Forty Names of Jesus: A Lenten Devotional for Families

Having been raised Southern Baptist in the 1980’s, I’m not sure that I heard the word Lent before I was a Religion major in college. Since learning of the liturgical calendar, I have been fascinated with this way of faith that gives a structure to the year and an intention to my worship.

Forty NamesThis is part of the reason that I jumped at the chance to preview Jennifer Spencer’s work Forty Names of Jesus: A Lenten Devotional for Families. The other reason is that, in the years that I have known Jennifer, I have learned that she is a learner, a teacher, a mother, and a friend who is naturally curious and desires to do life with excellence. A curious teacher writing a Lenten devotional was something I simply could not pass up.

In the preface, Jennifer shares her inspiration for researching and writing this book; she had a need for something to teach her children about Jesus and couldn’t find material to meet that need in the particular manner she desired. That desire to help her children move from knowing stories about Jesus to actually getting to know Him intimately resonated with me as a new mom. As I read, I more and more appreciated her work as a teacher as well. While there are many strengths to this devotional, the following aspects make Forty Names particularly useful to me as a mother and an educator.

First, the devotional is adaptable. Jennifer does a fantastic job helping the reader understand the different tools she intentionally provided. While the actual reading for each day is relatively short, she provides multiple ways to adjust the breadth and depth of the study so that it is age appropriate for each member of a family. With a key verse and concept for each name as well as additional passages of study, I can use this to introduce my toddlers to the names of God but can also use it with my small group of high school freshmen without having to do much prep work on my own.

Second, the devotional is educational. The word devotional tends to have the connotation of fluffy or feel good, and there is a time and place for warm fuzzy devotional books. What is so appealing in this particular devotion is that Jennifer finds a way to warm the heart through engaging the mind. Moving seamlessly from Hebrew to Greek and Old Testament to New, Forty Names digs just a little deeper by providing historical and literary information that helps the reader understand and appreciate each name just a little more than you did before you started.

Third, the devotional is theological. A vital part of teaching children about our faith is helping them see the common themes throughout Scripture that point the reader to Christ. This particular work falls in line with recent works for children such as The Jesus Storybook Bible, which declares the precious truth that “Every story whispers His name.” In terms that even young children can understand, Jennifer teaches about concepts such as redemption, sacrifice, and propitiation, and uses familiar Bible stories to illustrate the meanings.

Fourth, the devotional is readable. It is possible to teach deep theological truths in layman’s terms. With simple definitions and a multitude of cross references that will help the reader increase familiarity with the full counsel of Scripture, there is an attractiveness to this work that draws the reader in and invites you to stick with the book, to come back for the next reading. A good teacher leaves a hook for her students so that they begin to internalize their motivation to keep learning, and the daily entries in this devotional are specifically written to guide the reader to the conclusion that she should just keep reading.

With all that has been written in recent years about the exodus of youth from the church and the biblical illiteracy of professing believers, devotional works like this one show us that learning about Jesus does not have to be either loud and flashy or dry and boring; learning about Jesus can be simple and satisfying. Learning can be fun, and it can be genuine, and it can be done alone or in groups. We can even learn as families. An ideal plan for families with kids spread across developmental stages is to simply start small (one verse and the concept) and then just allow the conversation to continue by using the additional passages and questions as your guide. You may be surprised just how long even the youngest in your family may stick around to talk and learn.

This is a devotional that can be added to your family’s permanent library because Jennifer wrote it in a manner that will allow you to also use it year after year and build upon what you’ve studied in previous readings. I am thankful that it is a resource that I have for years to come. If you are looking for a guide for your family for this upcoming season of Lent, I highly recommend Forty Names of Jesus.

Encounter with the Risen Savior

Matthew 28:1 Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.

Yesterday my pastor made an observation about the resurrection story that I had never considered before. He was preaching from Matthew 28:1-10, and he was speaking about the two Marys that came to the tomb to complete the process of preparing the body of Jesus for burial.

They had come to the tomb not expecting a miracle. They came to complete a labor of love that they had begun before the sun set on Friday. Love drove them to the tomb, not faith. At first, I thought this was a ridiculous idea. Who could love Jesus without having faith concerning who He is? After all, He told them He would not only die, but that He would rise again! But then I thought about all of the times that I do not trust Jesus. I don’t believe that the power that had victory over death has victory over the sins I allow to plague me. I don’t believe that He can transform lives, change marriages, teach and comfort those who are searching for Him. I come to the tomb every Sunday morning in the form of a worship service, proclaim my love for Jesus and walk away, unchanged. Which is exactly what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary intended to do that morning.

But they did not walk away unchanged, because instead of performing their duty and going back to their lives, they encountered an angel with a message!

2 And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.

How many of us come to church on Sundays, perform our required duties and then leave again, going back to our lives in which there is no evidence of an encounter with a message from the risen Savior? Do we ever stop and contemplate that through the resurrection, the Kingdom of God broke into our lives, into time here on earth and upended our existence for eternity? How many Sundays does my life reflect an encounter with a dead body instead of a risen Lord? How many times do I miss the opportunity He has for my life to be revolutionized by time with Him?

