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

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Week 4 - 21 March to 27 March

 

Day 20 - Monday 21 March

 

 

Judas’s Kiss

 

Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” (Matthew 26:48–50)

 

While the guards were still hesitating to lay their rough hands on Jesus, Judas stepped up and kissed him. That was the sign they had agreed on. The kiss is a symbol of friendship and love. Here, however, it was desecrated to be a sign of betrayal. Throughout the Christian world Judas’s kiss is regarded as an infamous, hellish crime and the name Judas is the embodiment of all that is accursed.

 

The betrayal of a king by one of his subjects is detestable. But this case is more than a king and his subject; it is the heavenly redeemer and his chosen disciple, who has now become his betrayer and the leader of his enemies. In the same way apostates often head the persecutors. Judas is no longer led by man but by Satan, and with the kiss he puts the seal on his hatred of Christ. How blind he has become, thinking that the Master cannot see through him and imagining that with his accomplished hypocrisy he can keep up the appearance of being a disciple! The Lord endures a new humiliation by allowing himself to be kissed and feels a pain that burns more than the violence of the enemies – anguish for the lost son. The Saviour’s gentleness, with which he tries to awaken the dead conscience of the unhappy man, is worthy of adoration: “Friend, why are you here?” But these words can no longer help Judas. They push him toward the abyss into which he will soon sink.

 

Here we see what wickedness the human heart is capable of and to what lengths a disciple of Christ can go when he abandons the first love and gives himself over to sin and Satan. In all hypocrisy and untruthfulness we recognise the secret beginnings of Judas’s sin: when people cover evil desires with pious words; when they flatter their neighbours while inwardly wishing them ill; when a man caresses his wife while desiring someone else. These are steps on the way to eternal destruction. With shame and remorse we look into our own hearts and plead for strength to turn around and for our hearts to be renewed. May we never forget that every time we read the Gospels, attend a worship service, or take part in the Lord’s Supper, the Lord asks us the question of conscience, “My friend, why are you here?” May we then be able to say with complete truthfulness, “Lord, I give myself to you.”

 

Peter’s Sword

 

Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus. (John 18:10)

Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)

And he touched his ear and healed him. (Luke 22:51)

 

After the betrayer’s kiss, the guards began to lay hold of Jesus. A servant of the high priest called Malchus was particularly eager. In great agitation the apostles asked their Master, “Lord, shall we strike with the sword?” (Luke 22:49). Before he could answer them, Peter struck at Malchus and cut off his right ear. In this action we see once more the warm love, ardent courage, and vigorous action of the man called “The Rock.”

 

Unfortunately, we also see his haste, his thoughtlessness, and his unspiritual mind. The daring deed of love might have been able to comfort the Lord in his dark night, had not the disciple’s lack of understanding and unbroken self-will added a bitter drop to Jesus’ cup of suffering.

 

Peter, still dazed by his heavy sleep and not understanding his Master’s purpose, now wanted to fulfil his promise of loyalty. So he hit out wildly. It did not occur to him that he was increasing his Lord’s suffering and defiling his cause by making him appear to be the instigator of a brawl. In the midst of these events, the Lord earnestly rebuked his hotheaded disciple, saying, “Put your sword into its sheath; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” And once more he revealed his glory, for he put right the damage that had been done and, with compassion, healed Malchus’s ear.

 

It is the sacred duty of Christians to take this important teaching to heart in all their struggles. Christ’s cause, his kingdom, and his truth can never be defended or furthered by means of physical weapons, violence, coercion, or bloodshed. Such means simply desecrate what is holy. How terribly those who claim to be followers of Peter have sinned against this principle, and what damage has been caused by religious wars! On the other hand, it has become the norm for subjects to resort to violence against their governments when they think that they are wrongfully treated. All this increases the power of darkness.

 

We find it hard to hold still when we suffer wrongfully; we would love to knock down our opponent. Let us remember that the holy fight for the Lord and his church is not waged with violence but with watching and praying. It will not be led to victory with weapons of the flesh but with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God.

