Make Ready

“Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.”
 (Luke 3:4)

Reflection:
It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar that John the Baptist appeared in the country around the Jordan – preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He was the one prophesied by Isaiah who would come to prepare the way for the Lord. In a sense the Christian Church has now taken over that role as it prepares for the second coming of our Lord – this time in all His glory.

The Church is made up of individual Christians and so the role of the Preparer of the Way is now a part of each of our ministries. This is confirmed in the Great Commissions as we read them in the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John. Our ministry fields are the contexts in which we live, work and play. In one sense it is the reason for our being there – God has been at work without our being aware of it.

Our ministry of preparing the way for the Lord has a number of facets to it. One would be the way that we live and perform our duties. Another would be the ways in which we relate and speak to people. Still another would be the way in which we cope with pressure, trauma and tragedy – whether in our own lives or in the lives of those around us. Do we, in these ways, reveal a relationship with and trust in God.

A significant manner in which we can prepare the way for the Lord is in prayer. The situations which are a part of our everyday lives have within them people who need the Lord, or more of the Lord, in their lives – whether they are aware of it or not. In our homes, during our travelling, at work or anywhere else, we can pray for the Lord to reach out and touch these individual people in a special way. It is something that everyone can do, and keep on doing. As we look around with more awareness we will also begin to pick up the silent ways in which people reveal their need – and we can respond by holding them up to God.

Prayer is one of the most important gifts that we have been given, and it is meant to be used to the full.

Response:
Prepare people for the Lord’s coming by firstly praying for them.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, thank You that You are coming again in glory. Please help me faithfully to hold those You have given me, and those You point out to me, in prayer for You. And thank You for those who have prayed for me. Amen.

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Everlasting Arms

“The curtain of the temple was torn in two.
Jesus called out with a loud voice,
 “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
When he had said this, he breathed his last”
(Luke 23:45-46)

Reflection:
The curtain of the Temple was torn in two – from top to bottom. This was the curtain that hid from view and entrance the Holy of Holies – the place where the presence of God dwelt. Only the High Priest was allowed to enter, and then only once a year on the Day of Atonement. Now, finally, the barrier had been removed through the birth, life and death of the Lord Jesus. The way to God was opened for anyone who would enter through faith in Christ.

Jesus then died with the loveliest of prayers on His lips.  Barclay tells us that this prayer from Psalm 31 was taught by Jewish mothers to their children for them to say as they prepared for sleep. Jesus added just one word to it, the word ‘Father.’ And as He sang it out so He sank gratefully into ‘the everlasting arms.’

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Jesus had died.

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Every Moment of Pain

“They offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall;
but after tasting it, he refused to drink it”
(Matthew 27:34)

Reflection:
One of the greatest blessings of medical research is the advancement made in the area of pain-killers. Having had a number of surgical procedures in the last two years I have been made very aware of the benefits of being unconscious during the operations and relieved of pain after them.

Jesus did not have that blessing. In fact He refused the best that was on offer – the wine mixed with gall. William Barclay tells us that this drug was made-up by a group of wealthy women in Jerusalem as an act of mercy. It was a way of deadening the senses.

However, Jesus was not going to pass through His hours on the cross in a drugged state of semi-consciousness. In dying there for our sins ‘He was determined to accept the suffering and death at its bitterest and at its grimmest and to avoid no particle of pain.’ His calling was to be a living sacrifice and not a senseless offering. So He suffered in our place the punishment and death that we deserved.

We cannot begin to imagine the searing pain in every part of His body over those long hours, and the spiritual torment that He suffered in the process. But He hung there and accepted and absorbed it for every moment of my life and living – the past, the present and the future – and for the eternity that was His to offer.

“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
yet we considered him stricken by God,
smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed”
(Isaiah 53:4-5)

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The Last Lap

“When they came to the place called the Skull,
there they crucified him,
along with the criminals
– one on his right, the other on his left”
(Luke 23:33)

Reflection:
Finally Jesus had arrived. Since before the creation of the world this was the place towards which His redeeming ministry had been pointed. However there were no laurel wreath and great acclaim awaiting Him. There were no crowds to cheer Him on like a long-distance runner finally entering the stadium for one last and glorious lap.

Instead he was stripped naked. His torn, bruised and bleeding body was fixed to the cross. Brutal nails were driven through His tortured flesh. There He was hung out to die in the cruellest fashion devised by man and reserved for the lowest class of criminal. This point was highlighted by the presence of His companions on their crosses. The tableau proclaimed that here was no lonely martyr – the victim of cruel oppression and blind hatred. Here He was ‘numbered with the transgressors.’ (Isaiah 53:12)

Peter Marshall envisioned it like this.

And so the crowd came to Golgotha,
a hill shaped like a skull, outside the city gates.

