Continual Repentance – The Valley of Vision

Continual Repentance | Banner of Truth USA.

After a week of self-examination – and praying for God’s examination of us -(we heard this sermon last Sunday night in our preparatory service)  we anticipate the Lord’s day tomorrow and our celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

ValleyofVisionThinking of this – of my ever-present sin and the need for continual repentance – and of the cross of my precious Savior, where my sins, and the sins of all repentant believers, were blotted out forever – I came on this prayer/meditation taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions.

It is wonderfully appropriate as we end this week and look forward to receiving the gospel of grace in audible form (preaching) and visible form (sacrament) tomorrow. May God bless your preparation for entering His presence to worship Him and to receive His Word.

O GOD OF GRACE,

Thou hast imputed my sin to my substitute,
      and hast imputed his righteousness
    to my soul,
  clothing me with a bridegroom’s robe,
  decking me with jewels of holiness.
But in my Christian walk I am still in rags;
  my best prayers are stained with sin;
  my penitential tears are so much impurity;
  my confessions of wrong are so many
    aggravations of sin;
  my receiving the Spirit is tinctured with selfishness.

I need to repent of my repentance;
I need my tears to be washed;
I have no robe to bring to cover my sins,
  no loom to weave my own righteousness;
I am always standing clothed in filthy garments,
  and by grace am always receiving change of raiment,
  for thou dost always justify the ungodly;
I am always going into the far country,
  and always returning home as a prodigal,
  always saying, Father, forgive me,
  and thou art always bringing forth
    the best robe.
Every morning let me wear it,
  every evening return in it,
  go out to the day’s work in it,
  be married in it,
  be wound in death in it,
  stand before the great white throne in it,
  enter heaven in it shining as the sun.
Grant me never to lose sight of
  the exceeding sinfulness of sin,
  the exceeding righteousness of salvation,
  the exceeding glory of Christ,
  the exceeding beauty of holiness,
  the exceeding wonder of grace.

To find all of these Puritan devotions, visit the Banner of Truth link above.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 143

Psalm 143Our psalm for consideration this Lord’s Day as we prepare for worship of our heavenly Father is Psalm 143. According to the heading, this prayer-song too was penned by David, the “sweet psalmist of Israel”. This psalm is considered to be the last of the seven “penitential” psalms, expressing confession of sin (see especially vs.2 below, as well as Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 130).

A quick reading of this psalm will reveal that it is a powerful prayer consisting of a series of urgent petitions. But because it is a penitential-prayer psalm, we want to take our time reading it, meditating on David’s needs and petitions while considering our own, and taking this song with us as we prepare for worship. For if our Father’s house is the “house of prayer” (Is.56:7; Matt.11:17), then we surely want to take these petitions with us today as we come into the presence of our God.

Reflect then carefully on these inspired words:

Psalm 143

Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications: in thy faithfulness answer me,and in thy righteousness.

And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified.

For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.

Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate.

I remember the days of old; I meditate on all thy works; I muse on the work of thy hands.

I stretch forth my hands unto thee: my soul thirsteth after thee, as a thirsty land. Selah.

Hear me speedily, O Lord: my spirit faileth: hide not thy face from me, lest I be like unto them that go down into the pit.

Cause me to hear thy lovingkindness in the morning; for in thee do I trust: cause me to know the way wherein I should walk; for I lift up my soul unto thee.

Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies: I flee unto thee to hide me.

10 Teach me to do thy will; for thou art my God: thy spirit is good; lead me into the land of uprightness.

11 Quicken me, O Lord, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness’ sake bring my soul out of trouble.

12 And of thy mercy cut off mine enemies, and destroy all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.

Let’s take a brief look at each of David’s petitions in this psalm. First, David begins by asking the Lord to hear him and answer him. This is not raised in fear and doubt about the Lord’s ability or desire to hear him, but in the keen awareness of his own urgent need. His situation is desperate, as the rest of the psalm indicates. His enemies have been on the attack and his life is hanging in the balance (v.3). David’s spirit is overwhelmed and he feels all alone (v.4). And so, as he goes to his God, he immediately asks to be heard.

