Reflections from Great Thinkers
Rebecca Van Noord and Jessi Strong, Editors
Forty is a significant number in the Bible—it signals a state of waiting and preperation. Genesis shows us Noah and his family shut up in the ark, enduring the rains for 40 days and nights (Gen 7:17). Moses spends another 40 days and nights atop a mountain, neither eating nor drinking as he experiences the presence of God (Exod 34:28). Numbers 14 shows the Lord, fed up with the grumbling of the Israelites, condemning them to 40 years of wandering in the desert.
Mirroring the Old Testament, the gospel writers of the New Testament show Jesus spending 40 days in the wilderness, fasting, and being tempted by Satan: “And immediately the Spirit drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him” (Mark 1:12, leb).
Following this pattern, Christians from many church traditions have marked the occasion of Jesus’ death and resurrection by a similar period of fasting known as Lent. The traditional calendar for Lent goes from Ash Wednesday to Easter, with exceptions for Sundays (always a feast day). 40 Days to the Cross, Reflections from Great Thinkers is a devotional following that format—40 devotionals spanning 46 days.
Lent is a time of preparation—a season of prayer, fasting and repentance. It’s a time for reflecting on our shared experience of the suffering, death and glorious resurrection of Christ, the very center of our faith.
Confession: Psalm 143:1–6
O Yahweh, hear my prayer;
listen to my supplications.
In your faithfulness answer me,
and in your righteousness.
And do not enter into judgment with your servant,
because no one alive is righteous before you.
For the enemy has pursued my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground.
He has made me dwell in dark places
like those long dead.
And so my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is desolate.
I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your doings.
I muse on the labor of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul longs for you like a dry land. Selah
Reading: Mark 12:38–44
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like walking around in long robes and greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets, who devour the houses of widows and pray lengthy prayers for the sake of appearance. These will receive more severe condemnation!”
And he sat down opposite the contribution box and was observing how the crowd was putting coins into the contribution box. And many rich people were putting in many coins. And one poor widow came and put in two small copper coins (that is, a penny). And summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow put in more than all those who put offerings into the contribution box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in everything she had, her whole means of subsistence.”
An ungodly world may reckon the poor in spirit to be contemptible, but God writes them down among His peers and princes. His judgment is true and far more to be esteemed than the opinions of men or angels.
Only if we are poor in spirit do we have evidence that heaven is ours. But having that mark of blessedness, all things are ours—whether things present or things to come. To the poor in spirit belong all the security, honor, and happiness which the gospel kingdom is calculated to give upon earth; even here below they may eat of its dainties without question, and revel in its delights without fear.
Theirs also are the things not seen as yet, reserved for future revelation, theirs the second advent, theirs the glory, theirs the fifth great monarchy, theirs the resurrection, theirs the beatific vision, theirs the eternal ecstasy.
—Charles H. Spurgeon
The Pharisees’ pride shows their self-sufficienct spirituality. Are there areas in your life where you feel like you do not need God’s intervention? Write those areas down and ask God for His help in becoming reliant on Him in all things.
Just as Jesus called Peter, John, and Matthew to leave what they knew to follow him, he calls us to the same challenge. What do you need to leave behind to follow Jesus?
“ Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Matt 16:24 [show] Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (ESV)