Archives For devotional

Layout 1“Why have you forsaken me?”
Read Matthew 27:45-49, Psalm 22

The crowd on Golgotha thinks Jesus is calling on Elijah for rescue, but he isn’t. He’s calling on Elohim. With the opening to Psalm 22, he invokes the entire prophetic psalm. It’s a word picture written a thousand years earlier showing the Messiah, abandoned to die.

How can someone who lives in constant contact with two others ever be alone? That has never happened before. The Trinity is the perfect picture of community: three persons enjoying complete unity, holy boon companions always in agreement.

forsakenBut for three hours Jesus feels nothing but the weight of our sin, and the one who knew no sin becomes sin for us. It’s so revolting that the Father who ordained it can have nothing to do with it. And Jesus, for the first time in all eternity, is alone.

Standing beneath the cross, disciple John and mother Mary witness in the skies what’s happening within Jesus Himself. The sky grows dark. The sun is blotted out. And rain falls on them all, the tears of heaven, as Jesus cries, Why have you left me?

PRAY Lord, when I feel alone, remind me that you know how it feels. And because You bore my sins, I need never be separated from God anymore.

Layout 1“Woman, behold your son.”
Read John 19:25-27

Jesus’ most tender word from the cross is to Mary; perhaps his most challenging is to John. Behold. To both of them he says “behold,” a command meaning to look, see, and understand.

“Behold your son…behold your mother.” Behold my provision; behold your responsibility.

To Mary, Jesus is affirming his love for her. As the eldest son in the family, it is Jesus’ duty to provide for his mother in his earthly father’s absence. He entrusts her care to his dearest friend on earth, his beloved follower John.

familyTo John, what an awesome responsibility this must be, that his friend, teacher, and Lord would give to him this duty as if Mary were his very own mother. If he never knew it before, John must realize it now: he really is one of the family. Jesus’ family.

Behold. Could there be any greater statement of the love of God than to be made part of the family?

PRAY Lord, when I behold you, help me to understand that you are the Son, and you have welcomed me into your family.

Layout 1“Today … in paradise.”
Read Luke 23:39-43

One thief spits curses and ridicule. The other pleads, Remember me. Both deserve death for their crimes. The law said so. The judge said so. The hammer said so. The executioner agreed. But their reactions to their punishment are exactly opposite. Why?

One gives up hope, even when hope is right before him. The other holds onto hope, not because he can see it, but because it’s the only thing he has left.

futureOne man believes in death there is no future. The other believes in the future there is no death. And in response to his faith, Jesus holds before the believing thief the promise of paradise.

What a contrast to the utter degradation of the executioner’s hill beside the smoking city garbage dump: Paradise. Eternity. Joy. A never-ending future in the presence of a loving God.

PRAY Lord, help me remember there is a future and a hope as I face death, even though I deserve it.

Layout 1To prepare for celebration of the Resurrection, we must first witness the agony of the cross. Crucifixion is a most torturous form of execution. It may last several hours or several days. The body’s systems shut down and the condemned man’s lungs fill with fluid. In effect, he drowns. As he pulls against the spikes in his flesh, trying to lift his body just enough to gulp another breath, Jesus uses his last energies to make seven bold declarations.

Standing at the foot of the cross with his most devoted follower, John, and his mother, Mary, we watch as Jesus pours out his life. We listen for clues to his future – and ours – as the Lord of all creation bows to his Father’s will on our behalf.

Use these devotionals once a day during Holy Week, or as an hour’s contemplation on Good Friday.

“Father forgive them,”
Read John 19:17-24, Luke 23:32-34

forgivenIt’s brazen. The soldiers who beat Jesus then stripped him and nailed him to the beam. They raised the cross and let it drop into the hole that held it up, letting Jesus’ full weight pull against the severed flesh where the great nails affixed him. Now they have the nerve, stooping to the ground before that very cross, to gamble for the only nice thing Jesus had on earth, his seamless robe.

And yet, their brazen offense, to kill a man and rob him of his clothes as payment, is not the most heinous crime Jesus suffered that day. He had laid on his back all the sins of all people of all time. And still, he says, Forgive them.

Who else could offer such a word? Only the one who is offended has the right to forgive the offender. Only he could extend grace to the one who sins against him. Jesus’ desire is always that we accept his forgiveness and live in his grace.

PRAY Lord, I, too, am responsible for your death. Help me to live in gratitude for your forgiveness.

Christmas_bannerWeek 5: Home to obscurity

Read Matthew 2:19-25

Once again Joseph is the unsung hero. He is sensitive to God’s leading as he takes his stepson Jesus home. Joseph dreams, angels speak, God warns, Joseph turns. If anyone can say “wherever He leads, I’ll go,” it’s Joseph.

The carpenter sets up shop in Nazareth. He makes a home there with his young wife and “their” boy. And the Son of God lives in obscurity for the next 30 years.

“What good can come of Nazareth?” one disciple would ask later as Jesus emerged into public ministry. Well, to answer the question, the Messiah.

God chooses “the sticks” as the place to bring up the Savior of the World. And he chooses a rough-hewn woodworker to serve as His Son’s stepdad. And He chooses as his mother a little-known young woman whose only qualification is to say “whatever you want is fine with me” when an angel announces God’s wonderous plan.