In fact, if we go down to v.7, we see that he also asks to be heard “speedily”. If God does not respond to his plea for help right away, he feels he will perish. His spirit is failing (v.7), and so he needs the Lord not merely at some point in the day but immediately! “Give ear to my supplications” right now, Lord! I need Thee every hour, and I need Thee this very moment!” That is why He also says in v.6 that he stretches forth his hands to the Lord. His hands are out in urgent need because his soul is thirsty for God. God is his all and all that he needs!

Do we understand such need, fellow worshipers? Do we too feel the urgency of our petitions when we make them? Are we thirsty for God, such that when we pray out of real need our hands are held out to Him? Or are our prayers just routine and our supplications too casual? No matter what our circumstance is, we always need the Lord. And we always need Him at that moment. So let us learn to pray with David, “Hear my prayer, O LORD.”

You will note that David appeals to God’s faithfulness and righteousness in asking to be heard and answered.  That too is important to keep in mind. That too shows that David prayed in true faith, as we must. God will hear us because He is our faithful Father, Who loves us and Who gave His Son for us so that the way would be open for us to go to Him and ask Him for anything according to our real need. And He will answer us because He is righteous, perfectly just (right and fair) to grant us what we need according to His sovereign will.

Yet that righteousness of God also reminds David (and ourselves!) that he is a sinner who cannot stand before this righteous Judge in his own works or merits. And so, secondly, David prays that God not enter into judgment with him. And the reason is simple: in God’s sight no man is or can be justified. We recognize this as the “dark side” of the doctrine of justification (see Romans 3:20 and Gal.2:16). We have no righteousness of our own to hold us up and give us a hearing before the holy and just God. All our “righteousnesses are as filthy rags” (Is.64:6). And so if God the righteous Judge enters into judgment with us, we are condemned as guilty sinners and damned to hell.

But there is also a “bright side” to justification, shined by the light of the gospel of salvation by grace alone in Christ alone through faith alone. That precious light is that the righteous Judge Himself has made and provided a perfect righteousness for sinners through the perfect work of Jesus Christ – through His death on Calvary and through His obedience to God’s righteous law. And so, all our righteousness is in Christ, and His beautiful robe replaces our filthy rags when we trust in Him alone.

It was in that knowledge and trust that David approached his Lord. Yes, his Lord was Jesus, the great “I am” to come. And in promise and hope of His coming and His perfect work to be accomplished, David prayed what he did in v.2. He was a penitent sinner. And as such he was also a justified sinner. Shall we also learn to pray this way? In sorrow for our sin and in hope of Christ? In that way too we shall be heard!

Thirdly, David petitioned his God for spiritual direction (vss.8,10). Beseeching God to have him hear His lovingkindness first thing in the morning, he wanted to know the way he should go in this midst of this persecution-trial. And thus he asked God to teach him to do His will and to lead him in the way of uprightness. We can understand this need, I trust. One of the great temptations that fall on us when we are being attacked by enemies is to resort to their tactics. Satan wants us to be filled with hate, to lose our perspective in sinful anger, and then respond sinfully – both to God and to the persecuting neighbor. And according to our fallen nature, this is what comes so easy to us.

David knew that and prayed in essence, “Don’t let me fall into this trap, Lord. Don’t let me follow the devil’s way and my own sinful way in this trial, but You make me know the right way to respond and lead me to do it. I trust in Thee and I trust the good work of Thy Holy Spirit. Make me alive by that Spirit (v.11), and I will do the right thing – for Thy glory and for my good.” Shall we also learn to make these our requests in our trials? How necessary and important!

