John Alan Turner

Writer, Theologian, Consultant, Speaker, Teacher

Filtering by Category: Jesus

Living on Patmos

John writes the Book of Revelation from the Isle of Patmos. This was a small island about 40-50 miles off the coast in the Aegean Sea. It is now considered to be one of the most charming and idyllic of places to live, but this hasn't always been the case. In John's time, Patmos was considered a barren place because of its rocky terrain. The Roman government used it as a place to banish criminals, who were often forced to work the mines there. John was not there on vacation. This was not his retirement home. He was separated from everyone he loved. He could not participate in the work to which he had given his life.

Think of John. He had devoted his entire life to following Jesus. He had been there when Jesus came walking on the water. He had watched Jesus feed thousands. He saw Jesus cry at the death of his friend Lazarus. He stood stunned as Jesus called Lazarus out of the tomb! He had been there at the cross -- the only one of Jesus' friends who was there. It was to John that Jesus said, "Take care of my mother for me."

John had been there on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came upon him and his compadres. He saw thousands of people baptized. He took that gospel message to folks near and far. He had done everything he knew to do, and where had it gotten him?

Exiled on a rock in the sea -- sentenced to hard labor -- cut off from the people and work he loved.

Patmos is the place of despair and disappointment. And every person I know who follows Jesus ends up spending some time on Patmos.

Maybe it will be a divorce. Or your health. Or a strained relationship with your children or your parents. Maybe it will be unemployment. Or depression. Or loneliness. Or anxiety.

There will be something -- some way in which you begin to feel desperate and disappointed -- cut off from everything you love. If you follow Jesus long enough, you'll eventually end up in Patmos.

And what is it that you need in those seasons? What do you really need most when you find yourself exiled to a desolate place in the middle of the sea?

You don't need more information. You don't need platitudes. You don't even need answers to the legion of questions swirling around in your brain.

No, you need what John needed -- which, thankfully, is precisely what he received. You need a bigger picture of Jesus.

Lenten Reader -- Easter Sunday

On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’” Then they remembered his words. (Luke 24:1-8) ----------

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:1-6, 17-18, 20-22)

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All of Christianity is summed up in one verifiable, historical event. And this changes everything.

Jesus of Nazareth, a maverick Jewish rabbi and prophet, who claimed to be the Christ about whom scripture foretold, was arrested, condemned in an illegal trial and crucified. A soldier’s spear to his side and the blood and water that flowed from the wound confirmed that his lungs had collapsed. Days after his body had been prepared and placed in a sealed tomb, some women went back to the tomb and found the Roman seal broken, and his body (along with the guards whose lives depended on their keeping watch over it) gone.

More than 500 people claimed to have seen him alive soon after that day. Others claim to have seen him ascend into heaven. Most of these witnesses were still alive at the time of the writing of the four gospels. Were the words of this “good news” not true, one of these witnesses would have surely refuted them.

Those who committed to follow Jesus early on gained no visible benefit from following him, no wealth or power or possession. Rather, many were themselves beaten, stoned, tortured and crucified. Yet Christianity has persisted, on through history.

And because we know that this is factual, we can also know that his promises are sure.

The One who died a criminal to take our sin is alive now, preparing a place for us. And one day, we will be made alive again with him.

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Loving Lord, you have called us to be born again to a living hope that comes only through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You are preparing an inheritance for me that will never be corrupted and never fade away. And yet I confess that I often put my hope in other things. Deliver me from the futility of misplaced hopes that ultimately fade from existence. Teach me the wisdom of seeking you and finding security in your unchanging character. Only your promises will stand forever, for they flow from your perfections. It is folly to trust in the uncertainties of people, possessions or position, because all of these ultimately disappoint. Instead, I choose to hope in your and pray that I will grow in the knowledge, love and trust of you. Then I will experience the security and satisfaction that come from growing conformity to the image of Christ in me. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 39

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. The soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other. But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. 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. These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken,” and, as another scripture says, “They will look on the one they have pierced.” (John 19:31-37) ----------

Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. (Mark 15:43-45)

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Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:38b-42)

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Tomorrow is Easter, and you probably have already allowed your mind to push past today and begin thinking of the grand celebration that will take place commemorating the resurrection of Jesus.

But wait.

Not so fast.

We would do well to remember that the people we read about in the Bible had to live this all one verse at a time. They didn’t know the end of the story as we do. They couldn’t skip ahead to the next chapter.

