But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.”
(Isaiah 49:15-16, ESV)
Parts of this devotion will sound familiar to many of you. But first, an admission: I have retained precious little of my biblical Hebrew. But I remember taking the Biblical Hebrew qualifying exam: at least back then (in the 1990’s), if you failed that exam you packed up and went home. I passed. I think I got a 97%; the man in front of me in that class got a 95%. He was fit to be tied.
What propelled me to a pretty snazzy score was the straight translation section. You had to translate an Old Testament passage in your head and answer questions about it. I started reading the Hebrew (you read that language from right to left, by the way). I had studied for hours. But as I began translating, my heart suddenly lightened up. Joy washed over me.
It was the passage above, which I had sung using a St. Louis Jesuit song over and over while growing up! “I will never forget you, my people / I have carved you on the palms of my hands; I will never forsake you / I will not leave you orphaned / I will never forget my own. Can a mother forget her baby / or a woman, the child within her womb? Yet even if these forget, yes even if these forget / I will never forget my own.” It’s so much easier to translate when you know what it’s supposed to say!
God is with us through all of this. That’s easy to say; hard to keep in the forefront of our minds and hearts. It’s not hard to believe, because we have grace and the work of the Holy Spirit; but it’s easy for us weak sinners to lose sight of. O Lord, keep redirecting us, keep reminding us, keep reassuring us: for we can be so very frail. We need your strength, and your fortification of our holy faith.
The Lord bless you and keep you, and strengthen your confidence in his unseen presence and all his gracious promises. In Jesus’ name, Amen!
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back—it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. (Mark 16:1-8, ESV)
Some manuscripts, notably those that are later in origin and less reliable, continue with verses 9 – 20 for this 16th chapter of Mark. I reckon verse 8 (above) to be the last part of the Gospel according to St. Mark. Did he not get a chance to finish? Was he aware of what Matthew, Luke, and John were doing: and did he decide to leave the records of our Lord’s Resurrection appearances to them? We are free to speculate, and that—I believe—is as much as we can do on this matter. Just don’t spend too much time doing it.
From the other NT evangelists we know that Mary Magdalene (Mary from Magdala) was the first to inch her way back to Jesus’ vacated tomb and encounter the risen Christ. We can deduce that Peter got special mention because our compassionate Savior was more than ready to restore his bond with that apostle, broken—or at least heavily dented—by three denials. Those would, of course, be erased by three verbal affirmations of Peter’s devotion to Jesus (the breakfast by the lake with the risen Christ).
Mark’s account ends with scared believers outside an empty tomb. John’s includes the establishment of Confession and Absolution in the upper room where the apostles were holed up. Matthew has the Great Commission. Luke has a Volume II—the Acts of the Apostles—which chronicles the startup of the New Testament Church. We have been well supplied in Sacred Scripture. Each Gospel writer uses his own style and selection of material to tell the story that C.S. Lewis described this way:
“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage…” (Lewis, “Mere Christianity,” part II, ch. 2). The “disguise” is lifted part-way as Jesus demonstrates the amazing capabilities of his Resurrection body: the disguise was all gone when he showed up in a vision seen by John son of Zebedee on the prison island called Patmos. Read Revelation ch. 1 for the details.
Suffice to say here that the Lamb of God, who paid for the sin of the world, was slain but now lives forever: our God-Man Savior, who canceled our condemnation and reconciled us to his Father by the loving and mighty work of the Holy Spirit. “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!” In Jesus’ name, Amen.
And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
(Mark 15:42-47, ESV)
Note the change in designation: I decided to quantify, by rough estimate, how many devotions I have carefully researched and meticulously edited during the pandemic. Also, I didn’t want anyone to feel any pressure to read one on any day they have other devotions or obligations to tend to. So, this is Devotion 137 (probably an underestimation, but so be it). Read any of them when you like.
The linen shroud Joseph supplied was not the Shroud of Turin (it dated wrong to be the prized piece of cloth): but what matters is not whether we have the cloth from our Lord’s burial, but that he sanctified the graves of his people by his body’s rest in the tomb.
We can’t confirm the name of the centurion who exclaimed that Jesus was the Son of God and confirmed for Pilate that Jesus was dead: we can be thankful that the centurion was moved toward faith; and that a prominent member of the council called the Sanhedrin, named Joseph, showed profound respect for the body of Jesus.
While the majority of the male disciples were scared, hiding, and dejected, most of the female disciples noted where Jesus’ body was put—so that they could, after the Sabbath rest, find some way to finish embalming that body. Their Lord was dead as far as they knew; their fervor to serve was undiminished. Knowing the subsequent events, we decline to judge those who fled; we admire John, the first of the apostles to return; and we salute the women who would not be deterred from faithful service.
