Mercy and Fidelity :: Holy Week

The first Good Friday would not have been a day of rest as much as a day of emptiness. Had the disciples grasped the spiritual aspect of Christ’s sacrifice, in the early hours after the crucifixion, their words likely would have foreshadowed those of John Flavel. The 17th-century puritan declared, achingly, “O how inflexible and severe is the justice of God! No abatement? No sparing mercy; no, not to his own Son?”

On one hand we want the penalty for sin to be harsh—the evil that has been inflicted on us deserves justice. On the other, we are unable to pay if justice requires from us what we demand for others. Flavel, in the twentieth sermon of his series The Fountain of Life Opened Up, acknowledges both—first explaining how sin’s harsh penalty bears fruit in our lives:

Oh cursed sin! It was you who used my dear Lord so; for your sake he underwent all this. If your vileness had not been so great, his sufferings had not been so many. Cursed sin—you are the sword that pierced him!

When the believer remembers that sin put Christ through all that ignominy—and that he was wounded for our transgressions—he is filled with hatred of sin, and cries out, O sin, I will revenge the blood of Christ upon you! You shall never live a quiet hour in my heart.

The harshness of the penalty, as recorded in Scripture, is eclipsed only by the immensity of Christ’s sacrifice. In laying down his life Christ demonstrated the strength of his mercy and depth of his fidelity. Only on these, Flavel concludes, can we securely anchor our lives:

It produces an humble adoration of the goodness and mercy of God, to exact satisfaction for our sins, by such bloody stripes, from our surety. Lord, if this wrath had seized on me, as it did on Christ, what had been my condition then!

If these things were done to the green tree, what had been the case of the dry tree? O love unutterable and inconceivable! How glorious is my love in his red garments!

This begets thankfulness and confidence in the soul—Christ is dead—and his death has satisfied for my sin. Christ is dead—therefore my soul shall never die. Who shall separate me from the love of God?

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 13 (Listen – 2:45)
Ephesians 6 (Listen – 3:17)

This Weekend’s Readings
Proverbs 14 (Listen – 3:45) Philippians 1 (Listen – 4:03)
Proverbs 15 (Listen – 3:36) Philippians 2 (Listen – 3:45)

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The Abandoned Savior :: Holy Week

Then all the disciples left him and fled. — Matthew 26.56

Lord, we abandoned you.

It was the darkness in our hearts that caused your Father to turn his back on you. Eternal unity broken by our sin. Truly we would have been counted among your disciples that night. When you asked, “remain here, and watch with me,” we would have slept. Disquieted by evil—though we stood in the presence of the very one who could save us—we would have fled.

My God, my God, why have You forsaken me, and why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? — Psalm 22.1

You were forsaken because you embraced the consequences of our brokenness. Your body broke under the weight of hell.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 53.3–6

Lord we ask only this: may we not forsake your sacrifice by defining our lives by our own failures and fleeting successes rather than the glory of your grace and peace.

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.

Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. — Isaiah 53.0-12

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 12 (Listen – 3:07)
Ephesians 5 (Listen – 3:42)


The Garden of Anguish :: Holy Week

Then Jesus said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” — Matthew 26.38

The Son of God, who rhythmically withdrew from all human contact to pray, now asks his disciples to journey with him into the garden. He did not want to be left alone.“Father, take this cup.” The prayer of Christ would go unanswered.

For the first time in all of eternity, “Jesus Christ turned toward the Father and there was nothing there but the abyss,” remarks Timothy Keller. “There was nothing there but the darkness that opens out into an infinite nothing. He turned, expecting heaven and the Father, and there was hell.” Blood vessels ruptured under stress—his body being forced toward death long before the cross—as the weight of sin fell upon our savior. Keller explains:

As he began to walk, he began to experience the wrath of God. He began to actually experience God turning away from him. How does God punish sin? The Bible tells us (it’s almost poetic justice) the sinful human heart wants to get away. It wants to be away from God. It wants to be able to be its own master. So the way God punishes sin is to give the heart what it wants.

Jesus received what we deserved—what we have earned. From his birth to his resurrection, Christ did for us what we are unable to do. He loved God fully and loved man perfectly. He gave his life that we may live. Though we see this, we have trouble reorienting our lives in response.

