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 5 - 28 March to 3 April

 

Day 27 - Monday 28 March

The King of Truth

 

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him.” (John 18:36–38)

 

An hour of grace and, at the same time, an hour of decision has struck for Pilate. Christ, the king of truth, stands before him and tries to win his soul. Jesus allows the Roman a glimpse into his royal glory, into his kingdom. From the words, “My kingdom is not of this world,” Pilate is to see that the accused has done nothing that can be condemned as rebellion against the empire. Further, they reveal a world higher than this earth and that this Jesus really has a kingdom that comes from above. The weapon of this kingdom is not the sword. Its wealth is not gold and its object is not the glory of this world.

 

When will Christ’s disciples learn that their Master’s kingdom is not built with the means of this world nor defended with this world’s weapons? The success and power of this world are not to be sought in it.

 

Pilate, however, asks with amazement, “So you are a king?” To this the Lord gives the wonderful answer, “Indeed I am a king,” and adds the revelation that his kingdom is the kingdom of truth. Its source is truth. Truth is its wealth and happiness, its power and its goal. The citizens of this kingdom are the children of truth.

 

Will a breath of longing awaken in Pilate? Will he bow before this king and plead to become a citizen of his kingdom? It may well be that a longing is stirred in him, but he senses that in the light of truth his evil deeds would have to be punished, his old ways and the splendour of this world given up. He does not want that. He can’t do it. He loves darkness more than light (John 3:19), he has long since submitted to the pagan maxim, “The only thing that is certain is that nothing is certain.” He closes his heart. With a mocking shrug of his shoulders, he calls out to the king of truth, “What is truth?” and turns away from him. He goes out once more and tries vainly to stifle his conscience by testifying, “I find no guilt in him.”

 

We Christians, however, rejoice when the Lord affirms before the religious court that he is the Son of God, and before the secular judge, “I am a king.” For that is our consolation and our joy. Yes, he is King of all kings, Lord of all lords (1 Tim. 6:15), and his kingdom is an eternal one. He has accepted us into this kingdom. We bear his name, we stand under his protection, we live from the riches of his grace. One day we will take part in his heavenly blessedness when he comes again to establish the kingdom of his glory. But there is a condition attached to this: we must seek and love his truth. We must follow it unconditionally and serve it joyfully, even though we have to struggle and suffer on account of it. We must bear witness to it in word and deed until he comes.

Jesus before Herod

 

But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. (Luke 23:5–12)

 

As Simeon already prophesied, as soon as people enter the light of the cross of Christ, what is in their innermost heart is revealed (Luke 2:35). We see this in Peter and Judas, in Caiaphas and Pilate. It was also fulfilled in Herod.

 

When Pilate learned that Jesus came from Galilee, he hoped to be relieved of the irksome matter and sent him to Herod, for Galilee was under his jurisdiction. The true King was brought before the judgment seat of the sham king – another agony on his way to death. Surrounded by soldiers, he had to go again through the streets of Jerusalem as a criminal in fetters and endure the brutalities of hatred. At last he stood before the adulterous prince, the murderer of John the Baptist.

 

“When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad.” What kind of joy was that? With what jubilation Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah would have greeted the longed-for Messiah if they had been privileged to see him. What rapture will fill our souls one day when we see him in his glory! But Herod was glad because he was hoping “to see some sign” done by him. He thought that he could use this man, who now stood as a prisoner before him, as a means to satisfy his curiosity and enliven his boredom. When he had first heard of him, he had sensed a secret dread, but now he hoped to see him do something interesting that would entertain his court. He treated the Lord as a clown and asked him many mocking questions. But Jesus did not answer at all; he remained completely silent until the end.

 

What words of truth the Lord had had for those seeking salvation, words of comfort for the broken-hearted, words of grace for the repentant, but also what words of judgment for stiff-necked opponents, as long as conversion was still possible! But where he does not answer a single word, he has given up on the questioner; he does not want to give what is holy to dogs or cast pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6). In Jesus’ silence there lies the complete condemnation of this royal slave of vice.

