Lent readings 2022
These are the daily readings for Lent 2022
2 March to 16 April
These readings are taken from "The Crucified is My Love" by Johann Ernst Holst
available as a free download from www.plough.com
Lenten Readings 2022
Turning Point Church
Holy Week - 10 April to 16 April
Day 40 - Palm Sunday 10 April
The Criminal’s Repentance and His Faith
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” (Luke 23:39–42)
The two thieves appear to be representatives of two opposing directions. One of them founders on the cross; the other is raised up by it. The story of the repentant thief does not teach that every scoundrel can finally slip into the kingdom of heaven through a back door, but it does contain the comfort that even at death conversion is still possible. Nevertheless, this conversion is so unique as to be an exception, and it warns us not to postpone turning to God. Some people deceive themselves terribly by imagining that they will be able to atone for a lifetime’s guilt by taking communion on their deathbed.
In the dying hours of this thief everything is great and significant. The nearness of the crucified Saviour and the effect of the Holy Spirit on the criminal’s soul in its death-struggle is so powerful that a sudden and complete conversion breaks through and this man becomes for all time an example of true repentance and victorious faith.
The fear of God is the beginning and basis not only of wisdom (Ps. 111:10) but also of repentance. The thief’s rebuke to his slandering fellow criminal, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same condemnation?” shows not only moral feeling and manly courage but above all the power of the fear of God that seized him during the crucifixion. The core of repentance is his unsparing judgment of himself: “We indeed are justly condemned, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds.” He excuses nothing. He is completely filled with the consciousness of his guilt, and in the agonies of execution he admits before God and men that the penalty is deserved and just. Then follows his wonderful testimony to the innocence of the Great One who is crucified with him: “But this man has done nothing wrong.” The disciples are silent, but to comfort the suffering Lord, stones begin to cry out and to testify to him.
Finally, true repentance must include faith in God’s compassion. See how such faith filled the criminal’s night with the light of heaven! After relieving his shattered heart by frank and courageous confession, he says pleadingly, “Lord, remember me when you come in your kingdom.” A wonderful saying! In the man who is bleeding to death beside him he recognises a mighty King who has a kingdom, who will not perish in death, but will return some day in victorious majesty. How did the poor criminal receive such sublime insight? He was probably a Jew and familiar with Israel’s messianic hope. He would have heard a lot about Christ’s deeds and his teaching. That very day, perhaps, carrying his cross behind Jesus, he had heard the Lord’s last call to repentance, and he had read the inscription, “King of the Jews,” on his cross. On hearing the Lord pray for his enemies, his heart, which yearned for forgiveness, melted within him. He realised Christ’s majesty, and in his suffering, faith arose within him: “This man and no other is the Messiah-King who can and will help you.”
So his words “Remember me!” contain the request, “When you come again in glory, will you graciously think of the one who is now so close to you in death?”
The conversion, faith, and proclamation to the world contained in these words of the crucified criminal put the apostles and Christians of all times to shame. They served to refresh the Lord in his dying pain. May they serve us as an example on our pathway through life.
Today You Will Be with Me in Paradise
And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
In Gethsemane an angel strengthened the Lord, but at Golgotha where no angel was permitted to serve him, the dying criminal was his comfort. The redeemer of the world recognised in him the first of millions who would be saved through his sacrificial death. In him he experienced the first achievement of his great work. Thus the criminal’s conversion was to Jesus a refreshing, heavenly drink that filled his breast with redeeming joy. On hearing the heartfelt plea to be remembered, he turns his head to the imploring thief and says the majestic words, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise!” Those are indeed the words of a king. A kingly heart still beat in his breast. A royal crown was on his head. The pierced hands held his royal sceptre and at a glance from his eyes the gates of paradise were opened.
Paradise had been lost to the inhabitants of earth since the first sin, but man could never forget that his cradle had been there: a painful longing always pulled his spirit back to that garden of joy and bliss. What a relief it is that here at Golgotha, where the head of the old serpent is crushed, paradise reappears and the tree of life blossoms anew! With his great promise, the holy sufferer looks beyond the pain of his approaching death into the paradise of his God. Comfort fills his soul: even today he will be in the longed-for place of peace. How wonderful it will be after the struggle and pain of death!
