April 2019 Reading Plan



Throughout our 3-week "Journey to the Cross" series, we desire you to become immersed in the life and the person of Jesus.  The following daily devotional reading plan has been adapted from a Lenten Devotional resource by Tim Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church of New York.  We hope and pray these readings will enhance your Easter experience this year and cause you to grow in your love for Jesus.  
April 1 - The Dust

April 2 - The Test

April 3 - The Scorn

April 4 - The Forsaken

April 5 - The Champion

April 6 - The Servant Israel

April 7 - The Sinless Servant

April 8 - The Suffering Servant

April 9 - The Branch

April 10 - The Good Shepherd

April 11 - The Coming King

April 12 - The Mourning

April 13 - The Lamb

April 14 - The Leper

April 15 - The Call

April 16 - The Prediction

April 17 - The Plot

April 18 - The Washing

April 19 - The Cross

April 20 - The Grave

April 21 - The Empty Tomb

 
Monday, April 1 - The Dust
Genesis 3:14-19 

14 So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,

“Cursed are you above all livestock
    and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
    and you will eat dust
    all the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
    between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
    and you will strike his heel.”

16 To the woman he said,

“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
    with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
    and he will rule over you.”

17 To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
    through painful toil you will eat food from it
    all the days of your life.
18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
    and you will eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your brow
    you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
    since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
    and to dust you will return.”

When we come to Genesis 3, we encounter a God who curses! He responds to Adam and Eve’s disobedience and the serpent’s treachery decisively. With the pronouncement of each curse and judgment, there is an undoing or reversal of God’s gracious creative works. Adam, who was created from the dust, is now destined to return back to it. Eve, who was created out of Adam, has now become dominated by him. The serpent, who was more crafty than any of the wild animals, is now humiliated, groveling on its belly, eating dust. In this chapter we see that sin has affected all of creation.

This text speaks to our desire to overlook our sins. God does not respond lightly to sin. Death entered the world with sin, and all manner of sorrow, suffering and despair. But the worst of the curse would fall upon a different man many millennia later as Paul said in Galatians 3:13, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us — for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” Jesus would take upon himself a curse in order to redeem humanity’s status.

Prayer 

Dear Father, I know you cannot take lightly the sins that I commit because you are a God of holiness who loves justice and does not allow evil to go unpunished. But I thank you for your wisdom and mercy in devising a plan that would allow the curse that was rightfully mine to fall upon your Son. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
 

Tuesday, April 2 - The Test

Genesis 22:1-14
22 Some time later, God tested Abraham’s faith. “Abraham!” God called. “Yes,” he replied. “Here I am.”  “Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you.”

The next morning Abraham got up early. He saddled his donkey and took two of his servants with him, along with his son, Isaac. Then he chopped wood for a fire for a burnt offering and set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day of their journey, Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. “Stay here with the donkey,” Abraham told the servants. “The boy and I will travel a little farther. We will worship there, and then we will come right back.”

So Abraham placed the wood for the burnt offering on Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them walked on together, Isaac turned to Abraham and said, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “We have the fire and the wood,” the boy said, “but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”  “God will provide a sheep for the burnt offering, my son,” Abraham answered. And they both walked on together.

When they arrived at the place where God had told him to go, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied his son, Isaac, and laid him on the altar on top of the wood. 10 And Abraham picked up the knife to kill his son as a sacrifice. 11 At that moment the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”  “Yes,” Abraham replied. “Here I am!”  12 “Don’t lay a hand on the boy!” the angel said. “Do not hurt him in any way, for now I know that you truly fear God. You have not withheld from me even your son, your only son.”

13 Then Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. So he took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering in place of his son. 14 Abraham named the place Yahweh-Yireh (which means “the Lord will provide”). To this day, people still use that name as a proverb: “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”


This is one of the most well known and difficult passages in the Bible. Abraham is introduced in Genesis 12 as the one through whom “all the peoples on the earth” will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). And so as we arrive at the scene above we find that what started as God’s call to Abraham to leave his home has now reached a dramatic climax. God has now included in that call the ultimate sacrifice and test of Abraham’s faith — the willingness to sacrifice his only son. The pain and poignancy of this moment is heightened by the fact that Abraham and his wife, Sarah, had waited years without seeing the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son. God’s promise that a nation would come through their family seemed impossible to Abraham and Sarah, given their inability to have a child.

So now having answered their prayers and given them a son, God has asked Abraham to do something that seems completely cruel and irrational. How will God create a people through the sacrifice of Abraham’s only heir? How will this death lead to the blessings promised in Genesis 12? The answer comes as we move from the events of Abraham’s life to the events of the life of Jesus.

