For the Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this time of reflection I recently purchased 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). I plan to use this book as a guide, pulling quotations from it.
This is how the author introduces this collection:
In the pages that follow, gifted theologians and Bible teachers will help us to stop and longer at the cross. I’ve drawn from the writings and sermons of classic and contemporary writers and teachers to create meditations that will draw us into an experience of the passion of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
How we need to have our hearts broken again by our sin that put Jesus on the cross. How we need to have our confidence grounded by what Jesus accomplished on the cross. And how we need to have our hope anchored in the promise of resurrection. I pray that is what you will experience as you read this book. May Jesus draw you and keep you near his cross (“Preface”, p.10).
Let us meditate a moment on the passion of Christ. Some do so falsely in that they merely rail against Judas and the Jews. Some carry crucifixes to protect themselves from water, fire, and sword, and turn the suffering of Jesus into an amulet against suffering. Some weep, and that is the end of it. The true contemplation is that in which the heart is crushed and the conscience smitten. You must be overwhelmed by the frightful wrath of God who so hated sin that he spared not his only begotten Son. What can the sinner expect if the beloved Son was so afflicted? It must be an inexpressible and unendurable yearning that causes God’s Son Himself so to suffer. Ponder this and you will tremble, and the more you ponder, the deeper you will tremble.
The whole value of the meditation of the suffering of Christ lies in this, that man should come to the knowledge of himself and sink and tremble. If you are so hardened that you do not tremble, then you have reason to tremble. Pray to God that he may soften your heart and make fruitful your meditation upon the suffering of Christ, for we of ourselves are incapable of proper reflection unless God instills its.
…The greater and more wonderful is the excellence of his love by contrast with the lowliness of his form, the hate and pain of passion. Herein we come to know both God and ourselves. His beauty is his own, and through it we learn to know him. His uncomeliness and passion are ours, and in them we know ourselves, for what he suffered in the flesh, we must inwardly suffer in the spirit. He has in truth borne our stripes. Here, then, in an unspeakably clear mirror you see yourself. You must know that through your sins you are as uncomely and mangled as you see him here (pp.11-14).
Also for our meditation I include this beautiful poem written by Thelma Westra, a member of our Faith PRC (Jenison, MI), found in the collection of her poetry titled Poems of Praise (self-published). This one is titled “He Who Was Sinless” (p.131):
‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us:’
Turning depravity into salvation
For sinners deserving only damnation.
Who but Jehovah could plan such a thing?
Jehovah of hosts, the conquering King.
It pleased Him to sacrifice His only Son
Because of His love for the wholly undone;
He loved us and changed us by mercy and grace
Into sanctified children – His chosen race.
We now glorify Him, exalting His name,
And into eternity, still will proclaim
The wonder He wrought, and the joy that He brought:
With the blood of His Son, His people He bought!
‘He Who was sinless was made sin for us!’