A Criminal Tale March 27-31

As we come closer to the narrative of Jesus’ death, we are introduced to two criminals, one who bears the name Jesus Barabbas, and one we simply know as the criminal on the cross. Both of these men experienced the redemption that comes through Jesus. These two criminals represent all of us. Barabbas is freed because Jesus is punished. The repentance of the thief on the cross believed Jesus’ promise of eternal life with Him. The heart of the Gospel is the message of redemption—We are wretched and sinful people deserving God’s judgment, but we are set free. We are given the opportunity of a new life because Jesus has taken our place.


Day 1      Matthew 27:11-26
Reflect:  In what way was Jesus considered a rebel leader like Barabbas? What was the underlying reason Barabbas was released and what is significant about it?
Apply:    We often choose other things over Jesus—what have you chosen instead of Him? How do you think Barabbas felt when he was freed and Jesus was executed in his place?
Pray:      Jesus, like Barabbas, I am an unrighteous sinner. Released. Freed. You are the ultimate substitution. By Your death I live redeemed by Your grace.


Day 2        Luke 23:32-43
Reflect:   What did it take for the one criminal to obtain eternal life with Jesus? Why is that significant? What do you learn from the criminal’s response in verses 40 and 41?
Apply:     One criminal just wanted the pain to stop, the other sincerely wanted paradise. What does false faith look like to you? Do you secretly feel like you need to earn your redemption?
Pray:       Father, even Jesus’ close disciples faltered in their faith. But then You raised up a thief who had great faith and received a great promise. I cry out., “Remember me!” Thankfully, I already know Your response!


Day 3     Isaiah 64:1-7
Reflect: How does this text show the depth of our true condition and what God requires of us? What does Isaiah believe about God and what He does? What sins does he profess?
Apply:  Of the church today, do you find what Isaiah says is true? How have you lived as if you can make yourself good enough to deserve to live forever with an all-holy God (verse 6)?
Pray:   Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.


Day 4      Acts 13:26-41
Reflect: What are the main points of Paul’s sermon? How do you see the gospel message in verses 38-39?
Apply:      In what ways have you doubted or questioned Jesus, either like the rulers in this text or the other criminal on the cross? What has most helped develop your faith in Jesus?
Pray:       Lord Jesus, I receive the gift of forgiveness You offer me through the cross. I offer my life In worship and gratitude for the wonder of Your amazing grace.


Day 5       1 Corinthians 1:28-31
Reflect:   What does this say about God? About us? About how we are to be in relationship with God? How does this text speak to humility and why is it important?
Apply:     What kinds of boasts have you made, either spoken out or in your thoughts? How is God calling you to live in response to the new redeemed life you’ve been given by Jesus?
Pray:       God, my limitations are ever before me, not to define me, but to incessantly drive me to Jesus. By the Holy Spirit, continue to pour the true gospel into my heart so I can love as I am loved.


Put It Into Practice:

Lent is the Christian season of repentance and renewal. This year we are focusing on and studying the ways God accomplishes His redeeming work in and through us.  The suggested “Put It Into Practice” exercises for this series are practices of spiritual devotion fitting for this sacred period of cleansing, contemplation, and renewal. Try them all, a few, or just choose one to practice this Lenten season.


Reflect – The ancient practice of reflection is a tool for looking back at your day and noticing where God has been present and at work, as well as to recognize things about yourself that may need to be reshaped by the Potter. During this time, spend a few moments in gratitude for the gifts and blessings of the day. Ask God to enlighten you about where His presence in your day. Examine the moments of your day, noticing your reactions to what has led to consolation and what has led to desolation. Seek forgiveness for the times when you have acted, spoken or thought contrary to God’s grace and calling for you. Resolve to change. Decide what in your behavior or attitude you will try to improve tomorrow.


Practice generosity – Just as Boaz, be generous with your money, food, time and talents to those in need. Carefully examine what motivates you to be generous under the shadow of the Cross, for almsgiving is of little value if we give only to relieve our conscience but remain indifferent to those in need.  


Strengthen relationships – Help your family and strive to sacrifice of yourself for their benefit. Go the extra mile to maintain communication, to heal old wounds, and mend broken bridges. Learn to apologize and to put yourself in others’ shoes. Reach beyond your comfort zone by engaging with people who are different than you. Seek out the best in others and give the best that is in yourself. Remember Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the loving Father, and the elder son.  


Fast – Intentionally withhold something you would normally partake in for the purpose of creating space in your life to feast on the presence of Jesus “directly.” Fast from foods associated with “feasting”—chocolate, desserts, coffee/caffeine, alcohol, etc. Fast from media or entertainment: cell phone, TV, streaming video, radio, music, email, computers, video games, etc. Fast from habits and comforts—shopping, looking in the mirror, makeup, elevators, parking in a spot close to the store, finding the shortest checkout line, reading online, following sports, etc. 


Confession – Allow the spiritual discipline of confession which leads to forgiveness, to be part of your daily practice. Before we can experience the full grace, healing and redemption made available through Jesus, we must turn from our sins and confess them to God. Dig deep. What sins of unfaithfulness to God do you need to confess?


Rejoice in the Lord— Let the joy of the Lord be your strength! On Sundays, if what you have sacrificed through fasting increases the joy of this wonderful day, then sacrifice it. If it does not, then do not. The joy of the Lord must be your strength!