 

Day 21 - Tuesday 22 March

 

It Must Be So

 

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so? (Matt. 26:53–54)

 

In the midst of the noise, the light of torches and the clank of weapons, the Lord remained composed. After his rebuke, he said to Peter, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). He had accepted the cup from his Father’s hand – the cup from which he had at first drawn back shuddering – and had made up his mind to empty it. It was now his own will to do this: no other power could have compelled him to do so. At the same time he saw in spirit the shining throngs of angels awaiting a sign from him to surround and protect him. Aware of this power, he said to Peter, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” But for our sakes he dispensed with the service of the heavenly hosts, and continued, “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” This wondrous “must” is the “must” of the unalterable divine purpose and of the prophecies laid down in Holy Scripture.

 

The Lord is conscious of all the prophetic sayings which must find their fulfilment in his person. He remembers Isaiah’s words about the lamb that is led to the slaughter (Isa. 53:7). He knows that he is not only the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) but also the Lamb of God that must be presented as an atoning sacrifice to redeem the world (John 1:29). But this “must” is not brought about by any external force. It is the inner “must” of voluntary obedience, of his own will, of holy love. Thus there is perfect harmony in his whole being when he surrenders to the enemy and forbids his disciples to resist.

 

“It must be so.” We should take that to heart, too, when we feel angry and disheartened by the persecution, need, and ignominy that the church of Christ has to suffer. Then let us remember that it is prophesied in Holy Scripture, in accordance with God’s decree, that the church of Christ is to be the follower of her Master, and here on earth she is and will remain a church of the cross. Her participation in Christ’s suffering will bring her honour, and thus her way will go through tribulation to glory.

 

“It must be so.” May this also comfort us when we personally suffer injustice and have to bear much pain. We should not rebel against it, but neither should we silently submit to it as an iron necessity. On the contrary, we should recognise our heavenly Father’s compassionate love drawing us in this way into the discipleship of our Lord Jesus Christ, and preparing us for eternal happiness. Then we will have strength to bear all things and overcome all things and say to the tempter, “Shall I not drink the cup which the Father has given me?” Then we will experience that the heavenly legions surround and protect us, that the cross strengthens our faith, and that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18).

 

The Arrest

 

At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled. (Matthew 26:55–56)

 

On the night of the betrayal several of the leaders of the people accompanied the guards to Gethsemane in order to gloat over the capture of the Lord. The hour had come for the Holy One to be numbered with the transgressors (Isa. 53:12) and delivered up into the hands of sinners. Surrendered to his Father’s will, he was ready to let himself be captured; but he was deeply conscious of the injustice and outrage of this violent deed. He protested with dignity and earnestly exhorted the whole hostile crowd to repent – an exhortation that will sound into eternity.

 

He reminded them that he had been daily with them in the temple and had proclaimed to them the word of truth and of salvation. He had wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem under his wings (Matt. 23:37). Rivers of living water had flowed from him (John 4:10), and thousands had listened to him and hailed him. Now he confronted them with their malice (because already then they would have liked to silence him) and for their cowardice in not daring to arrest him under those circumstances. He also implied that they could not have done it earlier, for the hour appointed by the Father had not come. Then he pronounced judgment over them: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Now, in accordance with God’s purpose, the time had come when they were permitted to carry out their deed of violence, and the kingdom of darkness was allowed to deploy all its might against the Lord.

 

With those words he revealed to them that they were themselves children of that kingdom and tools of Satan and that with this deed they would be completely fettered by him. We can see in these embittered enemies how dark the human heart can become when it is hardened in unbelief and yields to Satan.

 

Then the Lord let himself be bound by the guards and led away as a prisoner. The disciples, however, all left him and fled. Their flight was a sad testimony to their weakness. But it was also prophesied and desired by the Lord, for it was his will to walk the road to death deserted and alone. He wanted to atone, suffer, and die for all – alone. He went in chains to free his people from their bondage to sin and from death and judgment and to grant them the glorious freedom of the children of God.

 

How easily do we too become unfaithful to the Lord when the world lures or threatens us. But he does not give up working on our souls so that at last we may experience that if the Son sets us free we will be free indeed (John 8:36).

 

Day 22 - Tuesday 23 March

 

Christ before Annas

 

First they let him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. . . . The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (John 18:13–14, 19–23)

 

Perhaps Judas remained behind in Gethsemane, watching benumbed the departure of the torchlit procession, while within his soul the worm that does not die began to gnaw. But Jesus was led away, bound by the soldiers. They did not know what they were doing; they were probably disconcerted now that they had captured him. But he walked calmly with them back to Jerusalem, to the palace of the high priest.