 

In the same way the Lord continues to be silent toward the scoffers of all times and toward the prying questions of curiosity and unbelief. Those who attend the preaching of the gospel only in order to criticise will also receive no answer to their doubting questions as long as they turn a deaf ear to warnings to repent.

 

While the Lord, suffering and in silence, works for the redemption of the lost world – and so in the eyes of the angels stands there in indescribable beauty – Herod and all his court ridicule him. In mockery they have a white toga put on him, such as was then worn by those seeking a government appointment. The white colour was at the same time meant to indicate that Herod regarded him as one innocently accused, an inoffensive harmless man. So he sent him back to Pilate, and from that time the two became friends – to the delight of the archenemy. How will they feel when one day they see the one whom they had scoffed as Judge of the world, robed in shining, heavenly majesty! But even at that hour, the Lord was weaving the white garment of purity and honour for all who believe in him, in which they will be able to stand with joy before the throne of the just Judge one day.

 

Day 28 - Tuesday 29 March

 

The Precipitous Path

 

Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. I will therefore punish and release him.” (Luke 23:13–16)

 

Pilate had a short spell of peace and quiet in his castle, hoping that Herod would pronounce sentence in this disagreeable case. But that fox did not enter the trap. He sent the prisoner back to the governor. In the meantime, a crowd had gathered to accompany him. With displeasure Pilate became aware of the approaching throng and only too soon received the news that he was not to be spared the verdict.

 

From the beginning he had recognised Christ’s innocence. He had received an impression of the majesty of his person, and he still had the intention to set him free. He was aware, however, of the persistence and rage of the accusers. If he acquitted Jesus, he had to be prepared for the worst complications, perhaps insurrection and bloodshed. His present military force was in all probability too weak to crush a revolution promptly. In addition, he worried that he would be accused and slandered to the distrustful and cruel Emperor Tiberius. Under the influence of these considerations, he entered upon the ruinous path of negotiating with the unscrupulous leaders of the people, of yielding to wrong and of compromising between good and evil. Thus he set out on the precipitous way that was bound at last to plunge him to ruin.

 

What a criminal half-measure was his verdict, “I will chastise him and let him go!” A clear decision was called for: if guilty, punishment; if innocent, release! Pilate despised the Jews, but did not dare to break with them. He strove for a just verdict, but did not dare to give it. Finally the wretched man thought he would satisfy Christ’s enemies by maltreating their victim, and quieten his own conscience by releasing the innocent prisoner after having him flogged. With the promise of chastisement, the unhappy man had taken the fatal step that only too soon would force him to consent to crucifixion.

 

What damage all do to themselves who deny their better conviction because of the fear of men, who break God’s commandment for the sake of the world’s favour and sacrifice their inner life for outward well-being! How senseless it is to try to compromise between irreconcilable opposites, between truth and lies, between good and evil! The first step from what is right presses us to take the second and third. Whoever offers evil a finger must soon let it have his whole hand. Such intermediaries deal their consciences deadly blows. They lose their balance of mind and peace of soul. They continue on their way halfheartedly and with broken wills. Their path becomes more and more precipitous. Thinking they are furthering their happiness, they become the most miserable people.

 

The Warning

 

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”  (Matthew 27:15–19)

 

While Pilate was negotiating with the elders, he was asked by the crowd to release a prisoner, as was his custom at the Passover festival. He seized this opportunity to shift the decision of Jesus’ fate from himself to the populace. Expecting a favourable answer, he let them choose between the one who had done only good and Barabbas, a murderer.

 

The whole of Jesus’ activity took place during this governor’s term of office, so Pilate must have been well informed of all that he did in public, of his royal entry into Jerusalem, and of the great excitement among the people. Doubtless, all these events had also been eagerly discussed in the governor’s palace, and his wife Claudia found a keen interest in them. As Pilate was about to take his place on the judgment seat, which was set up on the terrace called Gabbatha, he received a message from his wife: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.”

 

The fact that she had this dream shows her interest in the matter, her good will, and her anxiety as to how it would end. By daring to interrupt the official activity of the procurator by sending him a private message, she gives proof of her love for her husband and of her longing for a just decision. Every wife may be reminded by this of her task to guard and warn her husband on the temptation-filled way of his calling. Similarly, every husband should learn to be more conscientious in listening to the warning of his faithful wife. If Pilate had followed the warning, what might it have meant for him – especially if he had become a martyr on account of it.

