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!

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (7)

“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Matt. 27:46 (and Psalm 22:1)

There is no answer. God did not deliver Jesus from the cross. The only answers he received were silence and darkness, the silence of being forsaken by God and the darkness of God’s judgment descending upon the earth.

Jesus did not just feel forsaken, he was forsaken. It was not just that Jesus experienced passing sensations of alienation and rejection on the cross. It was more than that. The question Jesus shouted out from the cross pointed back to an actual experience, to an objective state of affairs, to something that had already happened to him: ‘Why have you forsaken me?’ Jesus Christ could tell when his intimacy with God the Father was interrupted. When that happened, he knew that he had been forsaken.

Why did it happen? Why did God the Father forsake the Son on the cross? We cannot comprehend it. We cannot explain it. The great theologian Martin Luther said, ‘God forsaken by God, who can understand that?’ If even Jesus himself could not fully understand it, then we cannot understand it either.

But we can at least say this: it had something to do with what Jesus was doing on the cross. What Jesus was doing on the cross was bearing sin, carrying sin, wearing sin. Jesus was taking the sins of the world upon his shoulders. It was as if God had taken a giant bucket and scooped up all the sins of his people – all the jealousy and the anger and the lying, all the rebellion and the stealing and the incest, all the hypocrisy and the envy and the swearing – and dumped them all out on Jesus Christ. ‘The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all’ (Isa.53:6. ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us…’ (2 Cor.5:21).

…If you want to know what God really thinks about sin and what he intends to do about it, look at Jesus rejected on the cross and listen to Jesus forsaken on the cross. That is what sin deserves: the wrath and curse of God. That is what sinners deserve: to be put to death and damned for their sins.

…The forsaking of the Son of God on the cross is a fearful thing, but it is good news for sinners who repent. It is good news because it means that when you meet Jesus Christ at the cross you are meeting someone who has experienced the full measure of the tragedy of human existence. Out of his own experience of physical suffering and spiritual rejection Jesus not only sympathizes with your pain, he empathizes with it.

The forsaking of the Son of God on the cross is also good news because it means that God’s children will never be forsaken. Jesus was God-forsaken so that you might not be forsaken (pp.86-88).

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthriePhilip G. Ryken, “God-Forsaken”, in Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, ed. by Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2009.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (6)

As we were coming home from our evening service at Faith PRC (Jenison, MI) last night, I said to my wife: “We are so blessed to have the preaching we do in our church and churches!” What a day of being fed by and of feasting on the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ! Our souls were filled with the good news of Christ crucified for sinners such as ourselves!

In the morning we attended a special family baptism event at Georgetown PRC in Hudsonville, MI and were richly fed by pastor Carl Haak’s message on Mary of Bethany’s act of anointing Jesus’ head (Mark 14:1-11). He is doing a series on significant events that took place during the days of the Passion week of Jesus, this sermon being the one for Wednesday, and titled “A Memorial Left Behind”. You will be able to find this sermon and others in the series at this link to Georgetown PRC’s Sermonaudio page.

Last night we were favored to have Rev.James Slopsema from our First PRC of Grand Rapids as our guest preacher. He is doing a series on the seven (7) cross words of Jesus and he preached on the middle one for us: “Forsaken by God”. It was another wonderful message, which brought us to the dust in the knowledge of our sin and lifted us up in the knowledge of what our Savior did for us on Calvary. You may find this message on Faith PRC’s website.

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieWith these gospel messages in our hearts – and many more that you have heard, I am sure – we also hear again today from the book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (ed. by Nancy Guthrie; Crossway, 2009). I plan to post something each day this week from this wonderful devotional. Today’s quote is from a piece by the Anglican J.C. (John Charles) Ryle. Titled “The Sufferings of Christ” and based on Matthew 27:27-44, it is taken from his familiar Expository Thoughts on the Gospels. May his thoughts also serve to humble us as well as lift us up through the knowledge of our deliverance from sin.