 

He was brought first to Annas, the former high priest. This wily old man was supposed to draw out from the prisoner some reason for the sentence which had already been decided. That is why he questioned him about his disciples and his teaching, in an attempt to brand him in the eyes of the Romans as a leader of rebels, and in the eyes of the Jews as a false prophet. But the Lord said nothing about his disciples, whom he had released under his protection. He pointed out how publicly he had taught and the thousands who had heard him – an answer so magnificent that the hypocritical judge was quite at a loss. Then, in order to win his commander’s favour, an insolent servant struck God’s Holy One in the face with a threatening shout. The Lord did not cause his hand to wither but answered him with great gentleness in order to bring him to his senses: “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” He left vengeance to God (Rom 12:19) and presented not only the other cheek to his enemies (Matt. 5:39) but his whole body to be crucified.

 

Annas, Caiaphas, and the others were priests. The darkest page of history bears witness against the priesthood. Later the priests of Rome would follow that sinister example by persecuting heretics and burning them at the stake. Alas, how would the Lord Christ be treated even by many churches if he were to appear again as a carpenter’s son surrounded by fishermen and tax collectors, proclaiming his decisive and revolutionary teaching openly without being ordained, without asking about the dogmas of the theologians and the instructions of the clergy?

 

Here all who wear the vestments of the clergy in any form have to repent deeply. They should look into their hearts and test before God what they are seeking in their office: Christ or themselves, Christ’s truth or their own opinion, Christ’s honour or their own reputation? True servants of Christ should be ashamed of the anger that rises within them when they are mistreated. They should learn gentleness from the Lord and consider that, through the slaps Christ suffered, all the enemies’ blows have lost their bitterness. They are consecrated as part of following Christ.

 

The False Witness

 

Then those who had seized Jesus led him to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders had gathered. . . . Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. (Matthew 26:57, 59–60)

 

The Lord Christ stands there, bound, before the highest court of justice, which has been called to a meeting by night. But what a moral abyss opens up here. The council is determined to keep up a form of justice. A trial is instituted. The accused is to be questioned and a legal sentence passed. But even before the interrogation, the judges have decided that this man must die because he stands in the way of their reputation and their power. He has told them the truth relentlessly, and the people hang on to him. They must be rid of him, yet under the semblance of the law. The most malicious and fateful judicial murder of world history is decided upon. False witnesses have been hired in advance.

 

Woe to a nation that produces such judges, that lets itself be led by such leaders! Woe to a land where the representatives of the law persecute truth and right, where Christ and his kingdom are sentenced to death with lying testimony, while criminals like Barabbas are acquitted. Then storm clouds will gather and the lightning of divine judgment do its work – as the smoking ruins of Jerusalem proclaim to all ages.

 

Now, does the council achieve its purpose with the hired witnesses? Not at all. Their testimonies do not agree. They contradict one another and so serve to place the innocence of the silent Jesus in the brightest light. “Which one of you convicts me of sin?” the Lord had once asked (John 8:46). Here in his passion the answer is given. His most malicious enemies can produce no proof against him. They only frustrate one another. That is always the outcome of false testimony against the gospel.

 

In every age the gospel has had embittered enemies. It has been attacked and slandered, but repeatedly “their testimony did not agree.” The church of Christ always comes to new strength. The persecutions of the enemy have only served to place her imperishable worth into still brighter light.

 

Following the example of her Master, her way is and will always be the way of the cross. It leads through darkness into light. An important proof of the truth of Christianity continues to be the mutual disagreement of her enemies and their untenable, contradictory teachings. The urgent challenge goes out to all Christians, to give a shining testimony to the Lord by leading a holy life. For it was on account of their sins that he was willing to be silent before his false judges.

 

Day 23 - Thursday 24 March

Jesus’ Silence

 

And the high priest stood up in the midst and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” But he remained silent and made no answer. (Mark 14:60–61)

 

Just judges would have punished the false witnesses severely but these leaders had themselves hired them. In the excitement of that black night they had neglected to coach the paid liars so that their statements would agree. The witnesses come forward, one after the other, becoming entangled in their lies. Their false testimonies contradict each other so that not even these judges can find a valid accusation, still less produce proof of guilt. Meanwhile Jesus stands still and silent. Certainly, there is power in speech. What effects men have produced through their words! Above all, what an influence Christ exercised through his proclamation of the gospel!

