Sorrow and rage {Day 38 of 40 Days of Lent}

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 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 to his own home.

(John 19:16-27 ESV)

Had it been more than 30 years since the angel appeared?

“Do not be afraid,” the angel said.

She remembered speaking calmly to the angel, asking how it could be the that she would have a son and telling the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.”

But, now. Now, she was aftaid. Not for herself, but for her son on this cross.

Sorrow and rage battled for preeminence in her heart. Rage against the Romans who viciously nailed her Son to the cross. Rage against the Jewish leaders who had taken Him to Pilate in the first place. Rage against the crowds who hurled insults at him and viewed his agony as an entertaining spectacle.

And sorrow. Sorrow at losing her son. Sorrow at the weeping of the women beside her. Sorrow that the disciples had all turned away – all but one. He stood there. He stood faithful.

Then, a word from the cross. A request from a dying son.

Now, just before he took his last breath, her son directed one of his closest friends to care for her.

Once again, she obeyed.

 

The day true love died {Day 37 of 40 Days of Lent}

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 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. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. Continue reading

I love to tell the story …

It’s Wednesday of Holy Week.

Stop. Take a breath.

Breathe in the anointing at Bethany,

Breathe in the cries of “Hosanna!” as Jesus enters Jersualem.

Breathe in the quiet of the upper room.

Breathe in the anguished peace of the garden as Jesus prayed and found his strength in the moments before the crucifixion.

With the clatter of boots on the garden flagstones, the story turns. A rush to judgment. A rash sentencing. And the death of Jesus.

Praise God the story turns again on the morning of the first day of the week when Jesus walks out of the grave, conquering death and sin forever.

And take a moment to think about the story itself.

***

There’s an old hymn we sing at church every now and then called I Love to Tell the Story. Maybe you know it?

 

 

I wonder, though, what story we’re talking about when we sing the hymn. Are we talking about the events of Holy Week?

I hope not. Because the story of Jesus and his love stretches much, much further back into history. The story of Jesus stretches back to the garden itself in those desperate moments after the first couple sinned as God pronounced his judgment.

His judgment on the snake told of his future defeat.

I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, ESV)

God’s love flows through the pages of the Bible in every story. Through the stories of the patriarchs to the story of the Exodus. Through the rise and fall of the kings of Israel to the exile to Babylon. Through the return to Jerusalem and Roman subjugation.

The height of his love? Sending his son to die on the cross and to conquer death through his resurrection.

That is the old, old, story of Jesus and his love.

***

I love to tell the story. There’s truth in the line that says, “for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it …”

Do you remember how the line ends? “for those who know it best seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.”

Like the rest?

As much as I hunger and thirst for the Word of God, I wonder if those who don’t have it in their own language hunger and thirst more for the Word.

Can those of us who know the word – who have learned it and cherished it in our first language – know what it’s like to have never heard it in their mother tongue?

There are believers around the world who will celebrate the resurrection this Sunday with no Scriptures or with Scriptures written in a trade or government language they understand only minimally if at all.

Does it make a difference?

Absolutely.

I used to volunteer with The Seed Company, an organization dedicated to bringing God’s Word to every language in this generation. It’s not a small task. There are more than 2,000 people groups around the world who don’t have the Scriptures in their language.

I don’t remember what language in what country, but I remember a story from years ago in which a translator took a draft of the Easter story from the book of Luke to church. After the service, women approached the translator with tears streaming down their faces.

“Why have you never told us this?” they asked.

The pastor was stunned. He told them he read the same story every year. But, they said, they understood it this year when it was read in their heart language.

Their hearts heard the story.

***

If you love the story, think about partnering with The Seed Company. You can partner in prayer, financially or by volunteering.

EndBiblePoverty_250 photo EndBiblePoverty_250Button_zps48086d2a.jpg

Picking up our burden {Day 36 of 40 Days of Lent}

As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross. And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
(Matthew 27:32-44 ESV)

It had been a long journey from the north of Africa to the streets of Jerusalem. It was the journey of a life time, but Simon had never expected to see what he saw. He never expected to step into history as the man who carried the cross of Christ.

And yet, he did. Compelled by the Roman guards, he picked up the 30-40 pound wooden stake and carried it through the narrow streets, navigating his way around the surging crowds. He endured the shouts, the mocking voices that followed the procession out the gate of the city to the place called Golgotha.

There, at Calvary, he laid his burden down.

And Jesus picked it up.

He picked it up by allowing himself to be nailed to it. The nails pierced the hands that took on our sin, our burdens, our inadequacies and our unrighteousness.

The soldiers played games for his clothes. Passersby challenged him to save himself. Chief priests, scribes and elders of the law told him to come down from the cross. Even the robbers crucified on each side of him hurled insults at him.

And he took all that on, too.

He carried it all on the cross.

Delivered that we may be delivered {Day 35 of 40 Days of Lent}

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” Continue reading

A breath of a trial {Day 34 of 40 Days of Lent}

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. Continue reading

The dawn of mourning {Day 33 of 40 Days of Lent}

And when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat down among them. Then a servant girl, seeing him as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” And a little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” And after an interval of about an hour still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him, for he too is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
(Luke 22:39-62 ESV)

Peter hardly thought when the servant girl asked the question. The words, “I do not know him,” spilled out of his mouth as easily as if she had asked him his name.

