Holy Week: Responses and Resurrection

Lent-Devotion.jpg

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, ushered us into the Week of Passion. We refer to Holy Week as the Week of Passion because of what Jesus did for us — his suffering on our behalf. It’s interesting to me that Lent started on February 14th, Valentine's Day. The last time Ash Wednesday fell on Valentine's Day was in 1945. Valentine's Day is usually when we give candy and cards to those we love, but Jesus didn't give candy and cards.  He gave himself.

1 John 3:16 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” Wow, Jesus gave us the ultimate gift. He died on the cross for us. Sacrificial love is a powerful thing. Jesus died on the cross because He loved us. He gave himself in order to redeem humanity, to save us from our sins, to show us the way that we can live together, because He loved us.

Through the centuries people have focused, meditated, and prayed on the seven verbal responses Jesus spoke from the cross because they express the love Christ had for us as He suffered. Even though Jesus spoke these seven short sentences from the cross, none of them were uttered in bitterness or complaint. Let’s take time this week to look at each of these responses to see if we can grasp Jesus’ love for us.

Dr. Rev. Adrian Cole

Lent-weekly-prayer.jpg

Father God, help me to grasp the depth of your love of me by understanding the price Jesus paid on my behalf. Help me be willing to die to self each day in order to be transformed into who You have created me to be. As your child, I know the image of Christ is in me, so I pray You would empower me to live like Him more every day. Amen.


Day One: 

The first three words from the cross portray Jesus, our example. They express the love He showed to others. "Weep not for me," He has said earlier, and now on the cross He doesn't weep for himself. He doesn't dwell in self-pity on his pain or loneliness, nor on the gross injustice which is being done to him. He has no thought for himself, only for others. He has nothing left now to give: even his clothes have been taken from him. But He is still able to give people his love. The cross is the epitome of his self-giving. In his prayer on the cross, He prays for his executioners. Think how remarkable this is. His physical and emotional sufferings have already been almost intolerable, but now He has been stripped and laid on his back, and the rough hands of the soldiers wielded their hammers clumsily. Surely now He will think of himself? But no, He thinks only of others. The two criminals beside him curse and swear, but not Jesus. He practices what He has preached in the Sermon on the Mount: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you…" Luke 6:27-28.

Luke 23:34 — Father, as your Son hung from the cross, He had the grace and presence of mind to pray for his persecutors, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. “ Help me to see that Jesus’ words then apply to me now. He extends his grace and forgiveness to all, even to me. Amen.

Ask yourself — What would be my thoughts if I were hanging on a cross, barely able to breathe? Would I be thinking of God? Would I be praying for my enemies? What am I facing in my life right now that I need to take to the cross?

Prayer:  Father God, help me to grasp the depth of your love of me by understanding the price Jesus paid on my behalf. Help me be willing to die to self each day in order to be transformed into who You have created me to be. As your child, I know the image of Christ is in me, so I pray You would empower me to live like Him more every day. Amen.


Day Two: 

All four gospel writers tell us that three crosses were erected at Golgotha that fateful morning. Jesus is on the middle cross, while two robbers are crucified on either side of him. At first, both thieves join in the chorus of hate, to which Jesus is now subjected. But only one of them continues hurling insults at Jesus and challenging him to save himself and them. The second thief rebukes him saying: "Don't you fear God… since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly… But this man has done nothing wrong." Then turning to Jesus, he says, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom…" (Luke 23:40-42). It's remarkable that the dying thief gave Jesus the title of King. No doubt he has heard the priests mocking his claim to be the King of Israel, and he has probably read the inscription over his head "This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews". He has seen Jesus’ quiet, regal dignity. He has come to believe that Jesus is a King. He has heard Jesus’ prayer for the forgiveness of his executioners, and forgiveness is what he knows he needs, since he confesses that he is being punished justly. In answer to his cry to be remembered, Jesus replies: "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." There are no recriminations. Jesus doesn't reproach him for repenting only at the 11th hour. He doesn't cast doubt on the genuineness of his repentance. He simply gives this penitent believer the assurance he longs for. He promises him, not only entry into paradise, involving the joy of Christ's presence, but an immediate entry that very day.

Luke 23:42-43  — Father God, I think of the criminal who was an a cross next to Jesus, asking Jesus to remember him when He came into His “kingdom.”  Dying a criminal’s death, this man recognized Jesus for who He was, the Son of God, and I love that Jesus didn’t hesitate in his response, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Amen.

Ask yourself — Do I see Jesus as the true Son of God? Do I desire to be with Him in heaven? How can I live my life now for Him and his kingdom?

