Lent


During the season of Epiphany, our church uses the liturgy from the Anglican Church in Kenya.  It serves as a reminder to us that Jesus is the light to the nations.  I love so many parts of this particular liturgy, and I have looked forward to its richness each Sunday.  During the celebration of communion, we proclaim the following:

Celebrant:  Let us proclaim the mystery of faith.
People:      Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.
Celebrant:  We are brothers and sisters through his blood.
People:      We have died together, we will rise together, we will live together.
Celebrant:  Therefore, heavenly Father, hear us as we celebrate this covenant with joy, and await the coming of our Brother, Jesus Christ.  He died in our place, making full atonement for the sins of the whole world, the perfect sacrifice, once and for all.  You accepted his offering by raising him from death, and granting him great honor at your right hand on high.
People:      Amen.  Jesus is Lord.
Celebrant:  This is the feast of victory.
People:      The Lamb who was slain has begun his reign.  Hallelujah.
Celebrant:  Christ is alive forever.
People:      We are because he is.

This is the feast of victory, I thought last Sunday, as I watched a man with a cane struggle to walk down the aisle to receive it.

This is the feast of victory, I thought a few minutes later, as I walked forward, knelt before the cross, and received sustenance for my crippled soul.

Christ is the host and we are his guests.

“Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.”  (Luke 14:21)

A feast of victory for those who could not win it themselves.

“Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” … “Do not weep!  See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”  Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if had been slain, standing in the center of the throne … (Revelation 5:2,5-6)

This is the feast of victory because it is the slain Lamb of God who stands on the throne. It is the slain Lamb of God who is the conquering Lion of Judah.  It was finished on the cross.  Victory won.  The kingdom ushered in.

As Lent begins today, we journey to the cross once again, reminded of the costly sacrifice that paid our ransom.

The feast of victory.  Our God reigns.

This evening I will participate in our church’s journey through the events of Good Friday.  Following is the meditation I will share during that service.

Matthew 27:45-54

Forsaken.  He hung there in condemnation and humiliation, enduring horrific public suffering.

We sing of how we are forgiven because He was forsaken.

And then we sing, “You are my king.”

You, the forsaken One.  You, the mocked One.  You, the bleeding and dying One.

You are my king.

It isn’t how we would picture a king.  It isn’t how we would picture our king.

When kings die, there is fanfare and regal ceremony.  There are proclamations of greatness and memorials of accomplishments.  When kings die, the whole world takes note.

But by the time that Jesus breathed His last, all but one of the disciples had deserted Him.  Not many people were left to witness His final moments.  And most of those who were present didn’t remain out of respect for Him.  His death doesn’t fit the mold.  It wouldn’t be considered appropriate for royalty.  And yet, we proclaim Him – the forsaken One – our king.

No, He wasn’t what He was expected to be in life.  And now certainly not in death.  But this reveals to us something we like to avoid about His kingship, namely that we prefer to think of our king as resurrected and not crucified.  Conquering and not bleeding.  Yet that is the glorious irony of the cross – that it was on that tree beneath the weight of a thorny crown that we find the victor and ruler of all.

Luke tells us in his gospel that the rejoicing of Jesus’ disciples upon his approach into Jerusalem caused great consternation among the Pharisees.  They told Jesus to rebuke these men who proclaimed Him as king (Luke 19:39-40).

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

And so, when all but one of the Twelve had abandoned Him and the silence was deafening from the crowds who days earlier had given Him a conqueror’s welcome, the rocks split (Matt. 27:51).

When the Son of God took His final breath, all of creation took note.

For Jesus Christ was no ordinary king.  And His death was no ordinary death.

In John’s Revelation we discover that the triumphant Lion of Judah is the slain Lamb of God standing in the center of God’s throne.  The Lord of all creation won the battle there on the cross.

The curtain in the temple was torn in two (Matt. 27:51).

And we are ushered into the throne room by His blood.

On this Good Friday, we gaze upon our crucified King, and like the centurion we too proclaim, “Truly He is the Son of God.”

We celebrated Communion at our church this morning, and I was particularly struck by one phrase of which I have grown far too familiar.

And he took the 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.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:19-20)

Broken.  For you.

Poured out.  For you.

As we continue on in our lenten journeys, marking the way to the cross, may His words echo in our ears.

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.  (Luke 22:44)

“For you.”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered.  (Matthew 26:66)

“For you.”

Then Pilate released Barabbas to them.  But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.  (Matthew 27:26)

“For you.”

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus … they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head.  They put a staff  in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him … They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.”  (Matthew 27:27-30)

“For you.”

Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” (John 19:28 )

“For you.”

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land.  About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani? — which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew 27:45-46)

“For you.”

Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.  (John 19:30)

“For you.”

Revelation 5:1-14

Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?

Who stands at the center of the throne?

Who is the Lion of Judah?

The slain Lamb of God. 

This lenten season has been an opportunity for me to deepen my understanding of the sufferings of my Savior.  It has humbled me immensely.  It has changed my thinking.  And it has led to more worship of Christ in my daily life. 

I have listened as He wrestled with His call, and I have witnessed the horror of His humiliation.  I have felt the pang of betrayal and found myself among those who wouldn’t believe Him.

More than anything else, I have observed how my King reigns.  His ways are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:9).  He did not begin His reign after the resurrection.  He has always reigned with the Father, and He reigned throughout His suffering ( Rev. 13:8 ). 

