Lenten Devotionals | Bethlehem United Church of Christ

Lenten Devotionals

Week 6 Matthew 21:1-11

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The Lord needs them.’ And he will send them immediately.” 4 This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 “Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

    humble, and mounted on a donkey,

        and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!

    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” 11 The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”

  • Wait.  How did Jesus ride two animals at once?
    • Matthew really likes citing Old Testament prophecy to explain who Jesus is.  Here, he may be a bit over-eager to make Zechariah 9:9 fit in a literal sense.  The other Gospels have Jesus riding a single animal.
  • Perhaps we could describe this scene as “performance art” (Mary Hinkle Shore, Feasting on the Gospels, Matthew Volume 2, page 141).  What picture is Jesus/Matthew trying to paint here for the observer/reader?
  • What incongruencies do you see in this text?  (note particularly how many elements are fitting for a king, but how they are slightly “off” from what we might expect for royalty)
  • Why do you think this throws Jerusalem into turmoil? 
  • In the next week the celebratory crowds will turn on Jesus.  By week’s end, the crowds will be shouting “crucify him!” 
    • This shift may occur because they misunderstand who Jesus really is.  Have you ever known someone to be disillusioned (or angry!) because Jesus didn’t turn out to be who they’d hoped him to be?
    • Do you ever see this kind of fickleness in your own life? 
    • Do you ever feel a dramatic shift from Sunday worship to life out in the “real world?”

Week 5 John 9:1-17, 24-41

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

The Pharisees Investigate the Healing

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Spiritual Blindness

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

  • Do you think there is a relationship between sin and suffering?  (always, sometimes, never?)
  • Do you believe there are still miracles today? 
    • If so, do they stir up the same kind of controversy about how they happened, if they happened, and who is responsible for them having happened?
  • What issue/problem divides the Pharisees in their assessment of who Jesus is?
    • Do we still struggle today in accepting the work of some people, because they don’t fit our expectation about who God uses/calls?
    • Are there laws (official or unwritten) that we use as excuses to exclude people and/or their ministries?
  • What would it have meant for everyone to believe the testimony of the blind man without question?
    • Are there certain people whose testimony we tend to disbelieve today?  What would it mean to listen to them better than the Pharisees do here?
  • Why do you think the man who was formerly blind confesses belief in Jesus as the “Son of Man?” (vs. 35-38)
    • Is there a way for us to have first-hand experience/healing from Jesus today?  Or, is our faith sustained solely on second-hand experiences?
  • What do you make of Jesus’ words about coming to make the blind see and those who see blind? (vs. 39-41)
  • How can I know if I am the blind or I am one who sees?

Week 4 - 1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11 Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12 He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

  • Samuel initially resists going.  Can you think of other folks in the Bible who didn’t want to do what God asked of them?
  • Have you ever not wanted to do something you thought God was asking you to do?
  • How is God’s criteria in evaluating who God chooses different from what humans generally fixate on?
  • What kind of things do you think God is looking for when “the LORD looks at the heart”?
  • Why do you think Jesse didn’t bother to even gather David in from the fields?
  • What impact would this choice have had on Jesse’s family?  David?  Samuel?
  • Have you ever been fooled by the way things looked from a “worldly perspective,” but later realized that God was seeing things differently?
  • How can we bring our own way of seeing things in line with the way God sees things?


Week 3 - Exodus 17:1-7

17:1 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

  • Can you recall the story of why the Israelites were in Egypt to begin with?  (If not, flip back in Exodus to jog your memory!)
    • In light of this, how is the people’s accusation in vs. 3 ironic (or ungrateful!)?
  • Is not trusting Moses the same as testing the Lord?  (vs. 2)
  • Why do you think God instructs Moses to take the elders with him?
  • What do you make of God’s words “I will be standing there in front of you”? (vs. 6).
  • Have you ever been in a leadership position where you’ve wanted to throw up your hands and say, “what shall I do with this people?” (vs. 4). 
    • What is that feeling like? 
    • How did/do you find a way forward?
  • Have you ever lost faith in a leader you are dependent on?
    • What is that feeling like?
    • How did/do you find a way forward?
  • When you struggle to trust God, do you ever reflect on the ways God has cared for you in the past?  How does that help you in a moment of crisis?

Week 2 - Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’[c]

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

  • The devil and Jesus get into a verbal duel using different parts of the Jewish Scriptures.  What does this passage have to teach us about the different ways Scripture can be used?                                                            
    • Have you ever heard someone use Scripture in a way that you thought didn’t sound quite right?                                                          
    • How do we decide what is the “right” way to interpret and use Scripture?  Is there something noticeably different about the way the devil uses it and the way that Jesus does?                                                  
  • The devil comes to Jesus when he is weak from hunger.  What other weaknesses do we sometimes have that allow sin to take hold in our lives?               
    • Are you more likely to respond angrily when you’re hungry/tired/ stressed/worried?                                                                                       
      • Does Jesus offer us a model here for how to handle those times of weakness?                                                                     
  • Was it possible for Jesus to fail this test?  And if so, what do you think would have happened next?                                                                                
  • Do you believe in the devil?  Do you believe that the devil has free reign to test us like this?  Have you ever felt like the devil was testing you? 

Week 1 - Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-13, 22-24    

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6 So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7 Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.  They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”

3:22 Then the Lord God said, “See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— 23 therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

·         Why do you think Eve adapts what God actually said to include “nor shall you touch it” when answering the serpent’s question?                                                          

·         Is the serpent right?  Wrong?  Or a little bit of both?                                        

·         Was Eve more responsible for eating the fruit than Adam?  Why or why not?

·         What is the relationship between sin and blame in this story?

·         Besides Eve, who else does Adam blame?  (“The woman whom you gave to be with me”) 

·         Would God have responded differently if they had owned up to their transgression immediately, taken responsibility, and shown remorse?

·         Why do you think God made the rule about the tree of good and evil, but not one about the tree of life?

·         After they disobey, why do you think God is suddenly concerned about them eating of the tree of life?

·         Why do you think humans are tempted by what is off limits to them?  Can you think of a time you’ve been tempted by something that’s off-limits?

·         Do you find yourself wanting to respond with blaming others when you’re caught in the wrong?

·         Sin has far-reaching implications.  Can you think of an example of how you have been hurt by another’s sin or an example of someone who has been hurt by sin that is not their own?  (some examples: “collateral damage” in war or how children suffer from the bad choices of their parents