Praying the Passion Psalms with the Messiah – D.Bonhoeffer

Book of Psalms

God’s holy history [cf. our previous post on the section “Holy History”] comes to fulfillment in the sending of the Messiah. According to Jesus’ own interpretation, the Psalter has prophesied of this Messiah (Luke 24:44). Psalms 22 and 69 are known to the church as the passion psalms.

Jesus himself prayed the beginning of Psalm 22 on the cross and so clearly made it his prayer. Hebrews 2:12 places verse 22 in the mouth of Christ. Verse 8 and verse 18 are direct predictions of the crucifixion of Jesus. David himself may have once prayed this Psalm in his own song. If so, he did this as the king, anointed by God and therefore persecuted by men, from whom Jesus Christ would descend. He did it as the one who bore Christ in himself.

But Christ himself used this prayer and for the first time gave it its full meaning. We can thus pray this Psalm only in the fellowship of Jesus Christ, as those who have participated in the suffering of Christ. We pray this Psalm, not on the basis of our fortuitous personal suffering, but on the basis of the suffering of Christ which has also come upon us.

But we always hear Jesus Christ pray with us, and through him that Old Testament king; and repeating this prayer without being able to experience it or consider it in its deepest sense, we nevertheless walk with the praying Christ before the throne of God.

Quoted from Psalms, The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Augsburg, 1974), a translation of Das Gebetbuch der Bibel (the 8th ed. published in Germany in 1966). These thoughts are found in the tenth section, “The Messiah” (pp.36-37), where the author continues to treat the Psalter according to classification by subject.

“In the sorrows of Christ… we prepare for Easter, for joy.” ~ W. Wangerin, Jr.

Jn16-20

In order to understand what Walter Wangerin, Jr. is going to say about the above quote, you have to hear what he says about the difference between happiness and joy. The difference is substantial and significant:

The difference between shallow happiness and a deep, sustaining joy is sorrow. Happiness lives where sorrow is not. When sorrow arrives, happiness dies. It can’t stand pain. Joy, on the other hand, rises from sorrow and therefore can withstand all grief. Joy, by the grace of God, is the transfiguration of suffering into endurance, and of endurance into character, and of character into hope – and the hope that has become our joy does not (as happiness must for those who depend upon it) disappoint us [You may recognize his reference to Rom.5:3-5.]

Now in that light read and savor this as we prepare for Easter joy:

“In the sorrows of Christ… we prepare for Easter, for joy. There can be no resurrection from the dead except first there is a death! But then, because we love him above all things, his rising is our joy. And then the certain hope of our own resurrection warrants the joy both now and forever.

For the moment, lay yourselves aside. Become one of the first disciples. And in that skin, consider: what makes the appearance of the resurrected Lord such a transport of joy for you? Consider this in every fiber of your created being. How is it that so durable a joy in born at this encounter? – joy that shall hereafter survive threats and dangers and persecutions and death, even your own death?

…This: not just that the Lord was dead, but that you grieved his death. That , for three days, you yourself did suffer his absence, and then the whole world was for you a hollow horror. That, despite his promises, this last Sabbath lasted forever and was, to your sorrowing heart, the last of the world after all. You experienced, you actually believed, that the end of Jesus was the end of everything.

Death reigned everywhere.

Death alone.

But in the economy of God, what seems the end is but a preparation. For it is, now, to that attitude  and into that experience that the dear Lord Jesus Christ appears – not only an astonishment, gladness and affirmation, but joy indeed!

It is the experience of genuine grief that prepares for joy.

You see? The disciples approached the Resurrection from their bereavement. For them the death was first, and the death was all. Easter, then, was an explosion of Newness, a marvelous splitting of heaven indeed. But for us, who return backward into the past, the Resurrection comes first, and through it we view a death which is, therefore, less consuming, less horrible, even less real. We miss the disciples’ terrible, wonderful preparation.

