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
Week 3 - 14 March to 20 March
Day 13 - Monday 14 March
For the Forgiveness of Sins
“This is my body, which is given for you.” (Luke 22:19)
“This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28)
Forgiveness of sins – that is what we need. Sin is the greatest evil, so our most urgent need is for forgiveness. We cannot forgive our own sins. We cannot quiet our conscience by means of diversion, work, or sleep. It awakes again and again, embittering all our joy and making us afraid of death. We need forgiveness every day – when we get up and when we go to bed. We need it when the sins of our children remind us of our own, or when we stand by our parents’ graves. We need forgiveness in youth and in age, and we need it in the hour of judgment. Our faithful Saviour knows better than we that without forgiveness we would sink into eternal night. That is why he came to seek and to save the lost. That is why he submitted to bear our punishment – the cruel flogging and the excruciating crucifixion. And as he died he even prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).
In order to gain our forgiveness, he let his body be broken in death and his blood be spilled on the accursed tree. Now he can bend down to us and say, “Given for you, poured out for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” This “for you” is a blessed word. It is the key to the kingdom of heaven, and with it we may dare draw near to the just God. Through this word our life is made holy and our death is overcome.
But this word “for you” requires believing hearts. It must be made our own in prayer and striving. We must first become quite poor and small and empty of all delusion as to our own worth. We must have nothing left to us but to cry for God’s mercy. Then the Lord reveals himself to us in his passion. He lets us see him in the agony of his death, in the lamentation of his cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46) – and he bends down to us with the promise “for you!” Every Christian should lay hold of this word with all his strength, and have it mean “for me.”
How precious it is, when we have dragged ourselves along and have lost heart under the weight of our sins, to receive the certainty in the Holy Supper: You are forgiven. Everything, everything has been forgiven forever! Then we can weep for our sins, but these will be blessed tears. For where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and joy.
Forgiveness of sins, life, and joy are the three gifts of heaven, which nowhere on earth are offered to us in such full measure as at the Lord’s table. Those for whom such a table has been spread can go through this vale of tears and yet sing with the psalmist, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1). They walk their pilgrimage as poor and yet rich, as sorrowful yet always rejoicing, as having nothing and yet possessing everything (2 Cor. 6:10) – until one day they shall experience to the full: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9).
Do This in Remembrance of Me
And when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (Cor. 11:24)
The Lord’s Supper is not only a meal of community and of reconciliation but also a meal of remembrance, for the Lord himself said when he appointed it, “Do this in remembrance of me.” With the word “Do this” he gives his church the command and the authority to celebrate again and again throughout all time the meal which he appointed. In doing this he looks into the distant future. He sees great throngs of sinners in need of redemption drawing near, millions of Christians out of every nation eating and drinking and, at his table, receiving forgiveness, life, and joy.
In adding, “in remembrance of me,” he shows that he intends the Holy Supper to be a celebration that reminds us of the redemption of the world from sin, death, and the devil, accomplished by his death. The word “remember” comes from the Latin root meaning “call to mind, be mindful”; so it is a sin to come thoughtlessly to this celebration and keep it as a purely outward ceremony.
We should turn our whole mind and spirit to the Lord, to his reconciling death, and to what he has brought about through it. But to remember also means to contemplate, to see before us in spirit – that is, we should share inwardly what the disciples experienced at that time, and what the Lord did, said, and suffered. We should place ourselves at that first Lord’s Supper and in spirit experience how the Lord gave his disciples his testament, how he broke down in Gethsemane, how he was torn by lashes in the judgment hall, and crowned with thorns. Then we should see him on the cross, his blood flowing for us from deeply struck wounds and his body broken for us. We should see him languishing there until all was accomplished and he could commend his spirit into his Father’s hands.
