Lent 2020 Devotional

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People of the Kingdom-- April 12

Matthew 28:5-7, “But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’”

There are few things in this life that are final.

Take sports, for example. I remember when I was much younger, and I would get excited about championships like the World Series, the Super Bowl, or the NCAA’s national championship. They seemed so important; they seemed to mean so much. But they’ve lost much of that excitement for me through the years. I think the main reason is that they’re never really final. 

This isn’t to minimize what it takes to try to get to a championship, let alone win one. The time, effort, and sacrifice the players and coaches give and make is truly staggering. They certainly deserve the accolades from their championship victories. What I mean is that, as wonderful as their achievement is, it only lasts a few months before we’re doing it all again. How great can the victory be when a new champion will be crowned 12 months later?

What happened today is final. Jesus contended with every single one of your enemies when He went to the cross. Few college football seasons, for example, end without objections from the teams that didn’t get to play in the playoff. “Yes, they won,” the fans say, “but our team matched up against them much better. We would have beaten them.” That objection is not possible today. Sin, death, the power of the devil—they’re all broken today. They have all done their worst to Him and He is victorious. There are no enemies left to oppose your King.

It is final. And it is, in fact, your victory, as well. Because the enemies that He chose to take on are your enemies. Sin may continue to torment you, but “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). The devil may trouble you, but “for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Death still looms in the future, frightening and unknown, but Christ is only the “firstborn of the dead” (Revelation 1:4). “56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56-57).

“On the cross, the enemies of God were truly destroyed, the devil’s plan backfired, and death and sin swallowed up themselves. Through His death, Jesus has loosed the bonds of your death. You are free from the death of hell, and your own passing is but a brief slumber that takes you to the arms of Jesus Christ. Because He endured your death— taking it upon Himself— you have true life and will never truly die. Therefore, just as your death is His, so His life is yours. When God raised Jesus up, He raised you up and made this resurrection yours in your baptism. And He [continues] to assure you of this life. When you eat and drink Christ’s body and blood, this living God unites Himself again to you, forgiving your sin, and rejuvenating you, even as your body appears to be failing. Your body, broken by death, will be restored by this body of God and will live forever, the culmination of the life of faith that you have in Christ. …[On this holy day,] look to Christ who died the full death of hell so that you will live a new life. His resurrected body and blood are yours. His promise is yours. He has loosed your bonds forever.”[1]

To paraphrase Johann Gerhard: the One who died for you on the cross stands by you in death and protects you in the day of judgment. When this earthly tent of yours has been destroyed (2 Cor. 5), He will bring your soul into the eternal dwelling of your heavenly home. When your eyes are darkened in the struggle of death, He will shine in your heart with the light of saving faith. When the cold sweat bursts forth from your dying members, He will remind you of His bloody sweat that burst forth as the perfect payment for your sins and the remedy against the evil of your death (Luke 22:44).[2]

When, in that last struggle, speech begins to fail, He will grant that through the grace of the Holy Spirit you are able to sigh to Him. When those last difficulties press on your heart, He will stand by you with the consolation and help of His life-giving grace. And, in that moment when you are beyond the help of anyone else, He will receive you into His care and protection.[3]

Through His most holy wounds, endured as He suffered on the cross, He grants that you are able to overcome the fiery arrows of Satan with which he attacks you in death. By the severest torments that He experienced during the crucifixion, He helps you endure and overcome all the insults of the power of hell so that your last word in the light of this world may be the same one with which He brought to completion all things on the cross: Please receive my spirit, which You bought back at such a high price and commit it into your hands. [4]

And, finally, in that day of severe judgment, He will exempt you from any harsh word. The One who is treated so unjustly will judge, on that day, in perfect righteousness. As He does, your sins will remain hidden by the umbrella of His grace and be cast into the depths of the sea as your soul is bound up in the bundle of the living God so that, with all the elect, you may reach the eternal fellowship of joy. And then, finally, at the culmination of all things, your blessed death will be followed by a blessed resurrection.[5]

People of the Kingdom, things in this life are rarely final. Today is. This victory is final. And eternal.


 

 

Acknowledgements

“People of the Kingdom” Lenten Devotions © 2020, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unionville, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. Used with permission.


[1] “Visitation Devotions,” Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. Edited by Arthur A. Just, Jr., and Scot A. Kinnaman. p. 123-124.

[2] (paraphrased) Gerhard, Johann. “Meditations on Divine Mercy.” Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. Translated by the Rev. Dr. Matthew Harrison. p. 126.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

People of the Kingdom-- April 11

Matthew 27:50-54, “50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. 51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. 54 When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’”

The Kingdom of Heaven has come. And this creation already begins to be undone.