Having come from the bosom of the Father, he knows Paradise well, for it was taken from the earth and now adorns the kingdom of heaven. From us, however, it is still hidden as a holy mystery. Yet this much we know from the words of Revelation: paradise is not lost to us. It is still there for us too in heavenly beauty. It is the place of sweet peace where pilgrims find their home and fighters their crown. It is the place where all tears are dried. There the children of God see their Father’s face and are united with Christ and one another in the fellowship of holy love.
This Paradise is what the Lord now promises the repentant criminal, giving him far more than he asks and understands. When he made his petition he looked into the distant future – and the Lord instead opens up for him the comforting “today.” Today, within a few hours, the tortured criminal was to be set completely free from all his wretchedness. He had requested only, “Remember me,” wanting to be assured that the king would graciously bear him in mind and help him. Instead of that, in the promise “with me,” he is given full community of life with him, the highest honour and most blissful happiness. When he made his request, he had been thinking of an unknown, future kingdom, but Christ immediately opened God’s heavenly garden for him. All his sins were to be forgiven him and all punishment canceled. He was never to be separated from the Messiah with whom he was so closely associated in death, but would enter with him the kingdom of blessedness and stay there with him forever. And all that was to take place today! How graciously is this criminal pardoned! Now he can endure all the agonies of his death, for soon, soon they will be over.
Soon everything will be good and glorious.
The Lord wants to lead and pardon us too if only we allow ourselves to be roused to repentance and faith by the quiet power of his death. Then he receives us, here and now, into the fellowship of his grace. Already here, he makes us citizens of his kingdom of peace. He shows us that all the suffering on earth is but a short “today” and in the hour of death bears our redeemed souls to his heavenly paradise.
Day 41 - Monday 11 April
Christ’s Farewell to His Own
But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” (John 19:25–27)
The first utterance from the cross was Christ’s prayer for his enemies, the second his merciful reply to the criminal, and the third his words of farewell to his own. In addition to the throngs of enemies and spectators that had gathered at the Place of a Skull, there was a small group of Jesus’ closest friends standing close to the cross of the one they loved. It was composed of four persons, three of whom were women. Other faithful women watched from a distance.
Here once more in the story of the Lord’s suffering, the dedicated love and deep faithfulness of women shows up in a clear and wonderful light. Heedless of the danger, they had accompanied him all the way to Golgotha. They were the last to remain at the cross and the first at the open tomb. Of the three Marys standing beside the dying Master, his mother deserves special attention. Now that she has to see her son, her Messiah, rejected and bleeding to death on the accursed tree, the hour that was prophesied by Simeon has come: a sword pierces her soul (Luke 2:35). She does not faint, as many a painter has depicted, but strengthened by the unbroken sovereignty of her Son, she endures it consciously and in quiet submission, in keeping with her character, and tries to meet his eyes with her own tearful ones.
One at least of the eleven disciples stands beside the mother. It is John, who saw the Master’s glory on Mount Tabor and his inner struggle in Gethsemane and lay close to his breast at the Passover meal. He was the closest of all the disciples to the Lord and the most like him. He had quietly followed the Lord after his capture, had waited humbly in the high priest’s courtyard, and then accompanied the Master to Pilate. There he experienced all that took place. He was the closest to the cross at Golgotha. He probably stood – not sobbing with his face covered, but erect, raptly looking at the Crucified One, feeling everything with him, taking it deeply into his soul until all was accomplished.
The Lord with his third utterance from the cross takes leave of these very beloved souls by giving his mother to his friend and his friend to his mother. He had always been poor, but he was poorest of all on the cross. His loved ones were the last treasure of his heart. But from them too he now has to part. He has to experience death. For our sakes he suffers what it means to tear himself away from his nearest and dearest. Completely poor, quite alone, and utterly forsaken, he has to go down into the dark valley of the shadow of death in order to become the Saviour of all who are dying. He pays with this deep pain for all the wrong we have done to our parents, brothers, sisters, and friends. When this guilt weighs on our conscience – when our hearts break because we can no longer make up to those who have passed – then forgiveness and comfort can be found in him alone. Only in the one who died of his own free will for our sakes, tearing himself away from the loving arms of his mother and friends, can we find peace.
His Testament of Love
When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:26–27)
Suffering and dying on the cross for the immense task of world redemption, the Lord nevertheless represses his own pain and puts himself in the place of his sorrowing mother and friend. Their eyes meet. Their hearts merge, and with a nod of his head the Lord says to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” and to his disciple, “Behold, your mother!”