But these ladies did not miss the opportunity. They didn’t doubt the message. They didn’t question the messenger. They didn’t go to the Temple to consult the priests about the message. They didn’t wonder if the angel told the wrong people. They didn’t consider the distance of the trip. They didn’t worry about the fact that the men to whom they were supposed to take this message may ridicule them. They were only grief stricken, emotional women, after all. They did none of those things. They simply obeyed, and that single step of faith put them on a path that would alter the entire world.

8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, Greetings! And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.

One more observation from this precious encounter with the Savior. When they saw Jesus, when they had time to worship Him, they did just that. They had a message to deliver, a job to do, but when it was time to worship, they stopped, and they gloried in their Savior. Don’t allow the work to be done get in the way of the time you set aside to simply sit at the feet of the Savior and worship Him. The work will be there when He is finished with you, and you may just find that, after your time with Him, the work seems just a little less laborious.

So what about you? Will you walk away from yesterday and go back to your everyday life? Or will you recognize that you’ve had an encounter with the living Savior who has given you a mission? Jesus has given His followers work to do: “Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell…’” How does your life show that a risen Savior has given you a job to do? Do you spend enough time with Him to even know what that job is?

I pray that during the time from this Easter to the next that I will begin each day remembering that I have had an encounter with the risen Savior and that because of it, my life will never be the same again.

On Passover and Easter

From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. Matthew 27:45-50

This Good Friday Morning broke with glorious sunshine and warmth here in Wake Forest. The weather has been cold but deceptively sunny, so the sunshine combined with warm temperature was a welcome change. But early this afternoon, the weather shifted quickly. The sky grew dark and it began to rain. The change reminded me of the account Matthew gives of a similar Passover that took place two thousand years ago. I read this account of the crucifixion of Christ with new eyes today because last night I attended my first Passover Seder with a Messianic congregation. Participating in a religious tradition that has been observed for thousands of years is a soberingly reflective event all by itself. But to practice a Jewish observation with a group which is concurrently celebrating the sacrifice of the Messiah to which the Passover points? Well that was an overwhelming experience for the senses as well as the soul.

Just take a moment and think about the three hours that are described in the short passage above. They are the climax of history. From the moment Eve chose to doubt the word of her Creator, all of time had been hurtling toward this moment of redemption. Eve’s decision did not take God by surprise, and His plan to redeem mankind was not a kneejerk reaction to the choices made by His creations. Genesis 3:15 declares God’s promise that the seed of woman would overcome the evil one, crushing him under His heel. God then chose Abraham to be the man through whom this promised seed would be delivered to the world. Just read the Old Testament. The thread woven throughout Scripture is the promise that there would be One who would deliver His people and save them. Through famine, war, sin, near destruction, terrible choices and a few faithful, God showed Himself faithful to keep His promise to His people that He would provide a redeemer to sit forever on the throne of David.

God instituted the sacrificial system as a picture of the sacrifice that would be required for the forgiveness of sin. Hebrews 9 is a beautiful explanation of how this picture pointed to and was fulfilled in the sacrifice of Christ. It was no accident that His crucifixion occurred on the Friday of Passover. Jesus is the perfect Lamb of God, the one and only God-Man who was perfect and could therefore serve as a worthy sacrifice to take upon Himself the judgment for our sins.

There is no way our minds will ever be able to comprehend “the Great Exchange” that took place during those three hours of darkness. So often we focus on the physical pain and sacrifice of Christ that took place on that tree. But have you ever stopped to think about the emotional and spiritual sacrifices made? Before this time, Jesus had spent 33 years on this earth, walking in perfect communion with the Father. Think about how disconnected you feel when there is sin in your life that breaks your communion with God. Now, imagine you had never before experienced that disconnect and now, suddenly, every sin ever committed has created a seemingly unspannable chasm between you and the Father. When Jesus was being falsely accused before Pilate, He fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah and like a sheep before his shearer, He was silent. It was not the attack on His character that caused Him to cry out. Throughout the rejection, the lies, the betrayal and denials, he remained silent. Scripture records that He did not utter a sound while enduring a physical beating that was known to kill its bearers before they ever reached the hill of Golgotha. But when He bore the weight of our sins on Himself, the separation from the Father was so excruciating He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” That sort of pain is truly excruciating; the word excruciating literally means “out of the cross.”

I so flippantly talk about sacrifice and pain. I know nothing of sacrifice and pain. On this day over two millennia ago, Christ offered Himself as the one and only sacrifice worthy of being the once for all sacrifice for our sins. He accomplished for us what we could never accomplish for ourselves so that we will never have to experience the truly excruciating power of the curse of sin.

My question for you this Good Friday is, Have you recognized your sin? Do you know that you are separated from your Creator? Can you see that here is nothing you can do within yourself to restore that relationship? God is the only one who is able to provide what is needed for our relationship to be restored, and He sacrificed Himself as the ransom for our sins. Do you recognize your need for a Savior? He offered Himself for you. There will be no better time to offer yourself in repentance, thanksgiving and obedience to Him. Paul declared “now is the day of salvation!” God knew before time began what He was going to do about us and our rebellious nature. But the question now is, What are you going to do about His offering of salvation and forgiveness?