None of us can say for sure how we would have behaved or reacted in such dire circumstances. We look back upon the completed narrative and praise God, who secured our salvation. And we gaze with dropped jaws at the startling events that unfolded more than two millennia ago in a sliver of land now torn by tension and conflict. They buried Jesus.
But he had commended his non-bodily God-Man self to the almighty Father, and as such he went to the enemy’s camp to formally announce that enemy’s unmitigated defeat. Then he would rise bodily from the grave and start the rest of history, which will one day give way to eternity. God had this.
To Joseph of Arimathea: Way to go! To the women who watched, noted, and planned to tend to Jesus’ body: Way to go! To John, who doubled back to be near his Lord as he paid for our sins: Way to go! To those who fled and hid: You were definitely coming back; it just took a little while.
When you’re tempted to judge, try rather to understand. When you’re tempted to blame, try instead to love. When things look bleak, remember God’s power. When it looks to all appearances like all is lost, wait for God’s surprise. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. (Mark 15:33-41, ESV)
The 6th hour is 12:00 noon; the 9th hour is 3:00 pm. As the LSB (Lutheran Study Bible) points out, Jesus expresses the agony of carrying the weight of the sin of the world from the perspective of his humanity: and the loud cry from a crucified man—who would be dying by slow, painful suffocation—shows that his human nature was joined to his divine nature in one Jesus, the Christ.
The “why” in Jesus’ exclamation is not exactly interrogative: even according to his humanity he knows the purpose of his suffering. He is atoning for all our sins: he is temporarily forsaken by the Father so we would not be thus forsaken eternally. The expression of distress from the point of view of his humanity shows us the depth of our Savior’s suffering.
And the intensity of that suffering shows us the size of the price Jesus paid to liberate us from bondage to sin and death. And his subsequent bodily Resurrection vividly displays the full effectiveness of his self-sacrifice: sin was atoned for, so that all who call on Jesus’ name for mercy receive it in full.
Perhaps it is ironic that the enemy probably thought he was winning at this point: the point at which, we can see looking back, Jesus “crushed [the enemy’s] head” (see Genesis 3:15, NIV)—a metaphor for utter defeat. Recall the line in the Apostles’ Creed, “…he [Jesus] descended into hell” (see 1st Peter 3:18-19): the purpose of the visit was to say, “You lose.”
Recall as well what Jesus said in John 12:31-32: “‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself’” (NIV). We know his being “lifted up from the earth” is a reference to his crucifixion; the next verse, John 12:33, reads: “He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (NIV). The pain was unspeakable; the agony of soul breathtakingly profound. And yet the victory was being won by the Good Guy.
And then we hear mention of the faithful women who never asked for personal glory, but served with loyalty and bravery—ministering to our Lord Jesus and his apostles. In that time and that culture they could not be called students of a Rabbi (Teacher). But remember Martha’s attention to every word Jesus spoke; Paul’s recommendation for Phoebe, a deaconess at Cenchreae (Romans 16:1); and other heroic female servants of God in both the Old and New Testaments. What God knew from the start humanity figured out over time.
I probably emphasize that last point because I joined my wife, Melissa, in raising three beautiful, smart, sweet, capable daughters. We learn (most especially from St. Paul) that Jesus removed distinctions of greater or lesser closeness to God between Jews and Gentiles, high social status and low social status, male and female.
Indeed, we are “…all one in Christ Jesus,” who sacrificed himself “…once, for all…,” to wipe out our sin-guilt. “O Savior, precious Savior, whom yet unseen we love; O name of might and favor, all other names above; We worship thee, we bless thee, to thee alone we sing; We praise the and confess thee, our holy Lord and king” (LSB 527:1). In his name, even Jesus, Amen.
And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. And it was the third hour when they crucified him. And the inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.” And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. (Mark 15:21-32, ESV)
Those crucified along with Jesus reviled him: but one of them repented (see Luke 23:39-43). “He saved others…” jeered the local leaders, but “…he cannot save himself.” They missed the point. He would not save himself: he was busy saving us, busy procuring salvation for innumerable sinners—purchasing, at huge personal cost, forgiveness for “…the sin of the world.”
“The third hour” of daytime was 9:00 am. Most passers-by probably assumed that all three crucified men were filthy, guilty criminals. But some of the worst ridicule and cruelest comments came from people who had labored hard to frame Jesus: men who knew he was innocent. Yet upon this gentle Savior was heaped, poured, and piled the sin-guilt of countless offenders, transgressors, “poor, miserable sinners”: so that he could impart righteousness to sinners when the Spirit of the Lord connects them to him by giving the gift of faith.
