The 40 days of Lent for 2014 begin on Ash Wednesday (5th March) and conclude on Holy Saturday (17th April). The quick mathematician will notice that is more than 40 days. Sundays are not included. As a team of clergy and readers we have provided short devotional comments for each of the 40 days and encourage you to read our Sunday lectionary readings in preparation for church to maintain a rhythm of daily readings. It is our hope and prayer that our journey through the Scriptures this Lent will help us grow in faith and understanding of God’s big story.
Day 11 Monday 17th March 2014
2 Kings 25 The Siege of Jerusalem and Exile of Judah.
It was 587BC, and the history of the people of Israel had moved on from the times of peace and tranquillity that they experienced at the time when Solomon built his temple. Spurred on by a desire to have kings like their neighbours, and in that to reject the supremacy and sovereignty of God. With one exception (Josiah) these kings looked to the nations around to form treaties and pacts in an attempt to guarantee security. The Bible records that each of these kings “did evil in the sight of the Lord.” (2 Kings ch 24 v 19 is one example). God had made a promise of continued blessing to Solomon, but had warned of the consequence of turning from Him (see 1 Kings ch 9 vs 6 – 9).
The land had been conquered by Babylon, and Zedekiah was installed as a puppet king “ch 24 v 17) but Zedekiah rebelled, and the consequence was disaster. Following a two year siege the city was overcome. The Temple of the lord was destroyed, and all the magnificent gold vessels carried off the Babylon, where they would be misused and abused.. The former permanence of the Lord’s presence was unprotected, looted destroyed, a symbol that God had turned His back on the people who had rejected Him.
But there was a glimmer of hope as, 35 years later, a new king of Babylon released the exiled king of Judah, and showed him kindness.
Day 12 Tuesday 18th March
Daniel 2–3 Daniel in Babylon; The Fiery Furnace.
When Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, as recorded in yesterday’s reading, a number of young men were taken into his court. Amongst them were Daniel and three relatives who were given Babylonian names – Belteshazzar (Daniel), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Chapter 1 details how these Jews refused to eat meat that had been dedicated to the local gods, and were allowed a vegetarian diet on which they thrived. As a result of their faithfulness God gave the four blessings of knowledge (ch 1 v17). Chapters 2 and 4 detail dreams of Nebuchadnezzar which his myriad of magicians, sages and advisers could not interpret. When Daniel interpreted the first dream he, and his friends were given places of high honour by Nebuchadnezzar who acknowledged Daniel’s God. Between the two dreams comes the account of the golden image, and the order to worship it. It is unsurprising that the Jewish friends refused to compromise their beliefs, and felt the heat. The appearance of the “fourth man” in the furnace together with the total lack of effect of the fire on the three friends (ch 3 v 27) caused Nebuchadnezzar to return to worship of “their” God. You may sometimes feel the heat of opposition to your faith (although surely not literally), but today’s reading should give you the confidence that no matter what the opposition throws at you, your God has the power to bring you through to victory. Read, wonder and rejoice at the omnipotent God you serve and worship. Then trust him when the trials and challenges come.
Day 13 Wednesday 19th March
Ezra 3 Rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem
In the course of time Babylon was defeated by Cyrus, king of Persia. The Babylonian practice had been to remove the people from nations they conquered, taking them into exile. Cyrus, however, preferred people to be settled in their own lands under his control. So it was that in 538BC the people of Israel began a three stage return to Jerusalem taking with them gifts of gold and silver. Cyrus also sent the gold vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had plundered. The first task was to rebuild the altar so that the sacrifices laid down by Moses could restart. Beginning a project with worship is a good practice. Is worship a priority in your life, or something you may do if you can find the time?
Once the altar was complete attention turned to the Temple itself, and the foundations were built. The completing of the foundations heralded a pouring out of emotions among the people. We read of great joy, praise and worship; but some of the elders, who had seen the destruction of Solomon’s Temple 50 years previously, wept at the sight. Were they tears of joy, or sorrow at the narrowness of the foundations in place of the former glorious structure we do not know. We should not be afraid of emotions, joy and sadness have their place, but although it is good to look back to the past it should not be to sigh for the good old days in such a way as to lose the vision of what needs to be done now, and trusting in God for the future (Ecclesiastes ch 7 vs 10, Philippians ch 3 vs 13 & 14).
Day 14 Thursday 20th March
Isaiah 9, 53, 61 Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Coming Messiah
The history of Israel is a roller coaster of switching between worshipping the God of their fathers and turning from Him to seek the deities of the nations around them, or by whom they were conquered. The consequence is a cycle of punishment by God in the form of defeat and exile when they turn from Him and restoration when they repent and seek him again. Isaiah prophesied in the 8th century BC, some 300 years before the incidents in our previous readings this week, but his clear revelations from God showed him what was to come. This far-seeing revelation is even more evident in today’s passages that foresee and predict the coming and work of the Messiah that were to be fulfilled in Jesus.