“Remembering,” in its deepest sense, can mean to feel his presence. The Lord is present in person at the Holy Supper, wanting to meet and bless us. In adoration we experience that the holy person of the Crucified and Risen One is at work in the midst of his church when it unites to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
When we add to this the words of the apostle Paul: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26), we realize that the Lord has set up in the Lord’s Supper an imperishable monument to himself and to his death. It will remain when all monuments of stone and bronze have crumbled. This celebration should be, in fact, a proclamation that never grows silent, addressed to his disciples and his whole church. Yes, it should continue to be a mighty testimony to the victorious power of Christ’s death to the whole world, until he himself will come again in majesty to establish the kingdom of his glory. As for us, as we prepare to keep the Lord’s Supper in order to proclaim his death, we should deliver up our old nature to death and present our whole life as a sacrifice of love and gratitude to the Lord.
Day 14 - Tuesday 15 March
The New Commandment
“Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:33–35)
The Holy Supper is also a love meal. As the hour of farewell for the Lord and his disciples drew nearer, the Master got ready to go to death for his own, and his love welled up richly from its source in his heart. Although his was not a weak and sentimental love, he could not exhaust himself in expressions of the deepest tenderness. He washed his disciples’ feet. He described them as his friends. He even called the men, browned by wind and weather, “little children” in the overflowing love of a mother. He did everything he possibly could to comfort them about his death and to strengthen them for the tasks and struggles facing them. Thus he committed his last will to their care by saying, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
Now, what is new in this commandment? God is eternally love. He has always wanted his children, who were made in his image, to walk in love. He already impressed upon his people of the old covenant that they should love their neighbour (Lev. 19:18; Isa. 58:7). But this commandment did indeed become new when Jesus gave it. It is new because we are to love one another as he has loved us. The example is new, for perfect love is seen only in Christ. Only through him has the meaning of love become clear, namely, self-denial, dedication to loved ones, sacrificing of one’s life for them, and indissoluble community with them.
For Christ’s disciples the basis of the commandment is also new: the redemption common to them all through his sacrificial death and the community of life given them by his dwelling in them. The extent of love is also new. If until now love was limited to the members of the clan or tribe, it is now to include everyone, all who are suffering and in need and even the worst enemies. From now on, this love is to be the breath of life of his church and the sign by which his disciples are known. This truly took form in the church of the first Christians. They were of one heart and one soul, and with amazement Jews and Gentiles had to cry out, “See how they love one another!”
But can that holy characteristic of the disciples of Christ be seen today? Look into your hearts and families, your churches and countries! Alas! Where is there love? Egotism, covetousness, and self-conceit rule people’s minds; envy and dissension ruin the churches. Why are we so discontented and weighed down by care, so far from God, from blessedness and joy? Because we are without love. Oh, how happy we would be if we could really love – love as Christ loved us! But how can we attain this? The Lord himself gives the answer: “Abide in my love”(John 15:9). Only when we immerse ourselves more and more deeply in his love, only when we let ourselves be loved more and more by him – yes, loved out of our selfishness and death – will our hearts become new, warm, and joyful in community of love with all the dearly bought souls whom the Lord leads to us.
Peter Is Warned
The Lord said, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.”(Luke 22:31–33)
And to all the disciples Jesus said, “You will all fall away because of me this night; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Peter answered him. “Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” (Matthew 26:31–34)
It was one of the Lord’s most painful experiences that on his way to death he also had to endure the unfaithfulness of his disciples. With deep sadness he told them that the evil hour of temptation was near them, in which Satan would want to sift them like wheat. He told them that they would all fall away because of him that very night, and that a still deeper fall awaited Peter through a three-fold denial. But at the same time he comforted them with the promise that they would meet again soon in Galilee, that Peter would turn around, and most of all with the assurance that his praying for them would protect their faith. The disciples indeed contradicted the reproachful prophecy, but the sifting had to take place in order to purge and purify them.
The yawning abyss opened its depths to swallow them all. What would have become of them if the hand of the faithful Shepherd had not been held over them, protecting them? What would have become of Peter if the enemy of souls had succeeded in filling him with black despair after his denial, as he did Judas? But the mighty intercession of his Master, who was about to die for him, guarded a last spark of faith deep in Peter’s heart even in the darkest hour and saw to it that it did not go out. Under the protection of the Lord, the sifting was not allowed to destroy the disciples. On the contrary, it served as wholesome humiliation and inner renewal. In the storm of temptation the chaff of self-confidence was blown away, but the pure wheat of the rebirth brought about by grace remained in the humbled hearts, bringing blessing.