As you reflect on this story of faith and sacrifice in light of this season leading up to Holy Week, take the time to reflect on the way it foreshadows the faith and sacrifice of Jesus. Abraham’s declaration that God himself will provide the lamb (Genesis 22:8) reminds us of God’s gift of the Lamb to save the world (Mark 10:45; John 1:29, 36). God’s provision of the ram on Mount Moriah foreshadows his sacrifice of his only son, Jesus Christ — the true Lamb without blemish who died in our place on the cross. Like Isaac, Christ is the lamb led to the slaughter, yet unlike Isaac, Jesus didn’t open his mouth. Just as Isaac carried his own wood for the altar, Christ carried his own wooden cross (John 19:17). Go back and re-read the passage with eyes fixed on Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Prayer

Holy Father, I thank and praise you for sending your only Son into the world. Give me eyes to see the beauty and perfection of Jesus, the spotless Lamb who willingly sacrificed himself so that I might receive forgiveness and new life. And in light of your grace may I live a life of faith, trusting in your goodness and laying down my life for others. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Wednesday, April 3 - The Scorn
Psalm 69:1-12
 

Save me, O God,
    for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in the miry depths,
    where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf me.
I am worn out calling for help;
    my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
    looking for my God.
Those who hate me without reason
    outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
    those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
    what I did not steal.

You, God, know my folly;
    my guilt is not hidden from you.

Lord, the Lord Almighty,
    may those who hope in you
    not be disgraced because of me;
God of Israel,
    may those who seek you
    not be put to shame because of me.
For I endure scorn for your sake,
    and shame covers my face.
I am a foreigner to my own family,
    a stranger to my own mother’s children;
for zeal for your house consumes me,
    and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.
10 When I weep and fast,
    I must endure scorn;
11 when I put on sackcloth,
    people make sport of me.
12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
    and I am the song of the drunkards.

 

David is drowning in his troubles (vv. 1-3). He is crying out in solitary agony, cast aside by his friends and family (v. 4) and set upon by his foes (v. 8). His reputation is under attack. The champion whose name was once celebrated in the streets is now being mocked in the taverns (v. 12). Israel’s savior is crying for salvation and he hears no reply (v. 3).

The pain we feel when our reputation is under attack is uniquely excruciating. No matter whether we come from cultural backgrounds that prize the family name or are individualists who seek to make a name for ourselves, that name is our resumé. Kill it and we are in danger of a full-blown identity crisis. How are we tempted to respond when it is our reputation that is being assaulted? Do we cover up our flaws? Do we succumb to despair? Do we drive ourselves (and others) crazy in a hopeless quest for perfection? David is on a different track.

Even in his distress, David’s mind is not on himself. He is not preoccupied with his own honor. His zeal is for the Lord’s house. This is what consumes him (v. 9). Honestly confessing his faults, he prays there would be no collateral damage from his own folly that would defame the God of Israel or those who look to him (vv. 5-6). David makes his appeal, boldly staking his claim upon the steadfast love and faithfulness of his just and omniscient Lord (v. 13). In short, he locates himself in God’s own reputation.

Many years later, the one called the Son of David entered the temple in Jerusalem at Passover, driving out the merchants and money-changers. His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house has consumed me” (John 2:17). This confrontation sparked the events that would culminate in the greatest loss of dignity imaginable. The creator of the universe, humiliated as a criminal on a cross, prayed for his enemies, offering them all the benefits of his good name. In Jesus, we inherit an eternal reputation that can never be tarnished.

 

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, Son of God, we confess that we have sought too much to make a name for ourselves, and have considered too little the name you have given us. You, whose name is above all names, made yourself of no reputation. You humbled yourself, taking the form of a servant, and endured the violent scorn of those to whom you offered your title. Through the ultimate exchange, you have written your name on our foreheads, and written our names, indelibly, in your Book of Life. Give us the wisdom and faith necessary to humbly receive your exaltation. Teach us by the Spirit and the word to grow together into that name, and thereby to begin to reflect the traits associated with it. For your kingdom, by your power, for your glory, Amen.

 

Thursday, April 4 - The Forsaken
Psalm 22:1-11, 29-31
 

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
    you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
    they trusted and you delivered them.
To you they cried out and were saved;
    in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

But I am a worm and not a man,
    scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
    they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
“He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
    “let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
    since he delights in him.”

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
    you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
    from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

11 Do not be far from me,
    for trouble is near
    and there is no one to help.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
    all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
    those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
    future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
    declaring to a people yet unborn:
    He has done it!

 

Psalm 22 is the first in a cluster of psalms that describe the suffering of someone which seems to echo the accounts in Isaiah of the suffering servant of the Lord. The first line of this psalm is likely to be familiar to us because Jesus cried out these exact words when he was being crucified on the cross. Yet this psalm was written by David, many generations before that. Whatever suffering of his own that David was recounting, he was also prophetically describing the redemptive suffering of Christ on the cross thousands of years later.

