Set free in Christ

Today’s passage is Ezekiel 17, 18 & 19

I wonder do we ever stop to think why there’s so much division in the world over differences none of us have had any control over. Nations look down on nations when none of us had any say where we were born. Protestant is set against Catholic when we had no say into what family we were born. The poor are separated from the rich when we had no say into what economic circumstances we were born. In so many ways we are the product of our parents. So many things cannot be changed or are difficult to change, all because of the situation or location into which we were born. (It makes all the division more than a little pointless)

It is not our history or heritage that defines who we are in Christ. It is our own faith and acceptance of what Christ has done for us.

Yet Ezekiel is telling us when it comes to God our heritage; family lineage; parents’ choices do not define who we are. (Read Ezekiel 18: 19-25)

Our relationship with God is entirely personal. (Personal in the sense that it is our relationship; not personal in the sense that it should not be shared with others.) We should remember that Ezekiel was speaking to a people who had already been taken into captivity in Babylon because of their rebellion against God and the remainder of the people were about to be taken into captivity and their precious city and temple destroyed. He was speaking to a people whose relationship with God certainly looked as though it lay in tatters.

Ezekiel, therefore, was saying to a new generation you are not bound or defined by your father’s actions. God will not abandon you because of what your father did. This is good news for anyone who might be reading this who does not have a family history that has taught a love for God – or has a family history of crime; unfaithfulness; or wickedness. Equally for a godly parent who faces the heartache of a child who departs from the faith, this does not bring into question your relationship with God.

The child will not share the guilt of the parent nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.

Ezekiel 18:26

The gospel of Jesus Christ is about cleansing from individual sin. It is the message that Christ’s death is for me and that I receive his grace through my faith, not the faith of my parents or my children. This is good news because the gospel then becomes something that can set us free from our family history. Like the children of the exiles in Babylon we do not have to become like our parents.

The gospel goes further because not only does it free us from historical family sin, but our own historical sin. The cross of Jesus Christ sets me free from my past. Whatever shameful thing we hide from others, whatever shameful thing we believe has shattered our relationship with God. The cross atones for and restores that relationship.

Rather am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

Ezekiel 18:23

Jesus sets us free from everything the world tells us we should be. It doesn’t matter if that is because of the place we were born; the family we were born into; or what we may have become through our life choices. In Christ we are set free.

Prayer Father I thank you for the cross of Jesus Christ. I thank you that he sets me free from the labels people use about me because of where I come from, how my family has lived and the choices I have made in life. Father forgive me for who I am. This morning Lord I echo the words of Ezekiel 18:31, ‘Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit…’ Father create in me that new heart and renew that right spirit in me (Psalm 51:10). Amen.

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Life without God

This morning’s passage is Ezekiel 15 & 16

Ezekiel 15 and 16 paints a picture of what life without God would be like. In Chapter 15 Ezekiel describes Jerusalem and Judah as the vines that grow in the forest. The vine is already a useless piece of wood. It is not used for making utensils or pegs for hanging clothes. When it is gathered for burning it is of even less value. Ezekiel was saying that Israel, Judah, Jerusalem was only special because of what God had done for her.

The beauty of the Dark Hedges is not because of how they have been cultivated but because of how nature has shaped them. We should never forget our beauty is not because of anything we have done, but because of what God has done for us.

In chapter 16 we are given a description of how God had taken Israel, given birth to her, cleaned her, clothed and nurtured her. God loved her and gave her a solemn covenant with her – a marriage if you like where he promised to be her God and she promised to be his bride. His people.

As the chapter progresses, we are presented with Judah’s unfaithfulness. It started when she began to trust in her own beauty; in that thing that made her special and different to everyone else. She forgot that her beauty was only because God bestowed that beauty on her. The more she trusted in her beauty, so she started to use that beauty to chase after other lovers. Her dependence on God was replaced with a dependence on other nations.

