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: 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: Matthew 26:57 – 27:31 (NIV)
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:63-64 (NIV)
It's interesting to reflect on the challenge that the high priest made to Jesus. He said, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” The reply he got was exactly what he wanted. He knew that Jesus was compelled to tell the truth, and he welcomed it, not as truth, but as a succinct unambiguous claim of identity: “Yes,” Jesus said, “it is as you say.”
With this statement, Jesus had nailed himself. But Jesus didn't leave it at that. He added a powerful prophetic statement to leave them in no doubt, and to lay down a warning: “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Anyone there who really was open to the possibility that Jesus might in fact be who he said he was would have cause to swallow hard about what they were planning to do. It was a stark warning, but it fell on hard hearts. The company present would kill Jesus, and his words would come back to haunt them.
There was perhaps one man in that gathering who did have fresh cause to reconsider his opinion of Jesus. Malchus was the servant of the high priest. He had been there when Jesus was arrested on the Mount of Olives. It was he who had his right ear cut off as impetuous Peter lashed out with his sword. And, it was he who looked up to find that the very one they had come to arrest was reaching out his hand, and touching him, and he was healed. It was a moment he would never forget.
I wonder if in that moment, something softened in his heart? Enough to give him reason to pause, and consider afresh, “Could this man actually be who he says he is?”
Humility before God is the only way for us to know truth. It's being prepared to lose face by stepping away from our old attitudes toward Jesus in order to stand with the very one we had previously mocked. Or shunned. Or perhaps simply ignored. It's being able to come before him with hands empty and heart open to say, “I was wrong. And I need you.”
Father God, your approval is what I want more than anything. Ultimately, the opinion of others matters not. Only that you would forgive me, and accept me, and enjoy me. May arrogance be far from me as I thank you, and humbly accept your incredible gift of grace.
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: Luke 7:1 – 8:18
“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.
“No one lights a lamp and then covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed. A lamp is placed on a stand, where its light can be seen by all who enter the house. For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.
“So pay attention to how you hear. To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” Luke 8:14-18 (NLT)
In Matthew 5, when Jesus talks about not hiding a lamp under a bowl, he is encouraging me to 'let my light shine before men'. But in Luke, the 'lamp under a bowl' illustration is used in a different context, being just one part of a longer passage on listening and responding to the word of God. (See Luke 8:4-18).
Jesus starts with the Parable of the Sower, about how four different types of “soil” respond to the word of God (the “Good News about the Kingdom of God” which Jesus is “sowing” as he travels around). He then uses the lamp under the bowl illustration to say that God has no intention of hiding his light from me. One day, all will be revealed, but His clear intention is to increasingly reveal his light to me now.
In view of this, Jesus challenges me to consider carefully how I listen. Because, “To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given. But for those who are not listening, even what they think they understand will be taken away from them.” So this whole passage is really about God's initial and ongoing revelation of himself to me, and how I respond to that revelation.
“To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given.” What a wonderful promise! The more I seek to know and understand God, the more God will reveal himself to me. The more I meditate on his word, the more understanding I will be given. God doesn't reveal all of himself to me at once, but in greater and greater measure as I seek him and respond to him. And the closer I get to the light, the brighter it becomes. “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.” (Proverbs 4:18).
The result of all this will be fruitfulness, “a crop that [will be] a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Luke 8:8).
Lord God, I am hungry to know you more! Thank you that your purpose is to reveal yourself to me. I want this! I don't just want to know about you – I want to know you personally, and deeply. Please draw me closer in my walk with you each day, and as I get to know you more, may my mind and my heart be transformed, and that transformation be outworked in my everyday life.
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
“For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:8
For more on listening and responding to God's word, see What is SOAP? and Nourishing the Inner Man – George Müller inspires me!
Reading: Luke 5:1-16
While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him. Luke 5:12-13 (NIV)
The law of Moses contained various rules and regulations about skin diseases, and how these affected a person's “cleanness”. (See Leviticus 13). Being ceremonially unclean meant a person could neither touch nor be touched by another person, or that person would also become unclean. Neither could they “touch” God, because nothing unholy can stand in the presence of our holy God. Effectively, to be unclean meant to be cut off.
The picture was really a representation of the effect of sin in my life: it makes me unclean, and it cuts me off from the presence of God. Like an infectious disease, sin taints and infects everything it comes into contact with.
But in this story of the man with leprosy, something wonderful happens. Everything gets reversed! Jesus touches the man (that would have been a surprise in itself), but his holiness is not tainted. And instead of the unclean man making Jesus unclean, he himself is made clean by Jesus! Holiness has come, and the power of his uncleanness has been broken.
No longer is sin flowing out from me and causing damage. Instead, grace is flowing into me bringing holiness and restoration. In fact, everything is flowing in a new direction, and all because Jesus has reached out and touched me. The power of my uncleanness has been broken. Instead of being cut off, I am free now to enter and enjoy the very presence of God. I need to do this! I need every day to open my life to him to receive all that he has for me.
I am also free to reach out and touch others! God's grace flows not just to me but also through me. I need to open the penstocks and freely share with others the goodness that is flowing my way. The more that flows through, the more capacity I will develop to be able to share God's grace.
Jesus, thank you for your incredible gift. Thank you that everything now is flowing in a new direction – from you to me to others. Help me to know more of your grace, and to share it generously with those you bring across my path.