 

However, there is something still higher to bear in mind. Just as in earlier times the Lord often spoke to people through dreams, this dream was beyond a doubt sent by God. At this decisive moment the Father gave a heavenly testimony for the innocence of his beloved Son. The message from Pilate’s wife was a warning that was intended to rouse his conscience. It did have this effect for a moment, but it did not last long.

 

Today too, dreams may contain a reminder for the conscience. Warnings that come to us through friends, enemies, or events in our lives should likewise be accepted and obeyed as rousing calls from God. But the Word of God, attested throughout thousands of years, speaks to us more clearly than all other voices. Happy are those who pay attention, who take to heart not only sweet consolation but also sharp warnings. Happy are those who feel the hand of God laid between themselves and sin, and who are then ready to lay down life and limb rather than to leave the way of salvation.

 

Day 29 - Wednesday 30 March

 

The Dreadful Choice

 

Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?”

They all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas!” (Matthew 27:20–21; Luke 23:18)

 

Christ and Barabbas – what a contrast! Yet here they are put on the same level and the choice between them is left to the populace. With this act Pilate has sunk very low. He flies in the face of his statement, “I find no guilt in this man” (Luke 23:4). Yet the word of the prophecy is also fulfilled upon the Lord here: “He was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).

 

Christ rejected and Barabbas set free – what a dreadful choice! The people of God rejects its Messiah, asks or the freeing of the criminal, and so itself becomes criminal. Yet in world history Israel is not the only nation to do so. In times of war and revolution, many nations have rejected Christ and have set free and raised to power the spirit of crime and murder. What do the leaders and the demoralised masses of revolutionary parties do even today? They reject Christ, his kingdom, his commands, and his servants with the brutal cry, “Away with this man!” With their call for freedom and equality they choose Barabbas. They want to give freedom to the flesh and to set the spirit of the abyss on the throne.

 

Let us look into our own hearts and ask if something similar is not taking place in the inner life of many Christians. When they stray from the narrow path of the discipleship of Christ, giving rein to the flesh and its passions; when instead of working their way deeper into the living faith they flirt with the atheistic wisdom of this world and open their hearts to the doubts of the spirit of the age; when instead of overcoming their opponent by the power of truth and gentleness they fight with passionate hatred – then they too, alas, are rejecting Christ and releasing Barabbas. Happy are those who recognise this and repent before it is too late!

 

Christ was rejected and Barabbas set free! What disgrace and grief that meant for the Lord, and what joy for the criminal who had already been condemned to death! But this had already been decided in the plan of eternal love. The Father’s compassion had willed it and the Son’s surrender had accepted it. The pure and holy one was to be bound and rejected and suffer a criminal’s death willingly, and in his place the guilty and condemned one was to be released from his chains and from his prison to become a son of the Father. For the name Barabbas means “Father’s son.”

 

Holy Scripture says nothing about what became of this Barabbas, but this much we know: Barabbas is representative of lost humanity (you and me) before God’s judgment seat. Thus the horrible fact that Christ was rejected and Barabbas released comprises the amnesty and charter of freedom for poor sinners. Christ goes into a painful death for us, and we are absolved from guilt and punishment and raised to the liberty of the children of God. That is the deeply painful and yet glorious message of the gospel. It is the only true consolation for all poor sinners, a fountain of inexhaustible joy for all the redeemed, and the theme of eternal songs of praise.

 

Crucify Him! Crucify Him!

 

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!” (Matthew 27:22–23)

 

Pilate’s pitiful weakness of will becomes more and more obvious. He wanted to release Jesus, for he recognised his innocence and felt the warnings of conscience. At the same time he did not want to do so, for he feared the rage of the people more than the voice of truth and right. The devil has an easy task with a weak will like this. The road to hell is paved with the good intentions of such a will.