Fourth, and finally, David also asked the Lord for deliverance (vss.9, 11). While he knew that this trial was of the Lord and that he must submit to the Lord’s way for him, he also wanted to be rescued from these deadly foes; he desired his soul to be brought out of trouble. He longed for peace and rest. There is no conflict in these two sides to our trials. God is sovereign and brings such trials in our lives. And we are called to submit to Him and trust Him fully.

Yet at the same time, we do not wish to live in persecution and pain, to be so low in life and soul. From our perspective our need is to be free of troubles and to enjoy peace and joy. And so we ask as David did, “Deliver me, O Lord, from my enemies. Bring my soul out of trouble.” Is that not our experience, whatever our troubles are? Even Jesus, Who knew perfectly that the cross was God’s way for Him, prayed for deliverance from it (Matt.26:39). Such petitions are also the will of God for us. Such requests we may also make confidently, yet humbly and submissively.

And so, as we come into the Lord’s house of prayer this day, may we bring this prayer of David before the Throne of Grace. This is the prayer our Father delights to hear. This is the prayer that praises and glorifies Him. This is the prayer that speaks to our great needs. And our God has the great grace that answers to all those needs. “For Jesus’ sake. Amen!”

Psalter1912If you desire to meditate on Psalm 143 through music, I encourage you to listen to a versification of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification, titled “Contrite Trust”, to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. Lord, hear me in distress,
Regard my suppliant cry,
And in Thy faithfulness
And righteousness reply.
In judgment do not cause
Thy servant to be tried;
Before Thy holy laws
No man is justified.

2. The enemy has sought
My soul in dust to tread;
To darkness I am brought,
Forgotten as the dead.
My spirit, crushed with grief,
Is sad and overborne;
My heart finds no relief,
But desolate I mourn.

3. Recalling former days
And all Thy wondrous deeds,
The memory of Thy ways
To hope and comfort leads.
To Thee I stretch my hands,
Let me not plead in vain;
I wait as weary lands
Wait for refreshing rain.

4. My failing spirit see,
O Lord, to me make haste;
Hide not Thy face from me,
Lest bitter death I taste.
O let the morn return,
Let mercy light my day;
For Thee in faith I yearn,
O guide me in the way.

5. Lord, save me from my foe,
To Thee for help I flee;
Teach me Thy way to know,
I have no God but Thee.
By Thy good Spirit led
From trouble and distress,
My erring feet shall tread
The path of uprightness.

6. O Lord, for Thy Name’s sake
Revive my fainting heart;
My soul from trouble take,
For just and true Thou art.
Remove my enemy,
My cruel foe reward;
In mercy rescue me
Who am Thy servant, Lord.

Sunday Worship Preparation – Psalm 142

Psalm 142To guide us in preparing for our worship of Jehovah through Jesus our Savior this Lord’s Day we consider the Word of God through David in Psalm 142. The title of this psalm refers to it as a “maschil” of David, which it to say it is a contemplation or meditation of the psalmist. Being so, it also calls for our careful meditation.

The heading also points to the psalm’s historical setting; “when he was in the cave”, that is, when David was fleeing from Saul and hid himself in a cave (There were at least two such incidents.). Most commentators believe this is a reference to the second cave hiding of David (cave of Adullam), recorded in I Sam.22:1-5, an incident which also provides the background for Psalm 57.

We see, then, that the setting of this psalm is again that of suffering, specifically, the suffering of persecution. And even more specifically, persecution at the hands of those who were in the church. David was being pursued by wicked king Saul, who belonged outwardly to the kingdom of God and professed His name.

And as we see from these words, David was in a bad way. His “spirit was overwhelmed within” him (v.3), because he was “brought very low” (v.6). His persecutors (Saul and his band) were stronger than he (v.6b) and had set snares for him (v.3b). David’s life was on the line and he could see no way out.

Besides, David felt all alone. According to v.4, he had no one at his right hand; refuge failed and no one cared for his soul. It is one thing to be in trouble; it is quite another to stand alone, feeling that all have forsaken you. No wonder David considered his soul to be “prison” (v.7).