 

But there is also a great power in silence. There is a time for speech and a time for silence (Eccles. 3:7). It takes great wisdom and strength to be silent at the right time, and at the right time to say the right word. Christ possessed this quality in the greatest measure. As long as he still hoped to win souls through the word of truth and to call hardened sinners to repentance, he spoke. When he kept silence now before these judges, who knew he was innocent but who had no ear for truth and no conscience, it was a terrible silence of judgment.

 

Here begins the fulfilment of the prophecy of the silent lamb that is led to the slaughter and is dumb before its shearers (Isa. 53:7). It is also the fulfilment of the words of the psalm: “I must be as a mute man who does not open his mouth. . . . But for you, O Lord, do I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, who will answer” (Ps. 38:13, 15).

 

This silence, which involves quiet submission and holy judgment, is one of the most sublime things that we encounter on the Lord’s way of the cross. With majesty the fettered man stands in the midst of disunited witnesses and agitated judges. What power he wields with this silence! His enemies feel themselves rebuked and judged and give way to anger and confusion. But the Lord guides the whole meeting toward the goal it has to reach in accordance with his will and his own free confession.

 

The Lord’s holy silence should be an incisive call to repentance to us Christians. It should remind us of the sins that we have committed through the destructive misuse of speech and of the harm that we have done with our thoughtless, false, and angry words. Then the silently suffering Saviour will draw us into his discipleship with his noble example. He will help us to become strong in quietness and hope, and with gentleness to overcome the world.

 

Christ’s Confession

 

And the high priest said to him, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus said to him, “You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:62–64)

 

God’s Holy One was still standing before the judicial assembly called together that night. His continued silence increased the confusion and irritation of the leaders of Israel. They began to fear that their plan to kill their victim under the pretext of law might come to nothing. Then Caiaphas arose, a man with a will of iron and of ruthlessness, in order to get himself and his companions out of the embarrassing situation. He was the high priest, and now against his will he became an instrument in the hand of God.

 

He recalled how often Jesus had spoken of himself as the Son of God, and that the scribes had already accused him of blasphemy for this reason. The penalty for blasphemy was death. So Caiaphas gave up the circuitous ways of cunning and steered straight to the goal. If Jesus would now acknowledge what he had formerly stated, the reason for the death penalty would be found. But he stood there so silently – would he deign to give his enemies an answer? Here too Caiaphas knew what to do. He put the matter under oath, saying solemnly, “I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God?”

 

A historic moment has come. The answer has already been given in the predictions of the prophets, in the testimonies of heaven, and in the Lord’s teachings and miracles. Nevertheless, the Lord will remain silent no longer. He knows that his answer will plunge him into the most cruel death. But he cannot evade the oath placed before him. The Son of God cannot deny himself. He cannot and will not keep silence in answer to the greatest question confronting humanity. He cannot and will not leave his present and future disciples in doubt as to who and what he is. So he now opens his silent lips and confirms before heaven and earth, “It is as you say. I am.” This declaration judges the lack of faith of all ages. At the same time it is the source from which springs the joyful confession of his disciples: “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.”

 

Then, while perhaps a gleam of transfiguration passes over his face, the Lord adds to his declaration the sublime prophecy, “From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven!” The judges who now condemn the Son of Man will see him again as the exalted Son of God. One day they will see him coming as the judge of all worlds – and as their judge – in the ruins of this earth. How will it be with them then? As for us, we plead that we may have the eyes of Stephen so that we, enlightened by the Holy Spirit, may in faith see heaven open and the Son of Man seated as our Saviour at the right hand of God.

 

 

Day 24 - Friday 25 March

 

The Death Sentence

 

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?” They answered, “He deserves death.” Then they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Matthew 26:65–68)

 

When the Lord confessed that he was the Christ, the elders of Israel should have fallen on their knees before him and thanked him with tears of joy. The Messiah, proclaimed by the prophets and longed for by all the devout in Israel had come at last to redeem his people and to fulfil Yahweh’s gracious promises. Instead, the high priest tore his robes in hypocritical indignation and said, “He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?”