 Prayer: Father God, help me to grasp the depth of your love of me by understanding the price Jesus paid on my behalf. Help me be willing to die to self each day in order to be transformed into who You have created me to be. As your child, I know the image of Christ is in me, so I pray You would empower me to live like Him more every day. Amen.


Day Three:

Perhaps Jesus closes his eyes as He bears the brunt of the first onslaught of pain. Perhaps, as it subsides a bit, He opens them again. As He looks down from the cross, He sees a little group of women and the apostle John. Then He sees his mother. He was conceived in her womb by the operation of the Holy Spirit. She gave him birth, laid him in a manger, and cared for him during his childhood. She taught him the biblical stories of the Patriarchs, Kings and Prophets, and the plan and purpose of God. She set him a radiant example of godliness. Now, we read, "Near the cross of Jesus stands his mother." It's hard to imagine the depth of her grief as she watches him suffer. The old man Simeon's prophecies being fulfilled, “That a sword will pierce her own soul” (Luke 2:35). Jesus thinks not of his own pain, but hers. He is determined to spare her the anguish of seeing him die. Jesus puts his mother under John's protection and care, and puts John under hers. Immediately, John takes her away to his Jerusalem home. This is love. The Scripture says to us: "Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…" (Ephesians 5:2).

John 19:26-27  — Father God, when Jesus looked down from the cross and saw his mother, I can only imagine all that must have gone through his thoughts. His concern for her touches me. When He saw the disciple whom He loved standing beside her, He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then He said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. Thank You, Lord, that even in your last moments on earth You demonstrated to us a servant’s heart, a caring soul. Amen.

Ask yourself — How can I love others as Jesus loved his mother? Who needs my attention and care today?

Prayer: Father God, help me to grasp the depth of your love of me by understanding the price Jesus paid on my behalf. Help me be willing to die to self each day in order to be transformed into who You have created me to be. As your child, I know the image of Christ is in me, so I pray You would empower me to live like Him more every day. Amen.


Day Four — Maundy Thursday: 

The crucifixion takes place at about nine in the morning, and the first three words from the cross seem to have been spoken near the beginning of this period. Then there was silence until about 12 noon. At this point, when the sun is at its highest, a strange darkness steals over the countryside. It cannot be a natural eclipse of the sun, because the feast of the Passover occurs at full moon. It's a supernatural phenomenon. Perhaps intended by God to symbolize the horror of great darkness into which the soul of Jesus is now plunged. It lasts three hours, during which no word escapes the lips of the Savior. He bears your sins and mine in silence. Then, suddenly at about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Jesus breaks the silence and speaks the remaining four sentences from the cross in rapid succession beginning with, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" This terrible cry is recorded by Matthew and Mark in the original Aramaic, “Eloi, Eloi lama sabachthani?”

Jesus is quoting from Psalm 22, but why does He quote it and declare himself forsaken? There can be only one explanation. Jesus is not mistaken. God is forsaken by God, and the estrangement is due to our sin.

Matthew 27:46  — Lord, your death was a real event in history. We even know that about three o’clock that day, as the skies were darkened like night, You cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” You were asking God why He had forsaken You.  You know what it is like to feel abandoned by God. You have experienced pain and fear and despair, just as I have. And yet your very faith in your Father sustained You through to the end. You did what You came to do. You died for me. Amen.

Ask yourself — Have I really thought about Jesus’ death being for me? Why is that important to do? How can I find and accept the grace, peace, and hope in this truth?

Prayer: Father God, help me to grasp the depth of your love of me by understanding the price Jesus paid on my behalf. Help me be willing to die to self each day in order to be transformed into who You have created me to be. As your child, I know the image of Christ is in me, so I pray You would empower me to live like Him more every day. Amen.


Day Five — Good Friday:  

When He is first nailed to the cross, Jesus is “offered wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, He refused to drink it...” (Matthew 27:34)  ...perhaps because He is determined to be in full possession of his senses while suffering for us on the cross. Hours later, however, on emerging from the godforsaken darkness, and knowing that the end is near, He says, “I am thirsty.” In response, the bystander soaked a sponge with wine vinegar and lifted it on a stalk of hyssop to Jesus’ lips. This is the only sentence from the cross in which Jesus expresses physical pain. He says it, John adds, so that the Scripture might be fulfilled. Indeed, it has been prophesied twice in the Psalms. In Psalm 22 it is written, “That my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” While in Psalm 69 we read, “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.” Surely, his thirst symbolized the torment of separation from God. Darkness, death and thirst. What are these but what the Bible calls "hell" - the horror of exclusion from God? This is what our Savior suffered for us on the cross. "Thirst" is an especially poignant symbol because Jesus earlier said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (John 7:37). But, He who satisfies our thirst himself now experiences on the cross a ghastly thirst. He thirsts on the cross so that we may never thirst again.