What love, what wisdom there is in this testament! He gives his mother a son, a son like no other. He was not only to care for her but to become her true friend. In years of life together they would go deeper and deeper into the mystery of the person and the work of Christ. For the disciple, no greater sign of trust could be given than to be appointed son to this mother. From that hour he took her to his home and cared for her until she was taken home. What blessing came to this bond of love through their shared memories and insights, and what blessing through the unseen but deeply sensed presence of the great third one.
This testament was not limited to Mary and John. On the contrary, its application spread to include all times and all nations. The Lord’s last will kindled a fire of love in his church which has continued in many hearts until today. All true Christians have recognised from his last will that through his death they are entrusted to one another. How many widows and orphans are received and how many abandoned children are cared for and nursed in various institutions and in private homes where the words are borne in mind, “What you did to the least of these my brethren, you did to me” (Matt. 25:40). This charitable activity, permeating and blessing each century, can be regarded as a continuous fulfilment of his testament from the cross.
But alas, obedience to the will of Christ is still lacking in many Christian homes. Unity, peace, and love are not there. Disagreements, touchiness, and misunderstanding separate husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, and estrange them from one another. We don’t see each other’s needs but only the mistakes and shortcomings. No one is ready to bear the other’s burden. We grow cool or even hostile toward each other, thus stifling the joy and blessing of family life.
When will that change? When will things get better? Not until we grasp that the Lord’s testament applies in the first instance to our closest relations. It will not change until we find each other below his cross and there become reconciled. It will not change until we see that Christ himself commits our relatives to our care and love, saying, “See, that is your father or mother, husband or wife, son or daughter!” The closer we are to the Crucified One, the closer we are to one another. When we become reconciled, bearing and serving one another in him, Christian family life will be a paradise.
Day 42 -Tuesday 12 April
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. (Matthew 27:45)
The Lord’s seven utterances from the cross shine like seven heavenly stars in the night of his agony. This lasted for six hours: from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon. How long these six hours of torture were! Only in eternity will their content be made known. The first three things that he said were spoken with short intervals between them, soon after the crucifixion. Then the Lord sank once more into deep silence, giving himself up to the experience of his pain of body and of soul.
In his own soul he had to go through the death agony of the whole of humankind. As he hung on the cross, the heat of the sun became more and more burning and the day more sultry. The frightened question may have arisen in some onlookers, “Will God, the Holy and Almighty, really show no sign today?” And indeed, a sign appeared in heaven and on the earth. The midday hour became night. The sun’s light failed (Luke 23:45). Deep darkness sank down and shrouded the hill of Golgotha, the city of Jerusalem, and the whole land in its shadow. Alarmed, the spectators became silent. In some the voice of conscience stirred. Some were gripped by the fear of God and left the dreadful place, beating their breasts.
Here the usually hidden, mysterious relationship between the realm of nature and the realm of the spirit is obvious. When Christ was born, a bright and wondrous light shone in the middle of the night. When he died, nature covered its face with a veil of night at midday. Creation mourns the death of its Lord: the sun covers its splendour that it may not see man’s dreadful, bloody deed. The Lord had once testified, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). What the sun is for the earth, Christ is for humankind. What a horrible grave the earth would be if there were no sun, and what a valley of dry bones the human race without Christ!
The darkness on Good Friday is a similitude of sin and error, death and condemnation. It is above all a picture of what was taking place in the soul of the dying Redeemer. Now he was made to be sin for us; now he was sunk for us in the night of death and condemnation. The sun of his life lost its light. The Father’s face was hidden from the Son, and alone, without help or comfort, he had to go through the dark valley of being forsaken by God his Father.
But the sun remains the sun in spite of all eclipses, and Christ remains the Son of God in spite of the night of the cross. In truth, he is perfected through death and judgment as redeemer of the world. So we must not lose courage if we have to go through a dark valley. All darkness is hard. The night of suffering and loneliness is hard, and still harder is the night of sin and guilt. But Christ lives. He is our Savior, our light. Clouds may sometimes hide his face from us, but they are only clouds which must soon disappear. So when our earthly lights go out, we cry trustingly, “The sun may pass away, but Jesus shines brightly in my heart.”