 

The leaders of Israel may have considered for a moment, but not a voice was raised in favour of their prisoner. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were certainly not present. Perhaps they had not been called to the meeting at all for fear of their disagreement. Then the first judge opened his mouth and said, “He deserves death!” and one after the other repeated the verdict in horrible blindness: “He deserves death!” The death sentence was unanimously pronounced.

 

This fact stands in the centre of world history. The King of Israel is condemned to death by the elders of his nation, the Son of God by the children of man, and the Holy One by the sinners whom he came to save. It is a verdict that cries to heaven when we consider the wicked judges who pronounce it and God’s Holy One on whom it is passed. It is nevertheless a just verdict, for the terrible sentence sounds from the throne of the eternal Judge as well: “He deserves death!” Death is the wages of sin, and Christ is made sin for us. He stands on trial in place of us and vouches for us with his blood. So it is over you and me and all of us sinners that the sentence is here pronounced: “He deserves death.” That should tear off our cloak of vanity and self-righteousness and show us who and what we are in God’s sight. That should startle and shock us, pull us down on our knees, and force from the depth of our souls the cry, “Mercy! Mercy! Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy!”

 

But if we have arrived at this point, then nothing in heaven or on earth can console and uplift us as much as that sentence of death passed and carried out upon our Redeemer. For all our guilt and condemnation is taken from us and cast on him. In his sentence the whole severity of perfect justice and the unfathomable compassion of eternal love toward lost humanity are combined. Now we should press through to the assurance of faith that we are really free from guilt and punishment and that no judgment condemns us anymore. From this time onwards death has lost its sting, for to us it is no longer death but the entrance into eternal life.

Whereas at that time the cruel judges mocked the innocent prisoner, spat at him, and struck him with their fists, we today lift our eyes to the exalted head of the church and with ardent thanks call out, “Blessed be your glorious name in all eternity!”

 

Peter’s Fall

 

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.”  (Mark 14:66–71)

 

Peter and Judas were opposite natures – one closed, hypocritical, and self-centered; the other open, frank, and dedicated to the Lord. Peter also fell deeply, but it was possible for him to rise again. There were three stages that led to his shameful denial: false self-confidence, spiritual sleepiness, and disobedience to the Lord. “Even though they all fall away, I will not. I am ready to go to prison and to death with you,” he had declared (Matt. 26:33; Luke 22:33). With this pledge he had cast the Master’s warning to the winds and placed himself above the other disciples. True, the urge behind this vow was warm love; but his trust was only in his own heart. “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool” (Prov. 28:26). Pride goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18).

 

When the Lord was wrestling with death in Gethsemane, Peter slept as the others did. How sadly the Saviour’s question rings, “Could you not watch with me one hour?” (Matt. 26:40). But alas, they continued to sleep – physically and spiritually – until the traitor appeared and the hour of sifting struck. Anyone who sleeps like that is easily ensnared by the tempter. Wherever the Lord’s warning, “Watch and pray!” is not followed, a fall is near. Peter did pull himself together when he drew his sword, but he did so as in a wild dream. He proved his daring, but by wielding the weapon of the flesh he forgot what manner of spirit he was (Luke 9:55). Soon his courage changed to timidity and he fled like the others.

 

Remembering his promise, he did turn back, it is true. He slunk after the Master and pressed his way into the high priest’s courtyard. But in doing this, he was disobedient, for the Lord had expressly said to him, “You cannot follow me now” (John 13:36).

 

As he sat in the courtyard, warming himself with the guards at the fire, he gave in to the fear of men, and denied his beloved Master. He was recognised by his speech. In the same way the children of God are always recognised by their words and behaviour, and there is nothing more shameful than when they act against their conscience like the children of the world.

 

While the Lord goes to death for his disciples, Peter denies him three times! He had once said enthusiastically, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed and come to know that you are Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68–69). Yet now that his Master is condemned to death, he curses and swears, “I do not know the man.”

 

Should we now sit in judgment over him? No, if such a man – the rock – fell so deeply, it must have been hard to stand. We remember how often we have also sat at the fire of Christ’s enemies, and denied not only our own conviction, not only many friends, but also the Lord himself. We bow our heads and pray for courage to bear witness to our faith in word and deed.