For us, too, hours of sifting must come. We cannot and may not be spared them. Only in the fire of temptation the dross of natural youth and self-conceit is burned away. Only in the furnace of distress and humiliation the gold of faith is refined. But these are painful and anxious experiences. How would we have fared if in times of weakness and doubt, of despondency or passion, the murderer of souls had been permitted to bring all his power against us? Into what an abyss would we sink if in the hour of death and of judgment an almighty, faithful hand would not cover and hold us? But the promise of the compassionate High Priest also holds good for each one of us. His prayer has carried us too. It has prevented our falling away from him until now, and it will continue to shield and help us in the hour of our greatest fear. This prayer will bring it about that finally the last chaff is winnowed from our lives and we, as pure wheat, are gathered into the garner of eternal love.
Day 15 - Wednesday 16 March
I Am Going to the Father
“A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” (John 16:16)
After the appointment of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus spoke such words as never came from human lips. They were full of the sadness of farewell, of majesty, and of peace. After he had promised to send them the Holy Spirit and with comforting words prepared them for what they would suffer, he said about his own death, “A little while, and you will see me no longer!” In this way he told them that his death was very near and the night of the grave would soon hide him from their sight. But when he added, “Again a little while, and you will see me,” he was seeing beyond death and the grave. He was promising that he would rise again soon and comforting both himself and his own with the approach of Easter, when they would have him again.
Yet in these words there lie further prophetic aspects, for through his ascension his visible presence was to be withdrawn again from the eyes of his disciples, both then and in the future. Yet, once again in a little while, that is to say when their life was completed, they would be united again with him in his Father’s kingdom. The whole world epoch from the time of his ascension until his return is compressed here in the vision of the Son of God into “a little while.” When he appears in his glory, the blessed meal of the eternities will begin, and no power can any longer disturb his perfect community with his disciples.
Linked to this revelation of his goal are the words: “I go to the Father”(John 16:10). From the shining heights of heaven he came from the Father down to this poor earth. Now he wanted to return to the Father. The whole of his life as Saviour was simply “going to the Father.” Already as a boy he had sought and found his Father in the temple. His prayers and thanksgiving had constantly led him to the heart of the Father. His deeds, struggles, and suffering were accomplished in the Father’s name and for his honour, and all his striving was set toward the return to his Father’s house. So even the way to death had now to be transfigured into a way to the Father.
Christ’s way should also become our way. What wondrous light will brighten our otherwise dark pilgrimage when our life becomes a way to the Father. We should draw near to him daily with trust and love, with gratitude and prayer. Even when we have gone astray and made bad mistakes, we should not seek refuge and help from the world but return through the entry prepared by Christ. Like the prodigal son we should return repentant into the arms of the Father that are also open for us. Then our actions, thoughts, and desires will gain a firm direction. When we accompany our parents or children to the grave, it will comfort us that they have gone home to the Father’s house, and after a little while we will see them again. When the last hour comes for ourselves, we will overcome the fear and horror of death with the confident faith that “I am going to the Father.”
The High Priestly Prayer
When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” (John 17:1–5)
After the Lord had ended the farewell celebration with the song of praise, he and his disciples arose from the meal, and standing in their midst he prayed that unique prayer which we call the High Priestly Prayer. The words are clear and simple, but the content opens to us immeasurable depths of divine truth and eternal life, before which our limited mind and spirit stand still in reverence.
The first part of this prayer contains our High Priest’s plea for his own glorification. He lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son.” He had reached the end of his course on earth. He had completed his great, saving work and had accomplished all that his Father had sent him to do. With a peace and joy such as no one else feels in the face of death, he could testify to the Father, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.”