John 19:28 — Lord, as You hung from the cross, You saw that everything had been completed. And so that the Scripture record might also be complete, You responded, “I’m thirsty.”  In your humanity, You had simple needs. You were thirsty. In your divinity, You were speaking a word to fulfill prophecy that had been said of You centuries before. You were taking time to point out that You are the Son of God and that everything was going according to plan. Amen.

Ask yourself — In what ways does Jesus satisfy my thirst?

Prayer: Father God, help me to grasp the depth of your love of me by understanding the price Jesus paid on my behalf. Help me be willing to die to self each day in order to be transformed into who You have created me to be. As your child, I know the image of Christ is in me, so I pray You would empower me to live like Him more every day. Amen.


Day Six — Holy Saturday: 

When Jesus has received the drink, He says: "It is finished…" (John 19:30). In the last two cries, Jesus appears as the conqueror, for they express the victory which He won for us. It is finished! Perhaps these are the most momentous words ever spoken in the history of the world. Already in anticipation, Jesus’ claim that He has completed the work He came into the world to do. John 19:18. Now He makes a public declaration of it. But, his cry is not the despairing grown of one who is dying in resignation and defeat. It is a shout, utterly "in a loud voice," proclaiming a resounding victory. Christ has made what the letter to the Hebrews calls "one single sacrifice for sin" (Hebrews 12:14). Because Christ has finished the work of sin-bearing, there's nothing left for us to do, or even to contribute. And to demonstrate the dramatic nature of what Christ has done, the veil of the temple was torn down from top to bottom. The curtain that hung for centuries between the outer and the inner sanctuaries as an emblem of the inaccessibility of God to sinners tore in half. The veil kept all sinners from God, but now it was torn in half and discarded, needed no longer. The worshipers in the temple court, gathered that afternoon for the evening sacrifice, are dramatically informed of another and a better sacrifice by which they can draw near to God.

John 19:30  — Lord, your final words, “It is finished,” are profound. Your life was ended. Your purpose completed. So You bowed your head and gave up your spirit. Thank You! Amen.

Ask yourself — How has this Holy Week experience prepared me for Jesus’ death?  What can I do today/tonight to submerse myself in the reality of the tomb—that cold, dark, death-filled place?

Prayer: Father God, help me to grasp the depth of your love of me by understanding the price Jesus paid on my behalf. Help me be willing to die to self each day in order to be transformed into who You have created me to be. As your child, I know the image of Christ is in me, so I pray You would empower me to live like Him more every day. Amen.


Day Seven — Easter Sunday: 

Jesus calls out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” After He says this, He breathes his last (Luke 23:46).  Death doesn't claim Jesus as its victim; Jesus seizes it as its victor. The four gospel writers use four different expressions, each of which put the initiative and the process of dying in Jesus’ own hands:

· Mark says, “He breathed out his spirit.”

· Matthew says, “He dismissed his spirit.”

· Luke records his words “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

· John's expression is the most striking: "He bowed his head and gave up his spirit…” (John 19:30)

It is not that He first dies, followed by his head falling forward on his chest; it is the other way around. John says He bows his head in his final act of surrender to the will of his Father. By word indeed, Jesus indicates that his death is his own voluntary act. Jesus could have escaped death right up to the last minute. As He said in the garden, He could have summoned more than twelve legions of angels to rescue him. He could have come down from the cross, as his mockers challenged him to do. But He doesn't. Of his own free will and deliberate choice, He gives himself up to death. It is He who determines the time, the place, and the manner of his dying.

The last two sayings from the cross proclaim Jesus as the conqueror of sin and death. When we come humbly to the cross deserving nothing but judgment, pleading nothing but mercy, Christ delivers us from both the guilt of sin and the fear of death.

When I think of Jesus and what He did on the cross, I think of that great hymn of Isaac Watts:

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but lost,

And pour contempt on all my pride,

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to his blood.

See from his head, his hands, his feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Lent-Weekly-Wrap-up.jpg

We end this Lenten journey with the resurrection of Christ, which is the crux of our faith. Without Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection, there is no Christian faith. There is no church. Jesus’ resurrection means everyone who believes in Jesus is promised eternal life, and it also means we can have life to its fullest here on earth. Pick up our final edition of “Praying Through the Scriptures: Pentecost” to discover what an abundant life in Christ looks like! Stay committed! God is!

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Catherine HortonComment