But we must not be content with a vague general belief that Christ’s sufferings on the cross were vicarious. We are intended to see this truth in every part of his passion. We may follow him all through, from the bar of Pilate to the minute of his death, and see him at every step as our mighty substitute, our representative, our head, our surety, our proxy – the divine friend who undertook to stand in our place and, by the priceless merit of his sufferings, to purchase our redemption. Was he flogged? It was done so that ‘by his wounds we are healed’ (Isa. 53:5). Was he condemned, though innocent? It was done so that we might be acquitted, though guilty. Did he wear a crown of thorns? It was done so that we might wear the crown of glory.  Was he stripped of his clothes? It was done so that we might be clothed in everlasting righteousness. Was he mocked and reviled? It was done so that we might be honored and blessed. Was he reckoned a criminal,a nd counted among those who have done wrong? It was done so that we might be reckoned innocent, and declared free from all sin. Was he declared unable to save himself? It was so that he might be able to save others to the uttermost. Did he die at last, and that the most painful and disgraceful death? It was done so that we might live forevermore, and be exalted to the highest glory.

Let us ponder these things well: they are worth remembering. The very key to peace is a right apprehension of the vicarious sufferings of Christ (pp.58-59)

Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed – I.Watts

Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed – Hymnary.org.

For our music meditation on the suffering and death of our Savior today we post the lyrics and music of Isaac Watts’ classic hymn “Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed”. The full text of this hymn is taken from the website Hymnary.org (link above), where you will find more information on this particular piece.

The video recording is a beautiful arrangement sung by ProMusica of Washington Adventist University.

 

1 Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for sinners such as I?

2 Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!

3 Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature’s sin.

4 Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.

5 But drops of tears can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
’tis all that I can do.

United Methodist Hymnal, 1989

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (5)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieOver the past few Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter (April 18 and 20 this year) we are doing a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. During this special season of reflection on the passion and victory of our Savior we are using as our source the little book  Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009).

On this Palm Sunday we consider the meditation found in the sixth chapter of this book. It is taken from The Passion of Christ and the Purpose of Life by Adrian Rogers, and titled “The Silence of the Lamb”, based on Matthew 26:59-63 along with Isaiah 53:7. We quote from the end of this meditation:

Over and over again the Bible records the silence of God’s Lamb in the presence of His accusers (Matthew 26:62,63; Mark 14:60,61, etc.). This is amazing, especially since the witnesses that were hurling charges against Jesus were giving false testimony (Matthew 26:59-61). When we read these Scriptures, we wonder why Jesus did not say something to vindicate Himself. After all, our natural tendency is to justify ourselves even when we are guilty—and how much more so when we are innocent and are being falsely accused.

Why was the dear Saviour so silent? I believe we find at least part of the answer in the great prophecy of Isaiah 53: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet he opened not His mouth: He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:5-7).

Going on to verse 10, we read: ‘Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thouh shalt make his soul an offeriong for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.’ The apostle Paul put it this way; ‘For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him’ (2 Cor.5:21).

The Bible teaches us that when Jesus Christ took our sin, he took all of the punishment that goes with that sin. A part of that punishment is shame. Had Jesus defended himself and protested his innocence, he would have suffered no shame, and that would have left us guilty.

Jesus could not prove himself innocent and then die in our place the shameful death that we deserve. Thank God that Jesus was willing to be counted a sinner before God, that we might be counted as righteous before God!

Jesus held back any words that would have relieved him from the shame and blame of sin. He was not a sinner, but He fully took the sinner’s place.

And here’s another thought to consider. If Jesus had risen up in His own defense during His trials, I believe that He would have been so powerful and irrefutable in making His defense that no governor, high priest, or other legal authority on earth could have stood against Him! In other words, if Jesus had taken up His own defense with the intention of refuting His accusers and proving His innocence, He would have won! But we would have lost, and we would be lost for all eternity.

They accused Jesus of blasphemy, lying, sedition, and many other things, but the Savior answered not a word. This is the amazing silence of the Lamb (pp.52-53).

Music Meditation: “He Was Despised” – Handel’s “Messiah”

In connection with our previous post on the aspect of our Lord’s suffering that involved being spit on, we also post this video of the solo pieces (alto) “He was Despised” and “He Gave His Back to the Smiters” from G.F.Handel’s “Messiah”.

You will notice that also this aspect of Christ’s suffering was prophesied of, in Isaiah 50:6. Every detail of his passion was purposed and providentially carried out by His sovereign Father. And to it all Jesus willingly gave Himself. Notice what that text says: He gave his back to the smiters and He hid not his face from the shame and spitting. He suffered not as a helpless victim but as God’s willing, submissive Servant. So that His whole life as well as His death could be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. He bore our shame and was spit on, so that we might have the smile of God’s face now and to all eternity.

May our music meditation on Christ’s suffering of “shame and spitting” also serve to humble us and drive us to the cross.

