The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 4. Mark 15:33-34

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 3. Luke 23:32-43

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 2. John 19:19-22

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

The Crucifixion of Jesus, part 1. Mark 14:15-24

Daily Devotionals

The Crucifixion of Jesus is at the heart of the Christian faith: all the salvation types, metaphors and language of the Old Testament come together at this point. The theological significance of this event is huge. But we ought to not overlook the human narrative which reveals so much of God’s plan of salvation in this singular and powerful event. Mal York leads us through this series of devotionals focussing on the Crucifixion of Jesus.

June Exercises: Fasting and Lament

Throughout Scripture we see the people of God repeatedly caught up in circumstances that are tragic. Indeed, since the fall the introduction of sin in Genesis 3 suffering and death have been an inescapable part of life. The world is broken and we are broken. Even Christ’s own resurrection, and its promise that one day all things will be revived and restored, does not shelter us from the current realities of pain and loss. Lament – the profound feeling and expression of grief and sorrow – is the right response to that pain and loss. This month we offer some suggestions that might help us grow a healthy view of life in a fallen world.

First we recognise that we have permission to lament as individuals and as communities. God does not consider it a sign of lack of faith for us to feel sorrow and grief. A large portion of the Psalms is dedicated to expressing grief and frustration. The Psalmists knew claims of injury and injustice could confidently be brought to God; only he could ultimately put things right. Lament – crying out to God in our distress – is actually a sign of faith, a statement that God is big enough to handle the world’s problems. It is a commitment to living out our faith in a fallen world, rather than our fantasy of a perfect utopia. Given the natural and personal disasters that take place in our world every day, it seems right to allow space in our lives for appropriate responses to be expressed.

Those who have learned to lament well tend to carry authenticity. That’s often why the Psalms surprise us with their honesty. When the writer is overjoyed, they tells us. When they are distraught, we read about it. There is no stiff upper lip. Instead we see evidence of a refreshing transparency. 

Theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff, after his son Eric was tragically killed in the climbing accident, wrote, “So I own my own grief. I do not try to pull it behind me, to get over it, to forget it. I do not try to disown it.” (Lament for a Son, 1987. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. ) And so, our pain and grief can be fully expressed to God. We try to ‘own it’ in our prayers of lament.

Such prayers bring our pain before the only person who can make an ultimate difference – God. He does not promise us freedom from grief or suffering yet, but he does promise to meet us in the midst of them. And sometimes, in his timing, this may only be after a time of feeling very alone. It takes time for the initial shock of what has happened to sink in, time for our default protestations of disbelief and anger to subside, time for us to believe again Mr Beaver’s description of Aslan (representing Jesus): “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Corse he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” (from C.S.Lewis, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.)

With that belief that God is good, in spite of the circumstances, comes a glimpse of hope. Almost all the Psalms of lament have, by the end, declared the goodness of God. He has met the writers in their trouble, or they rest in the knowledge that he is working to overcome evil – their cries have been heard.

Christian hope is unique and it can be held even through long seasons of lament. Through each of the weeks of this month I encourage you to try the following exercises in lament and fasting– click on the buttons below.

The power of submission

Week 3: Choosing to Submit.

Somehow we have concluded that submission is weakness, that it is somehow a sign of inferiority and incapacity. Perhaps this stems from childhood visions of surrendering to the local bully. We’d better submit to him or he’ll hurt us.

The willingness of Jesus to submit himself to his Heavenly Father subverts this distorted view. In the Garden of Gethsemanie, Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22:41-43). Jesus the Son submits to his Heavenly Father, and yet he remains equally a member of the Trinity, fully God, worthy of all praise. He chooses to submit but that does not mean he is without power. Indeed he says elsewhere in the Garden on that same night, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? (Mt 26:52-54). In other words, he has the capacity to remove himself from the Garden but he chooses to submit himself to the carriage of the Father’s will.

