Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? Matthew 16:24-26
Dear God, I’ve been seeing so much about politics lately that it’s the first thing that came to mind when I read this passage. There is so much fear inside of people that they are grasping to political power as their hope. They will support the person who says they will save them from the things they fear instead of supporting the person who represents their soul. They’ve made politics their idol.
It seems like idols have come up a lot for me lately. Is it because I’m noticing them and purging them from my life, or are you trying to reveal the idols to me that I cannot see?
Father, it’s going to be a long day. I have several important things on my plate. Help me. Help me to lean into you, boldly represent you and give you glory for what you do for me, and celebrate what you’re doing in my life (both the seen and unseen).
7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”
9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.
13 After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Dear God, I figured that, on Father’s Day, I would spend some time with you and my favorite father of the Bible. If you were to ask most Christians who their favorite father of the Bible is, it would probably be Joseph, Jesus’s earthly father. I mean, really, there isn’t much competition here. Frankly, it’s hard to think of another good one. You have to do some deep cuts and maybe consider Samson’s dad, Manoah. He was simple, but seemingly good. And it’s hard to find anything wrong with John the Baptist’s dad, Zechariah, but we don’t get to see him in action as much. But Joseph…well, Joseph is worth of his own book, in my opinion.
This story is just one of several we get of Joseph being obedient to you. But perhaps my favorite story about him is the first time we see him in Matthew 1:18-19.
18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.
Since this isn’t a story about him being a father, I didn’t start here, but it’s remarkable. In the midst of pain, hurt, and betrayal–in the midst of having his reputation destroyed–he “did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.” Wow. That’s a special man.
But back to him as a father. This is a remarkable story because he believed the dream and didn’t wait until morning to act on it. I wonder if Mary protested. I wonder if Jesus fussed. I don’t know what kind of life he had built in Bethlehem at that point, but he threw it all away to keep this boy–God’s son–safe.
As I look at this picture by Tanja Butler, I notice that it is made completely of lines and shadows. Frankly, the lines make me think of straw (almost like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz). That makes me think of the manger in which Jesus was laid. The shadows give the impression that it’s dark and the white are the scant reflections of just enough light to give us the picture. Jesus is in Mary’s arms, sucking his thumb. Mary has her head against Joseph’s shoulder. Perhaps she’s resting. Perhaps he’s comforting her. Maybe both. I cannot tell if her eyes are open or not. The one line on her left eye makes me think they are closed. And Joseph is there. The design of his coat is almost a more modern look with lapels. Perhaps Butler is trying to make me think of his as a professional who has given up his business for this journey. Perhaps she is trying to communicate that the weather demands a coat. But Jesus appears to be barefoot, so maybe I’m wrong about all of that. The depiction of Joseph’s face actually makes him look a little like Abraham Lincoln to me. I wonder if that was intentional as well.
Looking at Bustard’s commentary on this piece, he says:
There is no violin-playing angel in this piece as in Caravaggio’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” or a gaggle of cherubic playmates as in “Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Instead in this piece there is only Joseph, Mary, and the young Jesus–just a poor family, afraid and huddled in the dark. Butler says that the peasant figures buddled against the cold [maybe I was right about the coat] recall the frantic flight of my father’s family across the European continent during the last months of the world war.” Christmas carols such as “Away in a Manger” and “The Little Drummer Boy” tend to romanticize the Nativity and gloss over the fear, danger, and isolation that the poor family experienced during the early years in the life of Jesus.
Father, I don’t know what is coming for my children. I don’t know what plans Satan has. I don’t know what plans he has for me. But I know that I love you, I worship you, and I want to be everything you need me to be for them regardless of what it costs me. Oh, help me to be the man my children need me to be.
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector. Matthew 18:15-17
Dear God, there are some people who have things against me, yet I have no idea what they are. I guess my prayer today is simple. Somehow, show them this verse and encourage them to follow it. And when they do, give me the grace to receive it and repent of whatever I did or continue to do wrong.
8 The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. 9 And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid! Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”
Dear God, the women showed up to do the work and the women got first word of the Good News. As I was reading Matthew’s account of the first Easter morning this morning, verse 8 struck me: “They were very frightened but also filled with great joy…” What an incredible mixture of emotions: “Very frightened” “Great joy”
I guess there are more times in my life than I might initially consider when my emotions are all over the place at once. Right now there are people in my life for whom I have extreme love and also extreme anger and frustration. There are times at home when I am simultaneously patient and impatient. Understanding and judgmental. At work I can celebrate when you move and allow myself to be fearful of the future at the same time. In the case of the women above, I don’t think you wanted them to be “very frightened,” but they couldn’t help themselves. In my case, I’m not sure what you want me to do with my anger, frustration, impatience, judgments, and fear, but I know that if I’m going to have them you want me to do one of two things with them. You want me to either repent of them or use them to bring about some part of your plan.