Unless, as now, we attend to the suffering first, to the cross with sincerest pity and vigilant love, to the dying with most faithful care – and thus prepare for joy.

Reliving-passion-Wangerin-1992Quoted from Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Reliving the Passion; Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (Zondervan, 1992). This is found in his meditation on John 16:20-22 and 20:19b-20, pp.31-32.

The Mega-phone of Christ Crucified

Mark-15-37“‘A loud cry.’ In Greek the words are phone megale, which, transposed, begin to look familiar: a mega-phone.

A shout of triumph!

…What was that?

A loud shout! Phone megale! …No, this is not at all what the centurion expects. It’s a cry that he has heard before, to be sure – but never in defeat and never, never in death, always when the soldier has won the battle or the king the war.

This is a cry of triumph! The centurion whirls around to see Jesus: he sees eyes like fiery darts in the darkness; he sees a mouth thin and thin, as thin as the blade of a sword, grinning!

Victorious? King of the Jews – victorious over what? What do these flaming eyes announce?

Satan, thou art defeated in my defeat! Sin, dispossessed of a people! Death, look about thee; thou art not mighty and dreadful. Lo, I close my eyes and die  – and death shall be no more.

Then, suddenly, he dies. The centurion’s jaw drops. He stares, but he’s seen it before; he knows the signs: Jesus is dead. dead. No coma, no deeper sleep than another sleep. All at once the eyes see nothing, the mind thinks nothing, the heart has ceased to beat –

-but suddenly! That’s what rivets the centurion. It is as if this man chose to go fully conscious straight to the wall of death, and there to strike it with all his might and, in the striking, die. Aware of absolutely everything.

See to it, Centurion.

I’ll see to it all, sir.

No, not all. One thing astounds the centurion: how can a crucified criminal act so convincingly like the victor?”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“O Christ!

When you died, you broke the wall that divided us from God: you struck it, you cracked it, you tore it apart – you made a door of that which had been death before.

And the sign was that “the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom,” and the mercy seat was made open to my approach. Amen.”

Reliving-passion-Wangerin-1992Quoted from Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Reliving the Passion; Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (Zondervan, 1992). This is found in his meditation on Mark 15:37-39a, pp.131-32.

“Goodness is a spotlight ..on our shame, our filth.” ~ W. Wangerin, Jr.

To sinners, the mere presence of goodness can feel like an attack.

…Goodness is a spotlight. It shines on our shame, our filth, our deformities; it picks out the parts we hide from the world and even from ourselves. We will strike at that light.  We’ll haul it into court, discredit it, and smash it in order to put it out. We’ll spit on it and belittle it. We’ll blindfold it, hit it, and ask it to prophesy – all to prove what a fraud this ‘prophet’ is (And to dehumanize him! Get it?)

Where patience shines, impatience is revealed and hates the attention. Kindness shows unkindness to be hideous. True joy intensifies true bitterness; gentleness enrages belligerence; and self-control proves the pig to be nothing but a pig.

The real trial in Caiaphas’s house is not of the guilt of Jesus. Rather, Jesus is judging the guilt of the others, not by speaking, but by being perfectly innocent. Innocence accuses its accusers. (This is the great war between secular powers and genuine religion; the trial continues even today.) They hate it. They scream to drown the sweeter truth; they condemn him to death in order to put out the light. They want dearly to put out the light.

+++

Save me, Lord, from blaming anyone but myself:
— not you (whose innocence spotlights my sin),
— not your foes (whose sins are my sin),
— not people whose virtues reveal my evil.

I must suffer my guilt, my own guilt; this is the pain of an earnest repentance; and repentance alone can hear your forgiveness. I beg your forgiveness. Amen.

Reliving-passion-Wangerin-1992Quoted from Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Reliving the Passion; Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (Zondervan, 1992). This is found in his meditation on Mark 14:65 with John 3:19-20, pp.85-86

“This, then, is the Christ that Jesus would have us know…: One who came to die.” – W. Wangerin, Jr.

