WMBI Easter Week Devotionals

Monday

This is Holy Week. Today is Monday. On Friday Jesus was crucified. In his first words from the cross he cried out, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” These are truly awesome words because Jesus is asking God to forgive the very people who put him to death. What happened that day at Skull Hill was unforgivable. That’s the definition of what unforgivable is. When you crucify the Son of God you have done that which is beyond forgiveness.

How do you forgive the unforgivable? The secret of forgiveness is to understand that in the ultimate sense between you and the person who hurt you there’s really no difference at all. None whatsoever. It is possible to forgive the unforgivable but you’ve got to realize before you do it, that Jesus forgave you when you were unforgivable. When he prayed that prayer, he wasn’t just praying for them back there, he was praying for all of us two thousand years later.

I think it is enormously significant that the first word from the cross is a word of forgiveness. These words teach us that Jesus came to establish a religion of forgiveness. He is at heart a man of forgiveness. He came into this world to establish a church that would be an oasis of forgiveness. And to bring to the world a race of forgiving men and women.

Would you like to become more like Jesus? I suggest you start where Jesus started—by forgiving the people who have hurt you so deeply. I do not for a moment mean to suggest that this is easy. To forgive us cost Jesus his life. To forgive others will cost us something too. We will certainly have to give up our anger, turn away from our bitterness, and decide by a conscious choice that we will forgive those who have sinned against us. And very often we will have to perform that act of forgiveness over and over again until we learn the grace of continual forgiveness.

Here’s a simple exercise that may help. Take a sheet of paper and write the words of Jesus at the top: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” On the left side of the paper, write down the things and the people and the memories from the past that have hurt you so badly. Make it brief and simple. No one ever needs to see this card. When you are finished, add one word in large letters to the right of each hurt from the past: Forgiven … Forgiven … Forgiven.

And when you’re finished, take that paper and rip it up. Don’t keep it. Rip it into a dozen pieces and then flush the pieces down the toilet. Forgiven … Forgiven … Forgiven … Forgiven … Forgiven … Forgiven. Let go of those awful memories once and for all.

This isn’t a magical exercise that can suddenly take away your pain, but it is a practical way of coming to grips with the first words from the cross. Do you want to be set free? Would you like to come closer to Jesus Christ than you’ve ever come before? Then start where Jesus began on the cross—by becoming a great forgiver.

All of us know that it is easier to talk about forgiveness than it is to do it. And if we are honest, we all know how much we suffer when we forget to do what Jesus did on the cross. We need courage to take the giant step of forgiveness. However painful forgiveness may be, it is infinitely better than refusing to forgive. We will helped to do it when remember that Jesus forgave us when we were unforgivable.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Tuesday

In his second cry from the cross, Jesus spoke to a dying thief and declared, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” This is a case of last-second salvation. And it teaches us that God has made salvation simple so every person can be saved. Consider what we have in this story:

—Salvation independent of the sacraments. This man was never baptized, never took the Lord’s Supper and never went to Confession. But he made it to heaven.

—Salvation independent of the church. This man never went to church, never walked an aisle during a public invitation, never attended catechism class, and never gave his money to the Lord’s work. But he made it to heaven.

—Salvation independent of good works. This man could not lift a hand for the Savior for his hands were nailed to a cross. He could not run any errands for the Lord for his feet were nailed to a cross. He could not give his money for he had not a penny to his name. For this man, there was no way in but the mercy of God.

He was pardoned before he lived a single righteous day. In one transforming moment, a man who was not fit to live on earth was made fit to live in heaven. What a day this was for that misbegotten criminal. In the morning, he’s in prison, at noon he’s hanging on a cross, by sundown he’s in paradise. Out of a life of sin and shame, he passed immediately into eternal blessedness.

I take my stand with him. We all get to heaven the same way, by the grace and mercy of God. Over 200 years a man named William Cowper struggled with bouts of severe depression. At one point he became extremely depressed, fearing that he was under the wrath of God. After reading Romans 3:25 he trusted Christ and was saved. Looking back on that day, William Cowper wrote a hymn that we still sing today. It includes a verse about the dying thief who came to Christ.

There is a fountain filled with blood,

Drawn from Immanuel’s veins.

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoiced to see,

That fountain in his day.

And there may I, though vile as he,

Wash all my sins away.

All that God wants from us … and all that he will accept … is simple faith in his son, Jesus Christ. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, in that very moment we are saved.

The question is simple. Are you ready to die? You have nothing to fear if you know the Lord. You are not ready to die if you don’t. Do you know him? What will you do if you don’t know him?

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Wednesday

It is now 3 PM on Friday in Jerusalem. Jesus has been on the cross for six hours. It is clear to even a casual observer that the end is near. He has a minutes left to live. The battle is almost over, the victory nearly won. All eyes focus on the center cross. It is clear the end is near. Jesus is at the point of death. Whatever happened in those three hours of darkness has brought him to death’s door. His strength is nearly gone, the struggle almost over. His chest heaves with every breath, his moans now are only whispers. Suddenly he cries out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”

The story is told that Martin Luther was studying this text one day. For hours he sat and stared at the text. He said nothing, he wrote nothing, but silently pondered these words of Jesus. Suddenly he stood up and exclaimed, “God forsaken by God. How can it be?”

