Passion Reading Schedule

Monday Mar 23 Matt 26:1-46
Tuesday Mar 24 Matt 26: 47-27:28
Wednesday Mar 25 Matt 27: 29-66
Thursday Mar 26 Mark 14:1-72
Friday Mar 27 Mark 15:1-47
Saturday Mar 28 Luke 22:1-38
Sunday – Judica Mar 29 Luke 22:39-71
Monday Mar 30 Luke 23: 1-56
Tuesday Apr 1 John 18:1-27
Wednesday Apr 2 John 18:28-38
Thursday Apr 3 John 18:39-19:16
Friday Apr 4 John 19:17-42

With all the disruption brought by recent events in the world, this is still a sacred time for us as Christians. Easter draws near, and as our Lord reminded His disciples just before His betrayal, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

So lifting up our eyes, I encourage us to use this time to meditate on our Lord’s passion according to the four evangelists. This reading schedule was published by Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, IN, and I pass it on to you.

In order to help you in this devotion, I will post a video reading the assigned section for the day.

Second Sunday in Lent (John 3:1-17)

This Lent, we have the privilege to walk through several stories in the Gospel of John, which demonstrate to us the power of God for salvation to all who believe. We’ll stop in John 3 today, where we meet Nicodemus who learns the grace of the Kingdom of God. Next Sunday, we’ll hear about how important forgiveness of sins is for entrance into the Kingdom. Then we’ll ponder the nature of sin with the man who was born blind. Finally before Palm Sunday, the Lord will bring us down to the very grave before raising us up with Lazarus, whom He calls forth from the tomb. That brings us to the Palm Sunday procession in John 12, which was largely populated by people who had seen Lazarus rise.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, because he thinks he can identify the things of God. After all, he’s a trained expert in them. It stands to reason if you want to know about God, you study the Scriptures and that makes you well-qualified to know what God is doing. But Jesus points out the fatal flaw in man-knowing-God. Human understanding doesn’t recognize the fullness of God’s work of salvation. It can behold the miracles, but not the fuller reality behind them. “You must be born again.”

Without being born again, people profane God’s Name. Without being born again, they just go through the motions of religion because its what their family does, or it’s to get their spouse off their case, but they are only inspired by the order and the moral example the Bible gives. Likewise, without being born again, people shun religion and say it’s nothing but judgmental people. They turn away from God because they either view Him as an angry judge or as something that people in the dark ages made up in the name of social control.

“You must be born again” says that we are born incapable of recognizing God’s work, rightly knowing how God thinks, or even understanding how to read His Word (even if it’s in plain English). By the Holy Spirit we see the fullness of God’s heart. He doesn’t just love the people who meet certain criteria. He loves these people of the flesh—sinners with real lives that have real doubts, guilt, fear, etc. He loves the world, and if you are in the world, He loves you.

His love, though, doesn’t come to us merely on human terms; it come on God’s terms. If it were on human terms, it would be subject to our biases—who we think is worthy of His kingdom. The recognition of God’s love in Christ is wider than human expectation, and it is better.

Unfortunately for us, hearing these words in 2020, “love” has been mutated into a strange version of its original intent. Love is a strong feeling, love is permissiveness, love is…altogether human. But we heard this in last week’s Epistle reading, “God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Human love takes that to mean a blank check, that between the Old and New Testaments, God had a change of heart and decided to not be so hard on people. Instead what it really

means is that God loved us enough that, in spite of our wretchedness, our rejecting Him, that He still gave the sacrifice of His only-begotten Son. That was what we truly needed to be saved.

Our salvation being the result of God’s work alone is called monergism—meaning God alone has the power to save. And this makes us uncomfortable. It makes us uncomfortable to be out of control of something so important. The Spirit moves where He wills. “He creates faith when and where it pleases God in those who believe” (Augsburg Confession V).

Because God doesn’t hold out on His salvation based on what we’ve done, we can take confidence that He forgives the sins of all who have been born again. But how do we know when we’re born again?

“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” This refers back to the incident with the fiery serpents in Numbers 21, when God sent serpents to bite the people who grumbled against the Lord so that they died.

It means that all who feel the pangs of death and acknowledge that they have offended not just social standards or their own expectations for themselves, but have sinned against God. All who believe this—not only that He exists and He saves theoretical sinners, but that He has saved you, a sinner, have eternal life.

Today it’s all too common to over-simplify this message, and cheapen the Gospel into Good news for bad situations, regardless of sin. But how much this harms people, because if sin is not serious, then why was Christ condemned? If sin doesn’t actually lead to us perishing, then why was God’s Son treated so cruelly?