For them, this was Saturday. Jesus was dead and buried. The tomb was sealed shut. Hope was lying there silently in that cave.

Why should we bother thinking about Jesus’ final moments on the cross and who buried him? One answer is that there would be several false accounts that would crop up over the next several centuries, accounts which deny either the death or the resurrection of Jesus. It is essential to our faith that we affirm: Jesus was really dead. That is why they buried him.

These were not overly superstitious people; they knew when someone was dead, and they knew what to do with a dead body. You bury it.

Joseph and Nicodemus go to great personal trouble and expense to honor Jesus. Though they did not stand for him in life, they now stand for him in death, preparing his body in haste so as to get him in the tomb before sundown. They intended to go back later and remove his bones.

Of course, they never got around to that.

And everyone knew why.

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Lord Jesus, your death and resurrection are the very foundation of my faith, the source of my hope and purpose, the wellspring of my salvation, the assurance of my peace and the basis for my eternal life with you. I confess that I am often so quick to jump from Good Friday to Easter Sunday that I rarely contemplate what life must have been like for those earliest followers on that Holy Saturday. Yet in the quiet darkness of that day a miracle was occurring, as all the power of evil and death were being undone. Likewise, teach me that you continue to work in hidden and unseen ways which you will reveal to me in your timing. Thank you for dying. Thank you for giving yourself up on my behalf. Show me the wisdom of waiting patiently for your return. In your saving name. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 38

It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. (Luke 23:44-45a) ----------

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:50-54)

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When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things. (Luke 23:48-49)

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But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood -- to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished -- he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)

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For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance -- now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:15)

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It is good Friday. And there are a lot of good things about it. Rain falls at this time of year, sun shines and beautiful things grow.

So what draws us today to sit and think about an instrument of death? Is there not something better we could do with our day to enrich our lives?

Everything in the world (especially in the world of advertising) tells us that there are other things we could be doing to enhance our longevity, improve our lifestyles, increase our happiness. But the truth is, there comes a time in everyone’s life when we become painfully aware that these things do not bring what they promised.

We are all dying to live, but the allure of this life is always proven an illusion, one that either ebbs away or is ripped from our hands. Our health is compromised. A relationship fails. A loved one dies. The opportunity of a lifetime falls through. People betray us. And all of a sudden, the life we worked so hard to create is suddenly much less than we had hoped for.

The truth is, what draws us to the cross and to Jesus is something deep inside us that tells us that all that Jesus said was true. We were meant to live for more than these things, and the real currency that purchased our freedom is death. None of our achievements matter in light of what Jesus achieved on the day he died.

Ironically, through his death he provides us with the life we have always wanted but have never been able to attain on our own.

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Dear God, you make it so clear that none of us can save ourselves by living longer or better. If your abundant life were possible through human attainment, Jesus would not have had to die. But I know that apart from him I am incapable of truly living the life for which you created me. I cannot achieve perfection on my own. I cannot earn my salvation through clever invention or shrewd investments. I have fallen short of your goodness, your glory and your standards. My sin separates me from you, and I am in a desperate condition without the mercy and grace I find only in the cross of your Son, my Savior, Jesus Christ. I will praise you forever because in your unfailing love you had compassion on me in my helpless state. Because I trust in him, he gives me what I both need and want most: the gift of eternal life with you. In his Saving name I pray. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 37

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals -- one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:32-43)

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For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)

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Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)

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What kind of man uses his dying breath to spew venom and hatred at a complete stranger? The kind of man the Romans saw fit to crucify. He could not even be trusted as a slave any more. They felt the only recourse for such a man was public execution in the most tortuous manner they could conceive.

Meet the thief on the cross -- not the one we normally talk about -- the other one -- the one writhing in agony and still joining with the crowd in heaping insults on an innocent man.

Only after surveying this character should we allow our gaze to drift to the other -- the one on Jesus’ other side -- the one who knows he has brought this all on himself. The one who is not raging any longer but feels the sting of shame and humiliation this punishment is intended to evoke.

Now think of the courage it takes for him to take one last shot, make one last attempt at redemption. He uses his last bit of strength to come to the defense of an obviously innocent man. And then, because he knows his end is near, he makes one last request -- not for deliverance from his impending death but for something positive on the other side of it.

And now allow your eyes to move to the One in the middle and realize this: knowing full well that this thief to his side could never do a single positive thing in return, Jesus Christ promises him salvation.