And yet, as we see from the rest of this psalm, David was not alone. Jehovah God was with him! With him as his refuge and portion (v.5). With him as the One Who is all knowing: “then thou knewest my path”. With him as the One Who sovereign over this situation and stronger than Saul and his mighty men. Yes, his God cared for his soul!

And therefore to Him David cried and made supplication (brought his needs – v.1), pouring out his complaint (musing, meditation) and showing his trouble (v.2). Trusting in his God, he asked for deliverance (vss.6,7). And confident of the Lord’s blessing, he promised to praise His name (v.7).

From this psalm we learn again how to behave when we are persecuted and in trouble; how to handle trials and temptation; how to hang on to the God Who hangs on to us and Who will never leave us or forsake us.

But above all, we learn to look at Christ, our suffering Savior, Who endured such persecution and the ultimate forsaking for our sakes. In this psalm hear His cry for help as He faced Calvary for us, to deliver us from the greatest prison – sin! And hear God hear His Son and see Him through His trouble, so that He and we triumph over sin and Satan and death and hell.

Read David’s meditation with your eye on Jesus. And your soul will sing with sweet comfort and hope, no matter what your sin is or what your situation may be.

Psalm 142

I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication.

I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble.

When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.

I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.

I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.

Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.

Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

PsalterAppIf you desire to meditate on Psalm 142 through music, I encourage you to listen to a versification of this psalm at the PRC Psalter page. Here is one such versification to get you started (Visit the link to hear piano accompaniment and sing along.):

1. To God my earnest voice I raise,
To God my voice imploring prays;
Before His face my grief I show
And tell my trouble and my woe.

2. When gloom and sorrow compass me,
The path I take is known to Thee,
And all the toils that foes do lay
To snare Thy servant in his way.

3. All unprotected, lo, I stand,
No friendly guardian at my hand,
No place of flight or refuge near,
And none to whom my soul is dear.

4. O Lord, my Saviour, now to Thee,
Without a hope besides, I flee,
To Thee, my shelter from the strife,
My portion in the land of life.

5. Be Thou my help when troubles throng,
For I am weak and foes are strong;
My captive soul from prison bring,
And thankful praises I will sing.

6. The righteous then shall gather round
To share the blessing I have found,
Their hearts made glad because they see
How richly God has dealt with me.

And here is the PR Psalm-singing Choir with a performance of this Ps.# from their 2012 concert:

In Christ Alone: The Same Yesterday, Today and Forever

In Christ Alone - SFergusonBefore worship services (and sometimes during – the offertory!) I have been reading on my Kindle Sinclair Ferguson’s In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel-Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), a collection of previous articles written by the author arranged under six headings. I have always appreciated Ferguson’s writings (they breath Christ and the Scriptures!) and I am profiting from this collection as well.

I have found many “quotable” selections, and yesterday I came across another gem, which I share with you today. In the section of the book from which I quote Ferguson is pointing out how Christ is portrayed in the book of Hebrews. In this particular part he is explaining the significance of that oft-quoted verse in chap.13:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and forever.” This is part of what he has to say about this revelation of Christ:

The Constancy of Christ

Christ is always the same. Here at the end of his letter, the author echoes a theme from its beginning. ‘To the Son He says: …”You [remain] the same”‘ (Heb.1:8, 12, citing Ps.102:27). But now he makes explicit what earlier was implicit. The immutable One of Psalm 102 is none other than the incarnate One of the gospel.

The practical implication of this becomes clear when we remember that Psalm 102 is possibly the most eloquent description of depression and despair found in the entire Psalter. The psalmist’s mental salvation lay in his rediscovery of the immutability of God. Hebrews gives that truth flesh-and-blood dimensions in Jesus Christ. You can trust Him; He is always the same.

