Easter Meditation/Prayer: “Victory”

1Cor15-57Today I also post another Puritan devotion from the wonderful book The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions, edited by Arthur Bennett (Banner of Truth, 1975). This one is titled “Victory”, and because it covers the whole spectrum of what God did in saving us through Jesus Christ to secure victory for us, it is most appropriate for this Resurrection Sunday.

O divine Redeemer,

Great was thy goodness

in undertaking my redemption,

in consenting to be made sin for me,

in conquering all my foes;

Great was thy strength

in enduring the extremities of divine wrath,

in taking away the load of my iniquities;

Great was thy love

in manifesting thyself alive,

in showing thy sacred wounds,

that every fear might vanish,

and every doubt be removed;

Great was thy mercy

in ascending to heaven

in being crowned and enthroned

there to intercede for me,

there to succour me in temptation,

there to open the eternal book,

there to receive me finally to thyself;

Great was thy wisdom

in devising this means of salvation;

Bathe my soul in rich consolations

of thy resurrection life;

Great was thy grace

in commanding me to come hand in hand

with thee to the Father,

to be knit to him eternally,

to discover in him my rest,

to find in him my peace,

to behold his glory,

to honour him who is alone worthy;

in giving me the Spirit as teacher, guide,

power,

that I may live repenting of sin,

conquer Satan,

find victory in life.

When thou art absent all sorrows are here,

When thou art present all blessings are mine.

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (12)

HeisRisen-1On this Easter Sunday as we celebrate the glorious resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we make a final post from the book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (Nancy Guthrie, ed.; Crossway, 2009). Chapter 22 contains an excerpt from St.Augustine’s Homilies on the Gospels, specifically on Luke 24:36-45. Though his style is different, this great 4th-century church father has some powerful thoughts and applications for us, the 21st-century church.

May they serve to point us to our risen Lord and to the faith we must have in Him alone – for comfort and hope in living and in dying.

The Lord appeared to his disciples after his resurrection and saluted them, saying, ‘Peace be unto you.’ This is peace indeed, and the salutation of salvation: for the very word ‘salutation’ has received its name from salvation. And what can be better than that salvation itself should salute man? For Christ is our salvation. He is our salvation, who was wounded for us, and fixed by nails to the tree, and being taken down from the tree, was laid in the sepulcher. And from the sepulcher he arose, with his wounds healed, his scars kept. For this he judged expedient for his disciples, that his scars should be kept, whereby the wounds of their hearts might be healed.

What wounds? The wounds of unbelief. For he appeared to their eyes, exhibiting real flesh, and they thought they saw a spirit. It is no light wound, this wound of the heart. Yea, they have made a malignant heresy who have abided in this wound. But do we suppose that the disciples had not been wounded, because they were so quickly healed? Only, beloved, suppose, if they had continued in this wound, to think that the body which had been buried, could not rise again, but that a spirit in the image of a body, deceived the eyes of men. If they had continued in this belief, yea, rather in this unbelief, not their wounds, but their death would have had to be bewailed.

…Hear him speaking; lo, he speaks to thee, thou unhappy one, he speaks to thee: ‘Why art thou troubled, and why do thoughts ascend into thine heart?’ ‘See,’, saith he, ‘My hands and My feet. Handle me and see, because a spirit hath not flesh and bones as he see Me have.’ This spake the truth, and did he deceive? It was a body then, it was flesh; that which has been buried, appeared. Let doubting perish, and meet praise ensue.

Come then, O Lord, employ thy keys, open, that we may understand… (pp.127-130)

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!

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)

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