Christian, come and look closely: it is when Jesus is humiliated, most seeming weak, bound and despised and alone and defeated that he finally answers the question, ‘Are you the Christ?’

Now, for the record, yes: I am.

It is only in incontrovertible powerlessness that he finally links himself with power: ‘And you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of power.’ Because any display of messianic power is far, far in the future – in his and in ours together, on the last day. The last day of the world, not today!

This, then, is the Christ that Jesus would have us know and accept [receive] and (O Christian!) reflect:

One who came to die.

One who, in the assessment of this age, failed – an embarrassment, a folly, a stumbling block. An offense!

One crucified.

Here in the world, the Christ and his followers hang ever on a cross. The cross is foremost, because a faithless world cannot see past it to the Resurrection.

And even for the faithful the cross must always be first, because the Resurrection is only as real (both in history and in our hearts) as the death is real.

What then of our big churches, Christian? What of our bigger parking lots, our rich coffers, our present power to change laws in the land, our political clout, our glory for Christ, our triumphant and thundering glory for Christ?It is excluded! All of it. It befits no Christian, for it was rejected by Jesus.

If ever we persuade the world (or ourselves) that we have a hero in our Christ, then we have lied. Or else we are deceived, having accepted the standards of this world.

He came to die beneath the world’s iniquity. The world, therefore, can only look down on him whom it defeated – down in hatred until it repents; then it is the world no more.

Likewise, the world will look down on us – down in contempt until it elevates the Christ it sees in us; but then it won’t be our enemy any more, will it?

Reliving-passion-Wangerin-1992Drawn from Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Reliving the Passion; Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (Zondervan, 1992). This is found in his meditation on Mark 14:61-62, pp.82-83.

” In the night of gravest human treachery he gave the gift of himself. …This is grace.” – W. Wangerin, Jr.

…The love of Jesus is utterly unaccountable – except that he is God and God is love. It has no cause in us. It reacts to, or repays, or rewards just nothing in us. It is beyond human measure, beyond human comprehension. It takes my breath away.

For when did Jesus choose to give us the supernal, enduring gift of his presence, …his dear communing with us [he is referring to the Lord’s Supper]? When we were worthy of the gift, good people indeed? Hardly. It was precisely when we were most unworthy. When our wickedness was directed particularly at him.

Listen, children: it was to the insolent and the hateful that he gave his gift of personal love.

…With the apostle Paul the pastor repeats: ‘The Lord Jesus, the same night in which he was betrayed, took bread.’ Oh, let that pastor murmur those words, ‘the same night,’ with awe. For who among us can hear them just before receiving the gift of Christ’s intimacy and not be overcome with wonder, stunned at such astonishing love? The context qualifies that love. The time defines it. And ever and ever again, these words remind us of the times: ‘The same night in which he was betrayed’

…Then! That same night! When absolutely nothing recommended us. When ‘we were enemies.’ Enemies! In the night when his people betrayed him – the night of intensest enmity – the dear Lord Jesus said, ‘This is my blood of the covenant, poured out for many.’ Then! Can we comprehend the joining of two such extremes, the good and the evil together? In the night of gravest human treachery he gave the gift of himself. And the giving has never ceased.

…But in that same night he remembered our need. In that same night he provided the sacrament which would forever contain his grace and touch his comfort into us.

Oh, this is a love past human expectation. This is beyond all human deserving. This, therefore, is a love so celestial that it shall endure long and longer than we do.

This is grace.

Reliving-passion-Wangerin-1992Drawn from Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Reliving the Passion; Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (Zondervan, 1992). This is found in his meditation on Mark 14:22-25, pp.54-55.