Do not mistake the meaning. This is not the immutability of the sphinx – a Christ captured once for all in a never-fading still photograph. This is the changelessness of Jesus Christ in all His life, love, holiness, grace, justice, truth, and power. He is always the same for you, no matter how your circumstances change.

Say this to yourself when you rise each day, when you struggle, or when you lay your head down sadly on your pillow at night; ‘Lord Jesus, You are still the same, and always will be.’

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (11)

ancient tombOn this Saturday of the week remembering in a special way our Lord’s passion, we are at that point between Jesus’ death on Friday and His resurrection on Sunday. On Saturday – all day – Jesus lay in the grave in which he was buried on Friday night before sundown. This too belonged to his humiliation and to his experience of the full reality of the consequences of our sin.

For the grave is the place of the dead, the place where the corruption of sin and death work to ravage even our bodies and return us to the dust from which we were originally taken. But worse, the grave (apart from Christ) is also a doorway into eternal death, the place where the sinner is destined to rise unto everlasting separation from God and the suffering of unending torment in the restless “home” of hell. The grave is a fearful place – apart from Christ!

But for Christ, the Victor over death at the cross, the grave is a place not only of humiliation and suffering but also of exaltation and blessedness. Jesus’ tomb is a place of transition, when he – because of His perfect sacrifice for sin on Calvary and His defeat of sin’s penalty (death) at Golgatha – moves from lowliness to exaltedness, from suffering to reward, and from death to life.

O, He is dead and buried alright! He is in the grave, the place of death and corruption! But only for the bare minimum of time according to the Scriptures (three days, only one being a full day)! And even then, death cannot touch Him, for His body experienced no corruption, no breakdown of tissue and decay (Psalm 16:9-11 and Acts 2:29ff.). If we may put it that way, surrounded by death and lying in death, Jesus is alive even in the grave (because He has the victory over death in hand), though on Saturday He has not yet burst forth out of the tomb of Joseph!

And so we, like Jesus did, eagerly await the dawning of the first day of the week. We know what’s coming – like our Lord did – and we cannot wait for Resurrection Sunday!

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieWhile we wait and ponder this time of transition for our Lord, we post once more from the book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross. Today we quote from chapter 18, which contains an excerpt from J.I.Packer’s Growing in Christ book (Crossway, 1994), where he is treating two phrases from the Apostles’ Creed, under the heading “He Descended Into Hell and Ascended Into Heaven”. I quote from the beginning of Guthrie’s selection of material:

Death has been called ‘the new obscenity’, the nasty thing that no polite person nowadays will talk about in public. But death, even when unmentionable remains inescapable. The one sure fact of life is that one day, with or without warning, quietly or painfully, it is going to stop. How will I, then, cope with death when my turn comes?

Christians hold that the Jesus of the Scriptures is alive, and that those who know him as Savior, Lord, and Friend find in this knowledge a way through all life’s problems, dying included. For ‘Christ leads me through no darker rooms than he went through before.’ Having tasted death himself, he can support us while we taste it, and carry us through the great change to share the life beyond death into which he himself has passed. Death without Christ is ‘the king of terrors,’ but death with Christ loses the ‘sting,’ the power to hurt, which it otherwise would have.

John Preston, the Puritan, knew this. When he lay dying, they asked him if he feared death, now that it was so close. “No,’ whispered Preston; ‘I shall change my place, but I shall not change my company.’ As if to say: I shall leave my friends, but not my Friend, for he will never leave me.

This is victory – victory over death, and the fear it brings (pp.105-06).

And then a little later Packer writes:

Suppose that Jesus, having died on the cross, had stayed dead. Suppose that, like Socrates or Confucius, he was now no more than a beautiful memory. Would it matter? We should still have his example and teaching; wouldn’t they be enough?

Had Jesus not risen, but stayed dead, the bottom would drop out of Christianity, for four things would then be true.

First, to quote Paul, 1 Corinthians 15:17: ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.’