We see, therefore, that submission chooses to set aside one’s own will and power, in order that another’s may prevail. It need not imply powerlessness, but rather it requires that we have control over our power (rather than it over us) in order that we may set it aside. Our culture sells us the notion of ‘freedom’ as essential right, instead of willing submission to the authority of another– and yet such freedom ultimately enslaves us to our own whims. J.I. Packer explores this topic in depth in this linked article.

Look for opportunities this week to choose submission. Willingly decide to give heed to another person’s wishes or desires. You will need to exercise both wisdom and grace as you do so. Consider how you might bless that person in the very act of your submission. As you do, recognise that you are following in the footsteps of Jesus. Record your experiences of submission in your journal.

Sorry

Week Four: The power of an apology.

“Every discipline has its corresponding freedom. What freedom corresponds to submission? It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in society today” ~ Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 2008.

Few of us will have reached the maturity required to agree with Foster’s observation that always getting our own way is a “terrible burden”; for most of us, the terrible burden is when we don’t! Yet, as we pause and consider the upside-down nature of the Christian life, we reluctantly realise that he may very well be right. The self-serving life is never satisfied: our own stubbornness and impatience can so quickly enslave us. In seeking to serve ourselves we are never satisfied. Instead, we become a dog chasing its own tail.

Take some time this week to prayerfully reflect on your own responses to those situations when you haven’t got your way, when another person’s will has prevailed over yours. Has your impatience or intolerance introduced strain into that relationship? Might an apology be in order? Do so is an exercise in submitting yourself to the other person, as you rely upon their their gracious response to your request for forgiveness. 

If your impatience or anger tends to manifest in other ways (like, while driving!) you might need to address your apology to God. You might even want to take more time in prayer to ask him to reveal the reasons why you find those situations so frustrating.

Memorise

Week 2: Take time to memorise

This month, memorise a chunk of Scripture: perhaps a Psalm or a favourite chapter of a New Testament epistle. This kind of engagement with the Bible is not easy, nor does it give instant results, but it’s very worthwhile. Next time you’re stuck in a waiting room, or bored, instead of playing with your phone, begin to recite your memorised passage, mulling over it and meditating on the text. This simple activity turns ‘waiting’ into patience, submitting yourself to the limitations of dependency.

Slow Down

Week 1: Slow down to observe and enjoy

Patience involves learning to order our lives, habits and expectations well, in a universe where time is a dimension, as well as space. This month, try to slow down. Begin to view people and places differently. Here’s some things to try:

When you sit down to eat, eat slowly. Don’t rush, or try to get through the meal in order to get on with the next thing. Think about the food, engage in conversation, and enjoy the moment. Ask questions of your meal partner(s), and follow up with further questions. When you have finished eating your food, keep on talking. 

When you need to get somewhere local, try not to use the car. Make time to walk instead of driving. Walking will change the way you see your neighbourhood. It will create time and conversation. 

April Exercises

Patience and Submission

The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was a landmark study into human behavioural psychology. Children were given a marshmallow and told that if they could wait 15 minutes without eating it, they would be given a second marshmallow. More than 600 children were tested, but fewer than 200 were able to resist the temptation. 

That experiment sums up our culture pretty well. We live in a culture of the ‘easy’ and the ‘now’. We have fast food— even instant meals. We can travel to the far side of the world in a matter of hours, communicate instantly— anywhere— and buy a staggering array of stuff at any time of the day. We can even pay for all this on credit so we can have it right now, before we can actually pay for it all. So when the delays and inconveniences of life inevitably come our way, our response can sometimes be a little out of proportion. Being stuck in traffic, stuck on hold, stuck in a queue, or stuck in ‘lock-down’, generates impatience that quickly grows into frustration, intolerance, and even into anger. 

The Christian response to all of this, though not easy to practice, is obvious: patience. The Biblical writers often encourage us to practice patience. They understand that much of life is spent waiting: for others, for a situation to change, for a set period of time to pass. We wait for food to be cooked, for rain to come, for scientific progress to mature. For Christians, our sense of waiting goes deeper. We wait for God to act; for Christ to return. Given all this, it is easy to see why Paul in his letter to the Galatians identifies patience as evidence of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life. 

