Journey to the Cross–March 31

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. (Mk. 15:21, NIV)

As Christ-followers, we are called to take up our crosses. Sometimes this is a voluntary act that we do in love for Jesus and identification with Him. Other times, however, crosses are forced upon us. Put yourself in Simon’s place for a minute. You’re minding your own business when suddenly soldiers order you to carry the cross for a Man who looks nearly dead already. You have no choice—they have swords and the authority of Rome behind them—so you do as you’re told.

The cross is rough and heavy, and it is already bloodied by the condemned Man’s blood. You feel shame as the crowd looks on— for all they know, you are the criminal facing execution.

Now imagine that this Man, whom you learn is named Jesus, looks into your eyes. What does He convey to you with that gaze? Perhaps He leans on you for support. Maybe He even says something to you. What might He say? Try to imagine the strange intimacy you might feel as you painfully make your way up the Via Dolorosa with Jesus. What does it mean to you to realize that for reasons only God knows, you were singled out to help Jesus carry His cross to Calvary?

Is there a cross that has been forced upon you? Something painful in your life that you must carry, something you never would have volunteered for? Think about Jesus walking alongside you as He did Simon of Cyrene. How does He look at you? What does He say to you? How might experiencing “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Phil. 3:10, NIV) help you as you participate in this unchosen suffering? Talk to Jesus about whatever feelings and thoughts this meditation stirs in you. Thank Him for sharing the suffering with you—and ask Him to help you experience the comfort of His presence.

Journey to the Cross–March 30

They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. (Mk. 15:17, NIV)

Jesus suffered intensely for us. In every way thinkable, and even in some unthinkable ways. Many of us prefer to look at the empty cross. We don’t want to think about the suffering much. But it is good for us to go there once in a while, so we can recognize afresh how much He loved us, how much we are worth to Him.

Find a thorn of some kind. A branch from a rose bush or other prickly plant will do. A pine needle could do the trick. Or, lacking that, a needle, pin, or thumbtack can fill in. Gently jab your finger or thumb with the thorn or thorn substitute. Don’t try to draw blood, don’t attempt to bring serious pain or damage. But do prick yourself enough to get the idea of what a crown made entirely of thorns and pressed into Jesus’ head might have felt like for Him.

Sit there with the pain for a few minutes. Imagine the blood dripping down His forehead and into His eyes. Ask the Holy Spirit to remind you of other details of Jesus’ suffering. He may bring to mind emotional, relational, psychological, spiritual, or physical pain Jesus experienced, for His suffering included all of these, to the extreme. This meditation is difficult, but do not rush it. Allow yourself time to take in some of what it felt like for Jesus to suffer for you.

Now, staying with that picture, talk to Him. Ask: Jesus, what motivated You to endure all that pain?

Hear Jesus respond to you in love (if you need hints about what He might say, look at John 10:10, 15:13, and 1 John 3:16). Respond to what He says, then finish your time with worship and thanksgiving.

Journey to the Cross–March 29

“I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.” (Eph. 1:18, NIV)

By now you’ve probably noticed that these “mini-Easters” we’ve been observing each Sunday during Lent have been opportunities to think ahead to when Jesus will fully reign and all things will be completely restored. When we choose to think “on things above” (Col. 3:2) like this, we can remain hopeful and sustain the motivation to live and pray in ways that actually do bring His kingdom to earth “as it is in heaven.”

Paul was a master of hopeful, big-picture thinking and praying. Here’s one of his prayers from Ephesians 1:

I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (17-23, NIV)

Who do you know who needs to experience more of the kingdom of God right now? It might be a family member, friend, or co-worker. Or maybe it’s yourself! Let this prayer give you words to pray life-giving words of the kingdom of God for whoever it is in your world who needs them today.

Journey to the Cross–March 28

Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. (Mk. 15:15, NIV)

Is it ever possible to satisfy the crowd? Pontius Pilate tried. As the Rome-appointed judge of Judea, Pilate personally found Jesus blameless concerning the charges the Jews laid against Him. But because he hoped for the people’s applause (or to avoid their rotten tomatoes, anyhow) he caved in to peer pressure and handed an innocent Man over for torture and execution.

“Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe,” Proverbs reminds us (29:25, NIV). In fact, history tells us that Pilate never really did win the Jew’s favor. Just a few years later, he was ordered back to Rome for offending the religious leaders in the way he handled a Samaritan uprising. When your main goal is to make people happy, you usually won’t win—or at least not for long.

Think about times when you may have tried to “satisfy the crowd.” Ask the Lord to bring to mind two or three specific instances. What happened? Did it turn out the way you hoped it would? What did you have to compromise or give up in order to try to please others?

Now ask Him to show you what causes you to need people’s approval? Is it a longing for affirmation? Acceptance? Belonging? Maybe it’s fear of rejection or abandonment? Or insecurity in your own ability to choose? What do you suppose God might want to do for you to help strengthen and heal you in these areas? Will you ask Him to do it? Talk to Him about it now. He can be trusted—He is not fickle like the crowds.