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Jesus, lover of my soul, you have gone to unimaginable lengths to display your love and grace and mercy to me, disobedient and rebellious as I have been. It is impossible for my finite mind to grasp the breadth and length and height and depth of your love. It passes all understanding. If you gave me justice, I would have no hope. I would be alienated and estranged from you and suffer the consequences of your holy judgment. But you would not leave me in that state, choosing to offer me a grace I do not deserve. You met the righteous requirement of justice through your redemptive sacrifice on the cross. You set me free from the consequences and threw my offenses into the deepest sea. For this I can never repay you. I can only praise you and offer my life as a living sacrifice for your glory. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 36

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?” My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. (Psalm 42:1-3, 9-11) ----------

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

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When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”

The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?”

Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:7, 9a, 10-11, 13-14)

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On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)

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Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28)

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The Old Testament poets had far less knowledge about the person and promises of God than we enjoy through the fullness of New Testament revelation. Yet they seem to have a much better grasp on what it is to thirst for God than we do.

That thirst, so necessary to true discipleship, is usually dulled in us by worry and the desire for other things.

But Jesus called that hunger and thirst for true righteousness (which can only be found in him) “blessed.” It is this longing that leads us to the realization that we are meant to live for more than the things we see and strive for. This thirst leads us into deeper relationship with Jesus and becomes a spring that overflows from us to the lives of others.

What do you want more than anything in the world?

The question calls for a decision: to follow hard after God or to chase after everything else. One path leads to intimacy, the other to idolatry.

For the Samaritan woman, there was no question. The future hope she desired was standing right in front of her asking for a drink. And what Jesus wanted more than anything was coming to completion just before he spoke those words.

Like a distance runner at a finish line, Jesus has only the strength and breath to say, “I am thirsty,” and then he commits his finished work and his spirit to the Father, so that we will never have to thirst again.

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God of grace, I live in a dry and weary land. I have tasted how good you are, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more of you. I so desperately need what only you can provide, and yet I confess that I often search in other places. I do not desire you as much as I ought, but I want to want you more. I long to be filled with a holy longing. Show me a glimpse of your glory, and my thirst will be quickened again. You sent your Son to pour out his life for me. Show me how I may find utter satisfaction as I pour out my life now in service to you and to others. And when I am tempted to seek satisfaction in other places, discipline me gently back to you as my only true source of strength. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 35

On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:21-35)

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After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied. (Isaiah 53:11)

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The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. (John 10:17)

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Easter begins at Christmas. Joy to the world! For unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given. Away in a manger. Silent night. This is where it begins.

And yet we know the rest of the story. This baby was born for one primary purpose: to die.

Surely, Mary and Joseph would have been a bit worried, as all first-time parents are, that their newborn would be healthy. They probably experienced relief that he survived his unorthodox birth and lived to his eighth day when they could present him in the temple. And, though they had not been told exactly what it meant, they believed the angel’s words -- that this baby would somehow save his people from their sins.

The angel did not tell them that he would cause trouble. And so it must have come as some shock to hear the words of the old man Simeon. Their son, their only son, whom they loved, would bring pain. People would stumble over him. People would speak terrible things against him.

As Jesus grew, he understood this, hinting to his friends that his destiny would not be a pleasant one. But they failed to understand. Eventually, he stated it explicitly. He would be condemned and murdered, but he would return.

One of his closest friends shouted, “Never!” But Jesus was resolute. This Christmas baby was born to be subjected to brutality and humiliation. He would lay down his life, so that he could bring life to us all.

Joy to the world, indeed.

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Sovereign Lord, I am mystified by the Incarnation of your Son. Who would have thought of this? God taking on flesh, emptying himself? The Creator of all entering into his own creation, becoming one of us? This is astonishing. The incredible lengths to which you have gone in order to save us all from Satan’s power, providing a means of reconciliation for those who were alienated and estranged from you. It is too marvelous for words. Only you could have conceived this. Only you would have willingly offered the life of your Son in exchange for ours, transferring our sin to him, imputing his righteousness to us. Knowing he would be betrayed, rejected and murdered by the people he came to save, he still came. May I always be thankful for your glorious gift and recall the awful price you paid to make it possible to bestow. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 34

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14) ----------

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. (Isaiah 53:2-3)

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After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.... I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” (John 17:1, 4-5)

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Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

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For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. (2 Peter 1:16)

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But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things -- and the things that are not -- to nullify the things that are. (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)

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It is nearly Easter, and we will hang crosses on the walls of our homes and churches; we may decorate some with flowers and ribbons. But what is done to our faith when we do?

