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)


The Inward Battle

Ephesians 6.11

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. ― J.C. Ryle

One of the Fruit of the Spirit is peace — a gift which we receive from God. Yet here, in Ephesians, the focus of scripture turns to war. Timothy Keller, in a sermon on spiritual warfare, quotes the 19th century Anglican bishop of Liverpool J.C. Ryle on the way spiritual war and peace exist in the life of healthy followers of Christ:

Let me talk to you about true Christianity. There’s a vast quantity of religion current in the world that is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing…
There are thousands of men and women who go to chapels and churches every Sunday and call themselves Christians… But you never see any ‘fight’ about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all.

Let us consider these propositions.… The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict or fight. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or even twice a week, but the great spiritual warfare … its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests … of all this they appear to know nothing at all.

Do you find in your heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Are you conscious of two principles within you, contending for the mastery? Do you feel anything of war in your inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. 
All true saints are soldiers. A real Christian can be known as much by his inward warfare as by his inward peace.

May the peace of Christ be in you as you fight the good fight necessary to cultivate the fruit of heaven on earth.

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 9 (Listen – 4:16)
Ephesians 6 (Listen – 3:17)

Buying Back Time

Ephesians 5.15-16 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 

We don’t think of most days as evil. Some days, perhaps, are best referred to as “inconvenient,” most are just “full.” Everything from devotional time to exercise demands a few minutes of a day. Add in work, friends, family, and life’s unexpected events, and the days are overflowing.

Even our digital artifacts reveal this. Every minute, of every day, the world’s 3.2 billion Internet users:
  • Click “like” on 4.1 million Facebook posts and 1.7 million Instagram posts.
  • Post 347,222 Tweets.
  • Upload 300 hours of YouTube video.
  • Download 51,000 apps from Apple.
  • Stream 77,160 hours of Netflix video.
  • Swipe 590,278 pictures on Tinder.
  • Take 694 Uber rides.

In light of this, calling most days evil seems disproportionate. Pastor and author Darin Patrick notes the meaning of the phrase “making the best use of”, “comes from the Greek word that means ‘redeem.’ Paul is literally saying, ‘buy back time.’” In this way our calling is less toward productivity and more toward our ability to give our time to restoring brokenness in the world.

In contrast, the authors of Scripture reveal all humanity’s ways to restore the world apart from God as “evil.”
It’s easy to identify the grand ways we try to buy back time through our own power: on one hand we try to control our external image — holding on to youth while our bodies age. On the other we try to manage our internal world — with our minds even, and tragically, trapping themselves in the guilt and pain of the past.

The billions of clicks, uploads, and views we dedicate ourselves to online are also ways of buying back time that are within our power. Life’s moments of beauty can be preserved, at least in part, through pictures and videos. Stressful days can be relinquished in the plot line of a mini-series online. Even the encouragement we miss during the workweek can be cultivated through the right post online.

Self-redemption, in light of the beauty and sufficiency of God’s redemption through Christ, is revealed for what it really is, “evil.” God wants your redemption and thriving so deeply he gave himself wholly to it. Ephesians continues; “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Today’s Reading
1 Kings 8 (Listen – 10:23)
Ephesians 5 (Listen – 3:42)

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