throw off any sin that holds on to us so tightly. And let us keep on running the race marked out for us.  Let us keep looking to Jesus. He is the one who started this journey of faith. And he is the one who completes the journey of faith. He paid no attention to the shame of the cross. He suffered there because of the joy he was looking forward to.”

 Thanksgiving: Thank God for the specific ways He has rescued you .

Supplication: Ask God to help you to yield to His will in every area of your life.

 

The Journey to The Cross, Day 11

March 22: Will You Pray?

We are now in the final hours of Jesus’ journey to the cross.  During the Passover meal, Judas left the group to go find the religious leaders who so hated Jesus.  He filled them in on where to find Jesus over the next few hours.  They had been looking for a quiet time and place to arrest Jesus, a place where the mob would not turn on them as they did the deed.  Judas knew that Jesus and the disciples were heading for the Garden of the Gethsemane, or olive oil press, located just outside of Jerusalem.

And sure enough, when the Passover celebration and meal were ended, Jesus and the disciples headed there.  When they got to the outskirts of the garden, Jesus told 8 of the disciples to rest there.  But he requested that his three closest friends, Peter, James and John, come a little farther into the garden with him.  They did – and he asked them to “watch and pray” while he went farther still.

Jesus wrestled with his humanity that night.  As Jesus who was fully God, He knew exactly what was coming and what it would cost.  And as Jesus who was fully man, He wrestled with the awfulness of the whole thing.  He even prayed to God the Father to “let this cup pass from me”.

And the disciples?  Snoozing.  It was late and they had had a big meal.  There had been drama of all sorts from the time Jesus washed their feet until the time they “sang a hymn and went out”.  And Jesus understood.  He told them that he knew that their spirits were willing but their flesh was weak.  They wanted to do the right thing – they just struggled to do it.

Oh, how much are we like them!?!  We know the right things to do – we struggle to do them.  We know we have the best news ever – but we struggle to share it, letting fear stop our mouths.  We know that prayer changes things – but we struggle to find the time to talk to God.  We know that spending time in His Word is spiritual food – but a thousand other things distract us from time with Him.

The difference, though?  They did not have the Holy Spirit at work in them – yet.  They did not have the same power that raised Jesus from the dead indwelling them – yet.  They received Him soon after this – and when they did, the Bible says, they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

So why aren’t we “turning the world upside down”?  We have the Holy Spirit.  Access to the Throne of Grace.  The Word of God in our heart language – in several translations.

We have the power. So for us, it comes down to deciding.  Choosing. What is your choice?  Will you watch and pray?  Will you allow God to use you to “turn the world upside down”?

Adoration: Thank God for the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells you as a believer. Consider praying back to Him Acts 1:8 (AMP), thanking Him that YOU have “…received power and ability when the Holy Spirit came upon you; and that you will be His witness [to tell people about Me] both in Jerusalem (i.e., your home town) and in all Judea, and Samaria, (i.e., your state and country) and even to the ends of the earth.”

Confession:  Tell God where you have struggled to be faithful in prayer and the Word.  Ask Him to help you to faithfully “watch and pray” as we await His return.

Thanksgiving: Thank God for his mercy!  Thank Him that He did not speak harshly to the sleeping disciples but was gentle with them, even in the hours of His greatest agony.

Supplication: Ask God to fill you anew with His power and to show you what thoughts, habits or attitudes are keeping you from living out His resurrection power in your day to day life.