With all of our present-day associations with the cross -- a sign of glory, an object of Christian identification and adoration – it is almost impossible to see it for what it actually was. And when we fail to understand the cross, we fail to properly estimate what our Lord suffered on our behalf: Shame.

Jesus despised the cross. To even speak of the cross in his time was disgusting. Gallows, guillotine, electric chair. We would never hang these things on our walls or sing songs about them. But the cross was worse than any of these. It was a punishment reserved for the worst of the worst. It was designed to bring about the utmost torture to those not even worthy to serve as slaves.

So to say that Jesus “endured the cross, scorning its shame,” is not to say “poor Jesus.” It is to say that Jesus so loved us and so submitted to the Father that he would not only endure torment, but also ignominy, public humiliation, which carries with it a kind of pain no one can imagine, save those who have endured it themselves.

And when it was over, he was exalted to the highest place of dignity and honor in the universe, so that we would one day witness his glory and also share in it.

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Lord of Glory, by your love and grace you emptied yourself by taking the form of a servant, embracing my shame and suffering an ignominious and tortuous death on a cross. Such amazing love is utterly incomprehensible to me, but you endured the shame of the cross because you could see beyond it to the joy that was set before you. Likewise, teach me to view things from an eternal rather than a temporal perspective, knowing that you promise to lift up all those who humble themselves before you, in due time. Remind me that the path to glory often requires a sojourn through travail. Show me your glory in increasing measure, as I seek to follow you in all my ways. Then I will know, with greater clarity, that serving you is true freedom, that your yoke is light, and that your cross is glorious. In your name I pray. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 33

At dawn [Jesus] appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

“No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:1-11)

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But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’[a] For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13)

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For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

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Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9b-11)

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Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation. (Colossians 1:21-22)

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Jesus had seen our accuser face-to-face. For 40 days, hungry and exhausted, he had withstood the devil’s temptation and calumniation.

“If you are the Son of God, then….”

Jesus never bought into the lie that he might not be who God said he was. He persisted, because accusation (false or true) is one of the enemy’s favorite tactics. And having faced the evil of accusation himself, Jesus refused to ever accuse anyone, except those who were adding to the devil’s kingdom (cf. Matthew 23:15).

Even when faced with this woman who was obviously guilty of breaking the law, Jesus calls to mind a higher law, one revealed through the prophet Hosea, one he had already advised these men to contemplate: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Sacrifices were religious offerings to God and were often bloody and required violence. Mercy, on the other hand, was represented by gentleness and kindness and was a sign of the heart, not merely an act of religion.

So Jesus bent down in the dirt long enough to distract the gaze of these men from the woman, long enough for her to regain her composure, wrap herself in something. And then Jesus said something that caused her accusers to walk away, one by one, just as the accuser had left him in the wilderness, thwarted.

Jesus had not come to condemn the immoral; he had come to rescue them. He had come to gather those who were far off and filthy and wash them clean, to show them mercy and present them to the Father, free from all accusation.

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Heavenly Father, you are the rescuer and deliverer of my soul. Through your Son, you stooped down in order to lift me up. I was dead in my sins and trespasses. I was held captive in the snare of the devil to do his will, but Jesus came to overthrow this bondage and to liberate me, to call me his beloved. You have now granted me the glorious gift of acceptance and welcome in Christ. Through the powerful work of the Savior, I am rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred into your kingdom, without fault, without blemish. And you will not hear an accusation against me again. Just as you have accepted and forgiven me, may I also accept and forgive those who have sinned against me. Rather than despising those who have done wrong, may I reach out to them with your healing love and mercy. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 32

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor; it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me, it will all be yours.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.’”

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13)

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Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are -- yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

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Every great leader will, at some point in time, be tested. This was certainly true for Jesus. Immediately after his baptism and the announcement of his public ministry, Jesus found himself in the wilderness, alone and vulnerable. Armed with nothing other than the Scripture he had buried in his heart, Jesus faced the enemy.

If the severity of our temptations is dependent upon the threat we pose against the forces of darkness, we can assume that Christ’s temptation was more than just a battle of words. In fact, this was an assault. For 40 days the devil twisted God’s words, offering things that were not his to give. And for 40 days Jesus resisted, repelling his attacks, forcing the devil to leave him “until an opportune time.”