Just a few (though very terrible) hours of the agony of death still lay before him. But he was determined to hold out and in anticipation spoke of them here as already accomplished: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” With this he opens to his own a glimpse into the mysteries of heaven, things into which angels long to look (1 Pet. 1:12), which God has revealed to those who love him. We are led here into the eternal fellowship of love of the Father and the Son, into the Father’s heart and into his gracious decree for the redemption of the world. We are led into the Son’s heart and into his inexpressible longing for his heavenly glorification. Indeed, the High Priest reveals to us the depths of this longing when he says, “That the Son may glorify you.” His soul thirsted for the Father to be glorified in the crown of his creation, man. But it was necessary first for the Son himself to be glorified and lifted up to the Father’s right hand and for the Holy Spirit to be poured out, in order to bring salvation to lost sinners and eternal life to the children of death. And ever since the first Pentecost he has carried on his gracious work on this otherwise poor earth through the Holy Spirit.
For eternal life is not merely a matter of the future beyond death, but is already given here on earth into the hearts of those who come to the Father through the Son and become God’s children. That is made known to us by the Lord’s wonderful, deep words: “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Even as the eternal divinity of the Son shines overpoweringly in this part of Christ’s prayer, we are comforted to perceive also an outstanding characteristic of his human nature: longing. By nature we are all children of longing. Nothing is planted so deeply in our breast as longing. Much in us can die: hope can fade, love grow cold, perception become dull. But longing remains. It fills the breast of youth, it goes hand in hand with the melancholy of age. Yet it often leads us astray and deludes us with false goals.
But here the Lord Jesus lets us see the true goal of all human longing. For us too it is the transfiguration of our whole being and nature. This takes place when God is glorified in us and through us. He is glorified in us when we acknowledge him as our Father, and he becomes our heart’s highest good. He is glorified through us when our whole way of life honours him. Already in the Sermon on the Mount Christ exhorts us, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). Transfiguration like this begins here on earth but is completed only in the kingdom of glory above.
Day 16 - Thursday 17 March
Christ’s Prayer for His Apostles
“I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” (John 17:6–19)
After looking up to heaven, the eyes of the High Priest were turned to his disciples gathered around him. Just as deeply as he longed for his own transfiguration, he felt the pain of the thought that they were now to be left without him. So he prayed for them, committing them to the Father’s care. Like all that he said and did that evening, this prayer was permeated with the most tender love. He could not overemphasise that they were his own, and without a thought of their weaknesses and mistakes, he gave them the good testimony in the presence of the Father that they had kept his word and truly believed in him. But with deep concern he said, “I am coming to you. I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world.”
He knew exactly what “being in the world” means. He had experienced it through the opposition of darkness, persecuted by his enemies and Satan’s fury. Now his poor, weak disciples were to be exposed to the same storms. While he was with them, he had led and taught them, carried them and blessed them. He had given them his truth, his peace, his spirit. As a hen gathers her brood under her wings he had guarded them, and with one exception, had protected and kept them as his precious possession. Now he had to go away from them. He had to leave them alone – yes, even send them out into this wild, hostile world to continue his work. So with all fervour he commended them in prayer to the loving care of the almighty Father. He could not ask God to take them out of this world. They could not evade their great apostolic task by fleeing from the world, taking shelter in peaceful solitude; on the contrary, they were to work and suffer in the midst of the world in order to glorify their Master, to battle with the world in order to overcome it. Thus their Saviour does not ask his Father to take them out of the world, but to protect them in the world. No evil, no power of darkness, no enemy of souls is permitted to corrupt them or destroy their activity. But for their own blessedness and for the carrying out of their mission, the Lord makes two great petitions: “Keep them in your name,” and, “Sanctify them in your truth.”
Although we may not have apostolic callings, nevertheless we too have something to learn from this. In the first place, that we have been placed in this world of sin, temptation, and need not in order to flee from it but to overcome it. And in our calling, however insignificant, we must work as though placed there by the Lord. We can only carry this out in a way that is pleasing to God if we are kept in faith and sanctified in the truth.