Reading: Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 10
The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. Leviticus 16:2 (NIV)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body… …let us draw near to God…” Hebrews 10:19-22 (NIV)
What a contrast between Leviticus 16 and Hebrews 10. It's so inspiring to read the two chapters side by side. Both highlight the holiness of our God, and the perils of approaching him in an unholy state. Aaron could enter the Most Holy Place just once a year, on the Day of Atonement, when sacrifices of bulls and goats were made, and strict protocol needed to be followed.
But that day, which continued to come around year after year, was just a shadow of a day that was to come. On the real Day of Atonement, my unholiness was dealt with once and for all. No longer would God warn me against entering his holy Presence, lest I die.
Now, a new and living way had been opened up “through the curtain”, so that not just the high priest, but every man, woman and child – including me – could enter freely into the very Presence of God, the Most Holy Place. It's what God wants for me, and Jesus has made it possible, “…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:14)
What amazing words those are: I have been “made perfect forever”. That truth needs to permeate my entire being:
I have been made perfect forever…
God is perfecting holiness in me…
How can I now entertain fear or feelings of inadequacy? How can I remain conceited or self-righteous? I can't. But what I can do is embrace the wholeness and confidence that true holiness brings. I am acceptable! I can come into the very presence of our holy God without shame, not as one who is inadequate, but with joy, as one who has been made perfect forever!
This makes me feel so differently about myself. In the way I relate to other people, it gives me confidence and opens the way for love. And in the way I relate to God, it invites a relationship that is almost indescribable. Jesus has changed everything! Closeness with God is now attainable, and I can have it!
Thank you Lord Jesus for your indescribable gift. I accept! Please open my eyes to see you more clearly and know you more closely. I want to know more of your holiness. Please remove from me all that is false, and may the truth that is found in Jesus permeate every part of me, to the very core of my being.
“…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:14
Reading: Psalm 106-111
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise. Psalm 111:10 (NIV)
From the moment I submit myself to God, he begins to renew and restore me. I begin to change! I start to understand things the way that God understands them. I start to think the way that God thinks. Wrong thinking makes way for truth as my mind is renewed, and my character becomes Christ-like. I'm not becoming more intelligent – I'm becoming wise.
In many ways, wisdom is akin to righteousness. It is thinking and behaving just as God intends. It's an inner condition that brings outer harmony. When wisdom and righteousness abound, everything works as designed and things are as they should be. There is wholeness and there is holiness. But wisdom isn't complete in me the moment I commit my life to God – the fear of the Lord is just “the beginning of wisdom”. Rather, it's the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in my life that brings about this wonderful transformation.
The more open communication there can be between God and me, the more opportunity there will be for my heart and mind to be transformed and for wisdom to grow. I can seek an audience with God! I can open my heart to God, inviting him to instruct me and counsel me (see Psalm 32:8). Though it seems unbelievable, I can even ask God to open his heart to me, that I might see and understand his thoughts and his ways.
Intimacy = “into me see”. I need to seek this intimacy with God not just as I read his Word, or spend focused time in prayer or worship, but also in the midst of every day, in all the goings-on of my life – a never ending conversation of love and transformation.
Thank you Father that your good pleasure is to pour out your love and grace upon me. I welcome you, and ask that as you perfect holiness in me, you will adorn me not just with holiness but also with wisdom.
My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. Proverbs 2:1-6 (NIV)
For a wonderful read about the pursuit of wisdom, see Job 28.
See also, The Bible: Where Do I Start?
Reading: Luke 1
When [Zechariah's] time of service was completed, he returned home. After this his wife Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. “The Lord has done this for me,” she said. “In these days he has shown his favour and taken away my disgrace among the people.” Luke 1:23-25 (NIV)
Luke chapter 1 must be one of the most “feel good” chapters in the Bible. I love the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth.“Both of them were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.” Through no fault of her own, Elizabeth lived in disgrace among the people because of her barrenness.
Disgrace: Loss of reputation or respect as a result of a dishonourable action; a person or thing regarded as shameful and unacceptable; loss of honour or esteem; ignominy; shame; public contempt.
How much pain must Elizabeth have carried in her heart, along with her husband Zechariah. Yet the two of them continued to serve God and do their best to please him.
And then, inexplicably and against all the odds, Elizabeth learns she has been chosen to bear a son! He will be called John. “He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.” Elizabeth must have nearly burst with happiness as her “dis-grace” vanished like the morning dew. The “dis-” was gone forever, leaving her to enjoy what God had for her all along – “grace“.
No matter how much “dis-” there has been in my life, whether inflicted by others or the result of my own actions, Jesus has taken it to the Cross. He carried it in his body to the grave and it is gone forever, leaving me to enjoy what God had for me all along – grace.
Grace and disgrace cannot coexist. They are opposites. A person cannot truly experience God's grace – that is, his undeserved favour – and still be weighed down by shame and condemnation. Grace is the antidote to disgrace. The coming of grace is like the rising of the sun, causing disgrace to vanish like the morning dew.
This is my mission as a follower of Jesus – to bring grace. What an exciting and rewarding prospect, to have the Holy Spirit working not just in me but through me to bring the wonderful love and favour of God to all who would receive it.
Father, let me be a channel for your grace! May it flow through me like an ever-increasing river. Help me to use my gifts and to take every opportunity you give me to share your grace, and to bring joy where now there is only despair. I am your servant.
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. 1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)