Second, there is then no hope of our rising either; we must expect to stay dead, too.

Third, if Jesus Christ is not risen, then he is not reigning and will not return, and every single item in the Creed after ‘suffered and was buried’ will have to be struck out.

Fourth, Christianity cannot be what the first Christians thought it was – fellowship with a living Lord who is identical with the Jesus of the Gospels. The Jesus of the Gospels can still be your hero, but he cannot be your Savior (pp.107-08).

All good food for thought as we got through this “transition” day between Good Friday and Easter.

Good Friday Poem: “Christ Crucified” – J.De Decker

3crossesFor this Good Friday I also want to post something from a collection of poems with that very title (Good Friday) from the pen of 17th-century Dutch poet Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666). This lengthy set of poems was translated by Calvin College professor Henrietta Ten Harmsel (Dutch title of Goede vrydagh) and published by Paideia Press in 1984. It is enhanced by etchings from Rembrandt, De Decker’s contemporary, who also did his personal portrait.

Since this work may not be so well known, I include here also the opening paragraphs of Ten Harmsel’s introduction, where she summaries the structure of Good Friday and includes a few biographical notes:

Many seventeenth-century poets of wetsern Europe wrote moving poems on the suffering and death of Christ. Most of these poems took the form of short lyrics. Good Friday, by Jeremias De Decker, however, is unique because of its lengthy and detailed treatment of all the events of the Passion week. In nine vivid scenes he presents chronologically the unfolding drama that climaxes in the crucifixion. By his mournful viewing of his Savior’s suffering, the poet draws his reader into contemplating Calvary. And in this contemplation two consistent notes emerge: De Decker’s intimate knowledge of the Bible and its teachings, and his intense personal involvement in Christ’s sufferings as he depicts it in Good Friday.

Jeremias De Decker (1609-1666), a member of the Reformed Church of Holland, spent most of his life in Amsterdam. Although he desired little public recognition and was very diffident about publication, his two volumes of collected poems – published in 1656 and again in 1659, and including Good Friday – received general recognition and continuing enthusiastic praise (p.9).

GoodFriday-JDeDeckerFor our purposes today I am going to quote a small section of De Decker’s seventh scene, titled “Christ Crucified”, since this takes us right to Calvary, to contemplate the mystery of God’s Son in our flesh dying for us sinners. I trust you too will notice in these few lines the two things that Ten Harmsel pointed out about the nature of De Decker’s poem.

‘Well, what is this?’ (you cry). ‘What is this that we see?
Why should the heavens cry?
Why should they take away
The brightness of the sun just at the height of day?’

The heavens, you rogues, now mourn to see their Lord’s distress;
Shamed by your ruthlessness,
Block out this awful sight:
To see him die, who is the Father of their light.

The clouds which hide the sun from all earth’s teeming crowds
Are your sin’s darkening clouds.
I hear him? Yes, he shouts.
What anguished cry of death now from these clouds bursts out?

Ah, me, it is my Lord! He suffers now his worst.
From hell we hear it burst-
The devils watch in glee-
‘My God, my God, oh, why hast thou forsaken me?’

It is the voice of man, the voice of all who fell
Into the pit of hell;
As one we broke God’s law,
And thus, in one, in him, we are forsaken now.

God’s loved one hangs today (Oh, pain too deep for words)
Forsaken by God’s love,
That he once more might send
God’s friendly love on us, who hated God, our Friend!

As an additional note, this work by De Decker was reviewed in The Standard Bearer by the late Gertrude Hoeksema and given a favorable review.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (10)

Good Friday-1When Jesus took the curse upon himself, he so identified with our sin that he became a curse. God cut him off and justly so. This was an act of divine justice. At the moment that Christ took upon himself the sin of the world, he became the most grotesque, most obscene mass of sin in the history of the world. God is too holy to even look at iniquity. When Christ was hanging on the cross, the Father, as it were, turned his back on Christ. He removed his face. He turned out the lights. He cut off his Son.