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She used all the good things God had given her to buy protection from other places. The more she turned to these other places the more it cost her – the price increased. Suddenly her protection cost more than her beauty and so she started to sell her wealth, the treasures that had at one time been devoted to God, were given to others.

Ezekiel describes this betrayal as adultery and as the betrayal increases so he describes it as prostitution. As the betrayal deepens even further so he describes Judah and Jerusalem not as a prostitute but as one who must pay to be with her lovers. Such is her desperation, so far is she from God that she pays for the affection, the attention or just to be noticed by others.

Have we stopped to consider what life without God would be like or is like? Have we stopped to consider the lengths we go to find satisfaction, to be noticed, to be loved? In our search to find love and meaning have we stopped to look back on what we have lost; given up; turned away from.

God gave us everything and what have we done with it? How are we enjoying life without God?

Ezekiel story is not a horror story because it does not end by simply shining a light on what we once had or what we might have become. Chapter 16 ends with some incredible words.

Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done…

Ezekiel 16:63

Notice God does not say when you make atonement, but when I make atonement. Even though God has already given us everything, still he gave us more. His only son, Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection the atonement for my sin and yours. The hope that all the chasing after other gods; people; love’ attention; acceptance would come to an end, because once again we would find our peace in the presence of God.

There does not have to be life without God. God has given his life that we would know life with God.

Prayer Father, as I read your description of Jerusalem and her sins so I am made all too aware of the pain I have inflicted on you through my sin, my running after other things, other gods. Forgive me Lord, cleanse me and atone for me through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – but more than that turn my heart only to you. Guard my heart that it would only seek after you, that it would only find love and peace in you. Amen

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Don’t doubt God’s word

Today’s passage is Ezekiel 12, 13 & 14

A couple of weeks ago at our midweek we talked about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and how unexpected it was, even though Jesus himself had openly talked about it. When the women who followed Jesus and the disciples went to his tomb, they were not expecting to find it empty.

We compared this lack of expectation with our readiness and expectation of Jesus return. While we believe Jesus will return; are we really expecting it?

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In chapters 12, 13 & 14 of Ezekiel there seems to be a mindset where people don’t believe that God will destroy Jerusalem. There have been so many warnings throughout history and yet nothing has happened. This lack of belief that God will act against his people seems to be summed up by the saying quoted in 12:22.

The days go by and every vision comes to nothing…

Ezekiel 12:22
We may not believe something to be possible, such as Scampi and Marbles lying down beside one another, but it doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen. We should not treat God’s word as impossible. God will do what he has said he will do.

This lack of belief seems to be incredible considering Ezekiel is among the first exiles taken into captivity in Babylon. The prevailing view seems to have been ‘Ok, God has shown he is angry by sending us into captivity, but he will never destroy the city; the temple; he will never wipe his people out.

God answers this prevailing thought in 12:28:

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: none of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord…

Ezekiel 12:28

The book of Ezekiel is warning us that God’s word is true; he will do what he says he will do. The clear warning is that we should not for one-minute think that God will somehow shy away from punishing sin. We see this in the very life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus, God’s own son, asked in Gethsemane for the cup he was about to drink from to be taken from him. That cup was not removed. If God was willing to let judgement fall on his own son who did not deserve that punishment.

God however is a just God and he will not punish the same sin twice. That would be unfair and unjust. This means for all who place their trust in Jesus God has promised that their punishment has already been administered. Heaven, glory and God’s presence await those people for all eternity.

For those of us who refuse to place our trust in Jesus, we cannot expect God to simply change his mind about his just punishment. Scripture talks of hell being that place apart from God presence. To use the language of Ezekiel it is exile and separation from everything we hold dear, from the security of God’s presence.