His Cry of Lamentation
And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(Mark 15:34)
Toward the end of the three hours of darkness the Lord broke his silence. Like an echo of the twenty-second Psalm, there rang from his tortured breast a cry of lamentation to the darkened heavens, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” How alien, coming from his lips, are the words, “My God, my God!” He had always called the great God simply “Father.” Now his soul was filled with such darkness that he could no longer use that endearing name, yet he did not renounce God as a person. Even though the blissful feeling of loving community with the Father was taken from him, he still held firmly to his God with the bare arms of his faith. Thus in his death agony he overcame the blackest temptation of Satan that tried to separate him from his God.
When such temptations try to pull us down into the abyss, when it seems to us that there is no God and no help, then we must do as the Crucified One did. Even without feeling faith we must wrestle like Jacob, crying to the Almighty, “Nevertheless, I am continually with you. . . . My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:23, 26).
“Why?” the Crucified One asks in his death cry, sending the great question of humankind up to heaven – humankind, encompassed by the night of sin, error, and death and yet always struggling for truth. We will always have to question, as long as we are on this earth. But why did he have to ask it? He had come from the Father and in eternity had been one with him in his plan for redemption. Had it become so dark within him that he no longer knew all that? We can only answer with hearts full of gratitude, “You suffered it for us.” That is the solution of the mystery. Holy Lamb of God, you send our “Why?” up to the heart of God. You have taken the guilt upon yourself which had to separate us from the Father’s sight. That is why you had to sink into this darkness.
“Why have you forsaken me?” the cry continues from the trembling lips. “You – me?” What is contained in this “you”? The whole fatherly heart of God: his love and faithfulness with his divine testimony, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). We must realise that this “me” is the only begotten Son who never even in thought turned away from the Father and who remained obedient to him unto the end. It is he who has to cry, as he sinks into the utmost anguish of death, seeking help in vain, “Why have you forsaken me?”
To be forsaken by God – who can grasp what that means? It is a bitter thing to be deserted in need by all one’s friends. It is still more bitter to be cast off by parents or children. But even the most forsaken person can find comfort and refuge in the arms of the heavenly Father. To be forsaken by God, however, is the pain of hell. We deserve nothing less for all our sins. That is why he, who stood security for us with his blood, had to feel in our stead, in the darkest hour of his death agony, the whole curse of being forsaken by his Father, God. And through this he opened the way to the Father to us unworthy sinners and assured us fellowship with him.
He is now the God of the widows and orphans and the secure fortress of all who are afraid, lonely, and persecuted. Even the most abandoned criminal can now find grace and be accepted by him for Christ’s sake. All those who have been redeemed can build upon the firm assurance that God will not forsake them even in the deepest distress. They can sing with David, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil; for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4). With Paul they can triumph over all enemies, for “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:31).
Day 43 -Wednesday 13 April
After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)
In the sunny Orient springs of water are considered one of the greatest benefits and so serve as a picture of the most wonderful blessing. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters,” sings the psalmist (Ps. 23). John describes the happiness of the blessed like this, “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat, for the Lamb will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:16–17).
But these joys of paradise have been dearly bought. The Lord won them for us by thirsting and dying on the cross. His Godforsaken cry expresses the deepest depth of his suffering of soul; the cry, “I thirst!” shows the utmost limit of his physical endurance. Up to this moment he has suffered all his pain in silence. Now, however, his last strength has been exhausted by the terrible struggle in his soul. His wounds burn in the sultry midday heat, and the prophecy is fulfilled, “My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death” (Ps. 22:14–15). Now he cries out in his death agony.
He humbles himself so far with this dying sigh that he not only lets the rough soldiers and his mocking enemies glimpse the depth of his misery, but he even asks them for a drop to relieve his thirst. When we sinners are dying, our loved ones do all they can to relieve every pain, to offer comfort and help, and to moisten our dry lips. But he had nothing of all that. He, for whose sake all water sources spring, who gives all rivers their courses, and whom the angels would rejoice to serve, in his death has to sigh, “I thirst!”
Why did he have to suffer like this? He was paying the penalty for all our thirst and craving for this world’s possessions and enjoyments. The rich man in the place of torment, suffering in the heat, pled in vain for a drop of water to cool his tongue. He was also thirsty. It was eternal thirst for the paradise that was lost to him. We with our worldly desires deserve this misery, but the dying Saviour endured it in our stead in his thirst on the cross.