 

 

Day 25 - Saturday 26 March

 

Peter’s Repentance

 

And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:60–62)

 

It was by three stages that Peter sank into the depth of his fall, but three lifesaving powers joined to raise him up again. These were his inner relationship with his Master, the cock crow, and Jesus’ divine look.

 

Despite Peter’s stumble, he could not abandon the Lord. His love to him had pressed him into that temptation-laden courtyard. Even when he denied the Lord miserably with his lips, the inner tie of community with him was not dissolved. It had become a thin, invisible thread – another step downward and it would have broken, but that step was not taken, and this thread helped to restore him. Christ’s word was fulfilled: “Simon, I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:32). To this there came the rousing voice of the cock crow. It screamed in his ear and struck his heart. Hearing the call, he was reminded of the Lord’s warning and grasped the whole extent of his fall with horror. He woke up, appalled at himself.

 

The Lord never neglects to issue such a rousing call when his children have fallen or are following ways that endanger their souls. Sometimes these calls are inner warnings of conscience, sometimes the remarks of friends or enemies, sometimes words of Holy Scripture, and sometimes what the world calls blows of fate. Like a cock crow, these calls should rouse the soul. Then everything depends on hearing the call, standing up to it, and judging oneself. Of course the cock crow alone would not have saved Peter. A higher help had to come, for which the cock crow was only a preparation.

 

Once when Peter was about to sink in the waves of the sea, he had called out, “Lord, save me!” (Matt. 14:30), and Jesus’ hand had saved him. Now again only the Lord could save his fallen disciple; and it was through his divine look that he did it. What all did it express? First, pain at being forsaken by all his disciples and denied by Peter. Then, sorrow over his disciple’s fall and the quiet reproach of hurt love. Finally, this look doubtless said to Peter, “Your guilt is great, but my compassion is still greater. You renounce me, but my love never ends. You deny me, but I consecrate myself to die as a sacrifice for you.”

 

Peter understood the look: it pierced to the depth of his soul. He went out and wept bitterly. The strong man broke down and his tears flowed. The old Simon, son of John, melted in this flood. The divine look of the Lord, however, remained his solace and support. He knew that he had not been cast off. Later he was permitted, though ashamed and sad, to look the Risen One in the face and confess, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you” (John 21:17). From then on he could deny no more, but sealed his love to the Lord by martyrdom.

 

Judas’s End

 

Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3–5)

 

Judas was no insignificant man, as the magnitude of his crime shows. The Lord himself had chosen him to be an apostle, so he must have had a certain enthusiasm for the Master. But now that was lost in a terrible way.

 

The shadows of the darkest night had gone, and the morning of Good Friday dawned. All had been decided. Jesus was condemned to death. Then Judas recovered his senses. Until now he had dulled and suppressed his conscience. It hadn’t stirred when he kissed Jesus in the garden; it seemed to be trampled to death. But it was not dead. The more violently it had been suppressed, the more terrible was its present awakening. Its voice became like that of a lion and it roared, “Traitor! Traitor!” at the son of perdition. Where could he go? The thirty pieces of silver burned in his pocket like hellish fire. Driven by the lashes of his conscience, he hurried to the temple and flung the blood money at the priests’ feet. As he did so, he testified to the Master whom he had sold: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.”

 

Did he expect to receive comfort and sympathy from the Lord’s enemies? The elders answered coldly, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

 

But didn’t Judas’s remorse have the promise of grace? Yes, “godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor. 7:10). Peter’s sadness was of that kind. He wept over his sin and, guided by the Lord’s gracious look, he sought and found forgiveness with him. Grief over sin is transfigured to redeeming repentance only when it is pervaded by faith in forgiving grace. Judas too could have found grace at the cross of his betrayed and dying Master if he had sought and believed it. But he was no longer able to do so – that was the judgment on his hardness of heart. He could no longer believe in God’s compassion. His remorse plunged him into the abyss of despair. “Worldly grief produces death” (2 Cor. 7:10). So Judas went and hanged himself.

 

Over the abyss into which he sinks, the Lord’s words resound, “The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24). This pained lament from the lips of the Saviour of sinners is more dreadful than all the curses of Sinai.

 

May Judas’s end reveal Satan’s terrible snares to all who are fearful, and to anyone who entertains thoughts of suicide. These snares are despondency and despair. So believe that God’s grace in Christ is greater than your greatest sin; yes, greater than the sin of the whole world.