Indeed, how can it be? How can God be forsaken by God? How can the Father forsake his own Son?

What, then, do these words mean? I suggest that we will never grasp their full meaning until we see that Jesus was truly forsaken by God. We know from Habakkuk 1:13 that God cannot look with favor upon wickedness. His eyes are too pure to approve the evil in the world. God’s holiness demands that he turn away from sin. God will have no part of it. His holiness recoils from the tiniest tinge of wickedness. Therefore when God looked down and saw his Son bearing the sin of the world, he didn’t see his Son, he saw instead the sin that he was bearing. And in that awful moment, the Father turned away. Not in anger at his Son. No, he loved his Son as much at that moment as he ever had. He turned away in anger over all the sin of the world that sent his Son to the cross. He turned away in sorrow and deepest pain when he saw what sin had done. He turned away in complete revulsion at the ugliness of sin.

—He was forsaken that you might never be forsaken.

—He was abandoned that you might never be abandoned.

—He was deserted that you might never be deserted.

—He was forgotten that you might never be forgotten.

Jesus died a sinner’s death and took a sinner’s punishment so that guilty sinners like you and me could be eternally forgiven. He was forsaken that you might never be forsaken. Those who trust him will never be disappointed, in this life or in the life to come.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Thursday

The earthly life of Jesus is almost at an end. Moment from he will be dead. A more hopeless scene you could never imagine. He died in terrible pain. And just before he died, he cried out, “I thirst.” This is the only reference he made to his physical sufferings on the cross. It is one of the ironies that the Water of Life is now dying of thirst.

At this point a strange question comes to mind. Was Jesus a failure? You could make a good case that the answer is yes. I think you could make a decent case that Jesus was the greatest failure that the world has ever seen. Just look at his life. He was born into an unimportant family in an unimportant little village. He was ignored, he was taken for granted, he was laughed at. When he talks and when he speaks, the powers that be want nothing to do with him. He faces nothing but ridicule and opposition and misunderstanding all his life. And in the end he is crucified like a criminal. His sufferings in those last few hours are unspeakable. When he dies he appears to be yet another forgotten footnote in history. Working with the facts one level, you could make the case that our Lord was a failure.

But his death is not the end of the story. On Sunday he rose in glorious victory. The same Jesus who cried, “I thirst,” rose from the dead, victorious over the grave.

Let us learn the lesson well. Your sufferings do not necessarily mean you are out of the will of God. It is entirely possible that you may do everything God wants you to do and still suffer terribly. Even so, your suffering may yet be redeemed into something much greater than you can imagine! Jesus pointed the way when he cried, “I thirst.” That was Friday. On Sunday he rose from the dead to become a gushing spring of Living Water.

Are you suffering right now? Do you live in darkness? Is the way unclear, the light dim, do you feel the pain of those you love turning against you? Fear not. And do not lose heart. What is happening to you happened first to Jesus. And what happened to him may yet happen to you. Your suffering has a purpose, your pain has a reason, your darkness leads on to a brighter, better morning.

Run to the cross. Cling to it. Embrace the sufferings of Christ. Though this cannot lessen your pain, it may give you strength to carry on. Jesus suffered before you; he also suffered for you. Child of God, remember this: As Friday comes before Sunday, so the cross leads on to the empty tomb. And there is no resurrection unless there is first a crucifixion.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

Friday

It is now Friday afternoon, shortly after 3 PM. The end is very near. The smell of death is in the air. The man on the middle cross is obviously about to die. The other two will live a while longer. Suddenly Jesus speaks. It was a quick shout. Just one word. If you weren’t paying attention, you missed it in all the confusion. Then he breathed out another sentence. Then he was dead. That one word in Greek is three words in English: “It is finished.”

The work of salvation is now complete. That is what “It is finished” means. The debt was paid, the work was accomplished, the sacrifice was completed. If Jesus paid it all, you don’t have to. If you try to pay for your salvation, it means you don’t think he paid it all. There is no middle ground between those two propositions. God is not trying to sell you salvation. He doesn’t offer salvation at half-price. And you can’t split the cost with him or pay for your sins on the installment plan. God is offering you salvation free of charge. Jesus paid in full so you wouldn’t have to pay anything

Since Jesus Christ paid in full, all efforts to add anything to what Christ did on the cross are doomed to failure. This is a crucial point because sinners often think there is something they can do (or must do) in order to be forgiven by God. But the death of Christ proves the opposite. No degree of personal reformation (no matter how much you clean up your life), no baptism of any kind, no acts of bravery (not even on the battlefield), no deeds of kindness (no matter what the motivation), no religious activity of any kind can help the sinner take even the tiniest step toward heaven. Sin is forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ on the basis of his death on the cross. Since Christ has died for us, nothing we do (or have done or will do) makes the slightest difference in terms of our salvation, forgiveness, justification, and full acceptance by God. These are shocking words to some people because almost everyone secretly believes there is something we must “do” in order to be saved. But we can go so far as to say that nothing can be added to the value of the blood of Christ. Good resolve and sincere effort are noble things but they cannot forgive or help forgive our sin.

Thanks be to God that Jesus left no unfinished business behind. He finished what he came to do, and in finishing his work he paid in full the price for your sins.

This is Ray Pritchard of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park for Mornings on 90.1 FM, WMBI.

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