Reading: John 18:1 – 19:27
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. John 19:25-27 NIV
I find myself captivated by this beautiful yet curious exchange between Jesus, Mary his mother, and John, “the disciple whom he loved”. I always think of the cross as the place where a “divine exchange” took place — Jesus' holiness for my sin; his good standing for my shame; his wounds for my wholeness; and much more besides. It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him.
But here, near the foot of the cross, another exchange is taking place. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is losing her dearly loved son, only to unexpectedly gain another.
Exchange: An act of giving one thing, and receiving another in return.
We usually focus — and rightly so — on how God gave his Son for us. This event, this sacrifice, is the very centre and foundation of our faith. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 NIV).
But on the human level, someone else was giving over their son too. Someone who with great faith and humility had once said, “I am the Lord's servant. May it be to me as you have said.” Many years had passed since Mary's declaration, but no doubt the words spoken to her at that time were again fresh in her mind as she stood before the cross:
But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33 NIV
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35 NIV
Here, now, these words were being fulfilled. And although it isn't recorded here, I like to think that Jesus wasn't just “taken from” Mary, but that even in the midst of her grief, Mary was able to “offer him” into the hands of God, believing that God would indeed fulfil the promises he had made to her all those years ago.
And there at the cross, the sweetness of Jesus' love for Mary is revealed one last time before he dies. Her husband Joseph was already dead, and it seems her younger sons were not in position to care for her.
But Jesus knew this. And in a beautiful and very personal reflection of the divine exchange that was taking place on the cross, Jesus offers to Mary a new son — John — to care for her, and comfort her, and protect her from shame. “Dear woman, here is your son. [John], here is your mother.”
(I think it inconceivable that John was surprised by Jesus' words at the cross. Rather, Jesus will have planned this with John well beforehand — that when his time came, John would take Mary into his family home and care for her. So when Jesus said to John, “Here is your mother”, he was really saying to John, “It's time.”)
It is indeed a beautiful exchange which Jesus invites us to make with him. And all the more beautiful because for each of us, that exchange will be different. We each having different things we need to bring to him.
Indeed, it's an expression of the sweetness of his love that he deals with each of us as individuals. He knows our name. He knows our every need. And his desire is that each of us will fully discover all that he won for us at the cross.
Lord Jesus, may that be my life's pursuit! What a privilege that I can stand in your presence holy and welcomed! But Lord, what else is in my heart? What else that needs to be healed and restored? How yet is the divine exchange to be worked out in me?
Today, I offer my life to you afresh, and ask that you would help me to discover and experience all the riches that you won for me at the cross. Let nothing of your sacrifice be wasted.
Recently I read a biography of a wonderful man of faith, George Müller, who lived from 1805 to 1898. His life “mission” was to show the world that God is the same God today that he always was, and that we can trust him for everything. Over the course of his lifetime, he built orphanages that housed over 2000 children at once, not to mention feeding them and providing for all their needs. 121,000 pupils studied at schools that he funded through a society he set up; 281,000 Bibles and 1.4 million New Testaments were printed and distributed; several hundred missionaries were financially supported to varying degrees; and he funded the printing and distribution of 111 million Scriptural books, pamphlets and tracts.
He was able to do all this despite having no formal income. He never had a salary, and never asked anyone for money. He never publicised his needs, and never took up an offering. Instead, he simply prayed in faith and asked God directly for everything he needed. And God answered him. The orphanages themselves were a testimony to his generation that God is alive and that he does indeed supply our needs when we pray in faith, and many were inspired to a more vital and living faith in their God. I too am inspired, having read his story.
Though published in 1898 (the copy I read was 101 years old), this book for me has been a treasure trove of inspiration, and I wanted to share one of the keys which he found so valuable in his relationship with God. Here it is, in his own words:
“Whilst I was staying at Nailsworth (1841) it pleased the Lord to teach me a truth irrespective of human instrumentality, as far as I know. The point is this – I saw more clearly than ever that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not how much I could serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord, but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers, I might seek to relieve the distressed, I might in other ways seek to behave myself as becomes a child of God in this world, and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit.
Before this time my practice had been, at least for ten years previously, to give myself to prayer after dressing myself in the morning. Now I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the word of God and to meditation on it that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed, and that thus, by means of the word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.
I began therefore to meditate on the New Testament from the beginning early in the morning. The first thing I did, after having asked in a few words the Lord's blessing upon His precious word, was to begin to meditate on the word of God, searching as it were into every verse to get blessing out of it, not for the sake of the public ministry of the word, not for the sake of preaching on what I had meditated upon, but for the sake of obtaining good for my own soul.
The result I have found to be almost invariably this, that very soon my soul has been led to confession, or to thanksgiving, or to intercession, or to supplication – so that, though I did not, as it were, give myself to prayer, but to meditation, yet it turned almost immediately more or less into prayer. When thus I have been for a while making confession, or intercession, or supplication, or have given thanks, I go on to the next word or verse, turning all as I go on into prayer for myself and others, as the word may lead to it, but still continually keeping before me that food for my own soul is the object of my meditation.