Father, it is Easter morning. I’m praying for something new. Well, I don’t even know if I’m praying for something new. In fact, I confess I have no idea what to ask of you this morning. But I do know that this is the day on the Christian calendar that makes the rest of it make sense. Without it, I’m not here this morning. If there is no Jesus resurrection, if there is no sacrifice of the ultimate Passover Lamb two days before on my behalf, then I have nothing. But there was a sacrifice for me. There was a resurrection. And here I am. Here I am to worship. Here I am to bow down. Here I am to say that you’re my God. Use me as you will.
Then the people who had arrested Jesus led him to the home of Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of religious law and the elders had gathered. Meanwhile, Peter followed him at a distance and came to the high priest’s courtyard. He went in and sat with the guards and waited to see how it would all end. Inside, the leading priests and the entire high council were trying to find witnesses who would lie about Jesus, so they could put him to death. But even though they found many who agreed to give false witness, they could not use anyone’s testimony. Finally, two men came forward who declared, “This man said, ‘I am able to destroy the Temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Well, aren’t you going to answer these charges? What do you have to say for yourself?” But Jesus remained silent. Then the high priest said to him, “I demand in the name of the living God—tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “You have said it. And in the future you will see the Son of Man seated in the place of power at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Then the high priest tore his clothing to show his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He deserves to die!” Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?” Matthew 26:57-68
Dear God, I woke up this morning at about 5:00 a.m. and I thought about it being Good Friday. I thought about where Jesus was at 5:00 a.m. nearly 2,000 years ago. I thought about his pain, anger, dread, fear, despair, sadness, etc. Then I thought about the anger and venom on the other side. Ripping clothes. Yelling. Beating. Mocking. It really fell on me, just how painful this moment was. Yet, it was so crucial. It was a critical part of the journey for me to even be here this morning.
I don’t want to waste this day today. I don’t want this to be a day when I give a head nod to Good Friday as a holiday and as the day of Jesus’s crucifixion and not really, I don’t know, contemplate it. Sit with it. Consider it. I guess I want to see you/Jesus/Holy Spirit, my Triune God, in just a bit deeper way. I want to get a new taste of what your love for me really looks like. I want to worship you better, driven by a more complete picture of you.
Father, I have a lot of thoughts swirling in my head right now. Maybe that’s good. My temptation is to fill my day with noise. Maybe I need to fill this day with more silence. Speak to me. Give me ears to hear. Give me a repentant heart and a forgiving heart. Let your kingdom come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven through my life.
1When Jesus had finished saying all these things, he said to his disciples, 2 “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
3 At that same time the leading priests and elders were meeting at the residence of Caiaphas, the high priest, 4 plotting how to capture Jesus secretly and kill him. 5 “But not during the Passover celebration,” they agreed, “or the people may riot.”
Dear God, I hope I don’t miss worshipping you this Easter like the Pharisees did. The leading priests and elders were so upset about Jesus they were not only missing the joy and celebration of the Passover, but they were literally plotting to kill someone! Wow!
I would love to sit in judgment of them, but I know that I can get distracted by other things on weeks like this as well. I can completely miss you. I can completely miss worshipping you and really sitting with what you did for us. I was listing to an old Steven Curtis Chapman song this morning that said, “I know there’s a God who knows my name…” That’s amazing. You know my name! You know me! You love me! And you made a way for me!
Father, thank you for the darkness of what we’ve decided to term as “Good” Friday. Thank you for walking into that darkness for me. Thank you for the silence of Saturday–for the work you did in a lot of hearts that day. And thank you, of course, for Sunday. That’s the reason I can be here right now.
In the morning, as Jesus was returning to Jerusalem, he was hungry, and he noticed a fig tree beside the road. He went over to see if there were any figs, but there were only leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” And immediately the fig tree withered up. The disciples were amazed when they saw this and asked, “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. You can pray for anything, and if you have faith, you will receive it.” Matthew 21:18-22
Dear God, I’ve journaled on this passage before, and it’s always troubled me a little. Not because I think Jesus was wrong, I suppose. I guess it’s because it’s an indication that your creation can exhaust your good will. I would like to think that your love is without limits. That your patience is unending. But here a fruitless tree is cursed and it reminds me that you are not to be mocked. You are God. I have no rights before you. I am yours—you are not mine. I cannot control you. I give you control of me.