Today, while there is still time, a person can feel appalled at his own worldliness and insatiable desire. If he really mourns the emptiness it has brought to his burned-out heart, he will find the one and only refreshing drink for his languishing soul in our Saviour’s, “I thirst!” Then in heartfelt gratitude he says, “You did it for me.” You did it for me, that I would not have to suffer eternal thirst. You did it for me, that you would be able to lead me to pasture on the meadows of paradise and to the waters of life.
The Drink of Vinegar
And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” (Matthew 27:48–49)
If we had been privileged to give our Saviour a refreshing drink, how we would have rejoiced. At Golgotha, however, all he was given was a sponge dipped in vinegar pressed to his parched lips by a soldier. Possibly this gift was well intentioned. Perhaps it was really meant to relieve the dying man’s torment. But it was a drink of vinegar, accompanied by jeering and mockery.
The Lord is still offered a drink of vinegar, spiritually speaking, by countless people today. He suffered for them too, wanting in his compassion to save them. These are the nominal Christians who reward the Lord.for his agonising thirst with indifference and ingratitude – even with unbelief and jeering words. Alas, they do not know what they are doing! How happy they could be if they would only begin to be grateful to their faithful Saviour and give him a refreshing drink!
Let us be glad that such a longing can be satisfied, that it is really possible for us to give our Redeemer refreshing joy. We can do this by bringing help, comfort, and support to others who are pining under the cross they carry. For when we give a drink of cold water to quench another’s thirst, the Lord counts it as though we had given it to him (Matt. 25:40).
But first we must give ourselves completely to our Saviour as a real offering of thanksgiving. For in the Lord’s physical thirst we may see a similitude of his love yearning for us. He had come to seek the lost, and as he hung on the cross he longed for the completion of his work of grace. He drank the cup of suffering to the dregs with a holy thirst, for at the bottom of the cup shone the heavenly pearl he longed for: the blessedness of the redeemed. It was a powerful thirst, for with his death he wanted nothing less than to bring about the kingdom of glory. He looks down to you and me too, and thirsts to make us his living, eternal possession.
Here the mystery of our own being is revealed to us: he longs for us because we have been created in his image, and without him we cannot live. An infant depends on his mother for everything, so she cannot forget him. In the same way, the Lord cannot leave us, for without him we would be lost. We languish spiritually as long as we do not have him. Only when his love has overwhelmed us do we understand ourselves and know that our deepest longing is for him through whom we are born again as children of God. When our thirst meets his thirst and we become his own in faith and love, then he becomes the source of life to us. Then these words of his are fulfilled in us, “Whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
Day 44 -Thursday 14 April
It Is Finished
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” (John 19:30 )
“It is finished!” This loud cry of the dying Saviour of the world is the greatest utterance that ever rang out on earth. For now the true High Priest’s atoning suffering is finished.
His life had been filled with the light of holy joy, coming as it did from the peace of his pure conscience and his fellowship of love with the Father. As the Lamb of God, however, he carried throughout his pilgrimage on earth all the misery of the lost world.
His actual atoning suffering began in his sorrow unto death in Gethsemane. His capture followed, then his condemnation, and after the night of horror the cruel flogging. This was followed by carrying his cross and the six terrible hours of his death struggle. “Where is there sorrow like my sorrow?” (Lam. 1:12) asked the tortured soul of the Crucified One. Finally, when he sank into the night of being forsaken by God, the cup of suffering was drunk to the dregs. He had been obedient unto death, and had made the atoning sacrifice. Now he could cry, “It is finished,” and look into the peace of paradise.
The tremendous fight of the Mighty One of the tribe of Judah had been fought to the finish. It was the fierce battle against all the evil in the world, into which he entered immediately on taking on his task. It was the fight against the weakness of his disciples, against the stubbornness of the people, the hypocrisy and wickedness of his enemies, and indeed against the Prince of Darkness and his whole kingdom. For the Lord came into the world to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). So the devil called up all his cunning, might, and fury to throw the holy Son of Man into eternal night, and our whole human race with him.
It was a terrific struggle against sin, hell, death, and devil in which the Prince of our Salvation had to prove himself. When he cried, “It is finished,” the fight was fought. With his triumphant cry, the matchless hero was announcing to his Father in heaven, to the listening angels, and to all generations of humankind that the serpent’s head was crushed and the eternal victory won.