Jesus would have read this psalm many times in his life during worship at the temple. He no doubt had it memorized, for it to come so readily to his mind when he was on the cross.

Knowing what he was going to face, Jesus could have spent his life in fear or dread. Instead, he, like David before him, clung on to what he knew was true: God is holy, God is his God, and God has been trustworthy throughout his life. And then, based on these truths, David appeals to God to stay close to him. Jesus knew, though, that the greatest suffering he would face would be abandonment by God, so that God would never abandon his people.

The psalm ends with praise and a note of triumph at the end: “for he has done it.” Jesus stayed to the end, bore our sins, and purchased our reconciliation with God. The messianic nature of the psalm becomes clear as David declares that past generations that have died as well as future generations not yet born will all come to know that his God is a God who delivers his people from suffering. After all because Jesus really was completely forsaken by God (for us!), we can be confident that we never will be abandoned, even if, in our suffering, God seems far away or silent when we call out.

Prayer

Gracious God, we glorify you that because Jesus knew what it meant to be utterly separated from you, we will never have to experience that. Strengthen our faith to truly believe this especially when we think we have reasons to doubt it. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Friday, April 5 - The Champion
Psalm 68:7-18
 

When you, God, went out before your people,
    when you marched through the wilderness,
the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
    before God, the One of Sinai,
    before God, the God of Israel.
You gave abundant showers, O God;
    you refreshed your weary inheritance.
10 Your people settled in it,
    and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor.

11 The Lord announces the word,
    and the women who proclaim it are a mighty throng:
12 “Kings and armies flee in haste;
    the women at home divide the plunder.
13 Even while you sleep among the sheep pens,
    the wings of my dove are sheathed with silver,
    its feathers with shining gold.”
14 When the Almighty scattered the kings in the land,
    it was like snow fallen on Mount Zalmon.

15 Mount Bashan, majestic mountain,
    Mount Bashan, rugged mountain,
16 why gaze in envy, you rugged mountain,
    at the mountain where God chooses to reign,
    where the Lord himself will dwell forever?
17 The chariots of God are tens of thousands
    and thousands of thousands;
    the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary.
18 When you ascended on high,
    you took many captives;
    you received gifts from people,
even from the rebellious—
    that you, Lord God, might dwell there.

 

Psalm 68:7-18 is a song of praise for the power of God as seen in salvation. There are three movements in this passage. Verses 7-10 describe the power of God in delivering the people of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. Then, verses 11-14 recount the power of God in the present to preserve his people as they lived amongst their enemies. Finally, verses 15-18 rejoice in the power of God that will safely bring his people home to the mountain of God.

These three movements describe the life of a Christian. We are those who have been brought out from the bondage of sin and death, are being preserved in our present journey, and have been given a promise that we shall arrive safely home. How are all these wonderful truths possible? These benefits are secured for us because of our champion.

Psalm 68:18 refers to one who ascended on high, leading forth a host of captives in his train. According to St. Paul, this passage is describing Christ Jesus, particularly the victory accomplished by him through his resurrection from the dead (Ephesians 4:8).

In Hebrews 12:2 we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus, the archegos of our faith. Although it has been variously translated as “author” or “pioneer,” the best translation would be “champion.” In other words, Jesus went toe-to-toe with sin and death and won! He fought the battle on our behalf with death and secured the victory. Now, we can rest in him, knowing that the very same power that raised Jesus from the dead is also at work in us (1 Corinthians 6:14).

Do you find yourself anxious today, maybe fearful of what the future holds? Let the truth of these verses be a reminder that the power of God is present in your life because of the work of our champion. Because of him we have been brought out of bondage, are being preserved day by day, and through his grace we shall arrive safely home.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the power present in our lives because of our champion, Christ Jesus, and would ask that today we would find ourselves equipped with courage and joy because of him who ascended on high. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Saturday, April 6 - The Servant Israel
Isaiah 49:1-6

Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

 

How do we know God is good? Isaiah 49 begins as a letter sent out to all nations (v. 1, “the coastlands … and peoples from afar”), but it is being read and heard by the people of Israel. Therefore, the writer is essentially talking to everybody. The Jews had been taken into exile and longed to be brought back and they wondered where that salvation would come from. Isaiah makes the wondrous claim that “the servant” (v. 3), who has been prepared for this very hour, will be the one who brings the people back, but the manner would not be through military might, but through the power of his mouth (v. 2). That is, what he says and does will bring real salvation, not just physical deliverance.

The twist comes in the fact that this mysterious servant is named Israel (v. 3) — and while he is a person, he is the ideal person who embodies all the characteristics the nation of Israel should have had. For this text we need to remember that the nation of Israel was meant to have been a blessing to all nations (Genesis 12), a command they never fulfilled. Who will do so? This man would have to be perfect to be the ideal version of Israel, and then save not just the Jews — for God to be really glorified (v. 3), he will also have to be “a light to all nations” (v. 6).