It’s no mystery why the sun hid its face rather than shine upon the spectacle being played out beneath it’s steady gaze on Good Friday. On that day, more than any other, the words of Jonathan Edwards ring true: “[T]he sun does not willingly shine upon you, to give you light to serve sin and Satan; the earth does not willingly yield her increase to satisfy your lusts; nor is it willingly a stage for your wickedness to be acted upon…. God's creatures are good, and were made for men to serve God with; and do not willingly subserve any other purpose, so directly contrary to their nature and end. And the world would spew you out, were it not for the sovereign hand of Him who hath subject it in hope.”[1]

Now we go a step further. With the death of Jesus Christ, creation, itself, which has been subjected to the curse of human sin, begins to be undone as the Kingdom of Heaven begins to break through into this world. Creation has, in fact, been subjected to frustration. It has long groaned at having to bear the effects of sin. Now it is groaning with new purpose. It is groaning as in the pains of childbirth (Rom. 8:22). And, based on the saints who rose from the dead that day, it’s having trouble holding back any longer.

It seems that the earth cannot wait until the day when the sons of God are revealed. It yearns to be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain, with [you], the freedom of the glory of the children of God (Rom. 8:21). Even as it temporarily receives the body of its King into it, the earth begins to groan with anticipation of the day when all of the dead will live, when every body will rise, when all who dwell in the dust will awake and sing for joy—that final, joyful day when the earth will give birth to the dead. On that day, this creation will be purified as with fire and the Kingdom of Heaven will appear fully and finally as the One who is seated on the throne makes all things new (Rev. 21:5). That glorious day is still agonizingly far off. But for just a moment, on Good Friday, the earth cannot help itself. It’s unable to wait, prematurely sending forth a few of the saints, risen to life again.

Neither creation, nor you or I, not even the Son knows when that day will be. What you do know—and what will be revealed fully and completely on that day—is that you are People of the Kingdom.


 

 

 

Acknowledgements

“People of the Kingdom” Lenten Devotions © 2020, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unionville, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. Used with permission.


[1] Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.” Sermon preached July 8, 1741, in Enfield, Connecticut.

People of the Kingdom-- April 10

Matthew 27:27-29, 35-37 “27 Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole battalion before him. 28 And they stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 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!’ …35 And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. 36 Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. 37 And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, ‘This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.’”

Your King has assumed His throne. 

In one of the chapters that we skipped (20:20-28), the mother of James and John asked Jesus if He would permit her sons to sit, one on His right hand and one on His left (in those places of honor), when He came into His kingdom. His response, in short, was “You have no idea what you’re asking” (20:22). Now we know why. “22 …[T]o sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father,” Jesus had said, cryptically (Matthew 20:22–23). Now we discover who it is that the Father had determined would be on Jesus’ right and left. Your King has assumed His throne. He has come into His Kingdom. And, ‘seated’ on His right and left, are two thieves. Do not be fooled by appearances, however. Your King has, in fact, assumed His throne.

He is enthroned—except it’s on a cross. But, indeed, “Fulfilled is all that David told In sure prophetic song of old, That God the nations’ king should be And reign in triumph from the tree” (LSB #455, stz. 3). 

He is publicly acknowledged as king—except it’s by soldiers mocking Him and by a sign nailed above Him as He hangs there, dying. But, indeed, “Upon the cross extended See, world, your Lord suspended…” (LSB #453, stz. 1).

He is crowned—except it’s with thorns. But, indeed, “Did e’er such love and sorrow meet Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” (LSB #426, stz. 3).

People of the Kingdom, look to the cross. Your King has assumed His throne. The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Today, above all days, sing out, “Unto God be praise and glory; To the Father and the Son, To th’eternal Spirit honor Now and evermore be done; Praise and glory in the highest While the timeless ages run” (LSB #454, stz. 5). 

 

 

Acknowledgements

“People of the Kingdom” Lenten Devotions © 2020, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unionville, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. Used with permission.

 

People of the Kingdom-- April 9

Matthew 27:11-12, “11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, ‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus said, ‘You have said so.’ 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer.”

Which one is really powerless here?

Here we see two rulers. One is quite in control of what is about to happen. No one can sway His decision. Nothing can deter Him from what He’s about to do. It will happen. He holds all the power here and He’s willing to use it to make His will happen. He is quite firmly in control.

And then there’s Pontius Pilate.

Two kingdoms stand face to face here. Just like the men, they aren’t in direct opposition—the other Gospel writers include Jesus’ assurance to Pilate that His Kingdom is not of this world. If they were in opposition, Pilate wouldn’t hesitate to strike out at the threat. If they were in opposition, Jesus’ followers would have fought to keep Him from being taken. They’re not in direct opposition, but one holds a much higher authority than the other.

It’s not the one holding the sword who’s really in control here, it’s the one with His hands bound, watched closely by an armed guard. It’s not the one asking, “What is truth?” it’s the One who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Even while He stands bound and under guard, He holds the fate of the universe in His hands. Pilate sees enough to know that this man is truly innocent. He tries, unsuccessfully, set Him free. But he cannot. He finally takes his rightful place on the judgment seat and issues his verdict—proving, in the process, to be powerless against the crowds.

Firmly in control, Jesus goes unwaveringly to the cross. There He takes up His Kingly rule and, from that awe-full throne, He issues a verdict that no one has the power to question. “It is finished.” And, with those words, you are People of His Kingdom.