Jesus Christ’s own example of living in our world was marked by true patience, and by the broader related discipline of submission. As Jesus declared to his disciples, “I do exactly what the Father has commanded me.” He was able to wait for the Father’s timing because he was submitted to the Father in all things and trusted him to act with love, goodness, wisdom, and perfect timing. Patience and submission go together as demonstration of trust in God, and in his way of doing things. 

For many of us, there seems to be an instinctive ‘recoil’ at the thought of submitting ourselves to another. Perhaps this reflex derives from the fact that this idea of ‘submission to authority’ has been much abused in churches and families. But in rightly fleeing from so many abuses, we may have become uncomfortable with something that is foundational to Christian discipleship: submission to God. This was the way of Jesus— “Father, not my will but your will be done” (Luke 22:42)— even in the Garden of Gethsemanie. 

As I write this, I am in the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic where I am ordered by my government to isolate myself from others, staying in my own home. Most of my life outside my home has been ‘shut down’ in order to prevent the spread of the virus. Church has been closed. Public gatherings of all kinds have been banned. Even small social gatherings are forbidden: personal liberties are greatly reduced. But how long will this go on? I don’t know. No one knows. But I am called to submit my self-determination to the common good and take this opportunity to grow in patience and submission.

Richard Foster is particularly challenging on this topic of submission:

“Every Discipline has its corresponding Freedom. What freedom corresponds to submission? It is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get our own way. The obsession to demand that things go the way we want them to go is one of the greatest bondages in human society today.”

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline– The Path To Spiritual Growth. (For a summary of this chapter, click here.)

Patience and submission are important disciplines because they strike right at the heart of human pride: God is God and we are his creatures— we are contingent beings, dependent upon him for all things. Our challenge is therefore to battle the instinct to always grasp for control, to demand our way and stand upon some presumed ‘rights’. Rejecting the way of pride means that we learn to wait. We learn the freedom of a willingly submitted heart. We learn to leave our marshmallows on the table— assured that God will respond in his time. 

In other places and contexts


Sitting still isn’t the only way you can begin to introduce the discipline of solitude and silence into your life. Consider the following suggestions that encourage solitude and silence. See if you can think of others. And try at least one of them this week.

Go for a walk alone, perhaps alone a beach, in the bush, or in a park. Use it as a time for observation, thinking, reflection and prayer.

 Visit an old church building. Find another church somewhere that is open to the public during the day. Quietly enter and sit or kneel for prayer. If you work in the city, St Andrew’s Cathedral near Town Hall is a favourite of mine. Another is St Mary’s Cathedral on College Street— although the religious sculptures might not be everyone’s cup of tea.

Speak less. This is about how solitude and silence might effect our time with others. Thomas aKempis wrote, “It is easier to be silent altogether than to speak with moderation.” In group settings, try to moderate you contribution to the conversation— especially if you are usually an extrovert. Work on listening well instead. 


Stop!


While most of us are not ready to sign up for a month-long silent treat (as a friend of mine tried to do every year), we can all begin by introducing some less extreme changes into our schedule. Are you ready to take the two week ‘Blaise Pascal Challenge’? Here it is—

Stop. Sit down in silence for 5 minutes. Every day for two weeks. Do this with no one around, no phone, no book, no music. Nothing.

No doubt your mind will race with thoughts of incomplete tasks and urgent jobs. Just let them go. Don’t write them down for later. Just let them go. Instead, slowly become aware of the presence of God. Draw near to him just to be with him. Don’t ask for anything. Actually, don’t pray anything. Just be with Him and enjoy his presence. And if your mind just relaxes, that’s fine too.

If you miss a day— don’t sweat it. Try again the next day.  Over the two week period, see if you get better at this discipline. See if you actually start to enjoy it.