Today the Church is challenged two-fold: one that God receives sinners, and two that God calls sinners to repent. If you lose either of those points, you miss out on the Gospel. This is why the cross remains such an enduring and powerful symbol for God’s Church. It’s more than two lines to form the lower-case ‘t’ on “co-exist” bumper stickers. The cross shows the darkness in all people, and what God did to bring us back to Himself. Every human attempt to do this has resulted in disillusionment or delusion. Some get “burned out on religion” because all they hear is a demand to do more, be better, and stop sinning. Others will want a message that says God just wants us to accept each other as we are.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

Lent 1 – Midweek Series “Denying Eyes” (Mark 14:26-31; 66-72)

He was so sure that he would succeed where others failed. He could feel the zeal welling up within him. “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” Lord, how could you say that we will all fall away? What an awful thing to happen! “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” But Peter said all the more, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.”

What did Peter think of his own dedication versus that of others? He was sure that he would succeed where others had failed. That kind of optimism comes from an underestimated view of his own strength. If you’re older or have chronic illness, you understand this. At the start of the day, you are sure that you can take on the world, like you did before. You have 10 things on your list and you’re going to get them all done. By the time dinner rolls around, you realize that you only got a few things done and had to take a nap. But for Peter, more than anything, he was sure that he could rise above the Word of God speaking about the plan of God and the failure of His people. It seemed so obvious to him, so simple. Those who came before just didn’t try hard enough, or they lacked conviction. But Jesus was quoting the prophet Zechariah, “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who stands next to me,” declares the Lord of hosts. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’” (Zech. 13:7) That’s quite a tide to think you can stand against. It happened just as the Lord said it would:

And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway and the rooster crowed. And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.

Peter wouldn’t be the last to deny His Lord under the threat of persecution. During the first centuries of the Church, the Roman rulers found various times to blame the Christains for their crumbling Empire—Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Valerian, Diocletian, and so on. Some bravely went to the lions or the pyre. Ignatius of Antioch wrote letters to strengthen the churches as he was brought to his execution under Hadrian. Later persecutions were not as noble. Under one in the 250’s AD, under the Emperor Decius, all Christians were compelled to prove their loyalty to the empire by offering incense to the pagan gods of the Empire. If you did, you would receive a libellus, a short note, which allowed you to escape arrest. Some Christians consented, others like Pope Fabian refused and were killed. Still others, desiring to save their life or that of their family, bought the libellus. Novatian of

Rome took great offense, and believed that such deniers should never be readmitted to the Church. It’s easy to look at others and judge their denials and see their faults.

What makes Peter’s denial that much more shameful is who it’s before. Not a powerful kings, nor a soldier threatening his children at knife-point. No, a lowly servant girl who has no more power over him than any other bystander. While Jesus is in the court, confessing under oath that He is the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (Mark 14:61-62), Peter is outside taking an oath on the lie that he does not know Jesus.

This goes to show that it’s easier to sit in a comfortable pew among another Christians and sing “Onward, Christian soldiers, marching off to war!” than to live it.

Today, how we deny Him is by failing to speak about Him when it could save someone’s soul. When someone says to us that they think all religions are about the same, we don’t say anything because we say we’re afraid of “ruining” the relationship. When someone says they’re joining a church body like the ELCA, which openly promotes ungodly living and says that people are saved apart from faith in Christ,1 we feel more comfortable to say “God bless you there” and leave them to the wolves.

We don’t defend His name when it’s blasphemed and tossed around like a dirty rag. Perhaps we are afraid of becoming a byword along with Him. Maybe they’ll think you’re a religious nut; maybe you don’t care because you’re already nuts!

If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;

if we deny him, he also will deny us;

13 if we are faithless, he remains faithful—

for he cannot deny himself.

So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Matt. 10:26-28)

Gospel:

Jesus was denied by the Father, counted the greatest sinner. Even for the most first-class denier. With the Lord is plentiful redemption, and He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Ps. 130). For Peter there was plentiful redemption, when on Easter he heard the general absolution (John 20)

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.

, but one morning on the shore of Galilee, he had a personal reconciliation with the Lord (John 21:15-18).

“15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.””

After that were many times where timid Peter boldly confessed Christ, on Pentecost, before the Sanhedrin, before strangers in Cornelius’ house.

You are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10). He is able to put His Word in your mouth, give you boldness and confidence, and love for your neighbor. Love Him who has showed you unwavering faithfulness, even to the point of His death upon a cross. May He sanctify your hearts, minds, and lips to confess Him in all that you do in this life. Amen.

First Sunday in Lent (Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus’ ministry begins not in a lush garden in the presence of God as it was in the beginning, but in the wilderness of a world that is under the curse of sin and death. His ministry after being baptized in the Jordan and declared to be the Son of God, goes immediately into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days. Forty for the days for the flood of Noah by which God judged the wickedness of men (Genesis 6-8), forty for the years during which God bore with the stiff-necked generation before bringing their children into the Promised Land and the whole time fed them with bread from heaven (Psalm 95:8-11, Exodus 16). Forty days for the time in which Moses was on the mountain receiving the Word of God (Exodus 34:27-28). Forty for the days Goliath came and taunted Israel and defied the Living God (1 Samuel 17). Forty days for God showing forbearance to a twisted generation, that they might be saved.

