Walking with Christ to the Cross
A Lenten Journey Through Scripture
Adapted from the 2019 Lenten devotional from Bible Gateway.
The invitation at the heart of Lent is to wholeheartedly seek the Lord, and to call on him for mercy, forgiveness, and restoration. It is a time to reckon with the areas of our lives in which we feel defeated, have grown cold to God, or feel stuck in self-defeating or sinful patterns. And yet it is also a time of great hope, because greater than any human failure is God’s lavish grace and faithful love. Even as we humbly reckon with our sin, we boldly expect to be forgiven and changed.
- 1. For a beautiful depiction of God’s invitation to repentance and new life, read Isaiah 55:1–9 (NIV).
Isaiah 55:1-9 (NIV)
Invitation to the Thirsty
55 “Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
2 Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare.
3 Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you,
my faithful love promised to David.
4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples,
a ruler and commander of the peoples.
5 Surely you will summon nations you know not,
and nations you do not know will come running to you,
because of the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel,
for he has endowed you with splendor.”
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found;
call on him while he is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake their ways
and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.
8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
- In this passage, the prophet promises hope, blessing, and restoration to God’s people who are living in Babylonian exile. Here is how the Encyclopedia of the Bible describes some of the conditions of their captivity:
They could own their homes and land, and enjoy the produce of their gardens (Jer 29:4-7; Ezek 8:1; 12:1-7). This would enable them to provide for some of their physical needs. . . . Jeremiah 29:5-7 indicates that the Israelites were able to accumulate wealth. Many were so successful financially that . . . when the exiles were given permission by Cyrus to return home, they refused because according to Josephus, “they were not willing to leave their possessions” (Jos. Antiq. XI.i. 3).
- Given these conditions, why might Isaiah choose to appeal first to the exiles’ thirst, hunger, and dissatisfaction (vv. 1–2)? What might his appeal suggest about their spiritual condition?
- In verses 6–7, Isaiah’s call for repentance becomes increasingly direct and urgent.
The call of vv.1-3 is echoed here but with a stronger moral emphasis. Earlier the folly of self-willed waywardness was stressed, while here it is its wickedness. . . . There is urgency in this call, for the time is not unlimited. (Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Abridged Edition): Old Testament, “Isaiah 55:6–7”)
What connections might there be between the Israelites’ “self-willed waywardness” and their “wickedness”? How might each condition lead to and magnify the other?
Isaiah stresses the urgency of seeking the Lord, and specifies the need to forsake both “ways” and “thoughts” (v. 7). What is at stake if the exiles ignore any one of Isaiah’s pleas—to respond swiftly, to change their thinking, or to change their behavior? Why are all three necessary?
- The invitation to repentance and new life was a constant theme in Jesus’ earthly ministry. In this passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus urgently calls his listeners to repentance, and yet also tells a parable that affirms God’s grace and forbearance.
- What rationalizations were Jesus’ listeners using to assess their lives and spiritual condition?
- What would change if they were to instead assess their lives and spiritual condition on the certainty of their mortality and subsequent judgment?
Luke 3:7-14 (NRSV)
7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10 And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11 In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
- From Luke 3:7–14 above, you can see parallels between Jesus’ parable of the fig tree and the teaching of John the Baptist. John calls his listeners to, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance” (v. 8), and then goes on to list examples of such fruit in verses 10–14. Based on his examples, how would you define “fruit in keeping with repentance”?
Questions for Reflection
- The Israelites in Babylonian exile had become so accustomed to their captivity that they were no longer aware of their spiritual thirst, hunger, and dissatisfaction. In what ways, if any, might the circumstances of your life as it is now have dulled you to your desire for God?
- What “self-willed waywardness” or “wickedness” are you aware of in your own life? In what ways, if any, have you become accustomed to it, tried to minimize it, or put off addressing it?
- Overall, which do you find it harder to forsake—sinful patterns of thought or sinful patterns of behavior? Why?
- What rationalizations are you prone to use to assess or justify your life and spiritual condition? What changes when you consider your life and spiritual condition instead in light of the urgency of the biblical call to repentance? Similarly, what changes when you focus on the magnitude of God’s love and mercy rather than your own guilt, sins, and failures?
- Isaiah stressed the deep satisfaction of God’s blessings as well as God’s faithful love, nearness, mercy, and pardon. Which of these do you need most as you turn to God and seek him in this Lenten season?
A Prayer for the Week Ahead
Psalm 63:1-8 (NLT)
A psalm of David, regarding a time when David was in the wilderness of Judah.
1 O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.
2 I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory.
3 Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
how I praise you!
4 I will praise you as long as I live,
lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
5 You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
I will praise you with songs of joy.
6 I lie awake thinking of you,
meditating on you through the night.
7 Because you are my helper,
I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
8 I cling to you;
your strong right hand holds me securely.