We know God is good because he saw his own wayward people and all the rest of the world and brought them back into relationship with him (v. 5). How? Our translation says in v. 6, “that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth,” but the Hebrew grammar reads more plainly, “to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.” Jesus as the servant is not merely the means to God’s salvation but he is that salvation — through his death and life.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, suffering servant and Redeemer, you have brought us back into relationship with you by being our salvation, purchasing us with your life, ransoming us from certain death. Give us hearts of flesh, warmed by the truths of your goodness found in the certainty of your love for us through your death and resurrection. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Test line for link
Sunday, April 7 - The Sinless Servant
Isaiah 50:4-9

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
    I have not been rebellious,
    I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
    my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
    from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
    I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
    and I know I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near.
    Who then will bring charges against me?
    Let us face each other!
Who is my accuser?
    Let him confront me!
It is the Sovereign Lord who helps me.
    Who will condemn me?
They will all wear out like a garment;
    the moths will eat them up.

 

In these verses we observe the contrast between the obedient servant of the Lord and those who persecuted and abused him. Astonishingly, it is the obedient servant who is called to suffer on behalf of the disobedient people – to be struck, spat upon, and mocked. And yet, he “sets his face like flint” toward the road of suffering and will “not be put to shame.” He knows that his suffering is not in vain because by it his people shall be redeemed.

The writers of the New Testament recognized that the servant of the Lord, referenced in this passage, is none other than Jesus Christ. He “set his face” toward Jerusalem, knowing the pain that awaited him there (Luke 9:51). He was struck, mocked, and spat upon (Mark 15:19-20). He suffered, not because of his sin but because of ours, and his life was marked by perfect obedience, even to death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-9).

Through all of this, Jesus remained the sinless servant (Hebrews 12:2). How was Jesus able to endure such treatment and yet be confident that ultimately he would not be put to shame? The answer, in a word, is joy: for “the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” The joy that motivated Jesus was the fact that by his suffering his people would be redeemed.

We too have a great joy set before us today. Certainly there is pain and suffering on our journey, but being united to Christ by faith, we will not be put to shame! Let us take up our cross and follow Christ, the sinless servant.

Prayer 

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, our sinless servant. May this good news bring strength to us as we pursue joy in the midst of our pain and suffering. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Monday, April 8 - The Suffering Servant
Isaiah 53:1-6

Who has believed our message
    and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
    and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
    nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
    a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
    he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

 

Jesus was extraordinary in many ways. But if you were to judge his life by the standards of the world, by most accounts he would be considered a failure. He was poor, rejected, and died a difficult and shameful death. In the ways that others pursue comfort, power, and recognition, he did not.

Even in his outward appearance, there was no indication whatsoever that he was the creator and sustainer of the universe. He had no beauty or majesty that would have caused others to envy him, even though he was the very source of all beauty. More than that, he was utterly rejected and despised, a man of sorrows, to the point that people turned away and hid their faces from him. He was stricken, afflicted, pierced, chastised, crushed and suffered beyond all comprehension. All this and he was the most innocent and righteous person who ever lived.

Jesus went through all these things in order that we would never have to. He experienced sorrow and grief in a way that we ourselves could never have endured. He was punished for sin, though he himself never sinned. The last verse tells us that we are all like sheep — foolish, helpless and desiring to go our own way, but the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all. Though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich.

Prayer

Father, we marvel at the humility and compassion of your Son. It is only through his wounds that we are healed. Renew us daily in the joy of our salvation and help us to live in light of even greater things to come. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Tuesday, April 9 - The Branch
Jeremiah 33:14-18

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
    I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
    he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
    and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
    The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

17 For this is what the Lord says: ‘David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of Israel, 18 nor will the Levitical priests ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.’”

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that God’s love and concern for us rise and fall according to how well we are doing in living the Christian life. After all, we ourselves frequently give and withdraw our love from others depending on whether they are living in a way that is pleasing to us. Thankfully, even though we are marked by inconsistency, God is marked by constancy.

Through the prophet Jeremiah, he reminds his people that they can count on his promises and that he will always be there for them. He promises his constancy and faithfulness: “David will never fail to have someone sit on the throne … nor will the priests ever fail to have someone offering sacrifices” (vv. 17-18). Ultimately, Jesus is the king who remains on the throne and who has offered himself as a sacrifice once and for all.