In this obscurity, God quietly works to rescue remote, undeserving people. The King of Kings is willing to move to our neck of the woods, to endure obscurity, embrace humanity, and suffer ignominy on Calvary for our redemption.

Pray Lord, take your rightful place over all Your creation. Reign over my life this Christmas and always. Amen.

Christmas_bannerWeek 4: Sad prophecy fulfilled

Read Matthew 2:16-18

This is the saddest part of the Christmas story. And for many people, it’s also the most uncomfortable. Some Bibles use as a heading for this passage “slaughter of the innocents.” Why would God allow such a horrible event to follow such a joyful one?

Herod is angered because the Wise Men do not return. He exacts his revenge on Bethlehem. Fearful of being deposed, he seeks to eliminate his replacement. Scholars debate the number of boy babies slain, but given the size of Bethlehem, it is probably between 20 and 40.

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows the anguish of even one death. Multiply that by dozens, and we can only imagine the grief in Bethlehem.
What is God’s point? Look at the tragedy in Bethlehem as a great and pitiful word picture.

God wants us to know that sending His Son into the world is exceedingly joyful and deeply sorrowful. Contrast Christmas morning and Good Friday night: Angels sing as they welcomed his birth; sinners weep at their Savior’s sacrifice.

The joy of our salvation has a high price.

Pray Lord, thank you for sending Jesus. I begin now to understand what it cost him – and You.

Christmas_bannerWeek 3: Conspiracy threatens monarch

Read Matthew 2:12-15

The Magi give the infant Jesus gifts fit for a king–and for a dead man. Like giving a life insurance policy to a newborn, these men who studied the prophecy present oils and spices used in embalming. At his birth, their gifts predict his death. How strange.

The gold will surely be helpful when Joseph scoops up his young family and flees in order to save their lives. They will need cash for the journey – food for themselves and the donkey. And they will need living expenses while in Egypt. God knew that and made arrangements ahead of time. But why equip them with frankincense and myrrh?

Joseph probably regifted the unusual gifts, or sold them, because they were very valuable. Even after the funeral gifts are gone, they remind Mary and Joseph that this Child has a special purpose in the world. Somehow, it is connected to life and death.

Mary ponders these things in her heart: Angels, shepherds, star, royalty, gifts fit for a funeral.

Pray Lord, as we celebrate Jesus’ birth, remind us also of his death, because the Christmas cradle is pointless without the Cross.

We’ll post a new devotional here every Monday; read them all in the Nov. 25 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Christmas_bannerWeek 2: Caravan heads to ‘nowhere’

Read Matthew 2:7-11

How hollow is Herod’s declaration that he wants to worship the new king, especially knowing the murder he harbored in his heart. His whole lifestyle is threatened by a mewling babe. Herod is only a half-Jew, an Edomite, and his reign on the throne of David is
illegitimate in the eyes of his subjects.

So when Herod says he wants to come see the newborn monarch, we know he has no intention to bow before his replacement.

In stark contrast, the royal advisors from the East worship even before they see him. They are like Abraham and Moses and others who believed in God’s Promise, even without seeing the Christ. The Magi rejoice when the star appears over Jesus’ birthplace, even before they set eyes on the Child. They rejoice “with exceeding great joy.”

The Magi celebrate the promise; then they bow before its fulfillment. They give him gifts fit for a king.

Pray Lord, help me to be a true worshiper this Christmas, setting nothing above You. Let me celebrate the Promise of God, even before I see its fulfillment.

We’ll post a new devotional here every Monday; read them all in the Nov. 25 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Christmas_bannerWeek 1: Royal advisors seek new leader

Read Matthew 2:1-6

The journey to the hospital for a baby’s birth is familiar: suitcase packed and sitting by the door, route laid out. First-time parents rehearse the trip, often with comic results.

But the journey is actually serious stuff. Suppose the route is unclear or the destination unknown. Only the urgency of birth would force someone to set out on such an uncertain journey.

These advisors to an eastern ruler set out in search of a new king. They traveled by day and checked their coordinates at night. All they have to go on is an ancient prophecy and the strange and wonderful star that recently appeared.

But a promise is enough to keep them moving.

How odd it seems that these Magi who are not followers of Yahweh should believe and take action, and Herod, who should have known the prophecy in detail, is apparently ignorant of the Messiah or the place of tiny Bethlehem in his coming.

Pray Lord, help me to hold tightly to your promises and to move ahead because of them.

We’ll post a new Christmas devotional by Eric Reed every Monday; read them all in the Nov. 25 issue of the Illinois Baptist, online here.

Step by Step: Following Jesus from the Palms Parade to the Resurrection

EasterDay 8: Easter Sunday, March 31
The Resurrection (Matthew 28:1-10)

They held him by the feet, Scripture says, of the faithful women who first came to the tomb after the Sabbath to tend the body of Jesus. Finding him alive, as the angel on duty had announced, they fell at his feet, those feet still bloodied, still pierced by the great nails from the cross.

In moments, the reality of Jesus’ resurrection from death would take over, and there would be much running and telling, weeping and fearing, hugging and shouting, doubting and cheering.

But for this moment, they held on.

Lord, rekindle in us the sheer joy of finding you alive this morning and every morning. May we always be moved by the sight of your pierced feet and hold tightly to you.

Devotion by Eric Reed, artwork by Kerry Jackson