Editor’s note: Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Enjoy this excerpt of Contemplating the Cross as we turn our hearts toward reflection on Jesus’ gift of His life in our stead.
He who knows not the Christ of Calvary knows not God, and he who does not thus know, knows not anything that is worth knowing. ~ R. E. March
Quiet your heart before God. Seek to release the worries, cares, distractions, and decisions of your day into the Holy Spirit’s hands.
Read the following verses out loud as a prayer and invitation to the Lord:
Show me Your ways, O LORD, teach me Your paths; guide me in Your truth and teach me, for You are God my Savior, and my hope is in You all day long. — Psalm 25:4–5 NIV
Invite Jesus to open your spiritual eyes in a new way. Welcome Him as your companion and guide on this spiritual journey.
Think about the Cross for a few minutes. What images come to your mind? Does the thought of the Cross touch you deeply, or has familiarity with Christ’s death produced complacency?
What would you like God to do within you through this journey? Write this out as a prayer.
He came out and proceeded as was His custom to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples also followed Him. — Luke 22:39 NASB
As was His custom... These are telling words about where Jesus will spend His final hours of freedom. The Mount of Olives is a familiar place. He has been here often, only a week ago descending from it on a donkey, the crowds crying hosannas and laying palm branches at His feet.
On the nights following the triumphal entry, while His followers found rest in homes preparing for Passover, Jesus most likely slept here. He didn’t have to travel far, just a few hundred feet up a stone path off the Jericho road.
What consumed His thoughts in those lonely hours? Was He exhausted from long days of teaching and healing in the temple below? Did He struggle to summon enough energy to walk down each morning, knowing the demands for His touch would be endless and overwhelming? Tonight on this mountain great anguish awaits the Messiah, but has He agonized here before over the coming Crucifixion?
The full moon illuminates the way, regal cypress trees swaying in the breeze against the sable sky. Surely a quiet gloom accompanies them; Jesus talking, the men trying to keep pace, not wanting to miss a word. Once in a while He stops and faces them, expressing wistful thoughts and distant dreams.
He speaks of love — His love for the Father, His love for them, and their love for one another. Perhaps the intimacy is unsettling. It takes time to comprehend such words. But time is running out. They move on, following their beloved Rabbi.
Stopping near a gate, Jesus gazes at the starry host above. Then, lifting His hands to His Father, He prays a long, poignant prayer for these faithful few. When He is done, He searches their faces for a sign of comprehension. Seeing only questions in their eyes He cannot answer, the Son of God turns toward the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane.
It is a beautiful place, the night air in the foothills warm, the breeze from the brook Kidron blowing gently. The Garden’s huge twisted-trunk olive trees are laden with fruit. At harvest, the olives will be pressed until precious oil fills the vats. This “place of crushing” is a fitting finale for the One whose life’s breath will soon be pressed from Him.
As was His custom... The mount is fraught with familiarity, even to Judas, the missing disciple, who within a few hours will confidently lead the army of betrayers to the Savior’s side.
Jesus surveys the city for which He has known such deep compassion one last time. What does He see? Families relaxing, stomachs full and hearts warmed by Passover celebrations? Children being tucked in and candles snuffed out? Is the air peppered with the rumble of conversation or outbursts of innocent laughter among friends?
Amid all this, does Jesus behold a lost and dying world of people, ignorant of their own need, unaware of the price He will soon pay to find a place in their hearts? As He gazes into the darkness below, what grips His soul?
It is the beginning of the end. As night takes hold, the blackest days of Christ’s short stint with humanity close in. Within hours, all of history will be catapulted toward that event for which there is no turning back. The beginning of the end.
The journey to the cross is one of introspection. It is a time for mourning over the sins we have committed that nailed Jesus there. In Scripture, ashes were often a sign of repentance. Many people begin their journey to the cross on Ash Wednesday (first day of the Lenten season) by having a cross of ashes put on their foreheads to symbolize their repentance of sin and need for a Savior (Job 42:6; Jeremiah 6:26; Matthew 11:21).
Today, reflect on your own need. Consider your personal sin and disobedience. Ask God to give you the gift of mourning before Him as you begin this journey. Know that even as you may grieve, you will receive afresh the love of Christ, who died for you.
When God has spoken or moved you in some way, write a prayer of response. This might include words of praise, confession, petition, worship, or even questions you have. Be authentic as you open your heart.
Lord, let me walk with You through these final hours. Let me hold Your hurt, live in Your loneliness, and experience what it cost You to go the distance. In embracing Your pain, may I comprehend the depths of Your love. In grappling with Your grief, may I grasp the wonder of Your grace. And in dying Your despicable death, may I gain my own soul. I do not ask these things lightly. I know I can- not come to the cross without being changed. Let me walk with You, Jesus — make me ready for the journey.
Excerpted with permission from Contemplating the Cross by Tricia McCary Rhodes, copyright Tricia McCary Rhodes.
* * *
Spend some time with Jesus today thanking Him for your salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Think about His life, ministry, death, and resurrection. And, reflect upon the ways in which the Son of God continues to reach out to you with His love and mercy. ~ Devotionals Daily