Lenten Devotional

Lent Day 46

Joseph of Arimathea, Mark 15: 42-47

Joseph of Arimathea is mentioned in all four gospels as the man responsible for Jesus’ burial. Typically, the bodies of criminals were not buried, they were burned like trash outside the city walls in the Himmon Valley. In Greek, it is called Gehenna which is the word that we translate as Hell. By asking Pilate for the body, Joseph literally saved Jesus from the fires of hell.

It is only John’s gospel that tells us Joseph was keeping his faith a secret because he was afraid. Joseph is accompanied on the public task of burying Jesus by Nicodemus, the Jewish scholar to whom Jesus speaks the well-known passage about having to be born anew. Both men may have been secretive about their belief in Jesus as the Messiah when he was teaching, but it seems that they are committed now. To publicly ask for the body of a convicted criminal and to bury it in your own family’s graveyard makes quite a statement – both against the Jewish rulers and for the crucified Christ.

The book of Revelation starts with seven letters to seven churches. The last letter goes to the church in Laodicea and Jesus says this, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm– neither hot nor cold– I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” At some point, we must decide – do we offer Jesus our faith or not? Now is the time to get off the fence. Easter is tomorrow. Are we lukewarm or are we willing to stand up and be counted, knowing that there are consequences? Jesus ends the letter to the church in Laodicea with these words, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” We need to decide today if we will open the door.

Lent Day 45

Crucifixion guard, Matthew 27: 45-54

I cannot imagine a job more terrible than brutally hurting people, day in and day out. To hear the constant screams of the people you are torturing, to see them contort in pain and agony, to have them beg you to stop. I know I could not take it – I would literally go insane. These soldiers must have turned off every ounce of emotional compassion within them to do this job, and once you turn it off, how can you ever turn it back on?

Like this soldier, we may feel like we have turned off or shut down parts of ourselves to deal with circumstances in our life. Scars from old hurts and betrayals can cause us to shut down or emotionally withdraw to protect ourselves. We may not even want to turn these parts back on because we are afraid it would hurt too much. Some parts within us may have been shut down for so long that they couldn’t be resurrected, even if we wanted them to. Unfortunately, these are usually the good parts of our personality – the hope, faith, love, and charity. God wants better for us. If the Spirit of God can get through to a jaded Roman soldier who tortures people for a living than it can definitely get through to us. New life is possible in any area of our life, even those areas that have long been closed for emotional repairs, or boxed up and hidden away.

Where have we given up — on feeling loved, gaining acceptance, having hope that the future will be difference from the mess it is today? Where have we resigned ourselves to believe that change is not possible, that our future is always going to look just like our bleak and boring past? With Easter, God conquers all types of deaths – not just physical death but the death of our hope and dreams as well. There is nothing and no part of each of us that cannot be resurrected to new life.

Where would we like to see new life within us? Come Sunday morning, anything is possible.

Lent Day 44

Malchus, Luke 22:47-53

Well, I learned something new! I could not figure out how the author knew the name of the high priest’s servant – I had never heard it before. But it is given to us in John’s version of the story (John 18). Imagine what it was going to be like in the high priest’s household – now someone there has been miraculous healed by this evil villain Jesus. I bet that will cause some tension when the servants talk among themselves at night.

Ever wondered why Jesus was betrayed with a kiss – a ultimate sign of affection? In those days, everyone from the country literally looked alike. All the men had long hair and beards, and their many layers of clothing were basically the same color. When Jesus was in a crowd, and he always was, you couldn’t tell which one he was. Someone had to identify him to the soldiers and so Judas does it with a kiss. It is the beginning of the end, and a new beginning.

We are so close to the end now. Just really one day away from Jesus’ crucifixion. What have we learned on this journey together? What has touched you about the people that we’ve encountered? Have these encounters changed us like Malchus has been changed? We only have three more days.

Lent Day 43

Judas, John 12:4-8

I don’t think that Judas was just trying to get back at Jesus, I think he was trying to ‘help’ him.

It has long been believed that Judas was associated with the Zealots – a sect within Judaism that wanted to get rid of the Romans, and for them it could not happen fast enough. All the sects within Judaism had their own expectations of what the Messiah would do, but to restore Jerusalem to the Davidic rule was understood by all parties to be part of the bargain. The different sects just had their own understanding of how it would happen. Zealots were quite comfortable with a direct, in your face type of encounter while the others hoped for a more peaceful solution. For Judas and his friends, now was the time.

You can just hear them – “it’s Passover, the holiday when God freed us from the Egyptians. All our supporters are in the city, we can do this. Now is the time to free ourselves of the Roman rule once and for all. One word from Jesus is all we need. The wind and the water obey him, so the Romans do not stand a chance. If Jesus won’t step up, we will get the chief priests and leaders to make him take a stand, and won’t they be surprised at what he can do. This is going to work.” (Wasn’t it sweet of Judas to give Jesus the help he needed?)

I can’t tell you the number of times that I have tried to give God a little help. I often try to help God, especially when God is not moving fast enough on the things that really matter to me. Sometimes God needs our help, right? God needs us to fix things or move things along. Surely if God knew what we know, God would just see things from our perspective. God would agree that our situation needs our help in this way and now. We never learn. I know I haven’t so I am not about to cast stones at Judas.

The journey to the cross is learning to take things in God’s time and to do things God’s way, even if it is more painful and doesn’t accomplish what is important to us. Our definition of ‘most effective’ and God’s is different because our goals are so different. Let us all try, at least for the next few days, not to insist on having things our way and let God call the shots and the timing. God promises that it is all for our benefit – can we believe that?

Lent Day 42

Mary; Mark 14:3-9 NOT John 12:1-3

No offense to the author of these devotions but he picked the wrong person in the wrong gospel to tell this story. The woman with the perfume in John’s gospel isn’t the one that is so unique. It is the woman in Mark’s gospel that makes all the difference in the world.

In Mark’s gospel Jesus is frustrated beyond belief. The power of evil is so strong that Jesus’ power is limited. No one gets him – the disciples do not understand him or what he is trying to do. His family thinks he is a lunatic, and the Jewish authorities just want to get rid of him. Ever feel like the universe is against you — that as hard as you try, you are just not going to be able to catch a break? Welcome to Jesus’ world. And in this world on the worse week of his life comes this one woman – the ONLY person to support him on his journey to the cross.

The stories in Mark and John are very similar – the disciples fuss at the woman for wasting a precious resource. But in Mark’s gospel Jesus says, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. She prepared me for my burial.” In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says that wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. Wow! We don’t even know her name but Jesus says that we will always remember her (and we do).

Sometimes it takes just one person on our side supporting us to make a difference. Even if no one else gets us, having that one person who believe in us and our mission can make all the difference in the world (and maybe even the world to come). This woman was that person for Jesus. He probably wanted to hang it all up and go back to Galilee, but here was a woman who helped him stay the course. Showing her support cost her dearly (an expensive bottle of perfume) but it was priceless to Jesus.

Is there someone who has done that for us, or someone for whom we can do that – show them our support when no one else will? Are they struggling with a decision, a job or holding on to a new direction in their lives and our support might be the turning point for them? Would you have thought that a bottle of perfume could have made that much difference in Jesus’ mission? Since it did, then do not underestimate the amount of good you can do with a meal, a phone call or email.