At the foot of his cross stood his mother, Mary. Now we see the fulfillment of Simeon’s chilling prophecy: “…and a sword will pierce through your own soul also…” (Luke 2:35a, ESV). I wonder: Did any of the apostles of Jesus discuss his unsettling predictions of his betrayal, torture, and death with Mary? I doubt it: they had enough trouble processing those forecasts among themselves. We don’t know what Mary knew in advance; we do know what she saw.
Later Jesus would entrust his mother to the care of his best friend. And her piercing sorrow would turn to bewilderment early Sunday morning, and then to joy. That would be some hours away, though. We can only watch and marvel. The greatest battle of all was being fought and won by someone who looked, to all outward appearances, totally defeated. So much for outward appearances.
The first readers of the Gospels evidently knew Simon of Cyrene, Alexander, and Rufus. Toward the end of his letter to the Roman Christians, St. Paul says: “Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well” (Romans 16:13, ESV). What tied all of them, and so very many others, together was the self-sacrifice being made by the man hanging on the cross in the center. Lord Jesus, thank you for the forgiveness of our sins, salvation by your grace through faith, and eternal life. Amen.
And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.
(Mark 15:16-20, ESV)
The thorns, says the note in the LSB, were long and sharp. The purple soldier’s cape was a crude imitation of a royal purple robe. The sadistic infliction of gratuitous degradation, humiliation, and physical pain were sport for the large number of Roman soldiers. Desensitized to cruelty and the suffering of the condemned, they played. And Jesus suffered. His suffering would continue for hours.
When we review these events, the monk’s prayer might well replay in our heads: “…all this for my transgression, my wayward soul to win…” Well put, Bernard. Don’t forget, though, that it was likely these soldiers’ commander who would later say, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (15:39, ESV). And it was our sin, too, that the gentle Shepherd was paying for. Lord God, thank you for mercy that sometimes leaves us speechless.
St. Paul draws a profound conclusion as he reflects on the Passion (suffering) of the Christ. He says: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, ESV). The indefatigable love of Jesus for the sinners he was saving makes a pledge that he, his Father, and the Holy Spirit will keep us in their care until they receive us into Paradise. Our path has bumps and potholes but we will, at the appointed time, be taken home.
Meanwhile, may our prayers be regular; may our faith grow stronger; may our love be multiplied; and may our thanksgiving for God’s manifold gifts not waver. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Now at the feast he used to release for them one prisoner for whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in the insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he usually did for them. And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15, ESV)
It looked like the whole world had gone mad. Witnesses to Jesus’ miracles dismissed him as a fake and accused him of blasphemy; a murderous rebel is acclaimed for amnesty while the Light of the World is brutally tortured and condemned to the death of the cross. A nervous governor serving the Roman Occupation caves in to the mob lest a riot develop into an insurrection and he be deposed by Rome for failure to keep order in Judea. Darkness seems to be snuffing out light.
The operative phrase in that last sentence if, of course, “seems to be.” The cruelty of the scourging is profoundly disturbing. The twisted frenzy of the mob shouting, “Crucify him!” leaves us nearly numb. We recoil at the fact that Jesus was lumped together with brazen criminals and passed over for a killer. We don’t like seeing the bad guys ride roughshod over the compassionate Teacher who gave so many gifts to so many people. But think on this: Who are we to tell him how to save the world?
It seemed that evil was stomping all over good. In fact, God was running an end-run around the devil. The reversal of the enemy’s sucker-punch in Eden was afoot. At a personal cost we can’t really calculate the Suffering Servant would obtain freedom for humanity and restore fellowship between Creator and creatures—having lately added the nature of the latter to his eternal identity as the former. Remember Christology ala Dr. Seuss: “The everlasting Son, second Person of the Trinity, added humanity to his divinity.”
Extrabiblical legend says Pilate’s wife believed in Jesus as Messiah. We don’t know if Pilate ever came around. We do know that Peter came back around, and eventually even Saul of Tarsus stopped terrorizing Christians and preached the Gospel with indomitable fortitude. The theme of the Book of Revelation is that no matter how strong bad and evil seem to be, God’s good has the victory.
O Lord, we beg you to bring us back together soon. Defeat what threatens us if it be your will. Lead us in paths of righteousness and see us safely home at the last. We know you love us: remind us every day. Heal the ailing, receive those who succumb, and bless us richly with light and life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
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