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What He Said Week 8

26  As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the
country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27  A large number of people
followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28  Jesus turned and said to them,
“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29  For the
time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the childless women, the wombs that never bore and
the breasts that never nursed!’ 30  Then “they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills,
“Cover us!” 31  For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
32  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33  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. 34  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they
divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:26-34
You can mourn the loss of your favorite team in the playoffs, but you’ll get over it. You can
mourn the loss of your youth in a mid-life crisis, but you’ll grow out of it. There is a deeper
mourning that can attach itself to your soul. To witness what human beings have done to God’s
world – from war and crime to corruption and environmental disasters, from injustice and
oppression to legitimizing immorality and rejecting God’s truth – that is a mourning renewed
with each newscast. To watch a loved one die of a horrible disease, while her children struggle
to go on with life, well, that is mourning that sticks to your soul. But there is a sadness each
Lenten season that summarizes everything worth crying over, a sadness that God the Father
shares with us as he watches his Son suffer and die for the sins of the world.
The processional from Pilate’s judgment seat to Calvary was marked by mourning. There were
Jesus’ followers, grief-stricken at their bloody Savior stumbling toward a horrific death. There
were residents and visitors to Jerusalem caught up in a story they couldn’t understand and crying
over the injustice of a good man executed by an occupying army. Jesus’ passion is worth
shedding tears over; and yet he redirects the mourning of the crowd toward the coming
consequence of rejecting him, their Messiah. That poses a question: what is worth crying over?
Simon was a Jew living in the North African city of Cyrene who had come to Jerusalem for the
Passover. Cyrene, in what is today Libya, was home to a large settlement of ex-patriot Jews.
Mark’s Gospel identifies Simon as the father of Rufus and Alexander, probably because his sons
were known to many in the early Christian community. In Romans 16:13 St. Paul greets Rufus
and his mother as dear friends. Simon was staying outside Jerusalem and coming into the city
when he became an unwitting part of the Passion story. While Christian art depicts Jesus and
then Simon carrying a complete cross, it is likely that the upright portion of the cross remained at
the place of executions while the crossbar was carried by the condemned. That beam could
weigh 40 pounds; and depleted by exhaustion and blood-loss, Jesus could not carry it up the hill.
Simon is a poignant reminder of Jesus telling his followers that they must take up their cross and
follow him. Our cross is whatever suffering we endure because we confess the Savior who was
Mourning was an element of Jewish culture. At the home of Jairus, Jesus encountered what
might be called “professional mourners” before he raised Jairus’ daughter to life. While the
large crowd following Jesus could not know the full significance of Jesus’ suffering and death,
they highlighted the tragic events that marred the Passover with their mourning. Should we
mourn for Jesus? He doesn’t ask us to mourn for him, rather to trust in him. He chose and
willingly carried out the suffering and death that were God’s plan for our salvation. Shed tears
on Good Friday, and every other day that your sins trouble you, because those sins are ultimately
responsible for Jesus’ suffering and death. But tears of gratitude are more appropriate, for Jesus
endured all this for us and our salvation.
There is an ominous warning in Jesus’ words to the mourners. Read Luke 19:41-44. Jesus wept
over Jerusalem because their rejection of the promised Messiah would mean unspeakable horrors
for the people of Jerusalem. In Matthew 23:37 – 24:2 Jesus again spoke of the coming
destruction of the city as Rome’s response to Jewish rebellion. These prophetic words would be
fulfilled in 70 AD by the Roman legions. People would starve in the besieged city. Children
would be killed. Many would hide in the caves of the central highlands, to no avail. Perhaps
some in Jerusalem would remember how the prophet Jeremiah foretold similar atrocities before
Nebuchadnezzar besieged and destroyed the city in 586 BC as God’s judgment on faithless
wickedness. (Jeremiah 16:1-4) Revelation 6:16 echoes the words of Jesus in a warning about the
terror of Judgment Day. Childlessness would be preferred in such times. A swift death would
be merciful. Some people in our day worry about having children in perilous times. Imagine
how much greater the anxiety when the world’s most powerful army is bent on your destruction.
“For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” This must
have been a proverbial saying at the time of Christ. Its meaning here may be: “If the Romans do
this to an innocent man (Jesus), what will they do when the nation is guilty of rebellion?” Or
perhaps it should be understood to say: “If you do this to your Messiah while he is with you,
what can you expect when he is gone?”
That Jesus was crucified between two unquestionably criminal men contrasts his innocence and
fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12, “He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with
the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.”
That the soldiers cast lots for his clothes was the norm at such executions, but more importantly,
it fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:18, “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for
my clothing.” Read verses 39-43 of Luke 23 for Jesus’ words to the penitent criminal executed
beside him.
Golgotha in Hebrew means “place of the skull.” Calvary is the Latin word for skull. The name
may mean simply the place where executions take place, or it may suggest that the rocky
outcropping where Romans crucified looked from a distance like a skull. Visitors to the Old City
of Jerusalem can see from the city wall near the Damascus gate just such a quarried hill that
looks like a skull. (Tradition places Calvary inside today’s city walls.)
Jesus’ prayer for forgiveness can have a far wider significance, but in the moment he was
speaking about the Roman soldiers, who had no idea whom they were executing. Here is one
more suggestion that there are degrees of culpability before God. Ignorance is not an excuse for
sin, but it diminishes culpability. All are guilty of sin and deserving of eternal condemnation.
Those who knowingly reject God’s will and grace bear a greater degree of guilt. In the Lord’s
Prayer we ask God’s forgiveness “as we forgive those who sin against us.” Jesus here models
that prayer, as does the martyr Stephen in Acts 7:60.
In Matthew 5:4 Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” What is
the place of mourning in the Christian’s life? What is worth crying over? While Christians have
reasons to rejoice and ought not be miserable, the reality of sin in this world and the longing for
our eternal home with Jesus are reasons to mourn. If you have lost a loved one to death, how do
you mourn?
It is amazing how many aspects of Jesus’ Passion were foretold in the Old Testament. How does
this confirm your faith in Jesus and his Word? While most of these prophecies are Gospel
promises, there are also prophetic warnings of God’s Law. The judgment Jesus’ pronounced on
Jerusalem has a greater realization in the judgment on the last day. In Matthew 24, Jesus links
these two judgments. How do Christians respond to the warnings of Judgment Day?
Ask God to relieve the suffering of those in the Middle East and North Africa who are innocents
in the midst of terror. Ask him especially for courage, faith and steadfastness in the lives of
Christians caught in such misery.
Go to Youtube on the internet and search for “Watch the Lamb” by Ray Boltz. You should be
able to watch a music video of a song depicting the experience of Simon from Cyrene at Calvary
with his two sons. It is a moving experience.
Read Isaiah 53 and recognize how this “Old Testament Passion Story” explains the why as well
as the what of Jesus’ suffering and death.