 

At the cries of the crowd the procurator turns about in fear, and asks in pathetic uncertainty, “What shall I do with Jesus?” What a question! For all time there is only one right answer: believe in him, receive him into your heart, love and worship him, follow and serve him in word and deed!

 

We can see here in the example of the crowd the drastic power of an evil passion on the one hand, and a horrible inconstancy of mind and character on the other. Just a few days previously, they had brought their Messiah with rejoicing to the capital city. They had greeted him with jubilation and accompanied him singing, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9). On Good Friday, however, the same people shouted with fanatical rage against the same King, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

 

Or were they different, better people who cried, “Hosanna,” and worse ones who now cried, “Crucify him”? After the enthusiasm which hailed Jesus so recently, is it possible that no one from Palm Sunday’s jubilating throngs was present in front of the praetorium? The news of Jesus’ capture must have spread like wildfire through the city. But there was no voice raised for the Lord, no opposing party energetically demanding his release! If the better ones stayed away or if they were waiting here in silence – as often happens in such cases – then, through their absence or silence they shared in the guilt.

 

After each of Pilate’s questions the shouts of the people, stirred to fanaticism by the priests, grew wilder and more tumultuous. Israel had not recognised the gracious time of its visitation. It had not considered what served its peace (Luke 19: 42–44). For us, though, it is still the time of grace. Happy is the nation, happy is the house and heart that chooses Jesus as eternal King.

 

The Lord stood in his hidden majesty and looked down silently into the seething crowd. Deep sorrow filled his soul. He loved these people with all his saving love. He had brought them God’s salvation. He had fed their hungry, comforted their wretched ones, blessed their children, healed their sick, and raised their dead. He wanted to save these people and make them holy. And they not only rejected him but demanded the death penalty – even the shameful and cruel death penalty of the Gentiles – on the accursed tree. This deed wounded his heart so that it could have bled its life away without the nails and the stab from the spear. But love did not die out in him. It drove him onward to the very cross.

 

Be still, my soul, when you too are deeply wounded by the ingratitude of people, their inconstancy and enmity. Be still and follow your Master.

 

 

Day 30 - Thursday 31 March

 

The Man of Sorrows

 

Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed in his right hand. And kneeling before him, they mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. (Matthew 27:27–30)

 

In the fury and mockery of the Roman henchmen we can see to what bestiality human nature can sink when it grows hard through godlessness and gives in unreservedly to wild carnal impulses. Persecutions of Christians, the Thirty Years’ War, the French Revolution, and other events in history give a shaking testimony to the same thing. What had the gentle King of truth done to those men? How had he roused their furious hate? Their insane cruelty would be incomprehensible if we did not know that behind them, unseen by humans but visible to the eyes of God, the powers of darkness were unveiling their demonic zeal. The hearts of those soldiers were inflamed, and their tongues and arms directed, by spirits of the abyss. These spirits took advantage of their hour to show what they could do and to give vent to all their hatred of God and of the Saviour of the world. They were allowed to do their utmost in order that they suffer utter defeat.

 

We look with horror at the frenzy of hell and the fury of men, and in search of comfort and help we turn our eyes to the Man of Sorrows. There he stands, battered, crowned with thorns, covered with blood and tears. What physical pain tortures him! And still deeper is his grief of soul.

 

Unfathomable love had driven him to the Jews and Gentiles of this earth. He wanted to save them and gather them into one flock and as the Good Shepherd lead them to pasture on eternally green meadows. But here Jew and Gentile unite in fanatical hatred to hurl him into the abyss of disgrace and misery. He has to go through all this alone, deserted by all. No friend comes to him in his need. No one lifts a hand. No angel comforts him. Even the Father’s heart seems closed to him.

 

He has now become the most despised and rejected one, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa. 53:3). He bears everything in silence, patiently and submissively – only in his soul sighs: “Is there any sorrow like my sorrow? O my people, what have I done to you? How have I wearied you? Answer me” (Lam. 1:12; Mic. 6:3).