This was the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the capstone of all of God’s dealings with the sons of men since Adam and Eve brought sin into the world. It was the beginning of a new creation, “As one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” (Rom. 5:18-19) The Son of God, Jesus, stands in the wilderness as the New Adam to work righteousness and bring salvation where the First Adam and his children were cursed. It’s quite appropriate that Genesis 3 and Matthew 4 are read together.

Jesus stands in for all humanity when He is tempted by the devil, and listen to the temptations He faced, because each time He is tempted to forsake the Word of God for temporal, selfish gain: “If you are the Son of God…” does not mean that the devil wasn’t listening at His Baptism, when the Father declared from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.” It means that Satan is up to His old tricks of lying and murdering (John 8:44), attempting to pry God and man apart. In fact this is what the Greek name for the devil, diabolos, means—he who divides, casts apart.

2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”

The first temptation casts doubt on God as Creator of heaven and earth. Will He indeed do good for His creatures? Can a man truly turn His life over to the care of God and not have to be ready to grab the proverbial wheel at any moment? Command these stones to become loaves of bread—take your life in your own hands, because how could it be God’s will for you to hunger? Not only “if you are the son of God,” but If this God really loved, He wouldn’t let you suffer with sweat and hunger, thorns and thistles, and after all your labor to return to the dust.

It had worked on the Israelites before (we’ll hear this two Sundays from now): [They said to Moses] “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” (Ex. 17:3) It works on us, too, because as soon as the money runs short, we’re convinced it must be the end. We lock down and go into survival mode, believing only in what we can measure and touch, relying only on our reason and strength to see us through.

What does God say to that? 4 But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Yes, you are dust and flesh, fragile and at the breath of the Lord you whither (Isaiah 40:6-8). When He hides His face, you die and return to the ground (Ps. 104:27-30). But what of it? Did He not create you from the dust by a Word? Are you afraid that He cannot sustain you? Or are you more in love with this present life than the God who gives and who takes away? Do you not remember that apart from Him there is no God, no life, no resurrection?

The second temptation follows this:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ”

If God truly claims you as Son, He won’t let anything bad happen to you. If He is truly Almighty, then no matter what choice you make, His will is done. This questions God’s care for His children, with the implication that if something harm does come, He must not be as almighty as all that. If you further dissect Psalm 91 by this man-centered approach, you will read “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence… A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.” Then, where is the justice in the cancer which separates loving spouses from each other, the SIDS which takes a sweet child from his parents, or viruses indiscriminately sickening droves of people? Why won’t you help, God? Don’t you see us languishing?

God, what do you have to say to that? 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” That is, you have seen the life you have as something that belongs to you, as if you were king or queen over your own domain. We demand that God justify His actions to us. How dare God not serve me, but we have it backwards. He is the Lord, we are the servants. He the Benefactor, we the beneficiaries. He the Protector, we are guarded and kept by Him from eternity.

The devil’s final temptation:

“Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.”

Here the devil promises Jesus His supposed heart’s desire. Don’t you want all nations to honor you, all to hail the name of Jesus? I can it to you that thing you desire most, the Liar claims. All you have to do is worship me, trust in my power, celebrate my works and walk in my ways. Better than that, I can give it to you with all that nasty, painful suffering and death.

We understand this temptation not necessarily as worshipping the devil, but bargaining with God. Our heart’s desire, the thing we would do anything to have, we can achieve by other means. This is the draw of witchcraft, palm reading, psychics, and Ouija boards. You can have the help you want, the ultimate good you see for your life. But it comes at a price. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36) The devil’s lie is that “where there’s a will there’s a way” and where God doesn’t satisfy, there are other options. If the Words of Jesus are not to your liking, devote yourself to the teachings of demons—whether in bald-faced paganism, or in a guise of Christianity by picking a church that won’t judge what you don’t want to repent of.

What does God say to this? 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ”

Jesus remained steadfast, when we are flighty. He remained strong where we are weak. He remained true, when we’ve been duped. “Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god…Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.” (Isa. 44:6, 8)

If you have been tempted, if you think sometimes God is too far removed to help, behold Him “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He was tempted in the flesh so that He can help us in our weakness. Where we fall, He has the power and willingness to save—to forgive, renew, and rescue.

And if you are so afflicted, He gives you a pledge of His help by giving you His own Body and Blood to eat and drink. This very Body and Blood is the one which felt hunger, felt Satan’s temptations and lies, felt the sting of allegiance sworn but then broken, the humiliation of being jeered at, who felt bodily agony and breathed His last.

This is what He gives to you, who falter under the weight of your sins, who groan at the onset of death, and whose hearts are rent asunder by loss. He gives it to you to comfort and strengthen you, because His Body did not remain in the grave. He rose again to life free of sin, death, and devil. He rose, never to die again (Rom. 6:9), and so will you.

So, come to the altar now, with all your weakness, that you may put on Christ’s strength, in the forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal rest. Amen.