Why You Need to Stand at the Cross Before You Run to the Tomb

Holy Week invites us to deeply reflect on the cross and resurrection. However, the pain of the cross tempts me to skip right to Sunday morning and run with John to the empty tomb. Yet, if I will make myself stand with him at the foot of the cross I know the celebration of Sunday morning will be so much more profound.

The cross is difficult to look at. Not just because of the brutality, but also because we come face to face with our sin and its cost.

It Is Easier to Focus Outward than Inward

It is always easier to focus on the sin of others rather than our own. Those who waved the palm branches and shouted blessings and praise as they welcomed the Messiah to Jerusalem were likely doing just that.

The crowds thronged the city to commemorate Passover. In light of that Exodus theme on which they were focused, they praised Jesus as the Messiah who would save them from Roman oppression, inflicting the punishment Rome deserved. Their focus was on Rome’s sin and they cast Jesus as the bringer of death to their enemies.

As Jesus approached the city, he wept over it and the people’s inability to recognize their true need and his ability to meet it. He came, not to judge the world, but to save it (see John 3:17 and 12:47). Jesus was the Passover Lamb whose blood would protect them from the death they deserved.

They shouted Hosanna (a Hebrew expression meaning save) but had no clue of their true need for salvation from sin rather than from Roman oppression. Like them, when faced with our own sin, we scramble to project, rationalize, or minimize it.

Harmless Housecat or Lethal Lion?

Our culture of relativism has de-clawed and de-fanged sin. Or, rather it has given the illusion that our self-centered actions and attitudes are without consequence.

Defanged Sin

You can claim the cat has no claws, but as soon as the antagonized animal rakes his paw over your offending hand, you find the claws are very much still present. And it isn’t the cat who is at fault for the bloodshed; responsibility lies squarely on the one who committed the transgression against him.

When we ignore the path set out for us by our Creator and declare we will go our own way and do whatever is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25), we deceive ourselves into thinking the paws of the Lion of the tribe of Judah have no claws. We couldn’t be more wrong.

God’s holiness and justice are incompatible with allowing sin to go unpunished (Exodus 34:6-7). The lion’s paws swipe out to eradicate sin. On the cross, blood drips from the wounds inflicted by our transgressions against God.

But instead of our bodies bearing the wounds, God himself steps into our place. His mercy and love compel him to pay the price on our behalf.

His back receives the stripes of the whip. His hands and feet receive the nails. He drinks the cup of wrath to the last drop.

He died the death due us.

The Rest of the Story… Mercy and Redemption

Thankfully, the story doesn’t end at the cross on Friday. But without his death on the cross on Friday, there can be no meaning in the empty tomb on Sunday.

His death on Friday brings about the mourning of Saturday. At the cross we recognize our poverty, our desperate need, and the cost of meeting our need for forgiveness. As we mourn for what our sin cost our Lord, we find comfort in his mercy and love.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.—Matthew 5:4

Transformational Love

As the truth of how much he loves and values us sinks in, we find comfort. We also find freedom and redemption.

Experiencing his forgiveness and mercy, transforms us.

Recognizing we deserved retribution but received redemption causes us to look upon our rebellious ways in a new light. The light of truth.

It is as if we have been stumbling along in the dark through the brambles and briers down in the ditch we have chosen as our path. As the sun rises and sheds light on the pain and struggle our way brings, we turn and joyously and thankfully accept God’s rescuing hand and allow him to set us back on his path.

And the forgiveness and mercy God showed to us fills us with compassion for others.

Instead of desiring retaliation for the wounds they inflict on us as they flail about in the mire, we offer forgiveness. We seek to cast light into their darkness and show them a better way forward.

Saturday’s mourning gives way to the celebration of Sunday’s Resurrection. The tomb is empty, he is risen!