Christ’s Prayer for His Whole Church
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20–26)
If we follow the High Priest’s intercession prayerfully, we will be amazed at the wealth of his compassion. For he prays not only for his disciples, but also for all who in future will believe in him through their word. That means that we too are included in this intercession. For the whole of Christianity is founded on the gospel proclaimed by the apostles. The Saviour’s love embraces his whole church throughout all the centuries, and he entrusts all his own, from the first to the last, to the Father. He prays that they may “be one” amongst themselves. In doing so, he expresses the longing that they all walk in community of faith, in peaceful harmony of conviction, and that brotherly love unite them in one great holy organism.
It is not brilliant speeches, high scholarship, or famous deeds that he looks for in his disciples, but he looks again and again for love. Only love has value in his sight. Though they speak with the tongues of men and of angels, have all faith, and give all their goods to the poor, if they have no love, they are nothing (1 Cor. 13:1–3). In the first church at Pentecost his prayer was fulfilled, but where is such love to be found now? Where is it among believers? Where is that unanimity of heart, that unselfish mind that joyfully gives away even earthly property for one’s brothers and sisters? Who bears with true patience the faults of even his closest neighbour? Yes, love has grown cold in many. It has become faint and rare in the church. What is the cause of this desperate loss? It is the secularisation of the churches, the apathy of the masses, the self-conceit of the religious denominations, the quarrelsomeness of the theologians. Repentance and humility are lacking, as are sincere conversion to God and deep love to Jesus. Love to one another is born out of the fellowship of love with the Father and the Son.
Now the High Priest continues his prayer for those who really become of one heart with Christ and one another. “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory.” How majestic is this “I desire!” Only the Son whose will is one with the Father’s will can speak like this. Where he is, he wants his own to be with him too. How comforting that is! Even on earth they are to be with him, in the worship of the church, as in solitary prayer, in the intimate family circle, and in the celebration of the Holy Supper. On paths of joy as well as on their walk through the dark valley, they say to him in faith, “You are with me.” Finally we will also be with him in his Father’s kingdom where we may fall into his arms and thank him eternally. Truly, with radiant eyes we will see him and his glory. We ourselves will be raised to this glory. Be still, my soul, and worship!
Day 17 - Friday 18 March
When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place; for Jesus often met there with his disciples. (John 18:1–2)
And he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray. Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” (Luke 22:40)
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here and watch with me.”(Matthew 26:37–38)
After the farewell meal the Lord left the room where the supper had been held and set off with his disciples by the light of the full moon. They went through the deep Kidron Valley to the foot of the Mount of Olives. Here was Gethsemane, whose name means “oil press.” It was a shady olive orchard, probably surrounded by a stone wall, perhaps with a simple country house in the background.
He left eight of his disciples at the entrance and took the three witnesses of his transfiguration deeper into the garden with him. There they would also witness his abasement. Until now the Lord had spoken to his disciples with tranquility of soul and comforting kindness, mainly of his work of redemption. His High Priestly Prayer had welled up from his soul like a psalm from the heights of heaven. Those around him might have had the impression that the gates of Paradise were already opening to receive redeemed humanity into fellowship with God. But on entering the garden where he was soon to be taken prisoner, where his suffering was to begin in spirit, his whole demeanour changed.
Until now he had stridden forwards, the hero without equal. The wind and sea, sickness and death had obeyed him. The devil and hell had to flee before him. But now his face was pale and his whole body trembled. He began to lament and to be afraid, and poured out his distress to his three closest apostles: “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.”
The dark hour had now come, in which he was to accomplish his saving work by giving himself up voluntarily to the agony of death. This surrender must have been extremely difficult for him, because his death was something quite different from our death. We are by nature children of death. Here, however, the Prince of Life was to die. The Holy One of God was to take upon himself the guilt of all people and the penalty of all sinners. The only begotten Son himself was to be made sin and a curse (Gal. 3:13) and delivered up to the Father’s judgment of wrath. Not only human enemies, but devils and hell were to triumph over him, laughing mockingly. He knows all that. He feels and experiences it in a measure of which no human can have an inkling, and at the same time heaven is closed to him and all consolation extinguished. That is why he would like to lay his head on the breast of his poor disciples. That is why he begs them, “Remain here and watch with me!”