 

 

Acknowledgements

“People of the Kingdom” Lenten Devotions © 2020, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unionville, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. Used with permission.

People of the Kingdom-- April 8

Matthew 26:63-64, “63 But Jesus remained silent. 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.’ 64 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.’”

What supreme irony. The testimony of both Jesus and John the Baptizer have been clear and unambiguous and they both agreed. Now they marshal false witnesses against Jesus and those false witnesses can’t get their stories straight. He has publicly professed His identity on many occasions—and they roundly rejected Him each time. Now they make a show of trying to pry an admission out of Him. As students of the scriptures, His works, alone, should have clearly shown them who He was. Now they accuse Him of blasphemy and mockingly demand that He prophesy by identifying who it is that struck Him. 

Is there a better picture of your sinful flesh? Even as you wrestle with the guilt that gnaws at your soul, you lash out in response to the clear word of scripture that you are a sinner. You close your ears when the clear Word of God doesn’t say what you like, then you chide God for not speaking clearly to us today. He literally places His own Son in front of us, but we prefer to take refuge in the false idea that God, if he/she/it is out there, is unknowable. 

He is, in fact, the Son of Man who is seated at the right hand of God the Father and will soon return on the clouds of heaven. Don’t allow His silence or His humility deceive you. He and the Holy Spirit that He has sent both testify to what He has done for you. They both testify clearly, unambiguously, and truthfully, about who He is and what He’s done. Most importantly, they also testify that what He did was, in fact, for you. Through His death you have eternal life; in His flesh you receive fellowship with God; and, as He is seated at the right hand of Power, He elevates you there to a place before His very throne, as well. 

This moment from Jesus’ suffering is also an accurate picture of the struggle within each of us as your sinful flesh tries in vain to find a way to dismiss God’s claim upon you. Thankfully Jesus has stood firm and unmoving. By this very suffering and death you have been made People of the Kingdom.

 

 

Acknowledgements

“People of the Kingdom” Lenten Devotions © 2020, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unionville, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. Used with permission.

People of the Kingdom-- April 7

Matthew 26:51–56, “51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’”

The pen is mightier than the sword. But then there’s this.

We respect the power of the written word, and for good reason. Physical force has a certain power. But that power has significant limits. A soldier can force you to comply with commands. But physical force cannot command loyalty, let alone love. Words, however, have the power to persuade, to inspire, even to command hearts and minds.

Words are powerful. Still, the Scriptures go beyond that. Notice what Jesus’ main concern is. As He is arrested in preparation for being falsely convicted and, ultimately, killed, the main concern that He expresses is that “the Scriptures be fulfilled.” You see here that it is literally true: His Word is good, even when His own life depends upon it. 

What has He said through the scriptures? Let’s take a couple of examples. First, from Isaiah: “6 On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. 7And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 25:6–8).

A second passage, this time from Revelation: “3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true’” (Rev. 21:3-5).

The pen is mightier than the sword. And then there’s the Word of God. It has behind it the trustworthiness of God, Himself. And it has spoken. You are People of the Kingdom.

 

 

Acknowledgements

“People of the Kingdom” Lenten Devotions © 2020, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unionville, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. Used with permission.

People of the Kingdom-- April 6

Matthew 26:26-29, “26 Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is my body.’ 27 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, 28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.’”

He won’t eat it yet, but you get to. 

He won’t taste the bread. Instead, His body will be broken, like the bread was, and lifted up on the cross. “51 [He is] the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that [He] will give for the life of the world is [His] flesh” (Jn 6:51).

He won’t drink this cup. Instead, He’ll be drinking the cup of God’s wrath over sin. God is not timid about pouring out the cup of His Judgment. As the psalmist writes, “8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs” (Ps 75:8). In prior days He sent His prophets, like Jeremiah, to administer this cup to the nations: “15 Thus the LORD, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. 16 They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” 17 So I took the cup from the LORD’s hand, and made all the nations to whom the LORD sent me drink it: 18 Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and officials, to make them a desolation and a waste, a hissing and a curse, as at this day…” (Je 25:15–18). Today Jesus, Himself, will drink it. He will ask the Father to allow the cup to pass from Him, but He will do the Father’s will. He’ll drink it all, to the very dregs.

And because He offers this bread for the life of the world, because He drinks this cup from the Father’s hand, on the day that the Kingdom of Heaven arrives fully and finally He will, in fact, eat and drink them with you. You and He will join in the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom that has no end. You will drink from the water of the River of Life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb (Rev. 22:1). And you will eat from the Tree of Life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month (Rev. 22:2). Even now, He prepares before you and all peoples “a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined” (Is. 25:6). “7 [He has swallowed] up… the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. 8 He [has swallowed] up death forever” (Is. 25:7-8). 

People of the Kingdom: Take and eat the bread that is His body, given for you. Take and drink the wine that is His blood, shed for you. It won’t be long until He feasts with you in His Kingdom.

 

 

Acknowledgements

“People of the Kingdom” Lenten Devotions © 2020, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Unionville, Michigan. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Crossway Bibles, Wheaton, IL. Used with permission.

 

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