Prayer Father forgive me for how I do not always take your seriously. Forgive me for convincing myself that you will employ a different standard towards me. Lord, open my eyes and heart that I would trust in Christ. Amen

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Promised hope

This morning’s passage Ezekiel 11 (click to read)

So far, the book of Ezekiel has focused on how far the people of Jerusalem have fallen away from God, the extent of their sin and God’s judgment on Israel. We have been reminded that God is not blind. We cannot hide our sin from him.

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Verses 1-12 in chapter 11 paint a vivid picture of the seriousness of our sin and the severity of God’s judgement. God is not to be trifled with. Notice though Ezekiel’s response when he realises just what he has been prophesying.

Then I fell face down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord! Will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel?’

Ezekiel 11:13
We often look at world in despair. How often do we look at our world through the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ and so cry out to God for it?

What is our response to the knowledge that God’s judgement on sin is sure to come? We do well to remember the man in the linen clothes had marked those who lamented over the sin of the city instead of adding to it. (Ezekiel 9) For those of us who have turned to and trusted in Christ we can be sure we have been saved from God’s judgement – but what is our response for those who have not yet turned to Christ?

Ezekiel cried out to God; do we cry out to God? Do we have that same level of concern for others that Ezekiel had?

Notice God’s response to Ezekiel’s cry. Although the city of Jerusalem will fall, the temple will be destroyed and the whole city will join Ezekiel in exile, or worse they will fall by the sword. God will not abandon them. He will bring them back. Listen to God speaking in verses 18-19.

They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 18-19

God will use his anger and judgement not simply as a punishment. He will use it as a means of purifying his people; turning them back to him; changing their priorities in life; he will use it to create in them a new heart .

Have we looked on Jesus; his sacrifice; his atonement for our sin as being something that was done for us? Have we forgotten that Christ died for all, have we forgotten it is our role to stand in the gap and to cry out for those who have not yet understood Christ’s sacrifice? When was the last time like Ezekiel we cried out to God for loved ones, neighbours or family because we have understood the terrible judgment that lies ahead? When was the last time we wept for people who have not been marked by Christ?

The promised hope of Christ is not just for us, it’s not limited, there’s no-one beyond this hope which is why we should be crying out to God as Ezekiel did.

Prayer: Father God, forgive me for being blinded to the reality of your judgement, not just in my life but in the lives of those around us. This morning Lord I cry out not just for my sin but for the sin of friends, family and neighbours. Lord bring us back to Christ, save us from your judgement through Christ. Amen.

The idolatry of man

This morning’s focus in on chapters 8 & 9

In chapter 8 while Ezekiel was sitting with the exiled elders in Babylon, he received another vision from the Lord. This vision was to show Ezekiel the extent of the idolatry Israel had shown towards God. We tend to have a picture in our heads of Idolatry being ritualistic bowing down towards a statue or other idol. The truth is idolatry is much more and less obvious.

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Idolatry is when we allow anything to come before God. It can be family, jobs or sport. It can be the place we give to our cars, musical instruments or gardens. Idolatry is when we hold something back from God because we want it for ourselves.

What place does things like sport occupy in our lives? What idols do we harbour?

Idolatry can also be those secret sins. The things we do behind closed doors thinking no-one can see. The Lord, when showing Ezekiel, the sins of the temple, said, ‘Son of man, have you seen what the elders of Israel are doing in the darkness…’ (8:12) The problem with sinning in secret is we convince ourselves that not only can other people not see us, but that God cannot see us.

They say, “The Lord does not see us; the Lord has forsaken the land…”

Ezekiel 8:12

The reality of chapter 9 is that the Lord does indeed see us. Ezekiel sees the vision of the man in linen who went through the land marking those who lamented over the sin of the people. When God’s judgement came, it was those with a mark who were spared.

Instead of continuing our sin, which is idolatry, we are called to lament over it. We lament by trusting in Christ and turning away from sin. The mark we bear is not given by a man in linen but is the righteousness of Christ.

What is more important to us, fleeting pleasures, riches or comforts or eternal peace and righteousness? To pursue the fleeting pleasure of sin is idolatry, to see the eternal pleasure of Christ us true worship.