Who can measure the depth of his humiliation and fathom the mystery of love that brought him so low? This much we can grasp, however: his sorrow is our salvation and solace in all the distress of death; and we should worship this love that is beyond all understanding.
The Prayer Battle in Gethsemane
And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour?” (Mark 14:35–37)
Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. (Matthew 26:42–44)
And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:43–44)
After the Lord had torn himself away from the last three disciples as well and gone deeper into the dark shadows of the garden, his fear and agony of soul mounted to its peak. He sank down into the dust, with his face touching the ground, so that from now on the lament of the psalmist, “I am a worm, and no man” (Ps. 22:6) sounds to us like the cry of the Lord. He sees no help anywhere: the disciples are asleep, heaven is closed, and the Father himself seems not to hear his Son. Alone, he wrestles with death and weeps with loud cries. He is bathed in the sweat of fear, and even sweats blood. But he does not leave off. He clings to the Father and holds to him firmly with his prayer, repeated three times. Only an angel is permitted to take pity on him and come down to strengthen him, who is Lord of all angels and eternal King.
Who can solve the mystery of this dreadful spiritual struggle? There is a key to it in the words spoken earlier by the Good Shepherd, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord!” (John 10:18). He was to suffer and die voluntarily. The world could be redeemed and the Father’s counsel carried out only if he made this terrible sacrifice of his own free will. We suffer, we die, because we have to. But he had to want – to want of himself – what stood in the crassest opposition to his whole nature.
He who is life had to will to die. The Lord over all the legions of angels had to succumb to the Prince of Darkness. The Son had to wish to be cast off by the judgment of the Father’s wrath. That was the tremendous task that had to be accomplished through this prayer battle. And he did accomplish it. First of all he cried out, shuddering, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.” Nevertheless, he submitted himself deeply to his Father’s will, saying, “Not as I will, but as you will.”
In the second prayer he takes a great step forward, “If it is not possible, your will be done.” And when he says the same words for the third time with complete surrender and holy tranquility, his Father’s will has become wholly his will. Now, at last, he has taken the burden upon his shoulders which at first threatened to crush him, under which he had staggered like one about to collapse. Now he stands upright once more and with a firm step goes toward his goal, ready to suffer all things and endure all things, in perfect obedience and perfect love until the sacrifice is completed.
But we fall down before our exalted Saviour, clasp his knees, and beg him to give us his strength and his spirit for two great tasks. Firstly, that we learn to want what God wills: to bear what God lays upon us, to sacrifice what he takes, to die when he calls us. Secondly, that we learn to pray as Christ prayed until we experience, as Christ experienced it, that we are heard – for he was heard beyond all asking when he ascended out of night and death to the glory of the Father.
Day 18 - Saturday 19 March
The Disciples Sleep
And he came and found them sleeping, and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” . . . And he came the third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? It is enough; the hour has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.” (Mark 14:37–42)
Nothing should have affected and shaken the disciples more than that their Master in his suffering of soul sought solace in their love and prayer. He said pleadingly to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me” (Matt. 26:38). But the disciples did not watch and pray; they sank deeper and deeper into physical exhaustion and spiritual laziness. It is hard to understand their behavior. They did love their Lord. They saw his anguish of soul; yet they slept while he lay in the dust and struggled with death. He came back to them again and again from his solitary place of prayer, woke them and – cut to the quick – said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep?” and to all, “Could you not watch one hour with me?” But they slept on and were only half awakened by the Master’s loud cry of grief, so that for the third time he found them overcome with sleep. This unnatural sleep was brought about by the kingdom of darkness and gave an indication of the reason for the denial that followed. But the Lord did not reject the poor disciples. On the contrary, he spoke to them full of sympathy and gentleness, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
At this time of Lent and throughout our whole lives, he urgently exhorts us saying, “Remain here and watch with me! Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation!” To be sure, we can watch when it is a matter of our pleasure or our work, and we can watch over our sick ones. But can we hold out even for an hour in unbroken devotion, watching and praying by him who struggled and bled for us and who still continues to seek us today? Most of us find that too difficult! We sleep just as the first disciples did. How lethargic we are in the fight with sin, how lukewarm in love to the Lord, how feeble and distracted in prayer! The enemy of souls seeks to destroy us, death comes nearer and nearer, and we remain sunk in spiritual laziness and bodily ease. This is a soul-murdering sleep, a precursor of eternal death.