Throughout the gospels we read of Jesus facing demons, but these seem less temptation and more nuisance. Still, an opportune time did come.

Late one night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus would find himself alone and vulnerable again. There he would wrestle with his own desire to find another way other than that which his Father had planned since before the beginning of time.

“Please take this cup away from me,” he prayed.

And yet, by the end of his time there, his prayer changed to, “Not my will, but yours.”

He had remained strong in the desert, and now he was able to endure faithfully to the cross. His trial in the wilderness trained him well.

He remains strong to this day, empathizing with our weaknesses and strengthening us to say, “Not my will, but yours.”

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God of all comfort and strength, you offer yourself as the ultimate resource for me when I find myself in times of loneliness and vulnerability. Teach me the wisdom of quickly turning to you in those times, for I know that when I face difficulties I am prone to give in to temptation. I quickly seek to medicate myself with short-term pleasures, self-indulgence and other sinful pain-avoidance strategies. But I know these only exacerbate the problem. Your presence, grace and power lift me up when I stumble. Give me the grace to look to you for my needs and to fully submit myself to your good will for my life. May I rest in you and put my hope in your promises and goodness. Only then will I come to know the peace that surpasses all understanding and guards my heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 31

That day when evening came, [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes. When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.

When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”

Those who had seen it told the people what had happened to the demon-possessed man.... Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region.

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” (Mark 4:35-5:8, 16-19)

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Something about Jesus drew the disciples to him. But it is clear that, until now, they really had no idea who they had signed on with. A storm big enough to frighten weathered fishermen was nothing to him. “Be still!” he says as someone who has spoken to the waves before, and it was.

But notice their response. “Who is this?” they ask, because they have never seen, probably never heard of, anyone with such authority.

A demon-possessed man who had been terrorizing a city falls to his knees, and Jesus is unmoved. “Come out!” Jesus says. The demon does, and the people are afraid and beg Jesus to leave. There is something about that kind of power that is simultaneously attractive and repellent.

Like the disciples, we also sometimes fail to realize who we have signed up to follow. Like the Gerasenes, we sometimes hold Jesus off, afraid of what else he might do. We call Jesus “Savior,” but we often forget the staggering ramifications of the fact that he is also “Lord.”

In a few verses, Mark demonstrates Jesus’ lordship over natural forces (a raging sea), over the spirit world (the demon-possessed man), and if you were to keep reading, you would see him conquer disease and death as well. If Jesus’ disciples had any question about the authority of this God-man they were following, they would soon be reassured. These were not tricks. Jesus possessed all authority in heaven and on earth.

And maybe the most remarkable thing about his authority is that he chose to use it to suffer and die in our place, instead of exercising that authority and saving himself.

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Lord Jesus, you are exalted above all things I can conceive or even imagine. You created everything and have authority over everything. Time and space, disease, disaster and even death are all part of your created order -- you brought them into being and you rule over them. You are the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. Your matchless power known no bounds except those which are self-imposed. And it is amazing that you, in your humility, chose to restrain your powers and die for powerless people like me. I confess that I love to call you Savior, but it is often difficult for me to surrender to you as Lord. Forgive my arrogance, and help me to place the whole of my life under your sovereign rule. In your mighty name I pray. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 30

“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8-11) ----------

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42-45)

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By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30)

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In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death -- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11)

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Jesus was criticized, rejected, slandered, misunderstood, plotted against, betrayed, denied, and abused by his family, friends and disciples, Jewish religious leaders and the Romans. He chose identification with sinners and lived in poverty and obscurity for most of his 33 years. As his ministry progressed, Jesus faced increasing levels of hostility and opposition. Yet, in spite of all this, he knew who and whose he was, and his relationship with the Father gave him the power and security to love and serve others.

He could not have done this if he had allowed himself to be defined and bound by the opinions of those around Him. But he did not.

The humility of Jesus Christ was an extraordinary reflection of an absolute dependence on and submission to God. We see this in his baptism. As Jesus submits to the baptism of John, a dove descends. Doves were the sacrifice poor people offered. Jesus identifies with the poor, the lowly, the outcast.

For us, humility is the mark of true repentance, evidence of a transformed life. Our flesh and our pride chafe against humility, so we are forced to learn it through suffering, forgiving those who wrong us and seeing these incidents as opportunities to grow. As we do, we begin to see in ourselves a teachable spirit, a willingness to seek wise counsel and submission to authority.