Turn today from idolatry and seek Christ’s pleasure, receive his mark of righteousness because to be clear God does indeed see, there are no secret sins.

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Prayer Father forgive my arrogance. Forgive me for believing that I can fool you, that you are blind to my sin. Lord create in me a new heart that I would be repulsed by sin and find contentment in Christ and his righteousness. Mark me with the blood of Christ. Amen.

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The judgement of God

This morning’s focus in on chapters 5,6 & 7

Ezekiel is a very visual book. It has more visions than any other book of the bible but along side the visions we read about visual role plays such as in these chapters. Ezekiel has been lying on his side depicting the siege of Jerusalem. As part of this role play, he has been told to shave his head and beard with a sword, scattering burning 1/3 of the hair in the city, 1/3 in the surrounding area and 1/3 scattered to the wind.

This represented how God was about to judge Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside with the sword bringing death and for those who did not die, they would be scattered.

The reason for God’s anger and judgement was the lack of respect, honour and obedience Judah and Jerusalem had shown to God.

Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees.

Ezekiel 5:6

Have we taken seriously God’s laws and commands? Do we read our bibles and understand that God is speaking to us? When scripture talks about love for our neighbour, forgiveness, and the centrality of God in our lives that these are not options but commands. Have we taken seriously the warning of scripture that to ignore these commands comes at cost? Judgement.

The Old Testament people of Jerusalem and Judah were playing at honouring God. They never really took on board the warning of judgement. What about us, have we taken God’s word seriously?

The good news of the gospel is that God’s judgement does not have to be in our future, by repenting – turning away from our blasé attitude to God and take seriously his plea for us to trust in Christ for forgiveness and new life, instead of judgement we receive life, acceptance, and the promise of eternity in the light of God’s glory.

Will we allow God’s word to take root in our lives or will we continue to think it will never happen, until of course it does.

Prayer Father forgive me for my blasé attitude to you word and to Christ. Open my eyes to the truth and certainty of your word and so may it take root in my life in such a way that causes changes to how I live. May the grace of Jesus be the guide by which I live. Amen.

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The call of God

This morning’s focus in on chapters 2, 3 & 4

God’s call to Ezekiel was quite astounding. Imagine this for a job description. To go deliver a message to a people who will not want to listen. Still you must keep on delivering the message. The chief qualification for the job is for ‘…your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint…’ (3:9). Yet this is what God asked Ezekiel to do.

Ezekiel was sent to his own people who were in exile in Babylon. The very reason they were in exile was because of their history of disobedience and failure to listen to God’s prophets over generations. (2:3) If they didn’t listen to the likes of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, or any of the other prophets why on earth would they listen to Ezekiel.

The important part of Ezekiel’s call was the fact it was not his responsibility as to how the people responded to his message. Ezekiel was simply to tell the people what God commanded him to say. If he failed to speak to a wicked person who later died, then Ezekiel would be responsible for that man. If, however he did give God’s warning and the man died having not repented – Ezekiel would not be held responsible.

Our obedience or otherwise to the message is not the responsibility of the messenger. They simply point us in the right direction.

The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.”

Ezekiel 2:4

Each of us are called to the same responsibility as Ezekiel. We are called to our own people, wherever we may be. We are called to give the same message – the word of God. Ezekiel was told to eat the scroll God gave him (3:1) and then to speak to the people.

The more we read the word of God, the more we will know what it is God has us to say. The more we understand the holiness of God through the word of God the more we will be able to talk opening about humanities sinfulness. The more we read the word of God and understand how seriously he takes sin the more urgent we will be in speaking the word of God to those around us.

Have we grasped the importance and urgency of God’s call on our life? Have we understood our responsibility for the people around us? Who do we need to go to today to make known the word of God, the way of Salvation through Jesus Christ?

