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.
Reading: Psalm 131
My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Psalm 131:1-2 NIV
“Song of Ascents” is a title given to fifteen of the Psalms, 120–134. It is thought these songs were sung by worshippers as they ascended the road to Jerusalem to attend the three pilgrim festivals (see Deuteronomy 16:16), or by the priests as they ascended the fifteen steps to minister at the Temple in Jerusalem.
These songs were not for God's benefit, but for the singers' – to prepare their hearts and minds to enter into the presence of God. This particular song (Psalm 131) was written by David, who seemed to have discovered the secret of intimacy with God.
And what was his secret? Come like a child. In practical terms, that meant putting aside his pride and all efforts to make himself something he wasn't. He knew he couldn't impress God, and he knew he didn't have to.
Instead, he had learned to cultivate that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that God so enjoys as we come into his presence.
I too need to cultivate that same attitude of surrender and trust.
Cultivate: Break up (soil) in preparation for sowing and planting; promote the growth and development of; foster.
Father, I see that there is such a beautiful simplicity about pleasing you. I want that same attitude that David had, that beautiful child-like attitude of surrender and trust that you so enjoy.
Lord, I give you permission to break up the soil in my heart, that it might be made soft and tender. If there is any stoney attitude or hardness of thinking that needs turning over, please expose it and help me to deal with it.
Is there anything you want to sow and plant in my life? I invite you, please have your way. And I ask you to grant me the wisdom to always remember the way into your presence.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18 NIV
Reading: Colossians 3:1-17
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:1-4 (NIV)
The old me is dead. I “died with Christ” (Colossians 2:20), and then three days later, I was “raised with Christ” (Colossians 3:1). This happened at a specific moment in history nearly 2,000 years ago, but I got to “share in it” when I made my own personal decision to accept Jesus as my Lord, and be baptised. With that burial and resurrection, I became a brand new person, a “new creation”. Home is no longer where it was. My new permanent address is now “hidden with Christ in God”.
But with this monumental shift in the spiritual realm comes the realisation that all my old settings need to be re calibrated – the way I think, the way I respond, my priorities, my focus, the things I pursue – everything.
Calibrate: Correlate the readings (of an instrument) with those of a standard in order to check the instrument's accuracy; adjust to take external factors into account; carefully assess, set or adjust.
It's still happening, this Re-calibration. In fact, the more time goes by, the more I discover in my heart and mind that doesn't correlate with those of the 'Standard'. As I read my Bible, I keep becoming aware of things in me that don't line up with the way that Jesus is, or his expectations of me.
Yet I don't feel guilt. Rather I feel hunger. I find that I am wearing some old attitude that I suddenly, desperately want to get rid of. I see a standard of faith that I fall woefully short of, and I desperately want my faith to grow to meet that new standard. I discover once again that God desires intimacy with me, and I long to go deeper in my relationship with him.
What a wonderful privilege to have the Spirit of God doing this work in me. He really is re-calibrating me. It's as I turn my heart and my thoughts toward him that he truly can have full reign to do his work. Coming before him as I read my Bible, setting aside time to walk and talk with him, and choosing in all my decisions to honour my declared devotion to him – these things open the way for God to reset and restore everything in my life that needs putting right. How good is that!
Holy Spirit, I offer myself into your hands, and say, “Have your way.” Please re-calibrate me so that I might be like Jesus. I want to love like him, and be pure in every thought and motivation. Jesus, I thank you that my future is now in your hands, and for the privilege of being able to walk with you now, and every day. Come, Lord Jesus!
Reading: Joshua 21 and 22
But be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to obey his commands, to hold fast to him and to serve him with all your heart and all your soul.” Joshua 22:5 (NIV)
As I read those words, I feel something leap inside of me. “Yes! That's what I want Lord! To love you, to walk in all your ways, to obey your commands, to hold fast to you, and to serve you with all my heart and all of my soul! All those things – they are the desire of my heart.”
To love, to walk, to obey, to hold, and to serve – these are all verbs, “doing” words, the out-working of my inner faith. Without that faith, my efforts would be like branches on a hollow tree, sooner or later rotting and falling off. Without God's ongoing gift of faith to me, that's all I would be – a hollow tree.
