MONDAY— We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Isaiah 53:3
Supper would be late again. So much to do, especially since the last baby. Magda gathered her skirts, hoisted her shopping basket onto her head, and hurried past the gruesome sight on the hill. Criminals were being executed again. Ugh! Disgusting. Getting what they deserved. The One in the middle, though… He seemed different. Her heart had twisted at some of his words. She’d pondered long into the night after He’d healed her sister. His presence had created a new kind of longing, but she’d shoved that aside. Unless He was volunteering to help with chores, she didn’t have time. First things first, right?
Distractions may keep more people from God than outright rejection does. Life distracts us. Passions, duties, and dreams distract us. None of them are evil, but all of them are second best. We don’t always keep first things first. We make second things first and, like Magda, we look the other way when the cross beckons. We hear or read a truth from God’s word, but it’s uncomfortable so we distract ourselves until the feeling goes away. We tell ourselves we’ll get around to it one day, but deep down we know we won’t because going to the cross means we’re not in charge anymore. When we bow there, we are acknowledging God’s right to rule over us and that’s scary. So like Magda, we let distractions sidetrack us. Magda’s “first things first” idea was correct, but she didn’t realize that everything else was merely a distraction from what mattered most.
Final Thought: Are distractions keeping you from the cross?
Prayer: Lord, would I have looked away if I’d been there when Jesus was crucified? Would I have let distractions keep me from following you? Am I doing that now? Search my heart and show me what is keeping me from you. In Jesus’ name, amen.
TUESDAY— For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. Galatians 1:10
Mathias shrugged and allowed his buddies to drag him along with them. That radical Rabbi was being crucified today and some of the guys couldn’t wait to jeer at Him. Mathias wasn’t so sure they should do that. What if the guy turned out to be a prophet or even the Son of God, like some people said He was? What if they offended God when they mocked the Rabbi? But if Mathias refused to go along, they would ridicule him. They might even think that Mathias was a follower! His feet made little dust clouds as every reluctant step took him closer to the horrifying scene. Why didn’t he just say no? Was this a mistake?
Peer pressure, societal expectations, and popular opinion influence us more than we think they do. How many of your past decisions were made because you wanted to fit in or to avoid ridicule? What about now? How much do you allow the opinions of others to influence your walk with Christ? Alcoholism starts with one drink. Drug addiction starts with one hit. Unwed pregnancy starts with one bad moral choice. And most of those started with someone else’s opinion. “Go ahead! It’s fun. It won’t hurt you. Don’t you love me?” Going to the cross means we turn a deaf ear to the world’s opinions and listen only for one Voice. We cannot please both God and the world for long. When those voices are in conflict, which one do you follow?
Final Thought: Are the voices of family, culture, or friends keeping you from the cross?
Prayer: Lord, I try to straddle the fence. I don’t want to offend you, but I want people to approve of me. So I go along when I shouldn’t and I don’t do what I should. All because of what other people think. Help me change that. In Jesus’ name, amen.
WEDNESDAY— Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us… Titus 3:5
Thad smoothed his ornate robe and frowned at the grisly parade headed toward Golgotha. It was about time someone put an end to that offensive Teacher who insulted God’s holy men. Priests. The religious elite. That Man had challenged their time-tested way of doing things, so He had to go. Guilt nibbled at him, but he shook it off. No. This needed to be done. Thad and his fellow Pharisees were God’s anointed ones, after all. This Man had defied them, rebuked them, and taught that there was another way to find God. That was blasphemy, so the Teacher must not be tolerated any longer. Religion was Thad’s specialty and he wouldn’t have it shattered by some renegade claiming to be from God. Those claims threatened his comfort zone.
Tradition holds us with a tighter grip than we may realize, but religion stands in the way of our finding God. Childhood experiences, Grandma’s convictions, and early church teachings can be barricades that keep us from the cross. “Well, that’s my religion,” Kelli announced when presented with the gospel, “and I’m sticking to it.” Truth didn’t matter when her traditions were challenged. It’s comfortable, familiar and we feel a sense of loyalty to the religion of our heritage. But while religion promises that it will make us right with God, the cross says that NOTHING we do makes us right with God. When we bow at the cross, we admit that. We stop justifying our sin. Thad’s religion was in the way of His finding God. It’s always in the way.
Final Thought: Is religion keeping you from the cross?
Prayer: Jesus, thank you for paying the price I owe God. I humbly receive your gift and admit that I can do nothing to justify myself before you. I lay my life down. It is now yours. I gladly take up my own cross to follow wherever you lead me. Amen
THURSDAY— And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 1 Corinthians 15:17
“I believe in Jesus,” Shar said, “but I’m not too sure about all that rising from the dead stuff. I mean, Jesus was a wonderful teacher. He said so many good things, but do we have to believe ALL of it to benefit from what He said?” Yes. And here’s why. “Believing in Jesus” can mean a lot of things. Believing that He was a real, historical character is only common sense. We can believe in Alexander the Great and Socrates, but neither offers to save us from hell. If Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead, then He has no power to save us from hell either. He’s just another guy with some good ideas.
The idea that we can believe in Jesus as much or as little as we want to has no foundation in truth. C. S. Lewis said it best: “I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” Compromised truth is no longer truth.
Final Thought: Is compromise keeping you from the cross?
Prayer: Lord, I am guilty of compromising your word and your commandments. I focus on the ones I like and understand, but I compromise on others. I declare now that believe all of it. If your word says you rose from the dead, then you did. Amen.
FRIDAY— He was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. Rom. 1:4
Thomas had been there for all of it. He had watched the miracles, tasted the bread that fed thousands, and listened as Jesus brought heaven to earth. But he’d also watched the crucifixion. No one could survive that. He’d never seen anything so horrifying. He’d stayed in the shadows as the bloody corpse was taken off the cross, wrapped in linen, and sealed in a tomb. Now, his heart was leaden inside his chest. It was over. Peter and the others kept prattling on about Jesus rising from the dead, but that was ridiculous. He’d seen the dead body with his own eyes and nothing could convince him otherwise.
Jesus’ talk was just talk until He rose from the dead. Lots of great philosophers have had good ideas over the years, but they’re still in their graves. Unless Jesus actually came out of the tomb, His teachings would die with Him. But that’s where people stumble. It’s impossible to rise from the dead. Everyone knows that. So they wrestle with the “how, what, when” and let doubts become stop signs in their journey toward God. But doubts don’t have to be stop signs. They are speed bumps that slow us down, but don’t have to stop us. When Thomas finally saw the nail prints, he was glad doubt didn’t make him give up.
Final Thought: Is doubt keeping you from the cross?
Prayer: Lord, I do let doubts take over my mind sometimes. But I have to keep coming back to that empty tomb. If you didn’t rise from the dead, life has no meaning. I don’t know how you did it. I’m not God. But I’ll believe you. In Jesus’ name, amen.