Chapter 9 begins with the prophecy of the coming of a baby, but soon switches from distant hope in the child to the imminent devastation coming at the hands of the Assyrians. Isaiah describes exactly why God would allow his people to be captured.
Our overview continues in chapter 53. The prediction of the Suffering Servant that begins in chapter 52 v 13. This does not appear to be fulfilled in the immediate history of Israel, but is a vivid, and accurate description of the crucifixion of Jesus. The baby of chapter 9 has become the vicarious sacrifice for God’s people. The consequence is that the whole world (way beyond the particular people of Israel) can rejoice again in the Lord’s bounty as predicted in chapter 61.
We have seen the progression of creation, fall, restoration rebellion, punishment and further restoration through the pages of the Old Testament, culminating in the foretelling of God’s ultimate solution to the consequences of the fall. Tomorrow we turn to the fulfilling of today’s prophecies, and the ongoing working of God’s purpose that started with the tiny baby, and continues today.
Day 15 Friday 21st March
Luke 1-2 The birth of Jesus.
Luke writes his gospel to present an accurate account of the life of Jesus and to present Christ as the perfect human and Saviour. Every birth is a miracle and every child is a gift from God, but over 20 centuries ago there was the miracle of miracles, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. The emphasis of His birth lies on the power and activity of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was born as a human baby but not through human conception by a human father but by the creative act of the Holy Spirit. It was through the activity of the Holy Spirit that the Virgin Mary became pregnant and bore God’s Son here on earth. The fulfilment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7: 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (God with us). With divine Father and human mother Jesus entered history, God in flesh.
Mary was young, poor and a female, all characteristics of her day, that would make her seem unusable to God for any major task. But God chose Mary for one of the most important acts of obedience. We may feel that our ability, experience or education makes us an unlikely candidate for God’s service. But we should never limit God’s choices because He can use anyone if they truly trust in Him.
God’s favour doesn’t automatically bring instant success or fame. His blessing on Mary would lead her pain, her peers would ridicule her, her fiancé would come close to leaving her and later her Son would be rejected and murdered. But Mary’s submission was part of God’s plan to bring about our Salvation. If sorrow brings us down and dims our hope, we should think of Mary and wait patiently for God to finish working out His plan.
Day 16 Saturday 22nd March
John 1:1-18 Who Jesus Is
John wrote to believers everywhere both Jews and non-Jews and writes his gospel to prove conclusively that Jesus is the Son of God and that all who believe in Him will have eternal life. It is so important to know who Jesus truly is, is He the Son of God? The answer is crucial and I have heard it said that if Jesus were not God then He deserved an Oscar. If Jesus is who He claims to be, the Messiah, the Son of God, then our eternal relationship with God will depend upon our relationship with Christ in this world.
John begins his gospel with the tremendous statement about our Lord Jesus and on these truths his whole case rests. In Him (the Word) God speaks to man. Jesus is the most perfect and complete expression of the Person of God we can ever know. When God spoke ( Genesis 1), His Word brought life itself into existence, and it was this Supreme Being who became man the One we know as Jesus Christ. His life shone out, and still shines against a darkness of the world which fail to recognise Him. But to those who believe in Him and have received Him into their hearts into their lives, He makes available all of God’s loving forgiveness and acceptance (16). And Jesus makes a new transformed life possible to us ( 12).
With God we are something valuable and unique, apart from God we are nothing. If we try to live without God, we will be abandoning the purpose for which we were made (1: 3). The darkness of evil never has and never will overcome or extinguish God’s light. Jesus Christ is the creator of life and His light brings light to all and in His light we see ourselves, as we really are, sinners in need of a Saviour. When we follow Jesus the true Light, we can avoid walking blindly and falling into sin. Jesus lights the path ahead of us, so that we can see how to live, (4,5).
Have you allowed the Light of Christ to shine into your life? When we let Christ guide our life we will never need to stumble in darkness. All who welcome Jesus Christ as Lord of their lives are reborn spiritually, receiving new life from God. Through faith in Christ, this new birth changes from the inside out, rearranging our attitude, desires and motives, (12,13). This new life in Christ, this fresh start, is available to all who believe in Christ Have you asked Christ to make you a new person? Who do you say Jesus is? Do you know Him? Have you received Him into your heart as Lord and Saviour of your life?
Sunday 23rd March Third Sunday of Lent
Readings: Romans 5:1-11 & John 4:5-42.