The Son of God’s work of redemption, which embraced heaven and earth, was accomplished. Lost sinners are now saved, their bonds and fetters broken and the glorious liberty of the children of God restored to them. For guilt is blotted out, sins are forgiven, and the righteousness of God is won. Death has been robbed of its power. No longer is it a cruel tyrant but a messenger of peace leading the redeemed to the heavenly homeland. Now we can say, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Thus from the death pangs of Christ a new humanity is born. It gathers in the peaceful kingdom of grace here below, and one day will be perfected on the transfigured earth under the new heaven in the blessed kingdom of eternity.
The Torn Curtain
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. (Matthew 27:51)
While the only begotten Son was suffering and dying on the cross, the Father spoke to his blinded people and to all humanity with wordless but shattering signs. The first was the uncanny darkness which lasted from midday until three o’clock. When the darkness was beginning to lift, a second sign appeared: the curtain of the temple was rent. It was a firmly woven, brightly coloured curtain, which separated the most holy place from the sanctuary (Exodus 26:31). The most holy place with its golden mercy seat was meant to testify that Jehovah ruled in the midst of his people (Exod. 25:22). But the curtain hiding God’s glory from all eyes was to proclaim to the people that perfect atonement and community with God did not yet exist. There was as yet no way open for sinners to have access to him. That is why the prophet declares, “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you” (Isa. 59:2). Only on the Day of Atonement was the high priest permitted to enter the most holy place after making an offering for his own purification. Then he sprinkled the mercy seat with the blood of a lamb, while the people knelt in the forecourt.
On the day Jesus died, at three o’clock, the hour of solemn prayer, many people would have gathered in the temple vestibules and in the forecourt. The darkness which had settled over both city and country must have depressed and frightened them. The sanctuary of the temple, however, was brightened by the flames of the seven-branched candlestick. The priests were attending to their duties, and worshipping Israelites had gathered about them.
At the moment when at Golgotha the crucified Saviour gave his cry of victory, “It is finished,” the great curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. To the amazement and horror of all present, the most holy place which had always been concealed lay open to the gaze of all.
This miracle was to make known what was now taking place in the invisible world. By his death the true High Priest, who was at the same time the Lamb of God, had offered the fully valid atoning sacrifice. He had removed the barrier that separated sinners from God’s holiness. He himself entered the most holy place of heaven in the glory of his wounds, coming before his Father with the blood of the covenant. Thus the guilt of the whole world was atoned for, the work of redemption for all sinners was accomplished, and the portal of grace was opened to all, giving free access to God.
Now heaven is open for us as well. The heart of eternal compassion has been opened to us. God is our Father; we are his children. Who will separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:35)? Our prayers rise up to him, and his answers come down to us. Each celebration of the Lord’s Supper deepens our fellowship with him. We walk on earth but our home is in heaven. When the time comes for us to die, the last curtain that still hides God’s face from us will fall. We will leave all pain behind and, purified by the blood of the Lamb, will enter the Father’s holy city to celebrate the Lord’s Supper in heaven.
Day 45 - Good Friday 15 April
Father, into Your Hands I Commit My Spirit
Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46)
Good Friday, the day the world’s Redeemer died, has come again. Let the people of God be still! Be still, my soul! Into this stillness, may the farewell cry of the dying Lord resound.
With the words, “It is finished,” the decisive battle was won. The full victory of light was achieved, the tremendous work of world redemption was done. The Lamb of God had endured his suffering. It was now quiet at the cross on Golgotha. Now the Lord could depart in peace.
His last words were once more a prayer: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He could call on his Father once more. Ever since his boyhood he had wanted nothing else than his Father’s will. His well-being, his peace of soul, lay in his fellowship of love with the Father. He was completely united with him. Even in Gethsemane he had called him “Abba,” and his first utterance from the cross was a prayer to the Father. Now that he had at last gone through the valley of God-forsakenness and the darkness had given way, he could also address his last words to the Father. God’s face shone upon him again. God’s heart was once more open to him and there was no longer a cloud between Father and Son.
“Into your hands I commit my spirit.” As the Lord’s lament was taken from Psalm 22, his dying word of peace is an echo of Psalm 31. From this we learn what filled the soul of the Crucified One during his death agonies. It was the prophetic strains of the word of God which were now finding fulfilment through his suffering and serving him as a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (Ps. 119:105).