Jesus is the righteous Branch who offers us his righteousness so that we never fear being rejected by God. Because of that we can bring our own failures and faithlessness to God. Jesus will not turn his back on us. Each day we can bring our repentance and know he will receive it. We can count on God giving us a fresh start because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We all need that fresh start each day. If you come to him asking for it, God will be faithful to give it to you.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, I thank you that your mercies are new every morning and your faithfulness is great. Give me grace to repent today of those things which are displeasing to you, counting on the fact that you will never leave me nor forsake me as I seek to walk in your ways. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Wednesday, April 10 - The Good Shepherd
Ezekiel 34:23-31

23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

25 “‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

The image of the people of God as a flock of sheep occurs several times throughout the Bible. In the earlier part of Ezekiel 34, the current shepherds (rulers of Israel) are rebuked for their abuse of power (34:1-22). The prophet describes a situation where they had grown fat and wealthy at the expense of the very people they were supposed to care for. We are told that because of that, God would bring judgment on them. The chapter changes in its focus as the warning turns into a promise for the future in the verses above. Not only will the Lord save his sheep, he will also appoint a king who, like David, will shepherd them in such a way as to bring lasting peace (v. 25). It was peace and rest which humanity lost through sin (Genesis 3:15; 4:8) and which prophets like Ezekiel had been pointing to ever since (Isaiah 9:6-7). This is where we lift our eyes to see Jesus, who is God’s ideal shepherd-king and the opposite of the corrupt leadership described in the earlier part of the chapter.

The gospel writers tell us that Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind (Luke 4:18). It is Jesus who weeps over Jerusalem because they didn’t know what would bring them peace (Luke 19:41). It is Jesus who lays down his life for his sheep so that we might have peace with God and one another. And it is Jesus who will one day bring everlasting peace to the world through his return (Revelation 21). In the meantime, there are seasons of disappointment and suffering that can sometimes make us lose hope that God will fulfill his promise. The injustice of the world around us can make us cynical. It is at those times that we must reflect on Jesus as our good shepherd and remember that because he laid down his life for his sheep, we will one day “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Prayer

Lord Jesus, thank you for your love and care for your sheep. Thank you for laying down your life on the cross so that I might know your peace and be adopted into your family. During this season of reflection, in light of your love for me, help me to find ways to seek peace in my relationships and lay down my life for others. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Thursday, April 11 - The Coming King
Zechariah 9:9-10

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
    Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
    righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
    and the warhorses from Jerusalem,
    and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
    His rule will extend from sea to sea
    and from the River to the ends of the earth.

In the Ancient Near East, a king entered cities riding on a warhorse in order to convey his military power, particularly when he was entering into newly conquered cities where his rule may have been regarded as illegitimate or met with suspicion or outright rejection. The exception to this custom was when a beloved king entered his own capital city. There he would ride in on a donkey — the benevolent king.

The prophet Zechariah speaks of a day when Jerusalem would see her king return. He would conquer the enemy once and for all, secure a lasting salvation and establish a new reign of peace for all. This hope of the true king, riding on a donkey, led the crowd to shout: “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” when they saw Jesus riding into Jerusalem, yes, on a donkey.

And yet this crowd soon became the angry mob that cried for blood: “Crucify Him!” Jesus, who was once welcomed as the returning king, would be met with the violent rejection of a hostile people. The true king returned to his capital city to find that it had betrayed him. Yet still, he mounted a donkey, not a warhorse, and entered in peace. And he won the ultimate victory for his treacherous people by submitting himself to their violence — our violence — confirming our guilt and achieving our forgiveness in one decisive victory. The enemy this king would conquer turned out to be us, and the cost of the victory we longed for was the death of our beloved king. And he did it. Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!

Prayer

Lord, we rejoice and shout aloud that you would give your life to pay the price for our treachery. We praise you as our beloved king we have been waiting for. Come reign in our heart, our lives and our city. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 
Friday, April 12 - The Mourning
Zechariah 12:10-14

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. 12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives.

Although Zechariah spoke these words, they were the words of the Lord. Yet how could this be? How could God say, “They look on me, on him whom they have pierced?” Could God be wounded? Even more puzzling, could God be “pierced” – which indicated a killing? In other words, could God die?

Jesus Christ fulfilled this prophecy. Not only was he fully God, he was also fully man. Moreover, as the prophecy predicted, Jesus was the “only child” and “firstborn” Son of the Father (John 3:16). He died and, on the cross, he was pierced: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34).

The prophecy, however, said more. It said that those who pierced him would mourn because God would pour out on them “a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy.” In other words, the Spirit would open their eyes to see what they had done and how grievous their sin had been. This mourning would be widespread yet intimate – “the land shall mourn, each family by itself.”