As we join John the Baptist in saying, “He must decrease, and I must increase,” we learn the wisdom of humility and stand in awe of our Lord’s amazing condescension.

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God of heaven and earth, you dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit. I ask for the grace of true contrition so that I would humble myself under you almighty hand and put no confidence in the flesh. Keep me from the self-deception and rationalization that would make me think more highly of myself than I ought. I acknowledge that you know all my thoughts and motives even more fully than I can know them. Even my best deeds can be tainted with the selfish desire for recognition and applause. But as I learn to make you my audience instead of playing to an audience of many, there is no place for pretense or hiding or posturing. All things are open and laid bare before you eyes, and only your assessment will matter in the end. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 29

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’” (Matthew 11:19) ----------

When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is -- that she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:36-39)

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Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:29-32)

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Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:1-2)

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Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:1-7)

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Sin is dirty, and it separates us from God. The religious leaders of Jesus’ time got at least this much right. But they had worked it all out in their own favor, exempting themselves from consequences. And in so doing, they had built their own system, a system of insiders and outsiders, divided by arbitrary laws that God had not written and enforced by real guards.

The outcasts - the sick, the ceremonially unclean, the sinful, the drunkards, the prostitutes, the Samaritan half-breeds and the tax collectors (those who lined their own pockets for the sake of the Romans and at the expense of their fellow Jews) - these people had little in common save one thing: none of them were allowed entrance to the temple. They were not allowed to approach God.

Yet it is these people Jesus finds himself with, even seems to seek out. He dines with sinners and tax collectors, lets prostitutes wash his feet, refuses to stone an adulteress to death, even touches lepers and a bleeding woman!

For a Jew who had strictly obeyed the law, these behaviors were completely incongruous. Unless Jesus is saying something, making a statement about what God thinks of men in authority who hide their own sins behind robes and titles while exposing the sins of others and prohibiting them from worship.

Jesus did not judge the sinners or the unclean. He loved and respected them. More than that, he offered them acceptance and claimed he, himself (not the traditions that stood against them) was the only way to God.

And because he spoke with authority and walked in integrity (because he hid no sins under his robes), many of them believed him.

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Holy Lord, you dwell on a high and holy place. Holiness informs all that you say and do, and holiness is what eludes me most. I am a sinner by nature, and I have sinned in my thoughts, feelings and actions. I live in a sinful world among sinful people. And yet you have sent your Son to redeem us. He was known as a friend of sinners. People who were nothing like him liked him and were drawn to him. You chose to sanctify me in him, to set me apart from my sin. You accepted me as I am, and you love me so much that you promise me that I do not have to remain as I am. Rather, through the power of your Holy Spirit, you have begun changing me in ways I could never change myself. All glory and honor are due your name. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 28

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) ----------

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:6-7)

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Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned –

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. (Romans 5:12, 15-19)

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Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

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For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)

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Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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The record of human history can be viewed as the story of the conflict between the power of sin and the power of God’s grace.

God graciously begins by planting a garden and placing a man named Adam and his wife there. Through Adam’s sin, evil invades and corrupts their place of blessing, forcing them away from God’s presence and alienating them from one another. Grace responds by promising to ultimately destroy the power of evil. Sin retaliates by bringing violence and bloodshed into the world and multiplying it throughout the generations. Grace offers a childless couple a baby. Sin enslaves the children of Abraham in Egypt. Grace delivers them through the Red Sea.

On and on the story goes. Sin and grace wrestle to see which side will have the upper hand. But little by little it becomes clear that grace is establishing its position, gaining the upper hand, preparing to land its decisive and crushing blow.

Grace takes on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. Sin lashes out trying to kill the child. Grace finds a safe place for him in Egypt. Sin tempts Jesus. Grace defeats temptation. The blind see. The lame walk. Demons shriek. Sin musters its strength for one final battle, but grace wins in the most astonishing turn of events.

There is One over whom sin has no power and over whom death has no hold. Only he is able to release those held hostage to the sin Adam allowed into the world.