 

Anyone who is not moved by the grief of his Saviour and by God’s stern judgment has a heart of stone in his breast. For it was in our place that the Lord Jesus stood there. It was for our offences that he suffered. With the lacerated wounds and crushing shame he had to atone for what we had earned with our sins of vanity, pride, envy, and hatred. The punishment of all humanity was poured on his head and accumulated in his heart. Nevertheless, he endured it all, not only with quiet obedience but with burning love. He knew that the salvation of lost sinners could grow only out of his deadly suffering. He knew that all who follow him in repentance, with faith and love, would go on their pilgrim way free from guilt and punishment and one day enter into his heavenly joy. Eternal thanks be to you, O Jesus!

 

Behold the Man!

 

Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” (John 19:4–5)

 

“Behold the man!” Pilate called out contemptuously and with pity, without an inkling of the significance of these words. His purpose was to touch the hearts of the people and awake compassion. But in vain; they were brazenfaced and their hearts were of flint!

 

We condemn such hardness. Nevertheless, when the Spirit of God portrays this tortured figure before our eyes in order to touch our hearts, we often remain so dull that we ought to be appalled at our own lack of feeling. The suffering of an animal rouses our sympathy, but we pass by the suffering of our Saviour with indifference. O Lord, have mercy on us and let us know and feel what you want to reveal to us here!

 

“Behold the man!” These words let us see our Saviour in his deepest degradation and disfigurement, in the worst agonies of body and soul. The crown of suffering on his head presses deep into his holy brow the thorn that sprang from Adam’s sin. The red cloak that hangs from his torn and bleeding shoulders covers him with all the shame into which man has sunk through pride and lust for power. This pitiful picture reveals to us our own earthly wretchedness. We are well pleased with ourselves. We enjoy looking at ourselves in the mirror and decking ourselves out before others, but in Christ’s tortured figure we are shown ourselves as we really are. We see fallen humanity as God sees it: there is neither form nor beauty but only guilt and shame, ugliness, pain, and condemnation. We ourselves and the enemies of souls (sin, the world, and the devil) have done this to us. Yes, we have done this to him who stands there in our stead. If with this recognition we lose ourselves in contemplation of this picture of misery, then our hearts must be softened. Then we will have to weep for ourselves and our sins. We will not regret such tears, for our weeping will be turned into joy. If we recognise our own reflected image in Jesus’ shame and suffering, then we will also be allowed to see our salvation in his beauty.

 

“Behold the man!” See the inner beauty and glory of the suffering Son of Man through the veil of outward disfigurement. There he stands in his perfect innocence and holiness, in obedience and love, in humility and majesty. The crown of thorns is his crown of honour. The cloak of mockery is his kingly purple. The drops of blood and tears are his royal diadems. That is how the Father sees him from heaven with his divine love and silently confirms in his heart, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). That is how the angels who look down see him and grow speechless in adoration and worship. That is how his redeemed on earth see him. They look up to him and falling on their knees, offer him their songs of praise, “You are the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps. 45:2). In this wretched state he subdues hard hearts. In his great suffering he is the sweetest comfort and heavenly strengthening of all who are weary and heavy laden. If we have become completely his, then all that is his is also ours. The Father in heaven sees in us his beauty and glory. His image shines in our souls, his crown gleams on our heads, his royal garment is our dress of honour. The thorns on his head change the thorns of our path into fragrant roses. We are children in whom the Father is well pleased. The holy God now points to his redeemed humankind in the presence of all the angels and says with fatherly love, “Behold the man!”

 

Day 31 - Friday 1 April

 

Where Are You From?

 

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:7–11)

 

When Pilate heard from the Jews that Jesus declared himself to be the Son of God, a shudder went through his soul. He remembered the heathen myths of sons of the gods coming to this earth. He remembered that Jesus said that he was a king and that his kingdom was not of this world. He remembered his wife’s warning dream. Then he was even more afraid.

