Why The Cross?

Scripture Focus: Matthew 2.13
13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 

Galatians 4.4-5
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.

Romans 5.7
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

Reflection: Why The Cross?
By John Tillman

If salvation merely needed the blood of the sinless one, then any death would do. Herod’s soldiers could have killed two-year-old Jesus. He could have leaped from the top of the Temple as he was tempted by Satan. His friends and neighbors could have thrown him off of a cliff. He could have been stoned. He could have been beaten with clubs or killed with the sword.

Why the cross?

Inside and outside Christianity, people express discomfort with the cross. “Isn’t it gross?” “Isn’t it violent?”

Ancient people agreed. Perhaps the first historical depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion is the Alexamenos graffito, dated to about 200 AD. It scoffs, “Alexamenos worships his god,” under the image of a donkey-headed crucified man. 

I saw a set of memes recently from a former Christian who is now a skeptic/atheist. The AI-generated images showed life if Rome used guillotines rather than crosses. In a beautiful cathedral, a guillotine hung in shafts of stained glass-colored light during a wedding. Monks carried a flower-bedecked guillotine through festival streets. Elaborate guillotines decorated headstones and crypts in a peaceful graveyard.

Why is the cross worthy of architectural enshrinement in our places of worship? Why is it worthy of remembrance in festivals, jewelry, and decor? Why is it worthy of being a symbol of reverent hope on headstones? Why obsess over a gruesome instrument of torture?

In his sovereignty, out of all places, all times, and all means, Jesus chose the cross to bring the greatest good out of the greatest evil. (Romans 5.6; Galatians 4.4-5

Jesus did many good things before the cross. Healing. Teaching. Serving. Jesus did many good things after the cross. The harrowing of Hell. The resurrection. The ascension. The coming of the Holy Spirit. But on the cross is where he accomplished the ultimate good he came for. 

Every good thing before the cross pointed to it. Every good thing after the cross is evidence of the power broken on it.

On the cross, God was in Christ, reconciling us to himself (2 Corinthians 5.18-19), accomplishing all that scripture promised. Sin dead. Death defeated. Satan vanquished. 

The cross is worthy because of the work Jesus did on it: “It is finished.” (John 19.30) So, we are not ashamed of the gospel revealed on the cross. Let us continue to remind ourselves of it, center our teaching on it, and reverence it in every appropriate way.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress? — Psalm 22.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 5 (Listen 2:43)
Matthew 2 (Listen 3:18)

This Weekend’s Readings
Song of Songs 6 (Listen 1:48Matthew 3 (Listen 2:17)
Song of Songs 7 (Listen 1:55Matthew 4 (Listen 3:09)

Read more about The Moon and the Cross
He is about to die on their behalf. The one who hung the moon will hang on a cross.

Read more about The Prayer From the Cross
Jesus knew that most of his audience would recognize the quote and understand that he was referencing the entire psalm.

Inaugurating The Era of the Servant

Scripture Focus: Matthew 1.20-21
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

John 13.34
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

From John: The “Maundy” of Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin word mandatum, or commandment, reflecting Jesus’ words “I give you a new commandment.” May we walk in this commandment, in this new era of love and service.

Reflection: Inaugurating The Era of the Servant
By John Tillman

The three sections of Matthew 1’s genealogy mark important eras in the history of God’s presence with and relationship to his people.

Beginning with Abraham’s era, God was a promise-maker and promise-keeper. He promised children, kings, nations, and a blessing that would be for all people. God brought Abraham’s family closer and closer to himself, revealing more and more of his nature. He became their God, and they became his people. He made with them a covenant, a promise of promises, to be their faithful God.

Beginning with David’s era, God was the mighty king, dispensing justice and wisdom. In this era, he defeated monstrous animals, enemies, and empires. Even when human kings were flawed, unfaithful, and wicked, God was the faithful, righteous ruler.

Through the exilic era, God judged and punished his people’s wickedness but also protected and preserved the righteous remnant and was the redeemer who brought his people home. Exiled for their sins, this remnant took God’s presence and blessing with them, even into the bellies of the beastly empires that swallowed them. God brought judgment on those beasts in due time and brought his people out from captivity again.

A new era is announced to Mary and Joseph. Jesus is proclaimed as one who will save his people from their sins. Sin wrecked every era of existence. Sin broke the promises of the covenant. Sin turned the wisdom and power of kings to wickedness. Sin still haunted the hints of former glory in the restored Temple and the wicked rule of the string of Herods who called themselves kings of the Jews.

In this time, in this place, among these people, God revealed himself in Jesus as the savior, the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.