The result of this is that there is always a good deal of confession, thanksgiving, supplication, or intercession mingled with my meditation, and that my inner man almost invariably is even sensibly nourished and strengthened, and that by breakfast time, with rare exceptions, I am in a peaceful, if not happy, state of heart.
Thus also the Lord is pleased to communicate unto me that which, either very soon after or at a later time, I have found to become food for other believers, though it was not for the sake of the public ministry of the word that I gave myself to meditation, but for the profit of my own inner man . . . I dwell so particularly on this point because of the immense spiritual profit and refreshment I am conscious of having derived from it myself, and I affectionately and solemnly beseech all my fellow believers to ponder this matter.”
– George Müller (1805-1898), from the book “George Müller, The Modern Apostle of Faith” by Frederick G. Warne, published 1898.
Reading: Luke 5:17 – 6:49
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:43-45 (NIV)
I am intrigued by the idea that goodness can be “stored up”. Jesus tells me here that “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart…” God also “stores up goodness” as seen in Psalm 31:19 (NIV): “How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you.”
Goodness: The state or quality of being good; moral excellence; the beneficial or nourishing element of something; kindly feeling; generosity; essence; the best part of anything.
What an amazing thought, that God has stored up “the best part” for me! He knows exactly what I need and what delights me, and has something beneficial and nourishing ready to give me at just the right moment. And he has placed in me this same capacity to store up goodness, ready to share “at just the right moment” with the people he would lead me to. What a privilege, to be like God!
Goodness is the fruit of the Holy Spirit's presence and work in my life as I submit myself daily to him. If goodness can be stored, I'd like my cupboards to be large! And the more often I can empty them by bestowing goodness on others, the more often God can fill them afresh. He never runs out of goodness.
Best there be a door not just on the front of the cupboard, but also on the back, for “inward goods”. Or better still, let's just make that an open hatch! And whenever I find myself on the receiving end of a particular blessing from God, whether that be a financial blessing, or a 'happy turn of events', or an answer to prayer, my first reaction after giving thinks to him can be to intentionally look for some way to share the blessing of God's goodness with someone else. Goodness in, goodness out.
Lord God, you have been so good to me. I love the idea of being able to share your goodness with others. Please continue to renew my heart that I might be a good man, and enlarge my capacity to be able to receive and share your goodness. I look not to my own supply channels but to you for all I need. And I pray that you would indeed bestow your goodness on me “in the sight of men”, that all may see what a good and gracious God you are.
See also, Before eBay or TradeMe, there was God…
Reading: Leviticus 17-25
But you might ask, ‘What will we eat during the seventh year, since we are not allowed to plant or harvest crops that year?’ Be assured that I will send my blessing for you in the sixth year, so the land will produce a crop large enough for three years.
When you plant your fields in the eighth year, you will still be eating from the large crop of the sixth year. In fact, you will still be eating from that large crop when the new crop is harvested in the ninth year. Leviticus 25:20-22 (NLT)
Under the Law God gave to Moses, every seventh year was to be a “Sabbath Year”, a chance for the ground to have a rest, and the people too. They were to plant no crops, and were to leave their vines unpruned. And to make sure his people could enjoy and make the most of this year of relative ease, God promised that he would give them a bumper crop the year before.
There was a condition: “Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land. Then the land will yield its fruit, and you will eat your fill and live there in safety.” Leviticus 17:18-19
God is good. He knows what I need. He knows my physical needs, my emotional needs, and my spiritual needs, and he makes provision for all these things. My part is simply to trust him.
Though I don't live under the Law of Moses but rather by faith in Jesus, the principle of the sabbath is just as applicable now as it always was. To set time aside to honour God and focus my thoughts on him whilst resting and being refreshed – this is a wonderful way to experience fully the goodness of God and his purposes for my life. How can I not have time for this?
“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:3-5).
And Jesus tells me, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:31-33).
Lord God, the more I contemplate your purposes for the sabbath, the more I see your love and concern, and the goodness you have for me as I trust you. I don't want to miss out on any of that goodness by doing things my own way, and trusting in my own efforts instead of your grace. You know me completely, and so I look to you for all that I need, that you would bless me and care for me.
I love the way that the Holy Spirit is able to speak to me from the Word of God, even from books like Leviticus! If you are needing some tips and ideas to help you read and enjoy the Bible yourself, you might like to check out the following pages on this blog: The Bible: Where Do I Start? and What is SOAP?
Reading: Joshua 14
So on that day Moses swore to me, ‘The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance and that of your children forever, because you have followed the Lord my God wholeheartedly. Joshua 14:9 (NIV)
The land on which Caleb's feet had walked was the very land God had promised to Abraham and his descendants hundreds of years earlier. Twelve men were sent out by Moses to spy out that land – Caleb, Joshua and ten others. Two of them had seen a land of opportunity, “flowing with milk and honey”. But the other ten had seen men like giants living in fortified cities, and their report made the hearts of the people “melt with fear”.