 

It is the same with all those who hear enough about Christ to get a deep impression of him but do not believe in him. They are filled with secret fear. A prick of conscience goes with them everywhere and does not let them rest. Pilate was unhappy since he had come into such close touch with the Lord. So after he flogged him and showed him to the people, Pilate called him once more into the praetorium, thus hiding him from the sight of the Jews, and interrogated him a second time. He hoped to hear something from him that might calm his fear and asked the Lord, “Where are you from?” Once more, he had no idea of the deeper significance of his question. Christ had often answered it: to Nicodemus, to his disciples, and to the people. In his High Priestly Prayer for his disciples he had also expressed that he had come down to this poor earth from the shining heights of heaven, from the bosom of the Father. Now Pilate’s frightened question may have occasioned him to lift up his eyes from this dark vale of pain to his heavenly home and so to find comfort and strength in his suffering.

 

Let us also consider this question. When pleasures and worries storm in upon us and we are in danger of falling into what is carnal or of losing courage in the suffering of our times – in short, when this base world seeks to enslave us – then we should take to heart the question, “Where are you from?” We should remind ourselves that we have a higher and better homeland than this poor earth, that we come from the great and glorious God, that in Christ we are born again as God’s children and someday will return to the glory of heaven, to be with Christ forever. Then the things of this world will become small to us. They will not be able to hold us back in our race for the crown of life.

 

The Lord judged Pilate by refusing to answer this question. Instead, he merely dampened the Roman’s boasting of his power by declaring, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above.” With this he turned away from the governor and placed himself completely in his Father’s hand and power.

 

If only we would learn, when we are threatened and persecuted by the powers of the world, to look up in faith to him who in his own time will lay them in the dust! If only we would learn to serve him, faithfully and with courageous trust, to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given!

 

The Twisted World

 

From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. (John 19:12–15)

 

Where the Devil reigns, everything becomes twisted: Pilate the friend of Caesar, the Jews Roman patriots, Christ a rebel deserving death!

 

Pilate the friend of Caesar! The governor did not have a vicious nature. He was not devoid of feeling, for Jesus made an impression on him and he felt pity for his distress. He was also not without a conscience, for he opposed the sentence of death vigorously. Christ himself judged him mildly when he said, “He who delivered me to you has the greater sin.” The situation in which he found himself was a very difficult one, and thousands of so-called good people in his place would have done as he did. Tiberius, the Roman emperor at that time, was a suspicious, bloodthirsty tyrant. It was to his u that Pilate owed his high office, and now while he was making a final effort to set Jesus free, the fanatical people threatened to accuse him to the emperor. They accused him of siding with a rebel and shouted, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend!” At that the judge grew pale: his office, health, and happiness – his life – was at stake. One word from the emperor and he would be thrown into prison or put to death. Of course, it is just such a sacrifice of self that Christ requires of all who want to become his disciples. That was too much for Pilate to bear.

 

Pilate, however, still had to pay a price. In order to remain the emperor’s friend he breaks the emperor’s law. In order to remain a judge he tramples justice under foot. To remain a statesman he undermines the foundations of the state. Woe to rulers who have friends and servants like this! Woe to officials who for the favour of their employers reject Christ! The world’s friendship is enmity to God.

 

If Pilate really set Christ free, then the chief priests would lose everything. Then the maltreated One could again preach in public and perform miracles. There was no doubt that then the mood of the people would change completely. That would be the end of their power and reputation forever. Then it would be they who were rejected and trampled upon by the people. So they restrained their hatred of the Roman yoke, hypocritically wrapped the cloak of Roman patriotism about them, and shouted, “We have no king but Caesar!” Thus they rejected their Messiah, their Liberator, and made themselves slaves to worldly power. This is not an isolated case of such political hypocrisy. It has often been repeated in history, but it has always estranged the wretched hypocrites from the King of Truth and enchained them in the fetters of the hated tyrants.

 

Christ a rebel deserving death! All guilt was heaped upon the Holy One, who was not only obedient unto death himself but had constantly admonished his own to be obedient to God and to the earthly government. Should his disciples then be surprised if they fare like their Master: if they are executed as godless men and branded as rebels (or at least banished as disturbers of the peace as soon as they refuse to worship the gods of this world)? But even in this twisted world the Lord kept his spotless purity and his eternal kingdom through silence and endurance. Follow him, all who want to be his subjects.