Only as the nails were driven in,
did the shouting stop.
There was a hush.
Most of them were stunned …. horrified …
Even the hardest of them were silenced.

Mary, the mother of Jesus,
closed her eyes
and stopped her ears;
she could not bear the thud of the hammer.

A group of soldiers took hold of the crossbeam
and lifted it slowly off the ground.
With each movement the nails tore
at the shredded flesh
in the wrists of the Nazarene.
The cross swayed in the air for a moment
and then with a thud
dropped into the hole prepared for it.

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Help don’t watch

“For if men do these things when the tree is green,
what will happen when it is dry?”
(Luke 23:31)

Reflection:
And so they placed the cross on Jesus shoulders and led Him staggering towards the place of execution. On the way they met Simon of Cyrene and, because the weight of the cross was almost too much for the Lord, they made him carry it for Him. Simon might not have been too happy at the time but afterwards may have counted it his greatest privilege.

A large number of people followed this grim and slow procession including ‘women who mourned and wailed for Him.’ These must have included those who had followed Him in His ministry and helped to support Him and His disciples. There would have been Mary His mother as well as Mary Magdalen and possibly the sisters Martha and Mary. With them could have been many of the women of the city as well.

At one point Jesus turned to them and gave a prophetic warning of the terrible times to come – times so bad that the women without children to suffer would be counted the more fortunate.

And then He gave a final warning. If men to these things even to Him whilst He is in their midst what shocking things may they do when He is gone. Indeed we can see it in ourselves. There are things we would never contemplate whilst in church on Sundays. However from Monday to Friday they may well become a part of our lives and living.

Lent gives us an opportunity to ask of ourselves – “Do I walk all day and every day with the Lord, or do I merely walk behind Him and watch?”

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(Picture: Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary, Raphael)

By His wounds

“Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him.
Then they led him away to crucify him”
(Matthew 27:26-31)

Reflection:
Pilate now called for water and washed his hands in front of the crowd whilst saying that he was ‘innocent of this man’s blood.’ In this way he finally gave in to their requests. However, much as he might want it to, the water could not cleanse him of his responsibility for what was to take place. Like Lady Macbeth he would carry his acts into the final judgement still to come.

“Here’s the smell of the blood still.
All the perfumes of Arabia
will not sweeten this little hand.
Oh, Oh, Oh!”

‘He had Jesus flogged.’ Four little words quickly read that cover over what was in fact a ‘terrible torture.’ According to William Barclay the lash was ‘a long leather thong, studded at intervals with sharpened pieces of bone and pellets of lead. Such scourging always preceded a crucifixion and it “reduced the naked body to strips of raw flesh, and inflamed and bleeding weals.” Men died under it, and men lost their reason under it, and few remained conscious to the end of it.”

After this the soldiers amused themselves with the Lord whilst His cross was prepared. There was more pain to come as the long thorns of His crown were driven into His head when they ‘struck Him on the head again and again.”

I well recall saying to myself whilst watching The Passion of the Christ, “That’s enough now Lord, that’s enough blood!” But it was whilst Jesus was still struggling along the road towards Calvary where He had hours more terrible agony in front of Him. He had to live through every long and soul-screaming second – and He did it for me – and for you – and for all of us – because He loves and wants us with Him – so much.

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(Picture: The Flagellation of Christ by Rubens)

He takes our place

“Now it was the governor’s custom at the Feast to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him”
(Matthew 27:15-18)

Reflection:
Pilate made one last effort to have the crowd agree to his releasing Jesus. Seemingly coincidentally it was the time for him to release a prisoner chosen by the people. He gave them the choice between Jesus and ‘a notorious prisoner called Barabbas.’ Maybe even he was sickened when they chose the guilty Barabbas over the innocent Christ. But he was now committed – and he released Barabbas.

How must Barabbas have felt when he was brought before the governor and the crowd – and then told that he was free to go? Perhaps he turned and looked at the man who was to take his place – and could their eyes have met? What would have gone through his mind as he walked away into the crowd – and even later when he stood on the fringes and watched as his redeemer was crucified and died?

Maybe he felt the unfairness of it all, particularly as he learned more about the man they called Jesus. But it would have been expecting too much for him to have objected to his freedom at the cost of the life of another. For after all he might have faced crucifixion himself and only an idiot would choose to die that way so that another could go free.

Yes, only an idiot – certainly not a Messiah or the Son of God for they would be far too important.

And three days later when the stories of a resurrection began to circulate what then did he think? Perhaps he wished he had not grinned quite so triumphantly at his condemned liberator as he passed on to the freedom of the world.

Yes, He did warn us about valuing our life in this world over our life in the next.

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(Picture from The Passion of the Christ)