Save Yourself (And Us)

Scripture Focus: Luke 23.35-39
35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”
36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”
38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 

Reflection: Save Yourself (And Us)
By John Tillman

“Save yourself!”
“Save yourself, Jesus!”
“Save yourself and us!”

“Save yourself,” echoed around Jesus with every step toward Jerusalem and the cross. Satan said it. Peter said it. Pilate said it. The religious leaders said it. The crowd said it. The soldiers said it. Even one of the criminals crucified with him said it.

The gospel writers make clear that the cross was not a tragedy or error in judgment. Jesus claimed the religious leaders couldn’t take his life, but that he would lay it down. He claimed angels would defend him if needed, and commanded Peter to abandon the sword. He claimed Pilate had no power over him, yet made no defense. He forgave the shouting crowd, the mocking religious leaders, and the violent soldiers, saying they didn’t comprehend their actions.

Jesus went to Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets, on purpose. He challenged the powerful. He knew the outcome. Jesus chose the cross. The question we can’t escape is…why?

We live in a “save yourself” culture. We are expected to put ourselves first and save ourselves from everything. We must “bootstrap” our way to success. This is one reason Jesus is foolish (1 Corinthians 1.18) to our culture. He could have saved himself. Instead, he chose to save us.

There is a reason Paul preached, “Christ, and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 1.22-23; 2.1-3) At the cross, something happened that changed everything. 

“Something … happened on the cross itself, something of earth-shattering meaning and implication, something as a result of which the world was now a different place. A revolution had been launched.” — NT Wright (The Day the Revolution Began)

The second criminal chastised his co-conspirator, saying, “Don’t you fear God?” He understood that Jesus was not being executed by an empire but was inaugurating a kingdom. “Remember me,” the criminal said. He was probably a rebel against Rome but joined a better rebellion through Jesus. 

Like the criminal, we are already condemned. This world is already taking our life. But no matter where you are today or what sins you are condemned for, the cross means you can be saved.

Jesus makes the offer to all. His offer is effectual and real. Like the criminals immobilized on the cross, we can’t do anything to earn what Christ offers. We simply accept or reject his revolutionary kingdom. You can’t save yourself but Jesus saves all those who respond.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
Today if you shall hear His voice, harden not your heart.

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

Today’s Reading
Leviticus 1(Listen 2:37)
Luke 23(Listen 6:39)

Read More about The Ram and the Cornerstone
Jesus entered Jerusalem like Isaac’s ram on the mountaintop. He rammed his head into the thorns to ensure there would be no escape.

Read More about Demands of Faith
The rebel’s “salvation prayer” is special because it shows us how deep the grace of Jesus reaches.

Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts

Scripture Focus: Luke 21.34-36
34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.” 

From John: How’s Lent going for you? With only 13 days left until Easter, we are looking back on this Lenten reflection from 2019. What is being exposed in your heart?

Reflection: Fasting Uncovers Our Hearts
By John Tillman

During Lent we often focus on the fasting component of the season.

Our fasting in Lent is often compared to Christ’s fasting in the wilderness prior to his testing by the Devil. One of the chief temptations involved in public fasts such as Lent is to defend them publically or engage in them privately by citing worldly benefits.

We can focus too much on how we might lose weight by constraining our consumption of certain foods or gain time by constraining our consumption of digital content or entertainment. But our physical gains and losses are of little spiritual consequence. If all we get from fasting is a measurable, earthly ROI, we will be unlikely to reap a spiritual benefit.

Richard Foster, in his devotional classic, Celebration of Discipline makes it clear that we must engage in fasting with our eyes focused only on heavenly, not worldly benefits:

“God questioned the people in Zechariah’s day, “when ye fasted…did ye at all fast unto me, even to me?” 

If our fasting is not unto God, we have failed. Physical benefits, success in prayer, the enduing with power, spiritual insights —these must never replace God as the center of our fasting. John Wesley declares, “First, let it [fasting] be done unto the Lord with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father which is in heaven…” That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessing more than the Blesser.

Once the primary purpose of fasting is firmly fixed in our hearts, we are at liberty to understand that there are also secondary purposes in fasting. 

More than any other discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface. If pride controls us, it will be revealed almost immediately. David writes, ‘I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69.10).

Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, that will surface during fasting. At first, we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we will realize that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us. We can rejoice in this knowledge because we know that healing is available through the power of Christ.”

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed. — Psalm 51.8

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

Today’s Reading
Exodus 39(Listen 5:24)
Luke 21(Listen 4:18)

Write With Us
We want to help students called to ministry improve their writing and gain experience in the unique area of devotional writing while getting coaching, and a small scholarship.

Read more about Fasting is for All
Fasting may be the most important spiritual discipline for the church to focus on in the next decade.

God Forbid

Scripture Focus: Luke 20.1-4, 14-19
1…the chief priests and the teachers of the law, together with the elders, came up to him. 2 “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things,” they said. “Who gave you this authority?” 
3 He replied, “I will also ask you a question. Tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven, or of human origin?” 

14 “But when the tenants saw him, they talked the matter over. ‘This is the heir,’ they said. ‘Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 
“What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and kill those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” 
When the people heard this, they said, “God forbid!” 
17 Jesus looked directly at them and asked, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: 
“ ‘The stone the builders rejected 
has become the cornerstone’? 
18 Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.” 
19 The teachers of the law and the chief priests looked for a way to arrest him immediately, because they knew he had spoken this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people.

Reflection: God Forbid
By John Tillman

The religious leaders were the theological gatekeepers for Israel. It was their job to confront false teaching and promote godly teaching. Jesus acknowledged their positional and intellectual authority. He described them as “sitting in the seat of Moses,” acknowledging the authority they held by their positions of power. Jesus also acknowledged the authority of their scholarship and expertise, by telling people to “do everything they tell you.” (Matthew 23.3)

It may seem like Jesus dodged their challenge to his authority, but he didn’t. Jesus asked them to demonstrate their authority by weighing in on whether John’s baptism was from God. In their deliberation, there was zero consideration of the theological question. They were only concerned about the political optics. (Luke 20.5-7) Jesus exposed the fact that they were interested not in spiritual truth but in political power.

Because they refused his question, Jesus said that he wouldn’t answer theirs. But then he did. In the parable of the tenants, Jesus told everyone exactly where his authority came from and what would happen to those who reject him. 

Some of Jesus’ parables were opaque or confounding. Not this one. Everyone recognized who the tenants were. When Jesus described what would happen to them, the people, not just the leaders said, “God forbid!” (Luke 20.16) They meant it as, “may these consequences not happen to us.” But it is a prayer we can take up today to help us avoid the condemnation of the vineyard tenants.

James tells the church that teachers will be judged more harshly. (James 3.1-2) This applies to pastors and leaders, of course. But all of us are sent out to teach with the authority of the Great Commission. (Matthew 28.18-20) Whether or not we consider ourselves “gatekeepers” or “teachers” we all bear the responsibility of spreading the gospel.

God forbid that we would fall into errors of pride, errors of selfishness, errors of sinfulness, or errors of cowardice.
God forbid that we would mistake our positions of authority for incorruptibility.
God forbid that we would mistake our scholarship and study for infallibility.
God forbid that we would make decisions based on politics rather than truth.
God forbid that we would stumble upon the rock of truth we should proudly stand on.

Let us build our lives on the rock of Jesus and let his authority crush anything in our lives that opposes him. God forbid that we reject Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory; because of your love and because of your faithfulness. — Psalm 115.1

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

Today’s Reading
Exodus 38(Listen 4:23)
Luke 20(Listen 5:07)

Read more about Mirrors and Sanctification|
It is appropriate that mirrors were transformed and used for ceremonial cleansing. Confession is self-reflective.

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Jesus on the Border

Scripture Focus: Luke 17.11-19
11 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy h met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Reflection: Jesus on the Border
By John Tillman

The lepers healed “as they went” is a miracle I’ve often tried to picture… What must that have been like? Devout Jews knew that one showed oneself to the priest when healed of dangerous diseases. This protected the community and enabled immediate praise to God for healing. But Jesus sent them before he healed them!