But I am not a hollow tree. I am an “oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.” (Isaiah 61:3) There is an inner strength in me based not on my own virtue but on that of Jesus. How wonderful was that divine exchange that happened at the cross! Not only am I renewed and restored, but the Holy Spirit has come to live in me!
Now, as I love and walk and obey and hold and serve, I do so with the enabling power of the Spirit. He is willing me on! It's as if my faith is bursting into life. No wonder my heart leaps at the opportunity to express my love for God. He is truly the heart and strength of my life.
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness… Isaiah 61:10
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The Lord is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one. Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever. Psalm 28:7-9
See also, Surprise! It's Righteousness!
Reading: John 13:18-38
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35
They were possibly the most influential three years in the history of mankind – those years that Jesus spent with the twelve men he had gathered around him. It was a time full of surprises, an opportunity to live with God on earth and discover first hand exactly how he wanted them (and all the rest of us) to live together. And how was that? Like him. “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”
Love was to define them. So much so that when others “looked in” and saw that love, they would automatically assume, “Oh yes, those people must be followers of Jesus.”
When it all boils down, to “Love God” and to “Love others” are the two ultimate purposes of my life. And how much do I have to love? For God, I am to love with all my heart and soul and mind and strength. For others, Jesus simply says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” On a scale of one to ten, that's a ten on both counts.
It's clear to me that I fall woefully short of what Jesus has asked me to do. He must have known that would be the case. And yet, he asked me anyway…
I find myself suddenly taken surprise by the thought that my capacity to love both God and others, whilst still walking on this planet, may be enormously greater than I have previously dared to dream possible. Because ultimately, love is from God. There is no end to his love, but if it is to flow through me, I need to be a willing and open channel, like a wide open artery not blocked up with deposits of “gunk” but open and free.
It's really the work of the Holy Spirit in me and through me that will increase my capacity to love. What's required from me is simply the willingness to say, “Holy Spirit, let's go!”
Jesus, I confess that fear of what might be required of me makes me hesitate. And yet I love the thought of being an open channel for your love. I want to reach the potential that you see in me to love you, and to love others. Please will you deal with the obstructions in me and dismantle all my silly objections. I submit them to you, and offer you my whole self. Holy Spirit, let's go!
See also Perfecting Me
“Holy Spirit, let's go!” was a favourite prayer of the late Ray Edmonds who, I believe, prayed this every morning, and took every opportunity that came his way to share Jesus with those he met.
Reading: Philippians 3-4
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death… Philippians 3:10 (NIV)
“…Becoming like him in his death…” What was Jesus like in his death? Sapped of all human strength, mocked, tortured, tormented by the agony of crucifixion, and carrying upon himself the weight of all our sin – how did Jesus respond?
He had already committed himself to his Father's will: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). Still, when it came to it, there was no protest, no pleading for mercy or shrinking back from the atrocity he was suffering. Instead, there was submission.
“He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Isaiah 53:7-8
Nor did he show resentment, but rather, grace. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). In Hebrews 2:10, Paul tells us that Jesus was made “perfect through suffering”. Indeed, though he suffered terribly, Jesus responded with enormous courage, with humility and with continuing obedience to his Father, demonstrating for all time the depths of his love for both the Father and for us.
That's what Jesus was like in his death.
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus says, “he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24). In this verse, it seems like Jesus is offering me a burden, but actually, I think he is offering me a secret, the key to becoming like him in his death. And that is, to put my life completely and utterly into God's hands – to “lose it”, as it were, to him.
But although I offer him my life, I suspect it will not be until I find myself in the 'crucible of suffering' that my submission to him will become complete, and I will, as Jesus was, be made perfect through suffering. And in the meantime, with any suffering that comes my way, I can follow Jesus' example by lifting up my eyes from the suffering at my feet, and instead fixing them on the joy set before me.
Your example Jesus is inspiring. Please open the eyes of my heart to see you, and to understand more deeply the joy that is set before me. May I live my life with courage, humility and obedience as with your help I commit myself daily into your hands.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)
See also Joy, Suffering and the Fragrance of Life.