Prayer Father God thank you for the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Thank you for wonderful news that you have entrusted to me through your word. Make me strong enough and instil in me the urgency of the message you have given to me. Make me faithful to my calling. Amen

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The glory of God

Introduction

In Moneydig and Second Kilrea we’ll soon be starting a new preaching series on the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is a long book (48 chapters) full of prophesy and visions. In all honesty it is probably one of those books which intimidates and confuses us and so it is probably one of those books we shy away from.

The aim of these daily devotions is to help us read through the book in the same order we will tackle it on Sunday mornings. There will be days when we have large chunks of scripture to read, but we will try and explain it by taking a bird’s eye view of it all. We will look at the big themes and not try to interpret the nitty gritty. Please do take the time to read this incredibly important book, a book for our times and a book full of hope as well as warning. May God bless you as you immerse yourself in Ezekiel’s world.

Reflection

Over the next four days we will be reading Ezekiel chapters 1-10. I would encourage you to start reading them now to get the bigger picture of what is happening. Do not be put off by the opening vision in chapter 1. This morning’s focus is on chapters 1, 9 & 10.

Ezekiel was a Jewish priest who lived during the time of the exile in Babylon. The people of Judah and Jerusalem were not taken into exile as one group. There were several stages where people where taken away in groups before the final fall and complete destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Ezekiel was among the first group taken along with the king Jehoiachin. (Read 2 Kings 24:8-17)  Ezekiel received his vision and call as a prophet of God while in Exile in Babylon.

This is significant because amid all the strange imagery of the vision in chapter 1 the key sentence in this chapter is amazingly simple and straightforward.

There the hand of the Lord was on him.

Ezekiel 1:3b

The cherubim with four faces looking north, south, east, and west along with the wheels within the wheels are reminders that God is able to move, he is not limited to the temple or the city of Jerusalem, and so even in Exile in a foreign land, God is still capable of being with his people and his hand is still upon them. Imagine how important this would be for people who thought God was limited to his temple, and so their exile was a symbol of a defeated God and a rejected people.

His vision also gives us something of the glory of God. It paints a picture of something incredible, powerful, and majestic. Ezekiel not only is being reassured of the presence of God with him but the glory of God.

At a time when how we worship has changed, when we have been exiled from our temple. At a time when we might well wonder if God is still with us, the book of Ezekiel fills us with the hope of a God who does not need a temple built by human hands. (See Acts 7:48-50)

Buildings that were once filled with people, then taken for granted and the numbers dwindled have now been closed and people prevented from entering.

As with all prophecies the book of Ezekiel also comes with a warning. In Chapter 9 and 10 we read of God’s judgement on an idolatrous people. In chapter 10 the same angelic bodies and wheels that have represented God in all his glory, from chapter 1, depart the temple.

It is not the closing of a church that separates us from God it is the closing of our hearts and minds to God. It is our rejection of Jesus that separates us from God. Chapter 9 is a stark reminder that God knows his people, as the man clothed in linen marks all who have lamented and cried over the idolatry of the people. It is these people who have been marked who are protected from God’s judgement.

Have we lamented over our sin? Lament is different from self-pity or wallowing. To lament is to recognise what is happening, who we are, what we have done – but to bring it before God. To cry out to God asking God to do something about it. When it comes to sin, God answers our lament through Christ on the cross.

Our vision of God’s glory is not the powerful cherubim of Ezekiel 1, it is the humility of Christ on the cross .That we would turn to him and be marked and protected by his blood and in doing so know that we will never have to face the horrors of chapter 10 because the glory of Christ will never depart from us.

To reject Christ, is to see the glory of God depart and to face the full measure of the wrath of God. This morning ask God to reveal his glory to you in Christ that you may never know what it is like for the glory of God to depart, that like Ezekiel, even in exile you would know ‘There the hand of the Lord was on him.’