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Grab the free cheat sheet of Simple Ways to Connect with Jesus in Your Busy Life

I’d love to help you find some simple ways to connect with Jesus – not only during this Holy Week, but in your day-to-day life all year round. I’ve created a little cheat sheet with some ideas for how you can:

  1. Wake Up with Jesus
  2. Commune While You Commute
  3. Exercise Your Faith & Your Body
  4. Tie in Faith to Your Family Conversations

If you’d like me to instantly email you a copy of this cheat sheet, just click the button below and I’ll send it on its way to you!

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How about you? How do you prepare for Easter? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Surveying the Wondrous Cross and the Cost of Grace

Request the free 4x6 images featuring the lyrics of this great hymn!

This past Sunday in worship we sang one of my favorite songs, The Wonderful Cross. This is a modern adaptation of the hymn written by Isaac Watts in 1707. A couple days prior, my pastor and I had been talking about the importance of seeing in the cross both our need for forgiveness and the cost paid by God to forgive us. As I sang the words of this ancient hymn, I contemplated how God, who needed nothing, gave everything to rescue me from estrangement from Himself. Humility, repentance and gratitude all mingled together and seemed an appropriate attitude in which to begin this week.

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross - verse 1

On Wednesday, the Christian calendar transitions into the season of Lent. In this season, we are invited to reflect on our great need for the cross of Christ and reality of the suffering it cost Him to meet our need.

During the forty days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and the Saturday before Easter, we remember that high cost and the freedom from sin and to approach God that it bought for us.

The forty days of Lent recall Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness. This experience followed his baptism as he prepared to embark on his public ministry (see Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:9-13; Luke 4:1-13).

During this time of preparation, Jesus fasted and was tempted to part from his path of obedience which would lead to the cross. He met and overcame each temptation by depending on God’s truth revealed in the Scriptures.

And in Jesus’ wilderness experience we hear the echoes of the forty years Israel spent in the wilderness. Whereas Jesus met each trial with faith in God and obedience, the Israelites chose a much different path. What a difference faith and obedience make!

Spring is a time of renewal of life. And it is fitting that Lent, derived from the Old English term for spring, lencten, provides a time to reflect on the necessity of the cross in making possible our new life in Christ.

Meditating on Costly Grace

Yes, it is tempting to skip right over the suffering of the cross to the glorious resurrection. Yet, I suggest to you that much insight, humility, and gratitude is gained when we take time to dwell on the high cost of God’s grace.

Make no mistake: salvation costs us nothing except a willingness to humbly recognize our need and accept by faith God’s provision. But never think that grace costs nothing. It cost Jesus everything. 

Traditionally, fasting is one way of meditating on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus.

As with any tradition, there is a danger we humans will lose sight of the beneficial aspects of the traditions in favor of legalism and self-righteousness.  If we begin to think that how we observe the tradition adds anything to our salvation, we have lost sight of the Gospel.

This season is intended to draw us closer to and make us more aware of our dependence on Jesus. It isn’t a time of making a show of one’s piety or thinking one’s works can add anything to what Jesus accomplished on Calvary.

As Paul said in Galatians,

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.“—Galatians 6:16

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-Verse 2


Whether you observe Lent or not, I invite you to spend a few moments reflecting on the words of Watts’ hymn. I’ve set the lyrics of each verse in these graphics. May they help you meditate on the intersection of our need and God’s merciful provision.

Our sin is real and the suffering and sorrow that result is real. In forgiving our sin, God didn’t wink at it and say it didn’t matter. On the contrary, justice demanded the debt be paid.  

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23

But we matter to him so much that he was willing to suffer in our place to settle our account. The King of Kings bore our punishment.

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-Verse3

Take in the love reflected in that sacrifice! We can never “pay him back” and he doesn’t ask us to. He asks that we accept his gift and share the good news of it with others.

This Wednesday, you may choose to participate in an Ash Wednesday service. Or, not. Either way, I hope and pray you will respond to the amazing love God pours out for you by accepting his gift and offering him your repentance, love, and praise.