He committed his spirit into the hands of his Father. To the psalmist, these hands depicted the care of God guiding, protecting, and blessing. These almighty hands of love guide not only the stars in their courses and the nations in their historical development, but also the individual children of God on all their paths. Happy are those who trust the guidance of these hands with their whole heart! None knew these hands better than the only begotten Son. He longed with the whole strength of his filial love to be back in the opened arms of the Father. “Father, glorify me with the glory that I had with you before the world existed,” he had prayed after the farewell meal (John 17:5). Now he no longer needed to pray as a weak human being. He had accomplished all that was necessary to lay full claim to the glory of the Father. So he said, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.”
This giving over of his spirit, however, also contains the serious fact of death: the separation of soul and body. The Lord had to personally go through the experience of death if he was to conquer death for us. His spirit also had to wander outside his body until Easter morning. That is why he now committed it into his Father’s hands. He had no need to ask to be forgiven. He was God’s own Son. Nothing could separate him from his Father. His longing was now satisfied. Now his tired, tortured spirit returned to the paradise of his God, to the place of blessed peace where the air of heaven would revive him, the angels serve him, and where he would rest in his Father’s bosom.
Through his death he has opened the way to heaven for all his redeemed. He has made the valley of the shadow of death bright and has changed the bitterness of death to a peaceful homecoming.
The Death of Jesus
And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:30)
With these short and simple words the Gospel records the greatest fact in world history: the death of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Man. After he spoke his last words, his actual death took place, the separation of soul and body. His prayer had ascended to heaven; his pallid head bowed down to the earth. The Son of Man had had no cradle in Bethlehem, and he had no bed at Golgotha. Even in death he had no place to lay his head (Matt. 8:20).
The Lord was surely dead, as the stab with the spear showed. He died as we all have to die, but he died of his own free will in perfect obedience to his Father’s merciful, eternal plan and in burning love for the lost world. Yet this fact did not free him from the pain of death. He felt the agonising pain of the soul’s tearing away from the body. Indeed, his death was infinitely harder and more painful than that of any other pilgrim on earth. For he had to take upon his conscience the guilt of the whole world, the sins of all sinners. He had to take the punishment of all the condemned into his pure, sensitive heart. At the same time, as regards his own person he was able to come before God’s countenance with the peace of a completely clear conscience. He knew the joy and glory into which his spirit was now to enter. If we had such a clear insight into what awaits us in heaven, all fear and dread of death would leave our hearts. With what longing we would then approach the goal of our pilgrimage!
But in addition to this, Christ had his incomparable love to humanity. The purpose of his death was their redemption and happiness. He foresaw with prophetic vision the outcome of his sacrificial death. He saw that it would embrace and renew the whole world. This vision must have lifted him, as on eagle’s wings, out of the misery and torture of crucifixion and filled his dying pain with heavenly joy. Thus the tremendous moment when he bowed his head and gave up his spirit will be praised throughout all eternities. It gave birth to a new humankind, it founded the kingdom of God on earth, and it prepared the way for eternal heavenly glory.
Now it is possible for Stephen, while being stoned to death by his enemies, to see heaven open. Paul can say with yearning, “I would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor.5:8). All the martyrs can daringly testify, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). Comforted and in deep peace, we too can now commit our loved ones who have gone home to the heavenly Father’s loving arms, and when the hour strikes for us, we can confess with joy, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
Day 46 - Saturday 16 April
The Consequences of Jesus’ Death
And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe, and said, “Truly this was the son of God.” (Matthew 27:51–54)
And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. (Luke 23:48)
So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (John 19:32–34)
The events that took place in nature and in human life at the time of Jesus’ death correspond to its great significance. As the dying Saviour bows his head in death, the earth quakes and the rocks split: nature rings the death knell for her Lord. In this we can recognise a prototype of the terrors of the judgment in which the old earth will one day sink in ruins. At the same time we can see a heralding of the new earth upon which the yearning of the whole creation is to be gloriously stilled. But human hearts that are not shattered by the death of Christ are harder than the rocks of Jerusalem.
Many tombs were opened by the earthquake. Many believers of former times arose and appeared to living people in the royal city who were of the same mind with them. The death of Christ brought about a decisive change in the visible and the invisible world. God-fearing men of the old covenant who had once waited for him in faith and hope are now to be with him and enter the heavenly paradise. The prison of the grave is opened and the glorious liberty of the children of God proclaimed. The Lord’s words, “All who are in the tombs will hear the voice of the Son of God,” begin to find fulfilment (John 5:28). A prophetic breath of the great spring of resurrection passes through the Holy Land, proclaiming that Christ’s death is our life. Today’s Christendom must consider that it is high time to awake from sin’s sleep of death.