Jesus inaugurated the next era on the night of the Passover meal. Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and declared afterward ​​“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13.34)

What era speaks to you? The promise-keeper? The King of Kings? The Redeemer? The Savior? The Servant? Jesus is the fulfillment of every era and every need. Today, his body, the church, is called to live out the era of love and service. Let us love one another so that the world can recognize who we are.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You trust in God, trust also in me. — John 14.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings

Song of Songs 4 (Listen 2:46)
Matthew 1 (Listen 3:29)

Read more about Pause To Read
Coming tomorrow, a new podcast from Erin for Good Friday. Subscribe using one of the links on our site and share some episodes with friends.


Read more about Dirty Feet
If you knew that you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do?…Jesus washed each of the disciples’ feet…even Judas’s.

The Blood That Speaks

Scripture Focus: Psalm 72:14
He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.

Reflection: The Blood That Speaks
By Erin Newton

For the life of a creature is in the blood. (Lev 17:11). Precious is the blood; precious is their life.
The blood of Abel cried out from the ground just beyond the gates of Eden—when brother murdered brother and jealousy marred Cain’s soul.

The blood of the lamb whispered to the angel as it passed by, “This one is mine. Turn aside”—when the messenger of death delivered the final sign.

The blood sprinkled on the altar proclaimed peace and restoration over the crowds—as they waited in the courtyards for the priest to enter the Holy of Holies.

The blood spilled from war and murder, violence and abuse, screams out for retribution—as the king on high listens to his people.

This psalm is a plea for the king to be endowed with wisdom and righteousness. It is a cry to God for the king to be peace and blessing and truth to his people. This is the final prayer of the great king David. It is a prayer of such grand proportions. Only God himself could fulfill it. Only God himself could embody it.

This is the prayer for our Messiah. He is like rain on fresh green grass. He is like the warmth of sunshine after a long winter. He is the light that brings all humankind unto him. He is the king that other kings long to revere.

He holds the pure scales of justice. He helps those who are helpless. He hears those who cry out. He knows every life is precious even as the blood of those who love him calls out in silent pleas.

It is a cry that only God can hear. It is a plea for help straight to the ears of our Lord. It is the groaning that a hopeless soul utters with the smallest breath.

And he hears every drop. Our suffering is seen, our prayers are heard, and our hope is anchored.

Even though the preciousness of his life is more than all the natural wonders and tangible wealth of our world, Christ poured out his own life—his own blood—for us.

What did the blood of Jesus speak from the ground as it poured from his hands, his head, and his side? You are loved. You are precious. You are worth it. You are forgiven.

Precious is each drop of blood that leads us to eternity.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let them know that this is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it. — Psalm 109.26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 3 (Listen 1:148)
Psalm 72 (Listen 2:21)

Read more about Life In The Blood
Blood is the life of victims of every kind of violence whether in distant wars or neighborhood streets, whether in mass shootings or lone suicides.

Read more about There is a Fountain Filled with Blood — Lenten Hymns
The season of Lent reminds us that when we are at our lowest of lows, Jesus extends his hand to rescue us.

Lament and Transformation

Scripture Focus: Psalm 70
1 Hasten, O God, to save me; 
come quickly, Lord, to help me. 
2 May those who want to take my life 
be put to shame and confusion; 
may all who desire my ruin 
be turned back in disgrace. 
3 May those who say to me, “Aha! Aha!” 
turn back because of their shame. 
4 But may all who seek you 
rejoice and be glad in you; 
may those who long for your saving help always say, 
“The Lord is great!” 
5 But as for me, I am poor and needy; 
come quickly to me, O God. 
You are my help and my deliverer; 
Lord, do not delay.

Reflection: Lament and Transformation
By John Tillman

Psalm 40 begins with thanksgiving, but Psalm 70 (identical to verses 13-17 of Psalm 40) dives directly into desperation. It is pure lament, with no bright resolution at the end, only grim determination.

Federico Villanueva finds Psalm 70’s focus on pure lament a liberating message. He reflects, “It affirms the fact that there are times when the life of faith consists purely of desolation. We do not have to see ourselves always lacking in faith when we cannot find the answer to our situation right away. The psalm can be our companion as we wait for God.”

In the 16th century, St. John of the Cross described the “Dark Night of the Soul.” The term has become a cliche for any difficult experience. However, St. John saw it as not a minor misfortune but a major crisis. For spiritual growth to occur, he believed all Christians must experience it.

Our souls will go through dark times. We may weep at the beginning, the middle, and all the way through. It may help us navigate our souls’ dark nights to remember that Jesus went before us.