In part, this prophecy was fulfilled at Pentecost. Peter said to his listeners, “You crucified and killed [Jesus] by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Then, upon hearing the gospel, they were “cut to the heart” and 3,000 were saved that day (Acts 2:37-41). Today, this prophecy is still being fulfilled. As the Spirit fills us with grace, we mourn over Christ’s death because we know that “he was wounded for our transgressions” (Isaiah 53:5). In our sorrow, however, we also rejoice because his death “brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

- By The Park Forum

Prayer

Lord, we confess that our sin pierced Jesus. Thus, we mourn and ask you to pour out your Spirit of grace and mercy. In humility, we rejoice that your lovingkindness never fails – while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 
Saturday, April 13 - The Lamb
John 1:29-34
 

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
 

In Genesis 22, Abraham took his only son Isaac to Moriah because God had commanded him to offer Isaac as a burnt offering. Isaac questioned his father, “Where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham responded to his child that “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” As Abraham was about to sacrifice his own son on the altar, God stopped him and provided a ram to take the place of Isaac.

Jesus is the Lamb that God provided to take away all sins. Abraham did not have to sacrifice his only son, because God chose to sacrifice his son to atone for our sins. Because of this, God views us in the way he viewed his son when John saw the Spirit descend from heaven upon him. He calls us, both men and women, his beloved sons, with whom he is well pleased (Matthew 3:17).

We no longer have to live in anxiety laboring to justify our existence. Our justification is in Christ, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God who took away our sins and the sins of the world.

Prayer

God, our Father, we thank you that we are your beloved sons with whom you are well pleased. We pray that you will work deep into our being the truth that we no longer have to labor for our salvation, but we can find rest knowing our identity is in the Lamb of God. Give us an understanding of the depth of the sacrifice that was made to atone for our sin so we may fall more in love with you to grasp who we are and who we shall become. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

 

Sunday, April 14 - The Leper
Mark 1:40-45
 

40 A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”

41 Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” 42 Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cleansed.

43 Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: 44 “See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” 45 Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.
 

Contracting leprosy was one of the most tragic things that could have happened to an individual in the ancient world. Whenever a leper was around other people, he was required to shout “unclean, unclean,” so passersby would know to keep their distance. A leper was required to live “alone, outside the camp,” so as to reduce the risk of transmitting his disease to others (Leviticus 13:45-46). To be a leper was to be isolated and humiliated perpetually.

And then Jesus came and changed everything. One of the great beauties of the Gospels is how frequently they record Jesus’ interactions with lepers. He approached them and was approached by them. He treated them with respect and kindness. He even did the unthinkable: he touched them, and his touch made them clean. Jesus healed the lepers.

Many biblical scholars have pointed out that there is an analogy between the physical condition of leprosy and the spiritual condition of sin. Sin in our hearts isolates us, both from God and from other people. Try as we might to hide it or remove it, the stain of sin remains present. Like Lady Macbeth, we try to wash away the stain of sin crying, “out damn’d spot,” all to no avail. We are unclean, and we know it.

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus Christ is the contagiously clean man. When he touched a leper, Jesus did not contract leprosy. Rather, the leper became clean. Those trying in vain to remove their sin must allow themselves to be touched by the contagiously clean man. And, like the leper in the story, may we who have experienced that touch possess an uncontainable gratitude, talking freely about our encounter with the contagiously clean man.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Son who makes clean everything he touches. By his grace may our hearts and our actions be touched by him this day and everyday. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
 

Monday, April 15 - The Call
Luke 9:18-27

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

21 Jesus strictly warned them not to tell this to anyone. 22 And he said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”

23 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self? 26 Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

27 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.”

After spending days and nights with Jesus, witnessing his words and works first hand, Peter could make an absolute confession that Jesus was the Christ, the promised one of God. Those further from Jesus were less resolute in their faiths, often believing him to be a prophet, but those who followed him regularly knew that he was not simply a messenger, but the message itself. After Peter’s confession, Jesus tried to help them understand his mission and what it looked like to follow him, but Jesus was not the kind of Messiah they were expecting, and following him was not what they thought it was going to be like.

Jesus issues a clear call to those who might follow him, that allegiance to him requires denying yourself, taking up your cross daily and following him. Then and now his words are difficult. We live in a culture that teaches us to glorify ourselves and to pursue comfort, control and the satisfaction of our desires above all else. To deny oneself and pursue the things of God can feel like death, but that is what Jesus calls us to. He tells us that to follow him we will have to relinquish all control and endure suffering and rejection, but he also promises that this will make us like him. In him, triumph will come through suffering. Jesus is calling us to lose our lives as we know them, but only so that he might give us real and eternal life in him. Do you hear him calling you? Are you willing to deny yourself and take up your cross in order to follow him? Do you trust that he will lead you to life?

Prayer

Gracious God, we thank you that you have revealed your Son to us, that Jesus is the Christ, the deliverer we all need. Please give us the grace we need to follow you. You alone are worthy and we want to give you our lives, but need your help to do so. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
 

Tuesday, April 16 - The Prediction
John 12:20-33
 

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

30 Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. 31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.
 