There was Jesus, who in human nature had been in a perfect, blessed relationship with God throughout his life. There was Jesus, the Son in whom the Father was well pleased. Now he hung in darkness, isolated from the Father, cut off from fellowship – fully receiving in himself the curse of God – not for his own sin but for the sin he willingly bore by imputation for our sake.

I have heard many sermons about the physical pain of death by crucifixion. I’ve heard graphic descriptions of the nails and the thorns. Surely the physical agony of crucifixion was a ghastly thing. But there were thousands who died on crosses and may have had more painful deaths that that of Christ. But only one person has ever received the full measure of the curse of God while on a cross. I doubt that Jesus was even aware of the nails and the spear – he was so overwhelmed by the outer darkness.

On the cross Jesus was in the reality of hell. He was totally bereft of the grace and the presence of God, utterly separated from all blessedness of the Father. He became a curse for us so that we someday will be able to see the face of God. So that the light of his countenance might fall upon us, God turned his back on his Son. No wonder Christ screamed. He screamed from the depth of his soul. How long did he have to endure it? We don’t know, but a second of it would have been of infinite value.

Finally, Jesus Christ, ‘It is finished!’ (John 19:30. It was over. What was over? His life? The pain of nails? No. It was the forsakenness that ended. The curse was finished.

R.C. Sproul, “Cursed” (chapter 15) in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009), pp.94-95.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (9)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieWhen Jesus says, ‘I am thirsty,’ I don’t think he means physical thirst, because in the whole passion account we never once hear Jesus complaining about any of the physical torture and agony into which he is placed. He is blindfolded and beaten with fists of soldiers. He is scourged with a whip made with bits of metal and glass fragments tied into straps that are laid repeatedly across his back. There is a crown of thorns meanly pressed into his brow until he bleeds. Never once does he complain. Never once does he say, ‘It hurts.’

So when he says, ‘I am thirsty,’ he is saying, ‘I am thirsty with a thirst that every sinner deserves to experience forever.’ He means that he is going to hell, that he is now like the rich man in hell, with no one to bring him water.

In speaking of his thirst, perhaps Jesus is thinking of Psalm 22:

I am poured out like water,
And my bones are out of joint.
My heart is like wax;
it is melted within me.

My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
And Thou dost lay me in the dust of death (vv.14-15).

Jesus understands his thirst biblically. In fact, the larger context of Jesus’ remark about his thirst reads, ‘in order that the Scripture would be fulfilled, [Jesus] said, “I am thirsty.” Psalm 22 begins this way: ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?’ (v.1; quoted in Matt.27:46; Mark 15:34). This thirst is primarily physical but comes about because the Son of God has now been put into hell, a hell that he does not deserve. You and I deserve that unquenchable, unremitting, agonizing thirst because we have sought to fill our lives with anything and everything but him.

At the cross, Jesus asks the question, what do you thirst after? Throughout Scripture, thirst is a metaphor for a deep, inward spiritual emptiness and need. Without God we will die, because the Bible says that what we most thirst for and need at the center of our lives is not stuff but God. The question always is, what do I drink to fill that deep and profound thirst within me? (pp.82-83).

“I am Thirsty” by Joseph “Skip” Ryan, in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. by Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2009.

Word Wednesday – “The Most Important Word in the Universe”!

The above title is in quotation marks because it is a title of a chapter in the book we are going through in this season of reflecting on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Chapter 20 of Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (Nancy Guthrie, ed.; Crossway, 2009) is taken from a message given by Ray Ortlund, Jr. based on Romans 3:23-25 and is a perfect complement to our Wednesday word feature.

PropitiationWhat is that word that is “the most important word in the universe”? Read on (and look to your left), as I quote from this chapter:

The English language has about eight hundred thousand words. Most of us get by with around two thousand words. That means that about 788,000 words are sitting on the shelves, just waiting to be dusted off and used. The top ten most frequently used English words ‘are’ (I think this is a typo -cjt), ‘the,’ ‘of,’ and,’ ‘to,’ ‘a,’ ‘in,’ ‘that,’ ‘is,’ ‘I,’ and ‘it’ – but not ‘propitiation.’