Prayer Father open my eyes this morning to the glory of Jesus, the cross and all he has done for me. May I know the extent of my sinfulness and so also know the measure of your grace. Forgive me Lord, mark me as Christ’s – remove all the idols of my heart and come take your throne in my life that your glory would reside in me.

I encourage you to use this song to reflect on these passages from Ezekiel.

Understanding Jesus – Raised from the dead

Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.

John 20:25

This morning we come to our last reflection on understanding Jesus.

As we consider Jesus resurrection, we are presented with yet another example of God’s grace. We might well have thought that Jesus would have expected instant belief and trust from his disciples. After all he’d just been through it would have been the least he deserved. Yet here we have Thomas being told the other 10 disciples had seen Jesus risen from the dead – and he refused to believe. ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’

Jesus comes to us through the fog of our doubt to help us believe

Jesus response was to say, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ The good news of the gospel is that Jesus helps us in our unbelief, he comes to us and he helps us to believe. It isn’t just Thomas who Jesus helps to believe. Listen to what Jesus said about you and me who have not the opportunity to put our hands into his wounds. ‘Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

The wonder of the resurrection is that Jesus still comes to us, reaching out scarred hands and feet helping us to believe in him. To understand Jesus is to understand that he has done everything possible that we would have forgiveness of sins and eternal life in the presence of God. He came to us, lived among us, he died for us and then when he was raised from the dead still, he comes to us helping us to believe. All he asks of us is that we would answer as Thomas answered. ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28)

Have we understood Jesus? If we have there can only be the one response. Let us join Thomas as we confess, ‘My Lord and my God!’

Prayer Lord Jesus, my Lord, and my God. So often I find it hard to believe. I have so many questions, so many doubts. I am tossed from one thing to another like a boat tossed on the sea. Thank you for how you come to me, reaching out, helping, doing everything possible that I would believe. Lord I believe, help my unbelief. Amen

Understanding Jesus – The Crucifixion

You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!

Matthew 27:40

If we are to understand Jesus, then we must understand the cross. While Jesus was suffering and dying on the cross, he was faced with insults. If you are the Son of God, save yourself. If you are the Son of God. This phrase should sound familiar to us because it is the same phrase the devil used while tempting Jesus in the wilderness. ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’ (Matthew 4:3)

It seems that throughout Jesus life he was being asked to do things for himself to prove who he was. Ironic when we consider the whole purpose of Jesus life. ‘…and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Matthew 1:21) If Jesus had of proven his credentials by coming of that cross, he would not have been saviour. Jesus willingness to remain on the cross, to suffer and die is the proof that he is saviour.

Understanding Jesus is to understand he died to save us from our sin. We need to come to terms with the fact that we need to be saved from sin and Jesus death on the cross is the only way in which we can be saved. This leaves us with one question, how? In Acts 2:37 after Peter had preached his sermon at Pentecost the crowds asked, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ The answer Peter gave was, ‘Repent and be baptised, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ (Acts 2:38)

To understand Jesus crucifixion is to understand that he alone is the path to forgiveness and salvation.

Repentance is quite simply the turning away from a life of obedience to sin. By that we mean a life where our desires and wants take central stage to a life where God is central. We seek to be obedient to him. Of course, this does not undo the fact that we have been and are sinful. Trying to change how we live going forward in no-way makes up for what has already happened.

Something more then is required. Trusting in the finished work of Christ on the cross. To understand Jesus is to understand that it is only his sacrifice on the cross atones for sin, it is only his sacrifice on the cross that proves he alone is saviour.

The question then is how we will react to Jesus crucifixion. Will we mock totally misunderstanding why Jesus came to earth, or will we accept the wonderful gift of a saviour dying to deal with our sin?

Prayer Lord Jesus Christ, you are my crucified Saviour. Thank you. I confess that I am a sinner in need of your sacrifice. I confess it is only because of you that I can be forgiven. Forgive me please. I repent, I turn away from a life of selfishness and self-centredness. Lord Jesus be at the centre of my life and help me to live for you. Amen