John devotes much of his Gospel to the last six days of Jesus’ life. In John 12, Jesus predicts “what kind of death he was going to die” — one that would loosen Satan’s death grip on the world, raise Jesus in victory from the horrors of the crucifixion and grave, and draw people from all over the world to him (v. 32). But here he also reiterates his sobering template for all who would follow after him and be known as his disciples.

From the early days of his ministry in John, Jesus has been alluding to his “hour” — the appointed time when he would undergo suffering and death for the sins of the world. But through this humiliation Jesus also strangely radiates the “glory” of God to humanity. God “glorifies his name” not only through the earthly ministry of Christ but also his death. John foreshadows this reality early on by concluding “we have seen (or ‘beheld’) his glory … full of grace and truth” (1:14).

Equally striking is the very human Jesus we encounter here, honest enough to admit “now is my soul troubled” (v. 27) as he starts to feel the agony he is about to undergo. It is an amazing picture of a person completely abandoned to God in the face of unspeakable pain, knowing that God’s glory ultimately is the only thing that matters. And it becomes a teaching moment for the disciples as well.

Seeds are living things that must die in order to reproduce; they carry the promise of future life. On the surface, Christ’s death looks to the world like a disaster, but by falling “into the earth” (v. 24), he is able to raise up followers and bring “many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). However, following Christ carries a cost: many of the original disciples were to die excruciating deaths themselves, leading Tertullian to conclude that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Christ’s disciples must always “die” to themselves to find “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3-5) in Christ. Here Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s observation on discipleship rings true: “when Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Prayer

Risen Lord, you loved us so much that you died to save us from sin. We pray that this reality gives us humility, leads us to praise you always, and gives us a boldness to live fully abandoned to your loving will. In your mercy make these things so, for we pray them in your name. Amen.
 

Wednesday, April 17 - The Plot
Matthew 26:1-5, 14-25

When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, “As you know, the Passover is two days away—and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”

Then the chief priests and the elders of the people assembled in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and they schemed to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or there may be a riot among the people.”

14 Then one of the Twelve—the one called Judas Iscariot—went to the chief priests 15 and asked, “What are you willing to give me if I deliver him over to you?” So they counted out for him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From then on Judas watched for an opportunity to hand him over.

17 On the first day of the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Where do you want us to make preparations for you to eat the Passover?”

18 He replied, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The Teacher says: My appointed time is near. I am going to celebrate the Passover with my disciples at your house.’” 19 So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them and prepared the Passover.

20 When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. 21 And while they were eating, he said, “Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

22 They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely you don’t mean me, Lord?”

23 Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.”

25 Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely you don’t mean me, Rabbi?”

Jesus answered, “You have said so.”
 

Even when Jesus’ life was slipping away from him, he remained remarkably in control. He predicted his arrest and crucifixion before the religious leaders met to conspire against him. He knew that Judas, one of his trusted apostles, would betray him. How disturbing that must have been to Judas to know that Jesus could see right through his charade. Though humans have their plots and schemes, it is God’s plan that always prevails. Nothing can interfere with what he has purposed to do. And nothing is more central to God’s eternal plan than that Jesus, the Son of Man, would be delivered up to be crucified. His final meal, the Passover, carried symbolic import and pointed to the purpose for Jesus’ death. The Passover was an annual celebration of Israel’s exodus from slavery in Egypt. Jesus’ death would be the new Passover. Those who trust in him experience the ultimate Exodus — deliverance from the slavery of sin. As a result, they enjoy the privilege of living in the freedom of his love forevermore.

When life seems chaotic, when things seem not to cohere, great comfort may be found in remembering Jesus’ own experience at the end of his life. Though humans plotted against him and succeeded in executing their plan, nevertheless they could not thwart the plan of God. What comfort there is in knowing that nothing can interfere with the plan of him who is in control! He is at work in all the particulars for his good purposes. By looking to Jesus, particularly his death for us, we discover what is central to God’s plan for us: through Jesus’ death we find life, through his blood shed for us, we experience the exodus from enslaving sin and the freedom of living in his love.

Prayer

Gracious Father, thank you for being in control of our lives, especially when we feel desperately out of control. Center us in the one who is central to your plan for the ages. Enable us, Holy Spirit, to trust in Christ that we might experience the true Exodus. And having experienced the forgiveness of sin, may we live daily in the freedom of your love, wholeheartedly devoted to you. In Christ’s Name, Amen.

Thursday, April 18 - The Washing
John 13:1-15

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

The NIV translates verse 1: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.” In this unexpected act of foot washing, Jesus was communicating something profound about the nature of divine love. Love is not simply what Jesus does, but love is who he is.

Often when we consider loving someone, we think in terms of actions and behaviors. We ask ourselves, “What’s the loving thing to do?” But Jesus’ unexpected, self-effacing act of service leads us to ask the antecedent question, “Who am I?” Without first asking this question, we can unknowingly place limits on our love because we are not operating out of a gospel-transformed identity. For example, if we functionally see ourselves as orphans needing to look out for ourselves instead of as God’s beloved children, we will limit our generosity towards others out of fear of not having enough. Likewise, if we think we are righteous by our own hard work, there will be boundaries to the way we are willing to serve others because our pride keeps us from serving those who “aren’t deserving.”