His temperature rose, but it wasn’t from the heat of the fire. He pulled his cloak a little closer, hoping to watch his Teacher even as he hid his face. The dark of the night was beginning to fade into the pale blue-gray of morning when the second accusation came.

“You also are one of them.”

“Man, I am not.”

The heard the words hanging in the morning air before his mind caught up to them. He saw their skeptical faces. He just wanted them to leave him alone.

But then an accusation so specific. This guy has the same accent, they said. He must have been with him, they said.

“Man, I do not know what you are talking about.”

No one really heard the end of his declaration. The rooster’s crow drowned out the sound as it signaled the start of the morning.

Peter looked back to where the Lord was. And he saw. Oh, how he saw. The sadness. The knowing. The certainty. It was the same look he had seen in the upper room when the Lord had warned him – warned him – that this would happen.

Peter was devastated. The bravado he displayed hours earlier had crumbled and scattered under the heat of scrutiny like the ashes of the fire carried away by the cool breeze of a spring morning.

The sounds of his weeping – the deep, heavy sounds of a toughened fisherman broken – carried down the street as he stumbled away.

Peter’s mourning had only begun.

 

It’s better if I leave {Day 28 of 40 Days of Lent}

Oh, I hate being sick … especially a late winter sickness combined with a busy work schedule that made rest difficult. I think I’m recovering, but I’ve lost a few more days in my Lenten journey. There are still plenty of days, though, to savor the teachings and actions of Jesus in the final days of his earthly life.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

(John 16:7-15 ESV)

It’s to your advantage that I go away …

Jesus was telling the disciples so, so much in their final moments together and now he delivered this bombshell statement. How could it possibly be to the disciples advantage that he go away?

When he met them, they were fishermen and tax collectors, zealots and ordinary men. For three years, he had traveled with them and taught them. They had seen healing and miraculous feeding. They had seen him walk on the water and calm the storm.

How could it be better for them that he go away?

They couldn’t know in the darkness of the upper room, but they would do astonishing things after Jesus left them. They preached and taught and healed and raised people from the dead. Under their leadership, the number of believers increased exponentially day after day. The gospel began its journey to the ends of the earth with their words delivered to a crowd of people on the day of Pentecost.

Even the religious rulers knew these were unschooled, ordinary men. How could they do such things?

When Jesus left, the Holy Spirit came.

Through the power of the Spirit of God, they were able to do more than they had ever imagined that night in the upper room. Certainly, they missed Jesus, their human friend, but they were comforted by his Spirit.

It was to their advantageous that Jesus went away. 

Uniting and proclaiming {Day 22 of 40 Days of Lent}

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ESV)

Paul and the apostles learned from Jesus. Broken bread to remember a broken body. A cup of wine to remember spilled blood.

They taught it to the earliest believers and to the leaders of the churches they started.

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. (Acts 2:42 ESV)

They continued to teach the churches, recording their instructions in one of the earliest written works, The Didache.

Now about the Eucharist: This is how to give thanks: First in connection with the cup: “We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever.”

Then in connection with the piece [broken off the loaf]:

“We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever.

Through the centuries, it came to be practiced less often, but still those who knew taught the new believers about the bread and the cup.

Through schism and reformation, denominational splits and Great Awakening, the teaching passed from believer to believer.

Churches may believe differently about what communion is – whether the bread and the wine actually becomes the body of Christ or if it is symbolic, whether it’s something to be practiced routinely or just on occasion.

But at some point when they gather, the bread is broken and the cup is passed.

We remember our unity with the believers who came before us.

We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Serve others {Day 21 of 40 Days of Lent}

Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

(John 13:1-17 ESV)

A spring breeze through the open window made the candles in the upper room flicker. The scent of roasted lamb spiced the air as the men leaned in at the supper table. This was the Passover dinner Jesus had requested. This was a quiet, peaceful moment in what had been a busy, crowd-filled week.

Every detail was perfect. The food, the cup, the spices, the company.

Except for one thing. No servant had been available to wash their feet. It didn’t occur to any of the disciples to do so, anxious as they were for the Passover meal.

Then, unexpectedly, Jesus rose from the table, laid aside his outer garments, wrapped a towel around his waist and started washing the disciples’ feet.

Astonished doesn’t even begin to describe their emotions. Shocked, they watched as one by one, he knelt down, taking dirty foot in clean hand, gently pouring water over it, rinsing the dust of Jerusalem from the feet of those he loved so dearly.

Oh, but Peter spoke up. No surprise in that. “Wash all of me!” he demanded.

Jesus answered in a gentle voice. No, not all of you. Just this. This is all you need.

And follow my example.

Serve others.

***

Serve others. Simply difficult.

Who to serve? How to serve? What does it mean to serve? At what cost?

If we follow the example of Christ, we’ll take on the most humble, least recognized tasks. We’ll work behind the scenes doing what is essential. We’ll work long hours because that’s what it takes to get the job done. We’ll do the dirtiest jobs so someone else won’t have to.

If we start to look at these unwelcome tasks as opportunities to serve in the name of Christ, our attitude toward those tasks change … and we become a little more like our Master and Teacher.

***

Is God calling you to an unpleasant, but necessary, task today? Take hold of the task and take hold of the blessings that come with obedience.