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    painting of Christ sitting on rocks in a desolate wilderness

    Turning toward the Crucified

    Will this Lenten season be a blessing to us?

    By Johann Ernst von Holst

    February 22, 2023

    Available languages: español, 한국어

    • Allen Bryan

      Thanks. I read this just in time to revise my Lenten sermon. Very thought provoking.

    From The Crucified Is My Love: Morning and Evening Devotions for the Holy Season of Lent by Johann Ernst von Holst.

    Ash Wednesday Morning

    The Lamb of God

    The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” —John 1:29

    “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Isaac asked his father, Abraham, on that strange journey (Gen. 22:7). His father answered, deeply moved, “God will provide for himself the lamb.” But the lamb that God the Lord would in fact provide as a sacrifice for the lost world was described in this way by the prophet Isaiah: “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth” (Isa. 53:7).

    Now John the Baptist stands in the fertile Jordan Valley. Light glows in his eyes, and lightning flashes from his preaching. His disciples surround him and very mixed throngs of people listen to his words.

    Suddenly he is silent. Jesus of Nazareth, at that time still an unknown man, walks into the crowd’s sight. John looks at him. The Spirit of God comes over him, and he recognizes in the simple wanderer the Messiah, promised and looked for with longing hearts for thousands of years, the servant of Jehovah, the Lamb of God.

    painting of Christ sitting on rocks in a desolate wilderness

    Ivan Kramskoy, Christ in the Wilderness

    Overwhelmed by this recognition, John points to the approaching man and calls out the momentous words, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This utterance has made him the greatest of the prophets. What depth there is in these words! John grasps the divine mission of Jesus and his innermost nature, will, and work. He looks into the heart of God and into the opened heavens, but he also sees the curse of humankind’s sin. He sees this burden laid upon the shoulders of this one man, who bears it and takes it away by his atoning death – and so sets the lost world free and founds a new, transfigured world.

    Yes, this Jesus is the pure lamb. No one can accuse him of any sin, and the Father himself bears witness, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). He is also the patient lamb, for he was obedient unto death, even to death on the cross. He is the gentle lamb, for while bleeding on the cross, he prays that his enemies may be forgiven. In everything he is the Lamb of God, the holy sacrificial lamb, through whom all who believe in him will be perfected in eternity.

    This Lamb of God is our Jesus Christ, our Redeemer and Savior, who loves us too with his eternal love. He suffered and died for us too, in order to make us blessed. Shouldn’t we love him in return? Shouldn’t we be grateful to him and faithfully follow him?

    Today the time of celebrating the memory of his suffering and death begins. Will this Lenten season be a blessing to us? How often have we already lived through it, and how often has it passed by! Perhaps it now comes to us for the last time. Shall we die without taking the Lamb of God into our hearts? May God in his grace preserve us from that. May he overcome all the resistance of our old nature and bless this time of Lent for our eternal salvation.

    Ash Wednesday Evening

    Who Takes Away the Sin of the World

    Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! —John 1:29

    This testimony of John’s is the heart and the star of the whole gospel. It is true, John’s mouth was soon closed by a bloody death, but the apostles proclaimed it further: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” They too have died, but this gospel rings through all centuries and hallows them. And when today the church of the Lord gathers to celebrate the Holy Supper, she looks up to the Crucified One and thousands of voices sing, “O Lamb of God, who bears the sin of the world, have mercy on us and give us your peace!”

    We are often weighed down with our work, our cares and suffering, but if we had to bear the full weight of our sin and guilt, we would sink under it into eternal night. The beam of the cross that the Lord carried to Golgotha on his torn and bleeding shoulders was heavy, but the invisible burden that rested on that cursed wood was heavier. It was not the sin of one man that was laid on the Lamb of God, but of all people – truly, the sin, guilt, and death penalty of the whole world. The season of Lent admonishes us to look well at this Lamb, and John exhorts us with his challenge, “Behold.”

    Just as once the children of Israel in the wilderness, seeking help from the bites of fierce snakes, looked up to the bronze serpent, so we too would look to the Crucified One, who bore our burden and atoned for our guilt. We would look to him with ever fuller, ever deeper and more grateful faith. But for this, new and pure eyes are necessary. We must beg the Lord for these if we want to grasp our Redeemer’s suffering in the depths of our hearts.

    With such eyes, my soul, contemplate your suffering Savior. See him in the garden of Gethsemane in the shadow of night, lying prostrate on his face, struggling with death and sweating drops of blood. See him in the judgment hall, bearing in silence the lashes of the cruel executioner, enduring spitting and a crown of thorns. Take your place below the cross at Golgotha and hear the seven last words of the dying man. Look at the bloody wounds on his head, his limbs quivering with pain, his eyes filled with tears.

    Look still deeper: look into the heart of Jesus and see his obedience to his Father and his compassion for you. See his heart break and his head bowed in death. Look until your heart also breaks in pain and love, and your eyes overflow with tears of gratitude. All who look at him and bear him in their souls like this together form the great invisible church of God here on earth, which will be revealed on the day of glory. She will see this Lamb again as her glorified, eternal king. Then she will experience the prophecy of the new covenant: “The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17).

    Contributed By JohannErnstVonHolst Johann Ernst von Holst

    Johann Ernst von Holst (1828–1898) was a Lutheran pastor in Riga, Latvia.

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