 

 

Day 26 - Sunday 27 March

 

Handed Over to the Gentiles

 

Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” This was to fulfil the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 18:28–32)

 

The morning of Good Friday had dawned over Jerusalem. The greatest day in world history, the turning point of all times, had come. The members of the council met early in the judgment hall in order to confirm formally the sentence of death, which they had passed on their Messiah that night. However, because they were subjected to the hated yoke of the Romans, they were not allowed to carry out the execution themselves. They had to leave that to the pagan government.

 

So now they led the Son of David, bound, to the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate. At the time he had his residence in the praetorium, in the proud castle Antonia. In front of it there was a stone pavement or rise in the ground called Gabbatha in Aramaic (John 19:13). Here they handed their prisoner over to the pagan judge. The true king, for whom the nations longed, was rejected by his own people.

 

In this way the Lord’s prophecy that he would be handed over to the Gentiles was fulfilled, and he also became the Saviour of the Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles joined to put him to death; Jews and Gentiles from now on can find in him their Redeemer and the source of their joy. All the nations of the earth shall be gathered to his banner. Without wanting to, the poisonous enemies had moved forward God’s great plan of salvation for all nations.

 

The members of the council remained outside in order to avoid “being made unclean” by entering the house of a pagan. The hypocrites believed they were keeping themselves pure by observing their outward regulations; inwardly they fostered lies and thirst for blood. Their evil spirit has not died out, as shown also by the practices of many Christians. They believe that by going to church they are devout, while at home they live in sin.

 

Finally, those Jewish judges who clamoured to get Pilate to ratify the death sentence were given a bitter pill to swallow. He said to them, “Take him and judge him according to your law.” They had to confess their powerlessness and their murderous intent: “It is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” So the Lord was handed over to the Roman executioners. Thus the prophecy that he would die on a cross was fulfilled, for crucifixion was a Roman means of execution. His holy body was not to be broken by a Jewish stoning, but to be kept unbroken in the tomb until he rose again. Once again divine providence arrived at its long-determined goal. Confidently and in adoration, we too surrender ourselves in life and in death to the eternally wise and gracious leading of our heavenly Father.

 

What Have You Done?

 

Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” (John 18:33–35)

 

To the Jews it was blasphemy and to the Romans agitation for which Jesus deserved the death penalty. That was what the cunning high priests had decided. So they now accused the victim of their hatred before the governor, saying that he had forbidden the payment of taxes to the Roman emperor, and that he had proclaimed himself king. Now Pilate had to take the matter in hand. He led the prisoner into the praetorium to be interrogated, and half sympathetically, half mockingly, asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” The Lord looked at the proud Roman and began to work upon the soul of this pagan judge by countering his question with another. Was Pilate asking out of his own deep interest or in his official capacity? He was to consider whether the mystery of Jesus’ person and dignity might not have significance for himself.

 

For us too, the question about the Lord and his work must never become a mere intellectual or official question. We will only receive a saving answer when it has become a burning, vital question to us.

 

Pilate senses something of the majesty of the prisoner and grows uneasy, but he hastily evades the question by exclaiming, “Am I a Jew?” By this he means to say, “I have nothing to do with you and your religious questions; but as judge I have to investigate your case.” Then he continues the interrogation, saying, “What have you done?”

 

Pilate has no idea of the great significance of the question that he asks with indifference. What an answer the Lord might have given! All the books in the world would not exhaust its content (John 21:25). It would include them all: the paralytics, the blind, the lepers who had been healed; those who had been set free from impure spirits; those who had been raised from the dead; the pardoned sinners; the mourners who had been comforted; and the evildoers who had become God’s children. They would have to come from all nations and all times, raise their voices and testify to what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for them and in them. What a psalm that would have been! What harmonies would fill heaven and earth!

 

Yes, we ourselves have urgent reason to consider deeply what the Lord Christ has done for the whole world and what he has done for us and in us. If our hearts have found the right answer, we must be filled with thanks and adoration and, in word and deed, join in the immortal songs of that blessed choir. At the same time we must not forget to keep on asking ourselves the question, “What have you done?” until, set free from all self-righteousness, in deep shame at the worthlessness of all our actions, we recognise the burden of all that we have done and left undone. We will find in the World Redeemer’s deed of love our comfort in life and in death.

 

Week 5