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-Verse4

FREE 4 x 6 Printables

I’ve made you a set of the images used in this post that are sized and formatted to fit in standard 4 x 6 frames. Just print the PDF and cut the images out and pop them into frames. I pray these help you reflect and meditate on just how much our Savior loves you!

When I Survey The Wonderous Cross-FREEBIE

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How about you? Do you observe Lent in any special and meaningful ways? I’d love to hear about those! You can leave a comment by clicking here.

How God Got My Attention with a Fruitless Fig Tree

Here in Texas, you do NOT want someone to say you are “all hat and no cattle.” In the same way, those of us who profess to follow Christ never want him to declare we are all leaves and no figs! Earlier this week, as I read the Gospel accounts of Holy Week, the puzzling account of Jesus cursing a fig tree captured my attention (Matthew 21:12-22 and Mark 11:12-24). I’ve read these passages before, scratched my head in confusion, and moved on to the more straight-forward parts of the story. This time, I couldn’t let go of this odd scene. I felt God encouraging me to linger, listen, and learn.

A Fig Tree

Modified version of a photo by Ian Scott / CC BY

A Fruitless Fig Tree

After Sunday’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, with the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” still ringing in his ears, Jesus retreated to Bethany for the night. Early the next morning, a hungry Jesus trekked back to Jerusalem. I suspect the pain in his empty stomach mixed with the pain in his heart over the scene he witnessed the previous day in his Father’s house.

In the distance, he spotted a fig tree full of leaves. Good sign. Many leaves means much fruit when it comes to fig trees. Breakfast, coming up!

But where there should have been much fruit, Jesus found only leaves. Mark’s account disclosed it wasn’t the season for figs. So, at first, I wondered why Jesus would be disappointed and angry because the tree had no produce. But then I learned

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Two Ways Jesus’ Resurrection Impacts You

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During the forty days between his resurrection and ascension, Jesus appeared to his disciples and prepared them to spread the good news in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (see Acts 1:8). In this brief period of time, the significance of the resurrection became personal for them. They learned how it would change their lives. It changes our lives, too. As I processed the reality of Jesus’ resurrection and the implications it has for our lives, I noticed two right away.

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com © Annika Banfield

He Gives Us Peace and a Mission

He makes us at peace with him and then asks us to get busy sharing that peace with others. Just look at John’s account of Jesus first appearing to his disciples the evening of his resurrection.

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 19-22 (NIV)

Because Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, we can stand firm, letting nothing move us, giving ourselves fully to sharing the good news, knowing that our labor is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58). That is another kind of peace Christ’s resurrection offers us: peace in the sending. We don’t have to worry about the results.

Sent as the Father Sent Jesus

Jesus says he sends his disciples as the Father sent him. So, how and why did the Father send Jesus?

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Why I’m Glad THE God, and Not MYGod, Answers My Hosanna

Can you imagine what it must have been like to be among the crowds shouting praise and adoration to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday? Though the Passover pilgrims made this processional and recited the words of Psalm 118 each year, this year was different. They were ushering the long awaited Messiah to the Temple. The Light of the World was shining brightly in this moment of praise and adoration. Yet, the one to whom the shouts of worship were directed knew these adoring fans would be shouting “Crucify him!” within days. Unfortunately, I can see myself in the crowd.

They waved the palm branches in celebration of the expected victory. Their Messiah was going to overthrow Roman rule and make them comfortable and powerful. They didn’t realize the Messiah God sent would save them, but not how they wanted.

My God Wouldn’t Do That!

How many times do I lift praise and adoration to God when he pleases me and makes my life easier? Yet, I belligerently decry, “My God wouldn’t do that!” when suffering is involved. I am guilty of trying to mold God into my vision of what is good instead of submitting to his perfect will.

At one time, I was entrenched on the “free will” side of the mysterious doctrine of providence. When tragedy struck or I was experiencing some injustice or loss, there was nothing more obnoxious to me than hearing it was God’s will. My God wouldn’t want me to suffer. Surely, my pain could never be his will.

How God Humbled Me

Then God used an extremely painful experience to bring me to a new understanding.

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