When we look to Christ we find a beautiful freedom to serve others, arising from the security of his identity: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant …” (Phil 2:6-7, NIV). Jesus was able to serve in a way that no one expected because he knew the Father’s love intimately. The same heart that led him to wash the disciples’ feet would lead him to the cross. Because of Christ we have the same privileged status and security with the Father, and so we become free to serve in the radical, loving ways in which he has served us.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I forget each day who I am in Christ and the grace that envelops my life. My love has limits because I don’t embrace the truth of who you have made me to be. Help me to live out the reality of being your beloved child so that my love for others flows out of this new identity. Let me be a bewildering servant to those around me as you dismantle the limits I have placed on my love. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
 

Friday, April 19 - The Cross
John 19:1-37

Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.

Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews gathered there, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him.” When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!”

As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, “Crucify! Crucify!”

But Pilate answered, “You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him.”

The Jewish leaders insisted, “We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

11 Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”

12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jewish leaders kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). 14 It was the day of Preparation of the Passover; it was about noon.

“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.

15 But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”

“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.

“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.

16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified.

So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. 17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.

19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”

22 Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

24 “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did.

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

31 Now it was the day of Preparation, and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down. 32 The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. 33 But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 35 The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe. 36 These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” 37 and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.”
 

Re-read this again slowly and prayerfully, engaging your imagination as each scene unfolds. What do you see, hear, feel, smell, in each scene? What is all this meant to mean to you? Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the story of Christ’s death for you today.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, it was our sins that sent you to the cross. There we beheld our king. There you finished the work of our redemption. There we looked upon you, whom we had pierced. There redemption was accomplished. Thank you for your astonishing love. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
 

Saturday, April 20 - The Grave
Matthew 27:57-66
 

57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
 

The central claim of the historic Christian message is that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Tempting though it may be for us to jump quickly from Friday to Sunday, from cross to resurrection, Matthew pauses and brings us through the silence and stillness of the grave.

Many have tried to dismantle the hope of Christianity, suggesting that Jesus had not really died or that eager disciples had stolen his body to substantiate their claims of a risen Savior. Yet Matthew’s interlude between final breath and first appearance speaks unequivocally of a death that was real, a grave that was silent, and a situation that appeared beyond hope.

Romans were thorough in carrying out capital sentences, particularly for those accused of treason. That Joseph was able to retrieve Jesus’ body meant the executioners were satisfied with their handiwork. Jews, throughout the Old Testament, would heap rocks on the vilest of criminals to represent that for some, there would be no life beyond the grave. That a great stone would cover the entrance of the tomb meant that there was no expectation of life beyond this grave. The tomb is still, dark, silent.

This is the fate that should have been ours and the destiny of humanity. And yet, our hope is that through the one who went into the tomb before us, there is a way through and out into a new world of God’s creating. It is the hope that because one transcended the grave itself, we too may experience new life with him. Matthew’s description of the grave is a reminder that the tomb was silent and yet the silence would only last one more day.

Prayer

Our Father, remind us that the darkness of the grave will soon be overcome by the brightness of the third day. In Christ’s Name, Amen.
 

Sunday, April 21 - The Empty Tomb
 

John 20 (NLT)

The Resurrection

Early on Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple started out for the tomb. They were both running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first.He stooped and looked in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying apart from the other wrappings. Then the disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in, and he saw and believed— for until then they still hadn’t understood the Scriptures that said Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then they went home.

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene

11 Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. 12 She saw two white-robed angels, one sitting at the head and the other at the foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 “Dear woman, why are you crying?” the angels asked her.

“Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

14 She turned to leave and saw someone standing there. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. 15 “Dear woman, why are you crying?”Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?”

She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

16 “Mary!” Jesus said.

She turned to him and cried out, “Rabboni!” (which is Hebrew for “Teacher”).

17 “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Jesus Appears to His Disciples

19 That Sunday evening the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! “Peace be with you,” he said. 20 As he spoke, he showed them the wounds in his hands and his side. They were filled with joy when they saw the Lord! 21 Again he said, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Jesus Appears to Thomas

24 One of the twelve disciples, Thomas (nicknamed the Twin), was not with the others when Jesus came. 25 They told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he replied, “I won’t believe it unless I see the nail wounds in his hands, put my fingers into them, and place my hand into the wound in his side.”

26 Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!”

28 “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed.

29 Then Jesus told him, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.”

Purpose of the Book

30 The disciples saw Jesus do many other miraculous signs in addition to the ones recorded in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may continue to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name.