Good News

“And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?’”  Mark 16:2-3
Have you packed really well for a trip, but still you brought the wrong stuff? You packed for winter, but it was 87 degrees in Texas that weekend in January, a record even for them. You never touched those three sweaters that you brought. Or, you flew back from Florida in April, straight into a late Wisconsin snowstorm and you were wearing shorts and sandals. You were in the wrong place with the right stuff.

The women in our text had all the right things packed. They brought the spices to anoint Jesus. They were right there early in the morning. They even had the right question about who was going to roll away the stone. They were prepared, but not for the right day. The world had changed overnight and they found themselves in a new place.

Our world has certainly changed in these last few weeks. I expect that you had packed for a different April than the one we’ve had so far. You had plans for work and travel but those plans have been put aside. You were all ready for a different time than the one we have.
But the good news is that Easter is the greatest change the world has ever seen. Easter has come and brought us the change that lasts and needs repeating in our frightened world. Jesus has risen and the tomb is empty. Those plans of our past or present, the ones of fear and death, those plans have been put out of date because Easter’s truth has come again. Even this year, strange as it is, cannot cancel the truth that Jesus has risen from the dead and so death has lost. Life has come to the dead and our own tombs will stand open. We don’t need to pack for death and darkness. We are the people who have seen the empty tomb and believe the best news. He has risen. Why be packing for death? Why carry the trappings of the tomb?  The good news has come: Jesus is risen, He is risen indeed.

Prayer: Our Heavenly Father, we have been packing and preparing for the worst news. Thank you for the best news ever:  Jesus is risen from the dead. Help us to carry that news instead of the burdens we’ve been carrying. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen


A Devotion for Easter Monday: A New Day

brown wooden cross against wall

“Behold, I am making all things new!” Revelation 21:1-5
During my final year of seminary, I saw a pile of old boards outside of the gymnasium. When I looked closer, I noticed they were floor boards. Original hardwood from the seminary gymnasium- I was ecstatic! I had a piece of history in my hands as I scooped them up and brought them home. I thought about what I should do with these boards, and I decided, since my wife was pregnant, to make a bassinet for our newest child. I gave those boards a new purpose, and I was pretty proud of myself.
On this first day after Easter, we take time to reflect on how God is making all things new. God is taking your life and making it new. God is taking all the ingredients of the world and repurposing them, refashioning them for eternity. Everything has changed once Jesus rises from the grave. As John writes, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4). All those things that used to hold you captive? Those chains have been destroyed. All those commitments that made you feel tied down? Redeemed by God. All those illnesses, wounds, injuries, and woes? Healed and restored in Jesus. “Behold, I am making ALL THINGS new!”
That bassinet sits in storage now, even though I made it new. It is now an old, dusty piece of furniture still destined for decay. It still wears out, but what God has planned? This “all things new” has already begun, almost 2,000 years ago on this first Monday after Easter. And on that last day, every storage shed, every grave, every life that feels like it’s been left on the shelf will be taken out and made new. For good. The wood of the cross has been repurposed. The master carpenter is making all things new.
 Prayer: Dear God, we hear your words. Help us to believe them for ourselves, that truly you are making all things new. We want to experience your new life now, and we trust you to make us eternally new, by the same power that rose Jesus from the grave. It’s in his name that we pray; Amen.


A Devotion for Easter Sunday: Resurrection Day

brown rock formation during daytime
Jesus Can Walk Through Any Door

“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them “Peace be with you.” [John 20:19]

Do you still leave your front door unlocked? I’m sure you remember a time- or remember some stories from older relatives, “Back in my day, you never had to lock your door!” That’s not the case anymore. We lock and check, and then re-check before we go to bed. We drive back home to make sure we put down the garage door. We have a lot to protect, so we need to keep our doors locked.

It’s good to take necessary steps to protect your family and possessions, but we can take the same mindset with our hearts. We have to protect ourselves from hurt and harm (we generally learn this after we opened the door of our heart to someone who trampled it). We work hard to make sure we don’t get hurt. 

Wasn’t that exactly where the disciples found themselves on Easter Sunday, after they heard from the women that Jesus rose? They were still behind locked doors, protecting themselves from the same fate that befell Jesus. But no locked doors can keep us from God. Jesus can walk through any door. However well you are protecting your heart, or trying to keep God from seeing the pain or darkness or sadness or sin, Jesus can and will make his way through it. And he will say, “Peace be with you.”

Oh, and why would we want to protect ourselves from Jesus’ work? He rose from the dead! Sunday marks the resurrection, and each first day of the week- every Sunday- stands as a doorpost into eternity. Let today be the sure and certain hope for you, that Jesus has a resurrection in store for you, too. Christ is risen, he is risen indeed, Alleluia! 

Prayer: Lord, God, we thank You for Your plan to work peace in our lives through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Help us to live always in light of eternity- that You have unlocked the door of heaven through Your Son. We love You! Amen!


A Devotion for the Saturday of Holy Week: Tomb Day

white cross on green field at daytime

The next day…the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate and said, “Sir, we remember how that imposter said, while he was still alive, after three days I will rise. Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day.” Matthew 27:62-64.

The day is called Holy Saturday, and perhaps more than anything else, at least based upon the first Holy Saturday, it is a day of being afraid. In Matthew 27, we see a group of people who were afraid on that first Holy Saturday. The Pharisees gathered before Pilate demanding that a guard be placed at the tomb of Jesus. They remembered that Jesus had said He would rise from the dead. And while they didn’t necessarily believe that resurrection would happen, they were afraid that someone might come and steal the body and say that it had. They were afraid at what might happen next.
The disciples certainly would have been afraid on this day. Jesus had died, and everything they knew or hoped or trusted seemed to have been turned upside down. They were afraid for themselves. While we are not told exactly what the disciples were up to, we could safely assume that the disciples would have been doing on Saturday what they were doing on Sunday when the first news of Jesus’ resurrection came. They were probably huddled together behind locked doors. They would have been wondering whether the next people through those doors might be soldiers, intent on doing to them what had just been done to Jesus. They would have been afraid at what might happen next.
We shake our heads at those disciples. They should have listened to Jesus. They should have believed that He would rise. They should not have been afraid. So I wonder then, what’s our excuse? We live in a time of fear, fear of what might happen next. And yet, are we not certain that Jesus rose from the dead? How much worse it would have been for those disciples in that they truly were unsure of Jesus’ coming resurrection. We’re not. We know it happened and we know, from the resurrection, that Jesus is victorious, and thus, so are we. The words that Jesus spoke each time He appeared to his followers after He rose are so precious for us today. Do not be afraid!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we are confident of your resurrection. Because of your victory, may we be assured by you in times of fear. Amen