But the compassionate Lord will not let us perish in this spiritual sleep. He wants to wake us and asks us again and again through his Word or through blows of fate, “Simon, are you asleep?” And when at long last we are horrified at ourselves and are ready to awake, he lets us see his torment that night, and like lightning the word “For you!” lights up our soul. That must drive the sleep out of our limbs, humble us in repentance and gratitude, and stimulate us to fight for purification. Then the fruits of his struggle with death will fall to us, too. The fear of death that has always accompanied us and embittered everything will disappear. The blessing of a life of prayer will pervade us, and victory over the power and cunning of Satan will crown us.
Whom Do You Seek?
And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. (Mark 14:43)
Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” (John 18:4–5)
Jesus had overcome in his struggle. Fear was left behind him; his prayer had been heard. He had prayed that God’s will might be done, and he had gained courage and strength to accomplish and to suffer this will. He stood up strengthened, and with the disciples, who at last were awake, went to meet the approaching hostile crowd.
The clang of weapons and the light of torches press their way into the garden. Roman soldiers and Jewish temple guards, led by Judas the traitor and some of the leaders of the people, fill the holy place. The man who was just sweating blood, lying on his face on the ground, stands there unarmed, with quiet majesty in the midst of the armed guards. But they do not dare to seize him. It is as though they are paralysed by his calm majesty. Then he asks them, “Whom do you seek?” He himself has to make them open their mouths, and though they come with hostile intent they give the right answer: “Jesus of Nazareth.”
As the Lord had once asked John and Andrew on their first encounter, “Whom do you seek? What are you seeking?” (John 1:38), so now he asks his enemies surrounding him. God asks the same question of the world and its children throughout all ages, by means of his Spirit and his Word. Human life is a daily search. Many don’t know that they are seeking, or what they are seeking, but everyone is seeking something. Anyone who no longer seeks has given up hope, and whoever has given up hope is dead.
Who or what are you looking for? Health, wealth, peace in heart and home? Or help in need, comfort in suffering? Or satisfaction in learned scholarship and science, in the enjoyment of art, in the heights of power? Know that all these things are not the true goal of your search. In all of these you are actually seeking perfect happiness. But you will never find them in the things of this world, in the achievements of your own strength. What you need above all is peace of conscience and victorious life in the midst of death. And more than that: you must find the source of all things including your very being – the living, personal God – as your gracious, compassionate Father in heaven. If you really want to find him, to live and move in him, then seek him who asked the guards, “Whom are you seeking?”
Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, the Saviour of the world is the deepest and final answer to all human seeking and longing. He is the final answer to all the questions of world history and of the nations, to all the investigation and research of the world’s wisdom, and to all the problems of your life. Whoever has found Jesus has a clear conscience, peace of heart, and eternal life. Whoever has found Jesus has found his God and Father and so has found everything. For no one comes to the Father but by him. Seek Jesus and his light; everything else is of no help to you.