We do not want to accept such a sacrifice. We do not want to cost of our sin to be so high. We do not want to live indebted to grace so deep. Christ’s love shines through the night, even while our love flickers in the wind. Keller concludes:

We don’t trust him. We’re afraid he might not have our best interest in mind, that he might ask us to do something that won’t be really good for us. So on the one hand, we don’t really trust him, but on the other hand, we don’t really trust ourselves. One of the reasons why we don’t give ourselves wholly and utterly and completely is because we’re afraid of failure.

Here is a love that hell came down on. His love for you—hell came down on it—and it didn’t eat through it. His love for you, hell came down on it, and it didn’t break it.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 11 (Listen – 3:41)
Ephesians 4 (Listen – 3:58)


Evil and the Cross :: Holy Week

“Theologies of the cross, of atonement, have not in my view grappled sufficiently with the larger problem of evil,” laments N.T. Wright in God, 9/11, the Tsunami, and the New Problem of Evil. Any Christian who can discuss the individual nature of salvation while struggling to articulate the impact of Christ’s death and resurrection on the greater evils of the world can relate.

Dr. Wright believes modern reading of the Scriptures have skewed toward individualism, causing us to read over the full work of Christ. He continues:

Once we learn to read the Gospels in a holistic fashion, we hear them telling us that the death of Jesus is the result both of the major political evil of the world, the power-games which the world was playing as it still does, and of the dark, accusing forces which stand behind those human and societal structures, forces which accuse creation itself of being evil, and so try to destroy it while its creator is longing to redeem it.

What the Gospels offer is not a philosophical explanation of evil, what it is or why it’s there, but the story of an event in which the living God deals with it. The call of the Gospel is for the church to implement the victory of God in the world. The cross is not just an example to be followed; it is an achievement to be worked out.

Once we begin working out the fullness of Christ’s passion, Wright believes, “The cross becomes the sign by which, and by which alone, we go to address the wickedness of the world.” In other words, evil writ large—terrorism, natural disasters, immorality in our field of work, and injustices in government, economics, and every other social system—is redeemed through our daily embrace of the suffering servant.

As Christians we can reject the sacred calling to join Christ in this work by trying to solve the problem of evil apart from God. Wright explains:

The church is never more at risk than when it sees itself merely as the solution-bearer, and forgets that every day it must say “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and allow that confession to work its way into genuine humility even as it stands boldly before the world and its crazy empires.

The Gospels thus tell the story, unique in the world’s great literature, religious theories, and philosophies: the story of the creator God taking responsibility for what’s happened to creation, bearing the weight of its problems on his own shoulders.


Today’s Reading
Proverbs 10 (Listen – 3:34)
Ephesians 3 (Listen – 2:41)


The Divine Mystery of the Cross :: Holy Week

“That wood of the cross is, then, as it were a kind of ship of our salvation, our passage, not a punishment, for there is no other salvation but the passage of eternal salvation,” wrote Ambrose of Milan. The saint must have held Isaiah’s prophecy in mind as he wrote:

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

The Son of God destroyed, his people set free—surely we have just as much trouble apprehending this as Christ’s own disciples. Early Christian writings focus not on the mechanics of the cross, but its implications for our lives. Ambrose, writing in the fourth century, continues:

That we may know that this mystery of the common redemption was most clearly revealed by the prophets, you have also in this place: “Behold, it has taken away your sins;” not that Christ put aside His sins Who did no sin, but that in the flesh of Christ the whole human race should be loosed from their sins.

O the divine mystery of that cross, on which weakness hangs, might is free, vices are nailed, and triumphal trophies raised. For Christ died for us, that we might live in His revived Body. Therefore not our life but our guilt died in Him, “Who,” it is said, “bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

We often join in Peter’s cry, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”—surely there must be another way. Unlike Peter, our desire is not as much to protect the Messiah we love, but to regain control by finding a logical way Christ could affect salvation.

The ship of our salvation is beyond our control. The gospel is this: though we created the storm, though we suffer as it surges, though we deserve to sink—we shall be guided home. Ambrose concludes, “While expecting death I do not feel it; while thinking little of punishment I do not suffer; while careless of fear I know it not.”


Evening Prayer: Daily Examen

1. Opening prayer of invitation: become aware of God’s presence (2 minutes).
2. Review your day with gratitude (3 minutes).
3. Renew the gospel in your heart and life (4 minutes).
4. Look forward with the Lord’s prayer (1 minute).

Download a guide for the Prayer of Examen (PDF).

Today’s Reading

Proverbs 9 (Listen – 1:50)
Ephesians 2 (Listen – 3:04)