The Gospel does not say what Caiaphas and his band felt about the darkness, the rending of the curtain, and the earthquake. However, from the demand they made soon afterwards that the holy tomb be sealed, we can see that they did not enjoy their hoped-for Sabbath rest. A secret horror, an embarrassing fear of the great Crucified One, filled their souls, and the worm that does not die (Mark 9:48) began to gnaw at their hearts.
But the common people who were still standing at Golgotha beat their breasts and went home. If that meant a real repentance filled with fear, then their feeling of agitation may be looked upon as a forerunner of the Day of Pentecost with its great harvest.
One beautiful consequence of Christ’s death, however, was the confession of the pagan centurion below the cross. He had not taken his eyes off Jesus. He had been moved by his seven utterances and was shaken to the depth of his being when the earth quaked.
Finally, invoking God, he acknowledged the great Crucified One. He testified before heaven and earth that this man who had been crucified as an evildoer was not only just and innocent (as Pilate had already stated) but the Son of God. Blessed centurion, to have come to Jesus, believing and praising God, as the first fruits of the pagan peoples.
It is a miracle that in the midst of his enemies and executioners the dying Saviour could gather and build up his church! The water and the blood that flowed when the lance pierced his holy body indicate the same thing. They are a mysterious allusion to the two sacraments by means of which the Lord extends his church, gives her new life, and makes her holy. Children are born to him out of the water of baptism as dew is born of the dawn. He feeds the weary and heavy-laden in the Holy Supper with his precious blood and consecrates them to be conquerors of death. Thus the wonders that took place at Jesus’ death harmonise in the eternal song of praise, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive wisdom and might and honour and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).313
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. (Mark 15:42–45)
Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there. (John 19:39–42)
The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. (Luke 23:55–56)
The work of reconciliation was accomplished. The Son had given his spirit into his Father’s hands. But his pale body still hung on the cross in the light of the evening sky. Golgotha was now quiet and deserted. Only the women from Galilee and probably also John stood mourning at the cross. Love still burned in their hearts, but all their hope had died with the Master. They were waiting for Nicodemus and Joseph, two members of the council who wanted to see to the burial. These two had not consented to the enemy’s plan, but had hitherto only followed Jesus in secret. In the glowing fire of the Master’s suffering and death, however, the dross had been smelted from their faith, and the refined gold had come to light. The secret admirers had suddenly become courageous believers.
Joseph had begged Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now he came bringing fine linen. Nicodemus came too with a supply of myrrh and aloes. When he looked up at the dead face, he might have remembered the mysterious words of the Lord: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 2:14).
With gentle care the precious body was taken from the cross, washed clean, and swathed in linen filled with spices. Then the mourners bore him quietly to the new rock-hewn grave in Joseph’s nearby garden. Here he was laid on a couch of myrrh and aloes, and the opening of the tomb was closed with a great stone. Jesus, who in life had not a place to lay his head, was buried like a rich man as had been foretold. And he who had died for the guilt of others was laid in the grave of another man.
While his disciples were sunk in hopelessness, his enemies remembered with dread that he had repeatedly said that he would rise again on the third day. In their fear, they saw to it that the holy tomb was sealed and a watch set. Meanwhile the faithful women sat in Joseph’s garden until the sun went down, watching with tear-filled eyes the tomb where their treasure lay.
Aware that our life too is hid with Christ in God, let us join these women in spirit. Let us contemplate our Saviour’s grave. All the sin and guilt of our lives is buried forever. The earth has been hallowed by the Sabbath rest of the Lord in Joseph’s garden, the earth in which his own are henceforth laid to rest. Our graves have become holy sleeping places where God’s children rest in peace after labor and striving, suffering and tears. We take Jesus right into our hearts, and when we go to sleep we await a joyful awakening in the bright morning of eternity.
Thus in the light of Christ’s grave our graves have become transfigured to places of the most wonderful hope. The grave could not hold the Prince of Life. On the third day Christ broke through the rock and seal and rose as victor over sin, death, and the devil. Our hope too is in the resurrection.