Day 19 - Sunday 20 March
I Am He
Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” (John 18:5–7)
After the guards had answered the Lord’s question, “Whom do you seek?” by answering, “Jesus of Nazareth,” he said to them, “I am he.” That was a simple confession, but the battle-hardened men drew back and fell to the ground. What produced this effect? It was first of all the power of truth. So this man was really the wonderful prophet, highly praised but now persecuted to death. The very fact that he fearlessly confessed, “I am he,” called forth respect in the mercenaries. Then there was the strength of his personality. The weight of any given word is very different according to the person who speaks it. What a difference there is if it is a coward or a hero, a beggar or a king who says, “I am he.” Important men have often done great things simply by their bearing or by their word. But who can be compared with Jesus? Here the influence of personality and the truth of the declaration are combined with a wonderful divine authority, through which the hardened warriors are now thrown to the ground – just as Saul would be later on the road to Damascus. A beam of divine majesty shines forth from these words of the abased Son of Man, and they bear witness to friend and foe throughout all time that he goes to death voluntarily: as he himself has said, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).
At the same time we see that it is a simple thing for the Lord to cast his enemies to the ground if he wants to do so. The might of light over darkness is evident. From now on this “I am he” sounds through the centuries wherever the Lord makes his personal intervention felt in the fortunes of his kingdom or of individual disciples. It rings out, judging and victorious, to the consternation of his enemies and the joy of those who believe in him. One day when all is accomplished, the words will ring out once more over the rubble of the old world in the glory of the transfigured world with creative power: “I am he. I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5).
So we rejoice to find summed up in these few words what the Lord has testified about himself and through his Spirit’s might has engraved on our hearts. Out of these words, “I am he,” we hear an echo of his testimony of himself: “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the bread from heaven” (John 6:51), “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25), “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, who is and who was and who is to come” (Rev. 1:8). What a comfort for his people! What an encouraging effect it had on that stormy night as the disciples were battling with the waves, when the Lord approached them saying, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid” (Matt. 14:27). It sounded like heavenly music in the hearts of the despondent disciples on Easter evening, when the Risen One appeared in their midst and said, “Peace be with you! Why are you troubled? It is I myself” (Luke 24:36–39).
In the same way, my soul, it should comfort and strengthen your faith when you hear the gospel proclaimed, when you receive the bread and wine, when waves of distress rush upon you, or when the sun shines above you. Finally, when the angel of death draws near, you should hear the blessed words again and again, “I am he.”
The Disciples’ Safeguard
Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfil the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” (John 18:8–9)
When, for the second time, the Lord asked the guards who were still lying on the ground, “Whom do you seek?” they recovered their senses, arose, and answered once more, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Then the Lord gave himself up as a prisoner and at the same time performed another wonder of his might. When he said, “If you seek me, let these men go,” he was holding his hand over his disciples, sheltering them. That was not a request; it was a command, and the warriors had to obey the unarmed man. With his word alone, he protected his own from all the power and violence of the enemies. His disciples were not yet capable of suffering with him. First he had to suffer and die for them. Later they would drink of his cup of suffering and be baptised with his baptism of blood, but now he protected them from the outward and physical danger that threatened them. At the same time he saved their souls, as John adds, “This was to fulfil the word which he had spoken: ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.’” As yet the apostles were not able to bear prison and death with the Lord. On that night of stumbling they might actually have fallen away completely from the Lord and so been lost forever. Christ spoke his kingly word, “Let these men go,” to yet other powers than those armed henchmen. His eye alone saw behind them the threatening horde from the kingdom of darkness pressing forward to devour his poor disciples. With his command he drove all these powers back and cast them to the ground. The disciples had now the warrant that protected them until the risen Lord gathered them once more around himself and their faith was so strengthened that they were joyfully able to endure torture and death.
“Let these men go” – this is an important word in world history. It is fulfilled in the whole history of the kingdom and is spread like a mighty shield over the disciples of every century against both human and satanic enemies. Under the protection of this shield the first Christian church leaves the old Jerusalem and immigrates safely to places of refuge, and under it the souls of the martyrs go to the heavenly Jerusalem. Under this shield Paul sets out into the heathen world, and a host of missionaries follow him. Without this protection no human being would be saved. Blessed is the man who puts his trust in it.
This word applies to you also, my soul. When temptations rise up against you, your sins terrify you, the accuser accuses you, and the law condemns you, then the Lord’s word, “Let these go,” is your shield against the fiery arrows of the evil one and will one day be your permit to enter the city of God.