 

Day 32 - Saturday 2 April

 

Pilate Washes His Hands

 

So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” (Matthew 27:24)

 

Pilate felt that a terrible bloodguilt lay upon his conscience. As he did not want to carry this guilt, he performed a symbolic act. He had a basin of water brought to him and washed his hands in the sight of the crowd. He believed that with this act he could stand before the people and his own conscience guiltless of this judicial murder. So he testified once more to Jesus’ righteousness and pushed all the blame from himself onto the people, saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves!”

 

But his efforts were in vain. The reproach that it was he who sacrificed this righteous man continued to burn within him, and throughout all the centuries he has remained branded in the eyes of the whole world as the unjust judge. Yet he was right in feeling that a person can have peace only if, in all circumstances and struggles, he keeps his hands clean – that is, a clear conscience. Everyone of moral character knows this. That is why David prayed so ardently, “Create in me a clean heart, O God!” (Ps. 51:10). That is why Christ himself testified so impressively, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8). Accordingly, innumerable Christians have striven for purification of conscience. Many of them, however, are so foolish as to imagine that like Pilate they can achieve the purification of their inner lives by outward actions. Such things as fasting, almsgiving, attending church, outwardly observing the Lord’s Supper, and castigating the body are supposed to make a person pleasing to God and satisfied with himself. Vain effort, ill-fated torment! Seriously thinking people will be driven to despair, while the thoughtless succumb completely to the pleasures of the world.

 

The only way of salvation is and remains the narrow path of repentance, faith, and consecration. Whoever wants to have a pure heart must recognise his own guilt and stop trying to push it onto the shoulders of others. Are we free of guilt for Christ’s crucifixion? Do we want to push it all onto Pilate and the Jews? Oh, no! The cry comes to us too from the soul of our suffering Saviour, “You have burdened me with your sins, you have wearied me with your iniquities” (Isa. 43:24). The blessing of Christ’s cross will begin for us only at the moment when we admit with bleeding hearts that it is we who put him to death. But with repentance must come the living faith that confesses with certainty, “I believe in the forgiveness of my sins.” Herein lies the strength to fight sin and do our best to follow Christ in deed and truth. Every morning and every evening we have to crucify our old nature so that the new nature in us may rise daily with Christ to the blessed life of Easter ay. Then we will begin to experience in ourselves the immeasurable depth and glory of the words, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

 

Christ’s Blood as Curse and as Blessing

 

And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25)

So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will, (Luke 23:24–25)

 

Whereas Pilate tried vainly to rid himself of the guilt for Jesus’ death, the people eagerly took it upon themselves with, crying, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Those are terrible words, calling a curse upon themselves. When Cain killed his brother Abel, the Lord said to him, “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground” (Gen. 4:10). It cried to heaven for retribution and revenge. How much more powerfully, how much more effectively, does the blood of Christ, the firstborn of all brothers, cry against his murderers to the heart of the Father on high. A curse came upon that nation. It came upon them and their children in the dreadful destruction of Jerusalem, in the bloody slaughter of countless sons and daughters of Israel, in the cruel slavery of the survivors, in the dispersion of the whole nation among the peoples of the earth. In spite of this, the nation did not die. They are still a people, though they have no temple.

 

The blood of Christ, the Son of God, has also come upon us, upon the people of the new covenant – but praise God, not as a curse but as a blessing. There have been trends within the church in which Christ’s blood and wounds were treated in a fanciful, soft manner with songs and tears. The subject is too serious for that. With grateful adoration we surrender ourselves in faith to the mystery of the redemption, to the blessing of the blood of Christ. But this blood also calls from earth to heaven. It speaks of the unending grief of our Saviour, of how he trembled and flinched, of the cutting blows of the lash and of the sharp spines of the crown of thorns. It speaks of his pierced hands and feet and of the whole agony of his death on the accursed tree. But it also testifies to the divine love that is greater than all the torture of the cross. It cries to heaven with a voice that breaks the Father’s heart and overwhelms us: “Grace! Grace! Grace for lost sinners!” Grace for you and me, for the blood of the Son of God cleanses us from all sin – and even though they were red as blood, they are to become white as snow. It washes clean all who are repentant and fills the believing with new life. Life is in the blood (Lev. 17:14). In the blood of Christ his life is imparted to us.