Journey to the Cross–March 27

But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. (Mk. 15:5, NIV) 

Defensiveness. It’s not named among the seven deadly sins—but maybe it ought to be. Rooted in pride, defensiveness never takes you anywhere good. It escalates arguments, deepens misunderstanding, burns bridges, and sometimes leads to violence. Yet nearly all of us engage in defensive behavior from time to time.

Jesus, however, didn’t have a defensive bone in His body. Even after a harrowing night of betrayal, arrest, trial by a kangaroo court, being spit upon, mocked, fisted, beaten, now dragged before Pilate, Jesus still refuses to defend Himself. Peter was a witness to Jesus’ incredible composure. He writes in 1 Peter 2:23, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”

Jesus didn’t defend Himself because He didn’t need to. He knew who He was. He knew what He was about. He lived a righteous and honest life with nothing to be ashamed of. He was confident on the inside, humble on the outside, and He trusted God to take care of Him in whatever way would best accomplish His holy plans—even if that meant unjust suffering.

What do you learn from Jesus that could help you to be less defensive? Talk to God about it. Confess any times your defensiveness has led to hurt, misunderstanding, or broken relationships. Ask God to help you let go of pride, needing to be right, fear, poor self-image, or whatever it is that triggers defensiveness for you. Ask Him to help you see yourself the way He sees you so that what others say doesn’t matter as much. And most of all, ask Him to help you to trust Him to defend you so you don’t need to do it yourself. Then, starting today, look for an opportunity to hold your tongue when, ordinarily you might feel the need to defend yourself.

 

Journey to the Cross–March 26

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. (Lk. 22:61, NIV)

There is tremendous power in eye contact. By looking deeply into another person’s eyes we can communicate love, disapproval, encouragement, anger, humor, or many other messages. When we are trying to lie or hide something, when we feel ashamed or intimidated, we often will divert our eyes and avoid eye contact all together.

Imagine that you are Peter. A few hours ago, in front of all the other disciples, you boldly promised Jesus that you’d follow Him to the end, even if it meant prison or death. But you weren’t able to keep your promise. In fact you denied even knowing Jesus—three pathetic times. How do you feel?

Now imagine that Jesus, hearing every one of your cowardly denials, turns and looks you straight in the eye. What do you see in His eyes? How does it make you feel? What do you want to do? Is there anything you want to say to Him? Take your time with these questions. Stay with each one for a while.

One of God’s names is El-Roi, “The God who sees me,” (Gen. 16:13, NLT). He really does see us. When we’re doing well, He is the happy Father, cheering us on. When we are not doing so well, even when we have broken His heart, He is still looking for our eyes, wanting to let us know that He loves us and wants to heal and restore us.

Is it easy for you to return Jesus’ gaze of love today? If so, enjoy some time of silent communion with Him, looking into His face and wordlessly responding to His love. Or, if you like, you may want to use words, too, or sing a chorus like “I Want to Know You More” or “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

If it is hard for you to make eye contact with Jesus, don’t avoid Him completely! Confess to Him whatever you are feeling and why you are feeling it. Ask Him to cleanse and free you from whatever it is. And then, if you can, look into His eyes and see Him look back at you with acceptance, love, and encouragement. Stay there with Him for a while, just resting in His understanding and compassion for you.

Journey to the Cross–March 25

Then seizing [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. (Lk. 22:54, NIV)

It’s easy for many of us to judge the disciples as though we (if we had been in their place) would have spoken more humbly and wisely and would have made more courageous, faith-filled choices. Peter, especially, gets a lot of flack for being impulsive, proud, and out of sync with the program. But really, would we have been any different?

In this verse, Jesus is being led to a trial that isn’t likely to turn out well. When a bunch of Roman soldiers show up for a night-time arrest, one can hardly help but think about floggings, imprisonment, or possible crucifixion. So, even though only hours earlier Peter had sworn his allegiance to Jesus, his courage falters now. Following Jesus might cost him. So he follows Jesus, but at a distance. And you know what happened next: he denied Jesus—not just once, but three times.

But can’t we empathize with Peter a little? For most of us following Jesus isn’t hard when it means a loving church community, answered prayer, purposeful work, steady income, and peaceful families. But what about when following Jesus means being misunderstood, tested, left out, disappointed, made fun of, or lumped in with a certain group of Christians you don’t respect very much? What about when following Jesus costs? Do you follow closely then? Or are you more like Peter, following at a distance?

Talk to Jesus about the way you follow Him. Do you follow through thick and thin, or just when you have time and things are going well? Is there a specific area in which it is hard to follow Him closely today? Ask Him to show you one little step you could take to move nearer to Him—then trust Him and do it.