When was the last time you used that word? When was the last time you used it? We don’t hear it on the radio or television, because we’ve lost the vocabulary of God. But it’s the most important word in the universe. We need to recover not only the Word of God but the words of God. His words define relevance.

The word ‘propitiation’ comes from the Latin propitio, meaning ‘to render favorable, to appease, to conciliate.’ To propitiate God means to appease his anger. Propitiation is all about God’s wrath.

…God presented Christ Jesus as a propitiation by his blood (see Rom.3:24-35). Do you see the beauty in that? In human religions, it’s the worshiper who placates the offended deity with rituals and sacrifices and bribes. But in the gospel, it’s God himself who provides the offering. At the cross of Christ, God put something forward. He declared something to the whole world. He presented, he displayed, the clearest statement about himself he has ever made. What was he saying? Two things.

One, he detests our evil with all the intensity of the divine personality. If you want to know what your sin deserves from God, don’t look within yourself, don’t look at your own emotions. Look at that man on the cross – tormented, gasping, bleeding. Take a long thoughtful look. God was presenting something to you there. God was saying something about his perfect emotions toward your sin. He was displaying his wrath.

Two – here is the other thing God was presenting at the cross – the God you have offended doesn’t demand your blood; he gives his own in Christ Jesus. …He has opened the way. He took the initiative. How could it be otherwise? We can’t avert the wrath of God. We’re the problem, not the answer. We’re helpless before God. But ‘God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…’ (John 3:16). At the cross, his love satisfied his wrath… (pp.115-17).

Now, I trust, you understand why pastor Ortlund called this word the most important in the universe. Wouldn’t you agree? Shall we make it part of our regular vocabulary?

Late Snow – Early Signs of New Life

Tax Day snow! April 15, 2014

Tax Day snow! April 15, 2014

Having endured a record-breaking Winter (in terms of both snow and cold!), this what we in West Michigan awakened to yesterday. On Tax Day, April 15, 2014. A cruel joke?! A fitting symbol?!

April 15-2014 snow at Seminary

April 15-2014 snow at Seminary

No, just the Lord’s way of reminding us that HE is Lord of Spring, as well as of Winter. If He is pleased to give us two more inches of snow almost a month into Spring, then who are we to question what He is doing or murmur against His will (Though in our sin and weakness we still do.)?

And was there a beauty in this fresh snow? Of course! Especially when we think of the sign of His saving grace God has given us in these brilliant, pure white flakes. Yes, at this time of the year, even this very week, when we are preparing to commemorate the death of His Son, our Savior Jesus Christ. After all, what did this suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 accomplish for us? The fulfillment of this promise of Isaiah 1:18:

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

Which of His redeemed will not praise Him then – for the sign and for the reality – for the snow and for the blood that cleanses?!

And would we still see the hope of resurrection in the face of this wintery cold and snow? Then keep in mind, it is indeed Spring! And the grass, which had just nicely started to green up last weekend from precious rain (and nitrogen from the Lord’s thunderstorm!) and which was coated with snow in the morning, by noon was showing its beautiful green face again, perhaps even greener from the Lord’s fresh snow!

And the newly-blossomed daffodils tucked against the building? Well, they were still blooming, with their blazing yellow petals boldly standing up to death’s cold but fading embrace!

The death-defying daffodils

The death-defying daffodils

 

A glorious sign of the new life in every child of God. A beautiful picture of the great resurrection day when Jesus returns and gives us our new bodies.

Because, yes, Jesus by His death on the cross broke the power of death over us! And because, yes, HE is risen indeed, just as He said! He’s alive, with a new life to give to all His own! Hallelujah! what a Savior!

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