That is what John shows us in his Revelation.  Jesus reigned when He wore a crown of thorns, and He was a warrior King as He hung there on the cross, for He won the battle over sin and death. 

“We are not to regard the cross as defeat and the resurrection as victory.  Rather, the cross was the victory won, and the resurrection the victory endorsed, proclaimed and demonstrated … For it was by his death, and not by his resurrection, that our sins were dealt with … we must insist that Christ’s work of sin-bearing was finished on the cross, that the victory over the devil, sin and death was won there, and that what the resurrection did was to vindicate the Jesus whom men had rejected, to declare with power that he is the Son of God, and publicly to confirm that his sin-bearing death had been effective for the forgiveness of sins.” (The Cross of Christ, 231,233)

It is the cross that identifies us as Christians.  It is in the shadow of its horror that we find peace and security.  It is under its flow of blood that we find mercy and wholeness.  It is nailed to it that we find our God. 

There is no one like Him.

And it is important for us to remember that the lives of Easter people are more often filled with Good Fridays while they walk this earth. 

He set us an example that we should be like Him, and that means He has not called us to escape the suffering present in this world (John 13:15).  But our comfort is this: our Savior was tempted in every way and endured what we, in our flesh, could not.  As I was so poignantly reminded at church last night, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And He did it, so that God might never leave us or forsake us.  He is not absent from our struggle, nor are our struggles foreign to Him.  We serve a God who chose to suffer for us and with us, and so we reign with Him in the midst of our own pain and tribulation.

He is more beautiful to me than He was at the start of this journey.  The scars in His hands are more precious to me. 

My prayer is that I will spend the rest of my days at the foot of His cross, for it is there that I find my King enthroned.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.  He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.  And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.  (Colossians 2:13-15)

Isaiah 52:13-53:12

In reciting the Apostles’ Creed, we acknowledge that Jesus “suffered under Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”

There is so much hidden in those words, for how do you adequately describe the personal sacrifice of Jesus?

In my opinion, Isaiah’s words give us the best insight we can attain into both Jesus’ individual suffering and the corporate grace that He achieved for us. 

In God’s economy, things are not always as they seem.  Certainly, Jesus tried to help us comprehend this through numerous parables that articulate that the Kingdom of God is not like the kingdom of this world.  But we are slow to understand.

And so when the Lord’s servant came as one who “had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,” we “despised” him and “esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3). 

Jesus was not who the Jews had expected – or frankly, wanted – him to be.  And, ironically, it led to the suffering for which He came. 

I cannot read this passage of Scripture without recognizing the role I played in the cross.  Perhaps we cannot understand the cross until we truly own the fact that it was we who put Him there. 

“We considered him stricken by God,” and yet it was because the Lord “laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4,6). 

It was my sin and my brokenness that caused His humiliation, His piercing, His crushing, His death.  I cannot point the finger at another.  It was the sight of my iniquities that caused the Father to turn His face away. 

Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer… (Isaiah 53:10)

Oh, this Friday is good, for it is on this Friday we are reminded that there is love greater than ours, power stronger than death, and redemption we never knew possible.  On this Friday, we are reminded that we were bought at a great price, but it is because we were considered precious by our Creator.  It is this day that reminds us Jesus, whom we worship, is our Messiah.

My righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.  Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors.  For he bore the sin of many, and made interecession for the transgressors.  (Isaiah 53:11-12)

Matthew 27:62-66

Two thousand years later, the conspiracy theories still fly. 

But the fact of the matter is that no Roman guard and no sealed tomb could prevent the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

If God has a mind to do something, He will do it.  And no effort of man can prevent it.

There are many who would try to compartmentalize God and mold Him into their own conceptions of who He should be. 

But they don’t change who He is.

We worship Jesus, who hung on the cross.  The world does not want a suffering Messiah.

We worship Jesus, who was raised again.  The world does not believe  in His power.

We can seal up the tomb and post a guard there, but we cannot control or contain Him.

He is God.

This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.  (Acts 2:23-24)

John 19:38-42

It is fascinating to me that Jesus was buried by two unlikely men, such as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus.  Though members of the Jewish leadership who had not previously disclosed their faith in Jesus, these men clearly felt compelled to treat His body in a way that no one else dared to do.

The Romans scorned crucified criminals.  The Jews were offended by the sight of them.  Neither group really cared much for what happened to the bodies of these dead men.  The Jews’ primary concern was simply avoiding desecration of their holy city with the graves of criminals.

But Joseph and Nicodemus, knowing that no family member would dare surface at this time to bury Jesus, took it upon themselves to bury Him with honor and dignity.

The IVP New Testament Commentary declares, “They had nothing to gain and everything to lose.”  They risked their reputation and status, likely along with their physical safety, in order to bury a man so hated by their peers that this exposure surely carried with it the possibility of castigation.

There comes a point for all of us when we must choose to turn our belief into action, no matter the cost. 

If we believe Jesus is who He says He is, then we must demonstrate that in our worship of Him.

Joseph and Nicodemus lavishly prepared Jesus’ body for burial in a way reminiscent of His anointing by Mary only days earlier (John 12:3,19:39).  He was precious to them.

And though He had “no place to lay His head” when He walked this earth ( Luke 9:58 ), Jesus’ body was fittingly placed in a tomb where no one else had laid. 

No one preceded Him.  There is none who will come after Him. 

He is the Alpha and the Omega.

The Creator of life has put an end to death.

Let the people of God rejoice!

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  (Hebrews 2:14-15)

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