 

The Lord’s Supper reminds us how the blood quenches the thirst of the thirsty and fills them with the powers of the heavenly life and of blessed resurrection. Christ’s blood and righteousness is our dress of honour, and all who have made their clothing bright in the blood of the Lamb shall enter into heaven’s eternal joy.

 

Day 33 - Sunday 3 April

 

He Bore His Cross

 

Then he delivered him over to be crucified. So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross. (John 19:16–17)

 

Pilate’s last effort to save Jesus was crushed by the threat, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend!” So he delivered the Holy One to his executioners to be crucified, and the Lord began his painful walk to Golgotha.

 

“He bore his own cross.” In these simple words the Gospel reports the Lord’s great deed of love. He had already borne many burdens, but none had been as heavy as this cross. He was completely exhausted after his inner struggle in Gethsemane, the physical and spiritual abuse of that night of horror, the bloody flogging in the praetorium, and the prospect of a cruel death. Now he had to load the heavy beam of the cross upon his wounded shoulder. Shattered, his face pallid, his head crowned with thorns, he walked between two criminals, accompanied by gaping and mocking crowds. That would be enough to make anyone else succumb who felt as deeply as he – but he bore his cross. Yet in this cross there was more to be borne than human eyes could see or the mind could grasp. There were burdens that he alone could comprehend: the sins of all sinners, the suffering of all humanity, the terrible judgment of God’s wrath. That was the immense weight that made this cross so heavy. And yet – he bore his cross. We look at him and say in adoration, “Behold the Lamb of God, who bears the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

 

For he carried his cross for us – also for you and me. Now, when he lays a cross upon his disciples, they have only the smallest part of it to carry. The real burden, the curse of sin, he took upon himself alone. So our cross is essentially an admonition to repentance, a school of patience, a means toward the strengthening of our faith. Indeed, it should become for us a badge of honour, testifying that we are accounted worthy to enter the Lord’s holy order of the cross, and united with him to gain the crown through suffering.

 

Simon of Cyrene

 

And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. (Luke 23:26)

 

The Lord bore his cross in unflinching obedience, gentle patience, and faithful love. But the burden was so heavy that his strength threatened to give way under it. When the soldiers saw how he staggered they feared that the whole procession might be held up by his collapse. So they roughly laid hold of a man who was just coming from his fields, and compelled him to help the Lord carry his cross. He resisted, to be sure. He did not want to do it, but he had to.

 

To begin with, he probably bent under the load with grim, concealed rage. As his feelings calmed down on this way to the crucifixion, however, and as he saw more deeply into the eyes and heart of the holy Sufferer, doubtless a wonderful peace came over him. Probably it was then that the first rays of eternal salvation shone into his soul. Then he was ready to bear the cross, not only because he had to, but because he wanted to.

 

Indeed, he surely regarded it afterwards as a great and undeserved grace and honour to have been accounted worthy to help his Saviour in his very great need. We may draw the conclusion that his bearing of the cross brought him eternal blessing from the fact that he is referred to as the father of Alexander and Rufus, two well-known members of the early church (see Rom. 16:13). Wherever the Lord’s cross is preached, the story of Simon is told, as is that of Mary’s anointing. More significantly, he is now forever with his Lord in the heavenly paradise.

 

If such a thing were possible in Christ’s kingdom, believers could envy him the blows and mocking words with which he was compelled to become the sole comrade of his eternal King in the midst of his enemies. Yet the same thing has fallen to the share of all martyrs. Indeed, there are nameless millions who bear a cross for the Lord in silence. They probably also resisted at first and wished only to be relieved of their cross. But, since looking more deeply into their Master’s face and realising that they are bearing one cross with him, they have become quiet. They see that through their cross they are being renewed, consecrated, and transfigured to be like him. They see too that when they are about to collapse he sends them a helpful Simon at the decisive moment. So in spite of all that they have to bear, they rejoice that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

 

The Lord (who knows as no other the bitterness of suffering and how hard it is to bear the cross) now spreads out his arms of love to all his cross-bearers and says to them, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30).

 

Week 6