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Almighty Father, I give you praise and honor that in Jesus Christ you have given me so much more than forgiveness and instruction. You saw my deepest need and have sent your Son to set me free from the law of sin and death. I thank you that his grace is greater than the power of sin. And now, because his grace reigns in my life, I can live victoriously, triumphing in my struggle with sin and secure in my final destination. When my faith grows weak, remind me that sin is no longer my master. Sustain me in my struggle and protect me from the lies of the enemy. Thank you that your grace has brought me through many dangers, toils and snares. Thank you that your grace will lead me to my final home with you. I pray all of this through the power and strength of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 27

Pilate announced to the chief priests and the crowd, “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” But they insisted, “He stirs up the people all over Judea by his teaching. He started in Galilee and has come all the way here.” On hearing this, Pilate asked if the man was a Galilean. When he learned that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who was also in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was greatly pleased, because for a long time he had been wanting to see him. From what he had heard about him, he hoped to see him perform a sign of some sort. He plied him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. The chief priests and the teachers of the law were standing there, vehemently accusing him. Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. That day Herod and Pilate became friends -- before this they had been enemies. (Luke 23:4-12)

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Then some of the Pharisees and teachers of the law said to him, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from you.” He answered, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign! But none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here.” (Matthew 12:38-41)

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“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:29-31)

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Herod had power. It was limited by the Romans, to be sure, but it was there. He knew what it felt like to wave his hand or utter a word and see his will done.

Powerful men are often fascinated by other powerful men, and Herod had heard all about Jesus’ astonishing abilities. It had been said that Jesus could heal sick people, feed large crowds, even walk on water. So, Herod was actually excited to see Jesus. He wants nothing more that to see Jesus perform one of those magic tricks.

But Jesus disappoints. He refuses to play along. And this is something we do not readily admit very often: he does the same with us.

Jesus is many things. Loving. Wise. Patient. Humble. The perfect embodiment of both grace and truth. And, if we are honest we are forced to add that Jesus is frustrating. He refuses to cooperate with our plans for him. He has his own agenda, and he will not be swayed from it.

Of course, if Herod had just waited he would receive the greatest sign imaginable. In three days, Jesus would come back to life. But that was not the kind of sign Herod wanted. He wanted a coin trick or a card trick or something slightly amusing. He did not want something that might actually have implications for how he ought to live.

Strange as it seems, Herod was actually alive and probably in town when Jesus came out of the tomb. But he was not convinced even though someone rose from the dead.

Some people are like that.

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Loving Savior, I live in a time of doubt and skepticism. But the Gospels proclaim the many amazing things you did in your lifetime. You demonstrated your authority over nature, demons and disease. And then you conquered death. But you did all of this on your own timetable, refusing to be manipulated by humans. You never bent to our agenda. Instead, you ask us to bend to yours. Teach me to look beyond what you may be able to do for me and see you for who you are. Show me the wisdom of seeking your face and the joy of knowing your presence. And remind me that the greatest sign of all is not a little more food or a quieted storm but the promise of life beyond the grave, reveling in all of eternity with you. In your strong and mighty name I pray. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 26

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,” when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.... This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:31, 33) ----------

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27)

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And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

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Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:27-29)

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For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26)

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Those who accepted [Peter’s] message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-42, 46-47)

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God did not give the Israelites the 10 Commandments so they would obey and be saved. He saved them and then gave them the Law so they would know how to live as his people.

But God knew they would not be able to keep the Law. He knew his people had a sin nature that would inevitably override their desire to be obedient. In fact, it was always his plan to use the Law to tutor them along, restraining them externally until the time was right.

Then God would do something really astonishing. He would put his Spirit inside of his people, and they would begin being transformed from within.

But there was much debate over when that day would come. When would this new covenant take effect? What were the conditions necessary for God to implement the fullness of his plan?

Oddly enough, the pathway to life for humans required the death of the Son of God. And so it was that Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took up two simple elements: bread and wine. He blessed them and distributed them to his friends, saying, “The time has come. The new covenant will be ratified by my blood and my blood alone.” The bread would represent his broken body, and the wine is his blood.

He will do it all.

Our task is to simply remember, and as often as we do this, we proclaim the benefits of his death until his return.