Here is the information that goes with the video:

Georg Friedrich Haendel (1685-1759)

air for alto: “He was despised and rejected of men” (Oratorio Messiah)

Grace Hoffman, mezzo-soprano

The Philharmonia orchestra and chorus,
Conductor: Otto Klemperer.
London, September 1964

He was despised and rejected of men,
a man of sorrows and acquainted with
grief. (Isaiah 53:3)
He gave his back to the smiters,
and His cheeks to them that plucked off
the hair: He hid not His face from shame and spitting. (Isaiah 50:6)

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (4)

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieOver the past few Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter (April 18 and 20 this year) we are doing a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. During this special season of reflection on the passion and victory of our Savior we are using as our source the little book  Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009).

Chapter seven (7) of this work contains a precious sermon of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Then Did They Spit in His Face”, based on Matthew 26:67. This verse reads (in the KJV): “Then did they spit in his face, and buffeted him; and others smote him with the palms of their hands.” This refers, of course, to that part of Jesus’ suffering when he was being tried by Caiaphas and the leaders of the Jews.

I have to remark here that I don’t believe I have ever heard (or read) a sermon specifically on this passage or on this part of our Lord’s suffering. Spurgeon’s treatment of this verse is powerful, pointing us both to the wickedness of man and the mercy of the Savior. I can only quote a portion of his sermon, but I choose that part where Spurgeon calls attention to the power of sin as it lies in our hearts and works in our own lives.

There are two or three thoughts that come to mind when I think that these wicked men did actually spit in Christ’s face – in that face which is the light of heaven, the joy of angels, the bliss of saints, and the very brightness of the Father’s glory. This spitting shows us, first, how far sin will go. If we want proof of the depravity of the heart of man, I will not point you to the stews of Sodom and Gomorrah, nor will I take you to the places where blood is shed in streams by wretches like to Herod and men of that sort.

No, the clearest proof that man is utterly fallen, and that the natural heart is enmity against God, is seen in the fact that they did spit in Christ’s face, did falsely accuse him, and condemn him, and lead him out as a malefactor, and hang him up as a felon that he might die upon the cross. Why, what evil had he done? What was there in his whole life that should give them occasion to spit in his face? Even at that moment, did his face flash with indignation against them? Did he look with contempt upon them?

Not he; for he was all gentleness and tenderness even toward these his enemies, and their hearts must have been hard and brutal indeed that ‘then did they spit in his face.’ He had healed their sick, he had fed their hungry, he had been among them a very fountain of blessing up and down Judaea and Samaria; and yet, ‘then did they spit in his face.’ Humanity stands condemned of the blackest iniquity now that it has gone as far as to spit in Christ’s face.

O my brothers, let us hate sin; O my sisters, let us loathe sin, not only because it pierced those blessed hands and feet of our dear Redeemer, but because it dared even to spit in his face! No one can ever know all the shame the Lord of glory suffered when they did spit in his face. These words glide over my tongue all too smoothly; perhaps even I do not feel them as they ought to be felt, though I would do so if I could.

But could I feel as I ought to feel in sympathy with the terrible shame of Christ, and then could I interpret those feelings by any language known to mortal man, surely you would bow your heads and blush, and you would feel rising within your spirits a burning indignation against the sin that dared to put the Christ of God to such shame as this. I want to kiss his feet when I think that they did spit in his face (pp.44-46).

May these thoughts humble us to the dust and lead us to godly repentance for our own spitting on Jesus’ face in so many ways (as Spurgeon also points out in the sermon). And may it drive us to the merciful Savior Who shed His blood for such sin-spitting sinners.

Psalm 40 – Psalter #109, “Personal Devotion to God” – The PR Psalm Choir

Psalm 40 – Psalter 109 Personal Devotion to God – YouTube.

Psalm 40 is part of those Scriptures that our Lord came to fulfill (See my previous post.). And it specifically describes the willful submission of Jesus Christ to the will of God in coming into the world to save those given Him by the Father.

#109 in our Psalter is a versification of this part of Psalm 40 , and the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir has performed and recorded this number. Josh Hoekstra, the director, has made this video (and many others on the PR Psalm Choir channel – be sure to check them out!) with the Psalm Choir’s rendition of #109.

I post it today too for our spiritual reflection on our Lord’s suffering.

If you are interested in obtaining CDs of the Psalm Choir, I encourage you to visit this store and/or its website.

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