Father, there are some days when I wake up and my goal is to just survive my day. Please help me to go beyond that. Give me your vision for this day/week/month/year in my life. Help me to be everything you need me to be for your kingdom. That includes my family, my friends, my job, and my community. Do it all so that your kingdom might come and your will might be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out all the people buying and selling animals for sacrifice. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves. He said to them, “The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a house of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves!” The blind and the lame came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law saw these wonderful miracles and heard even the children in the Temple shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” But the leaders were indignant. They asked Jesus, “Do you hear what these children are saying?” “Yes,” Jesus replied. “Haven’t you ever read the Scriptures? For they say, ‘You have taught children and infants to give you praise.’” Then he returned to Bethany, where he stayed overnight. Matthew 21:12-17
Dear God, well, if Jesus is going to get this roller coaster underway, he might as well make it count. He went in and convicted people of their sin in the temple. He healed people right in front of the leading priests. And then the children started shouting, “Praise God for the Son of David.” This was more than the leading priests could ignore. It was also more than they could ever forget. I just know they remembered this week for the rest of their lives.
Thinking about those children, I wonder what the rest of their week and lives were like. Were they jubilant on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday? Were they concerned on Thursday? Were they disillusioned and horrified on Friday? Did they have any reason to hope after Sunday?
Father, I’m not sure what I’m really aiming for this Passion week, but I do want to just notice things. Little details I might have overlooked before (like these children). So this morning I will join with them and shout out loud in my study, “Praise God for the Son of David.” Really, thank you, God, for Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for what you have done. And thank you, Holy Spirit, for what you are doing.
As Jesus and the disciples approached Jerusalem, they came to the town of Bethphage on the Mount of Olives. Jesus sent two of them on ahead. “Go into the village over there,” he said. “As soon as you enter it, you will see a donkey tied there, with its colt beside it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks what you are doing, just say, ‘The Lord needs them,’ and he will immediately let you take them.” This took place to fulfill the prophecy that said, “Tell the people of Jerusalem, ‘Look, your King is coming to you. He is humble, riding on a donkey— riding on a donkey’s colt.’” Matthew 21:1-5
Dear God, Jesus was being so intentional here. He knew where this week would end. He knew the path he would take to get there. Beyond his decision to go to Jerusalem, this is the first deliberate step he took to execute the plan you had for him. Like a roller coaster climbing that first hill before gravity takes over for the rest of the ride, the journey to Jerusalem was that hill and this event is the cresting of that hill and releasing the momentum to draw to its natural conclusion at the end of the ride.
As I sit here this morning I’m having two thoughts. First, I’m grateful Jesus did what he did. Second, I’m wondering if there are any parallels for me and my life. Are there times when you are calling me to do the hard thing and I’m unwilling? Is there something hard you’re calling me to do now that I’m missing or unwilling to do?
Father, guide me. Direct me. Give me courage. Give me serenity. Give me wisdom. And forgive me.
Dear God, I decided to go through all four gospels this morning and see what they record Jesus as being up to the day before the Triumphant Entry and Passion Week. Tomorrow is Palm Sunday so it seemed fitting to try to spend some time with Jesus today–the day before. He’s been through a lot at this point, and he knows where he’s going. He has been through the Transfiguration and visited with Moses and Elijah, perhaps even receiving clarity and encouragement from them. He has rebuked James and John for wanting to kill a bunch of Samaritans for not letting him stay in his town. And now it’s all come down to this.
Matthew and Mark actually record Jesus’s activities fairly similarly. They talk about him healing some blind men. because “Jesus had compassion on them (Matthew 20:34).” Mark 10 is more specific and identifies him healing Bartimaeus. I suppose they wanted us to know that Jesus was still having compassion on people and healing them as he prepared for his Passion.
Luke actually gives us a the story of Zacchaeus as Jesus enters Jerusalem but leaves out the blind men (Luke 19). Luke wants us to know that Jesus was still in the mode of extending grace and forgiveness as he entered his last week.
Finally, and true to form, John gives us a whole different perspective. He tells us about a specific scene in Bethany when Mary (of Mary and Martha fame) showed extravagant love to Jesus by taking our some expensive perfume and pouring it on his feet. One last act of genuine worship before the week began. I wonder if John didn’t appreciate Mary’s gift more in retrospect as he told the story of the fair-weather fans who lined the streets with their palm branches. What Mary gave cost her a lot. What they gave cost them very little.
Father, do I give anything that costs me? How selfish am I? Am I willing to stop and extend your power in the midst of my own strife like Jesus did in Matthew and Mark? Am I willing love someone else through their immorality and show them your grace? Am I willing to give all that I have for all that you are? In all of these areas, am I willing to give you my utmost for your highest? As always, the answer is that I am not nearly the man I aspire to be in these areas. If you’re grading on a curve, then I compare pretty well with people around me, but that’s a steep curve. The truth is, my righteousness is rubbish. Please speak to me and give me ears to hear your voice, your direction, and your conviction.