Imagine that. Jesus says, “go,” but nothing happens. He just points toward the Temple. So you go, trudging toward the city, knowing that before you get there someone will chase you away, cursing you for coming too close. Then, as you walk, you feel stronger. With each step, deadened skin tingles and comes back to life. You remove the rough coverings from your most unsightly sores and see healing skin. You suddenly realize that missing fingers have returned…

Showing yourself to the priest before would have been nearly impossible, painfully humiliating, and pointless. Now it will be a joy! Then imagine deciding instead to turn back to the man who, at first, seemed to have done nothing. It must have been a shock to realize that the God who heals wasn’t waiting in the Temple for your sacrifice but on the road behind you…

Jesus made no distinction in healing between the Samaritan and the others. But there was a distinction in their reactions. While dying of leprosy, the men were as one. They spoke with one voice and acted as one. But once they were healed, there was a division. Something happened. 

Surely the Samaritan did not simply run back without discussing it with his friends. Did they reject him? Perhaps the Samaritan felt he wouldn’t be accepted at the Temple?

There is healing for us in Jesus for many different ills and infirmities. (Isaiah 53.4-6) Institutions, like the Temple or the Church, play a role in our healing. But institutions can’t heal us and, in some cases, they might harm us because they are subject to the divisions of this world. Jesus is not. 

We often find Jesus “on the border” (Luke 17.11) between those who reject and harm one another. Whether Jew or Samaritan, Red or Blue, or any other worldy division, Jesus stands calling everyone to acknowledge him.

He expects us to realize that healing doesn’t come from institutions but from him. Be careful not to give glory to an institution that belongs to God.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. — Psalm 66.14

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

Today’s Reading
Exodus 35 (Listen 4:31)
Luke 17 (Listen 4:22)

Today’s Reading
Exodus 36 (Listen 4:47) Luke 18 (Listen 5:27)
Exodus 37 (Listen 3:14) Luke 19 (Listen 5:29)

Write With With Us
We want to help students called to ministry improve their writing and gain experience in the unique area of devotional writing while getting coaching, and a small scholarship.

Read more about The First Spirit-Filled Work
The first Spirit-filled workers in the Bible spoke not with words but images. They taught understanding through symbolism and space.

Prayer for Older Brothers — Guided Prayer

Scripture Focus: Luke 15.31-32
31 “ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’” 

From John: Today we revisit this post from 2019 and the prayer for the older prodigal brother based on yesterday’s reading. Every time I read this parable, I’m stunned by the kindness the father shows to both his sons. May he show that kindness to us.

Reflection: Prayer for Older Brothers — Guided Prayer
By John Tillman

Christ’s parable of the prodigal son could be considered the parable of the prodigal sons.

One son refused to stay in the home due to sinful rebellion.
One son refused to enter the home due to sinful unforgiveness.
One son squandered his father’s wealth.
One son coveted his father’s wealth.
One son was humiliated by his own scandalous behavior.
One son was humiliated by his father’s scandalous grace.

Beginning our faith journey, we struggle to understand how God could love us and adopt us into his family despite our sinfulness. But after living comfortably as a member of God’s family, we soon struggle to understand how God could adopt anyone else.

There are limits to what is restored to the son who returns. His inheritance is spent and will not be restored. He will be financially dependent on his older brother. But in every other aspect, he is restored. He is restored to full fellowship, full honor, and full trust. These things are indicated by the sandals, robe, and ring. His identity is restored. His authority is restored. He is not a second-class family member.

Pray this prayer for older brothers. God the Father will come out to you, and beg you to rejoice at the scandalous sinners he has adopted as his children.

Prayer for Older Brothers
God, your mercy is a mystery to me.
I see the sins of others and I am scandalized.
How could such a one be accepted?
How could such a one be loved?
How could such a one be forgiven?
How could such a one be trusted?

You come out and embrace me, Father.
You invite me to celebrate
The sinful repentant,
The wanderer returned,
The prideful humbled,
The scandalous purified.

Over your shoulder, I see the celebration.
And I remember…
The day you celebrated me, repentant.
The day you celebrated me, returned.
The day you lifted me up when I was humbled.
The day you purified me from my scandalous sin.

The party is not for my prodigal sibling but for me.
The celebration is not for his sins but for your mercy.
Put your arm around my shoulder, Father.
Lead me in, to celebrate mercy shared.
Lead me in, to rejoice for sinners changed.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Let integrity and uprightness preserve me, for my hope has been in you. — Psalm 25.20

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

Today’s Reading
Exodus 34 (Listen 5:48)
Luke 16 (Listen 4:27)

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