Call to Worship
The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around. His lightnings light up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. O you who love the Lord, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name! (Psalm 97:1-5, 10-12)
Lord, we have denied you by refusing to know you. We have betrayed you by keeping our distance. We have mocked you by pretending we are not yours. Lord, we are lost; let your forgiveness find us. Welcome us into your strong, forgiving arms and let us feel reconciled again. Amen. [WSB]
And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” (Mark 12:35-40)
During Lent we give extended thought to the suffering that Jesus endured, but we know the outcome—an empty tomb. For us, this is an exercise in reflection, but for the disciples it was a testing of faith. We see what God was doing in the garden of Gethsemane, and we know the great necessity of the cross of Christ. Otherwise, we too would fall asleep and run for safety. It’s easy to look back.
Jesus saw it coming. Luke says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). Knowing what had to happen, Jesus stayed the course. A serious reflection on his suffering must account for the fact that our Lord looked forward, never back. We look back all the time, longing for comforts past, wondering what might have been. Even though we have taken up life with Jesus, seasons of suffering challenge our resolve and fix our attention to how things used to be. Our hunger for restoration and relief from burdens turns our heart to the past, but Jesus has only an eye for what is set before him.
The Isrealites experienced this in the forty years they spent wandering in the desert. They argued with Moses, idealizing their life in Egypt and questioning the goodness of the Lord. They complained about the Lord’s provision, not because he didn’t provide, but because they weren’t content with what he provided.
The paradox of suffering is that it is actually a gift – one we might like at times to give back – but a gift nonetheless. God gives us suffering as a way of giving us himself, for it is in our suffering that we become acutely aware of his presence and power. Hardship empties us of our self-reliance so that we might soak in what it means that we are children of God, chosen by God and in covenant relationship with him—the very covenant purchased by Christ’s blood.
The Israelites in the wilderness and Christ on the cross both stand as a testament, old and new, that God does not forsake his people. More than this, they remind us that suffering is a gift from God that very tangibly embeds his promises in our daily life. Of course, we have to be looking to him to receive it as such.
Ultimately, suffering is about learning to receive whatever God has placed in our hands as his goodness for us today. For Jesus, the journey to Jerusalem was a gift. Gethsemane and Golgotha were gifts. They were not easy gifts to receive, which is why he had to say, “Not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). And it is why he taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done” (Matthew 6:10), because if we are not looking for God’s kingdom come, we always be looking back for our kingdom gone.
1. What do you long for from the past?
2. How can you see God’s goodness in your present hardships?
3. What do you need from God to move forward in obedience?
Fill me with thy Spirit that I may be occupied with his presence. May his comforts cheer me in my sorrows, his strength sustain me in my trials, his blessings revive me in my weariness, his presence render me a fruitful tree of holiness, his might establish me in peace and joy, his incitements make me ceaseless in prayer, his animation kindle in me undying devotion. Send him as the searcher of my heart, to show me more of my corruptions and helplessness that I may flee to thee, cling to thee, rest on thee, as the beginning and end of my salvation. [VOV]