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Lord God, by the power of your Holy Spirit at work within me, teach me to desire you more than anything else, to will what you command, to hope in your promises, to trust in you and to wait for your timing in all things. I confess that it is often easy to overlook the voice of your Spirit in the constant noise and bustle of this world. And yet I know that it is impossible for me to live the Christian life without his presence and power. He produces the life of Christ within me, and I will only bear the fruit of the Spirit as I yield to his guidance. Thank you for instituting this new covenant. Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit. May I never grieve or quench his work in my life. May I walk in utter dependence upon his comfort and counsel. In Christ’s name. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 25

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. (Zechariah 9:9) ----------

As [Jesus] approached Bethpage and Bethany at the hill called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it.’” (Luke 19:29-31)

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This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet: “Say to Daughter Zion, ‘See your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’” (Matthew 21:4-5)

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Those who were sent ahead went and found it just as he had told them. As they were untying the colt, its owners asked them, “Why are you untying the colt?” They replied, “The Lord needs it.”  They brought it to Jesus, threw their cloaks on the colt and put Jesus on it. As he went along, people spread their cloaks on the road. When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (Luke 19:32-39)

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When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” (Matthew 21:10-11)

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Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” (Luke 19:39-40)

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The Gospels never record Jesus riding anything until now; he walked everywhere. So it seems that this day, he is making a point: He really is the Messiah that Zechariah had promised.

It is a little humorous to think about him on this tiny animal, not a donkey (the sign of a king who comes in peace), but a donkey’s foal. Jesus uses the most extreme example he can to show people how serious he is about fulfilling this prophecy. But, like so many of us, people then saw what they want to see.

They cheer. but what they are cheering is not the real Messiah. They are hailing a king they hope will set them free from Roman oppression when he wants to free them from all oppression. They hail him with date palm branches that signify Jewish nationalism and so try to hang on him their own political aspirations.

Sound familiar?

Even if you had not read this story, you might be able to guess what happens next. What always happens when we try to make God accomplish our aspirations? He refuses.

Jesus rides his donkey through the eastern entrance to Jerusalem straight toward the temple, and then does nothing. And when Jesus failed to do what they wished him to do, they turned on him. And soon, instead of singing, “Blessed is the king!,” they shouted “crucify!” because it was blasphemy for this man who would not fulfill their desires to be called king.

And so he went to the cross, not defeated, but to do exactly as he had planned all along.

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Lord of glory and wisdom, your sovereign plans and purposes cannot be thwarted by the sinful choices of humanity. All that you have planned in your perfect wisdom will be fully accomplished, and resistance is, indeed, futile and foolish. Though will and ways are lofty and unattainable by human comprehension, you have revealed to me everything I need to grow in intimacy with you. You give me the dignity of being a moral agent whose decisions will matter, so I ask that the choices I make would be in conformity with your good and acceptable. Please clarify your desires for me through the burdens and aspirations you plant within my heart. May I seek your guidance and power in transforming these burdens and aspirations into action so that I will honor your name by accomplishing your will in my lifetime. I only want to cooperate with you as you order my steps. In your holy name I pray. Amen.

Lenten Reader -- Day 24

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!”

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.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean. 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. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:1-17)

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Jesus of Nazareth had gained quite a following. People were looking for him to do something great, lead an uprising, fight for a new kingdom, a new position, more power. But he rejected the popular idea of greatness in order to introduce God’s idea of it.

No one, before or since, has ever embodied this virtue better than Jesus did, and there is no time he more clearly modeled it than on the night prior to his crucifixion.

You might remember that the disciples got into a little scuffle after dinner about which one of them was the greatest (Luke 22:24). Apparently, the lesson Jesus had doled out to the Pharisees six months before about sitting in the lowest positions, rather than elbowing their way to the top, had been forgotten (Luke 14:7). Luke gives us a straightforward account of Jesus’ verbal response to those disciples: “The least among you will be the greatest.”

But here we have his visual response, a parable about service, performed by the greatest man who ever lived.

When no servant was available to wash their feet, Jesus assumed the role. The Master became a servant. The Most High got down on his knees. Jesus horrified his own disciples by demonstrating to them the divine perspective, which turned their entire social order upside down. And then he commanded them to do the same.

In one stunning act, Jesus demonstrated that, in the kingdom of God, service is not the path to greatness; service is greatness.

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Lord God, just as your beloved Son came into the world to serve others and not be served himself, I, too, want to be a servant. The more I grasp my true identity and the dignity of my station as your beloved child, the more free I become to serve others even when they do not reciprocate, and the less I am in the bondage of being defined by the opinions and expectations others have of me. I want you to define me so I can be liberated. I want to know who I am in Christ so I have nothing to prove. I invite your Holy Spirit to make it possible for me to live an other-centered lifestyle. Teach me how to develop a vision for what you are doing in the lives of others, and give me the joy of helping them mature and reach their potential. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.