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.

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?

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)

Why Theological Study Is for Everyone – Jared Wilson

Why Theological Study Is for Everyone by Jared Wilson | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

April-TT-2014For part of my Sunday reading I did get in the next featured article on this month’s theme (“The Great Commission”). That is pastor Roland Barnes’ article titled “All Authority in Heaven and on Earth”, which treats the authority the church has to go and bring the gospel to the nations. The authority is Christ’s, for all power (authority) is given Him in his state of glorification (Matt.28:18-20).

The article which I reference today, however, is another one – the one by pastor Jared Wilson linked above. Writing under the rubric “Heart Aflame”, he wrote this great article on why every believer ought to be a theologian. No doubt he is picking up a theme R.C. Sproul, Sr. loves to trumpet – and about which he has just written an entire book (Everyone’s a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, Reformation Trust, 2014. I have received it for review, so look for notes on this to come.)!

Wilson gives three (3) main reasons why every Christian must be interested in and pursuing the study of theology. I encourage you to read all of his article; below I give you his final reason for being a theologian. It ties in rather well with our primary activity yesterday and in all of life – worship.

Third, the study of God authenticates and fuels worship. True Christians are not those who believe in some vague God nor trust in vague spiritual platitudes. True Christians are those who believe in the triune God of the holy Scriptures and have placed their trust by the real Spirit in the real Savior—Jesus—as proclaimed in the specific words of the historical gospel.

Knowing the right information about God is just one way we authenticate our Christianity. Intentionally or consistently err in the vital facts about God, and you jeopardize the veracity of your claim truly to know God. This is why we must pursue theological robustness not just in our pastor’s preaching but in our church’s music and in our church’s prayers, both corporate and private.

But theological study goes deeper than simply authenticating our worship as true and godly—it also fuels this worship. We must remember what Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman at the well:

True worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:23–24)

We are changed deeply in heart and, therefore, our behavior when we seek deeply after the things of God with our brains. The Bible says so: “Do not be conformed to this world,” Paul writes. “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). The transformation begins with a renewing of our minds. As John Piper has said, “The theological mind exists to throw logs into the furnace of our affections for Christ.”

Purposeful theological study of God, as an expression of love for God, cannot help but deepen our love for God. The more we read, study, meditate on, and prayerfully apply the word of God, the more we will find ourselves in awe of Him. Like a great ship on the horizon, the closer we get, the larger He looms.

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).

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.

C.Trueman on Political Correctness – in the Church!

trueman-fools.inddThe final chapter in Dr.Carl Trueman’s collection of essays titled Fools Rush In Where Monkeys Fear to Tread: Taking Aim at Everyone (P&R, 2012) is also about the use of language and words (see my post of last week). With the heading “Is the Thickness of Two Short Planks a Forgotten Divine Attribute?”, this essay exposes the deceitful and worldly way in which modern Evangelicalism uses language to cover up sin. The two examples he references are sins against the 9th and 7th commandments – lying and adultery – and his treatment of what the church has done with the Biblical language for and definition of these sins will hit you right between the eyes.

There are many good quotes I could pull from this chapter, for Trueman pulls no punches! But I leave you with the last two paragraphs, because they will also help you understand why he chose the title for this essay that he did. Ponder the weight of these words – but especially the weight of God’s Word when He speaks to us about our sin.

Worse still, of course, are the theological implications: to think that I am an idiot is one thing. Many have done that; it’s not unusual and, sadly, I am sure there is plenty of evidence to suggest that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But these people seem to think they can fool God with their slick talk and sound bites. Yes, believe it or not, they apparently regard themselves as cleverer than their maker. Like Adam and Eve sewing fig leaves together in the Garden, they believe that, if they use the right words, he just won’t notice the reality that lies behind their thin veil of semantic scamology.

In fact, they have squeezed God into a box that is so small he barely has the divine equivalent of two brain cells to rub together. Their a priori theological system has led them to assume God is as thick as two short planks, and that a bit of obfuscatory language and the odd specious euphemism will prevent him from holding them accountable for their lies and the filth of their personal lives.

To consider other human beings to be so stupid as not to see through the flannel about ‘theological leverage’ and ‘sins of relational mobility” (the two terms used in the recent past to refer to sins of lying and adultery respectively -cjt) is patronizing and offensive; but to assume God is a moron, as think as a brick, is frankly, dangerous. Make no mistake: unlike the evangelical and Emergent dupes out there, God is not mocked (pp.220-21).

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross (3)

As we noted here the last two Sundays, for the Lord’s Days  leading up to Good Friday and Easter (April 18 and 20 this year) we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this special season of reflection I 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).

JesusKeepMeNear-NGuthrieToday we begin quoting from chapter six of this book, which contains a sermon by Dr.J. Ligon Duncan III, titled “Betrayed, Denied, Deserted”. It is based on Matthew 26:47-56, the account of Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane. Listen to how Duncan emphasizes the sovereignty of God in this part of our Lord’s suffering:

But again I must stress that his actions (Peter’s, in drawing his sword to defend Jesus against the mob led by Judas -cjt) were completely ignorant and uncomprehending. Jesus will say twice in this passage that he had to be arrested in order that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. Jesus was conscious that God’s plan was being worked out and nobody, not Peter, not Judas, not the mob, nor anyone else was going to keep that plan from being fulfilled.

…In this statement (about Jesus being able to ask the Father for twelve legions of angels to defend him, if he needed to be delivered – cjt), Jesus is stressing that he is not going to the cross because God lacks the power to stop it. Not does Jesus lack the ability to ask of God to spare him. Instead, Jesus is going to the cross because he has chosen to go to the cross. He is not a passive victim. He is the prime actor and has chosen to go to the cross. Jesus goes to the cross because of his desire to fulfill the word of God.

J.C.Ryle explains this beautifully, ‘We see in these words (about the Scripture being fulfilled -cjt) the secret of His voluntary submission to His foes. He came on purpose to fulfill the types and promises of the Old Testament Scriptures, and by fulfilling them to provide salvation for the world. He came intentionally to be the true Lamb of God, the Passover Lamb. He came to be the Scape-goat on whom the iniquities of the people were to be laid. His heart was set on accomplishing this great work. It could not be done without the “hiding of his power” for a time. To do it he became a willing sufferer. He was taken, tried, condemned, and crucified entirely of His own free will.’

…Notice too that Jesus does not just acquiesce to God’s sovereignty. He doesn’t just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘Well, I guess God has allowed this terrible thing to happen.’ We do that sometimes, but not Jesus. Jesus said, ‘God has caused and decreed this to happen. This is in accordance with his holy will, which he has established before the foundation of the world. I embrace it, because it is the will of my heavenly Father, and it is good. It may be horrendous for me, but I willingly embrace it, because it is good for his people, and I love his people. …Jesus reveled in the sovereignty of God, and he proclaims it even to the multitude of captors.

For this submission to the sovereign will of God on the part of our suffering Savior we must also give thanks. For by His godly will we are saved, even as we fell into sin and death of our own free will in the first garden (Eden, through Adam). And being saved by the gracious will of our mighty Savior, we are also given grace to submit to God’s will when we are called to suffer. May we have the humble spirit of our Lord and reveal His saving grace in our own afflictions, trusting in the same heavenly Father to deliver us.

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