Whereas Joshua and Caleb viewed everything in the light of God's promise, their colleagues' eyes were darkened by fear and doubt. Perhaps they just didn't know God well enough to trust him. Perhaps they hadn't truly yielded themselves to God despite the amazing miracles they had seen him perform.
Nonetheless, the same promise of God was made to them all. Joshua and Caleb took the promise to heart, and prepared to take it in hand. They acted on their wholehearted belief that God was faithful, and their faith was richly rewarded. But the half-hearted were left empty-handed.
What a difference it makes to view the world in the light of God's promises! It changes my perspective completely, like a new pair of glasses, bringing a confidence and hope that draws me out of my comfort zone, out beyond what I can achieve in my own strength, and into all the plans and purposes that God has for my life.
As I write this, I am aware of how quickly I jumped to condemn the ten fearful men, from the comfort of my armchair… Would I have acted differently? How am I responding myself to the promises of God as revealed in his Word? I suspect there is much “promise land” I have yet to walk on. And yet my strong desire is to walk there. Lead me on, Lord!
Yes Lord, lead me on! Cut me loose from my fears and insecurity, and help me to live my life on the strength of your promises. Thank you for your written Word the Bible, and for all the promises it contains. Infuse my heart with the truth those promises contain, and may they be fulfilled in my life.
“The land on which your feet have walked will be your inheritance…”
Reading: Joshua 6-13
But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them. Joshua 13:33 (NIV)
The great “divvy up” of the promised land amongst the tribes of Israel must have been a time of great excitement and anticipation. “What will we get? I hope it's nice there!” But the tribe of Levi, whose role was to serve in the house of God, would inherit no land. Instead, God himself would be their inheritance, and they would receive a regular share of the offerings and sacrifices made by the Israelites to God.
I wonder how the Levites felt about that? Were they delighted or disappointed? Did they feel privileged or put out, like winners or like losers in the great inheritance divvy up? I suspect that as a group, and perhaps even as individuals, the Levites experienced the full range of emotions, as I do.
On the one hand, I sometimes desire the things that others have. I like to own things. If I read a real estate magazine, I find myself wanting a new house! When I feed an interest or passion, it grows! On the other hand, I know in my head that what God has for me is better than anything this world has to offer. But how strongly do I believe that in my heart?
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV)
The value I place on my inheritance has an enormous impact on how I feel and how I live. When I place high value on God, and all that comes with him, I naturally look to him for joy and fulfilment. He becomes the focus of my attention and the object of my affections. Investing energy into being close to him is easy because it's what I most want to do.
But when I allow other things to capture my heart – even good things – so that I unconsciously begin to value them more than God, I find myself looking to those things for fulfilment. They become the focus of my attention and the object of my affections, while pursuing God becomes less appealing than pursuing this new thing.
I want God to be my first love, and so I need to guard my heart by giving him the first share of my time. Making time with God my first priority will help me to keep other passions in perspective, because when it all comes down, they will pass, but what I have in God will last forever. “Every good and perfect gift is from above…” (James 1:17), and the passion that I feed the most will inevitably become the strongest.
Father, thank you so much for the privilege of being invited into your presence, to enjoy your amazing love and grace forever. Nothing else can possibly match that. Help me God to keep my eyes fixed on you. I don't want anything else to ensnare me or steal that number one place in my heart. You Lord are my inheritance, and I choose to put you first, ahead of everything else.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4
Reading: Psalm 103-105
He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 105:39-42 (NIV)
When God brought his people Israel out of Egypt and into the inhospitable harshness of the desert, the people had absolutely no idea that they were about to enjoy the faithful hospitality of their God. Rather, many of them feared they were about to die. The environment offered them nothing. There was no way they could provide for themselves – there was no food, no water and no protection from the elements. Unless God miraculously provided for them, they would surely die. But God did provide, and in a way that left no one in any doubt: God was looking after them.
I'm used to the idea of providing for myself. I work to earn money and provide for the needs of my family. I have insurance lest something be stolen or damaged. The government provides services to care for me should I become sick or needy. If I'm hungry, I just go to the pantry. I'm certainly grateful for all those things, but I really don't know what it's like to have nothing, to be absolutely dependant on God for everything as the Israelites were.
Yet everything I have comes from God. He is the source of everything I will ever need. If all I depend upon is taken away from me, he will still be my Provider. It's all because of God's wonderful grace. So what can be my response?
Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name. Psalm 105:1
Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)
Thank you Father that I can trust you. Please continue to provide everything I need. Thank you that I can trust you with my life, and with my family. Thank you for the opportunity to work and earn an income. Thank you for the good things you provide, and for all your blessings to me. I look to you, Lord. May nothing else have a hold on me except the desire to know you more, and enjoy your grace forever.
Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:4-5 (NIV)
See also: Jesus Wants Me to Ask!