We memorialize Jesus’ dark night of the soul yearly during “Passion Week.” In this usage, “passion” does not mean strong emotions. The original Greek word meant suffering. His suffering began with the Triumphal Entry.

Jesus wept before entering the city. (Luke 19.41-44) He knew they welcomed him with impure desires. They wanted Rome’s power broken, but Jesus came to break the power of a far more dangerous empire—Satan’s empire of sin and death. Christ’s dark descent continued from the streets to the Temple, the garden, the cross, and the tomb.

Jesus is our companion in darkness and weeping, even when it is so dark, we lose our sense of his presence. Christ’s suffering, his dark night of the soul, had a glorious ending. The same can be true for us.  “We share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (Romans 8.17b)

Don’t feel pressured to produce praise, happiness, or thankfulness during your dark nights. Feel the freedom of pure lament. Holding on to happiness is not the point of the dark. Transformation is.

May dark nights of lament lead to glorious transformation in our lives. Don’t waste the dark. Lament, weep, and transform. Following Christ’s example, our dark nights of the soul can go from crisis to chrysalis.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Early in the morning I cry out to you, for in your word is my trust. — Psalm 119.147

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 2 (Listen 2:15)
Psalm 70-71 (Listen 3:29)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
Jesus is more than death can hold. It tried. Death can hold worlds, countries, massive unnumbered masses. But Christ could not be contained or held back. 

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Please consider becoming a donor. Everything we do depends on funding from donors just like you.

The Mire and the Monster

Scripture Focus: Psalm 69.1-2, 14-15
1 Save me, O God, 
for the waters have come up to my neck. 
2 I sink in the miry depths, 
where there is no foothold. 
I have come into the deep waters; 
the floods engulf me. 

14 Rescue me from the mire, 
do not let me sink; 
deliver me from those who hate me, 
from the deep waters. 
15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me 
or the depths swallow me up 
or the pit close its mouth over me. 

Reflection: The Mire and the Monster
By John Tillman

Jesus taught that David was a prophet and spoke through “the Holy Spirit.” (Mark 12.36) As the “Son of David,” Jesus took up and lived out many of David’s psalms of salvation and lament. Psalm 69 is one of the psalms that the Holy Spirit brought to the gospel writers’ minds when they recorded the life of Christ. 

Jesus did not quote this psalm from the cross, as he did with Psalm 22, however, gospel writers quoted both verse 9 (John 2.17) and 21 (Matthew 27.34; Mark 15.23; Luke 23.36; John 19.28-30) as pictures of Jesus.

The imagery of death by drowning may not sound, at first, like language describing the cross. Jesus, however, thought of his coming death in these precise terms. Jesus described his death as similar to Jonah’s. (Matthew 12.38-41; Luke 11.29-32) Sinking in deep water, with seaweed wrapped around his head, swallowed by a monster of the deep and taken down to the depths with no hope of return. (Jonah 2.1-9)

The psalmist describes his fate in this way. First, he is stuck in mirey mud. He cannot pull his feet out. The mire rises. He is sinking in his muddy trap as the watery mud rises up his body, trapping his limbs and restricting his movement. The weight of the mud restricts his breathing as it rises to his neck and above his chin. He is thirsty yet about to drown. He pleads with God not to allow the depths of the pit to swallow him.

David’s prayers in Psalm 69 were answered. He was pulled out. For the Son of David, God had a different answer.

The death Psalm 69 describes is a fitting image for us to reflect on Christ’s final journey to Jerusalem. On Palm Sunday, he stepped purposefully into the muck and mire and allowed himself to sink. On Good Friday, Jesus hung on the cross as the muddy mire of sin itself rose up his neck, over his chin, covered his mouth, nose, and eyes, and he was swallowed up. The monster’s mouth closed over him as the stone rolled over the tomb’s entrance.

God’s answer when we are stuck may be to pull us out, like David. But eventually, we will follow the path of the Son of David. We will be pulled under the muck into death, but that is not the end. That monster’s mouth has been broken, and Jesus himself will take our hand and pull us out.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
O Lord, my God, my Savior, by day and night I cry to you. Let my prayer enter into your presence. Psalm 88.1-2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 1 (Listen 2:16)
Psalm 69 (Listen 4:04)

Read more about Our Hope Amidst Violence — Worldwide Prayer
The times were tense, violent, unpredictable. From that time and place, comes this prayer.


Read more about Pause To Read
A new podcast episode is coming from Erin on Good Friday. Subscribe using one of the links on our site and catch up on our current episodes.