“…Love instinctively sees the truth. Love enhances and names in truth.” ~ W. Wangerin, Jr. (on the woman who anointed Jesus’ head)

What is your name that I might address my praise to you? I don’t know. Were you someone’s mother? …Were you old, bent by years of experience? Were you a prostitute? Or praiseworthy for purity and virtue? …I don’t know. Mark never says. I know nothing about you save this: that you anointed the head of my Lord.

Ah, but that’s enough to know! That deed alone is your identity, your entire being: your self. It memorializes you forever. …I marvel at you. I pray God that I might do – and therefore be – the same.

For what was your gesture? An act of pure love for Jesus particularly. It was an act so completely focused upon the Christ that not a dram of worldly benefit was gained thereby. Nothing could justify this spillage of some three hundred days’ wages, except love alone. The rulers who sought to kill Jesus were motivated by a certain reasonable logic; but your prodigality appears altogether unreasonable – except for reasons of love. The disciples, in fact, were offended by an act that produced nothing, accomplished nothing, fed no poor, served no need. They reproached you as a wastrel.

They were offended by the absurd, an act devoted absolutely to love, to love alone.

But Jesus called it ‘beautiful.’

Who else anointed our High Priest, as priests should surely be anointed in office? Who else anointed our King, the son of David? Who else anointed the body of our Savior for burial? No one but you. I don’t know that you consciously recognized these offices of the Lord; but love instinctively sees the truth. Love enhances and names in truth. No one else anointed him and by that gesture declared him Messiah, the Christ. The act, therefore, was more than beautiful. It was rare and rich with meaning.

And since the act is all there is of you, since humility has reduced you to this single thing alone and now you are no more nor less than your love for the Lord, you yourself are beautiful and rare and rich with meaning.

You are the beauty of faithful loving.

To those who do not truly love, you will ever be ephemeral or else an offense, either a shadow or an idiot. To me you are a model. You gave up all; you became nothing at all save love for the Lord; and exactly so you are remembered. Here, ‘wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world,’ is love’s monument!

You, nameless, anonymous, lovely indeed: thank you.

Reliving-passion-Wangerin-1992Drawn from Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Reliving the Passion; Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (Zondervan, 1992). This is found in his meditation on Mark 14:1-9, pp.43-44.

Published in: on March 3, 2018 at 9:38 PM  Leave a Comment  

Christ’s Passion, “the mirror of dangerous grace.” – W. Wangerin, Jr.

Mirrors that hide nothing hurt me. But this is the hurt of purging and precious renewal – and these are mirrors of dangerous grace.

The passion of Christ, his sufferings and his death, is such a mirror. Are the tears of my dear wife hard to look at? [He means, after he has sinned against her, and she becomes a mirror to expose him – an experience every Christian husband can attest. -CJT] Well, the pain in the face of Jesus is harder. It is my self in my extremest truth. My sinful self. The death he died reflects a selfishness so extreme that by it I was divorced from God and life and light completely: I raised my self higher than God! But because the Lord God is the only true God, my pride did no more, in the end, than to condemn this false god of my self to death. For God will be God, and all false gods will fall before him.

So that’s what I see reflected in the mirror of Christ’s crucifixion: my death. My rightful punishment. My sin and its just consequence. Me. And precisely because it is so accurate, the sight is nearly intolerable.

Nevertheless, I will not avoid this mirror! No, I will carefully rehearse, again this year, the passion of my Jesus – with courage, with clarity and faith; for this is the mirror of dangerous grace, purging more purely than any other.

For this one is not made of glass and silver, nor of fallen flesh only. This mirror is made of righteous flesh and of divinity, both – and this one loves me absolutely. My wife did not choose to take my sins and so to reflect my truth to me. She was driven, poor woman. But Jesus did choose – not only to take the sin within himself, not only to reflect the squalid truth of my personal need, but also to reveal the tremendous truth of his grace and forgiveness. He took that sin away.

This mirror is not passive only, showing what is; it is active, creating new things to be. It shows me a new me behind the shadow of a sinner. For when I gaze at his crucifixion, I see my death indeed – but my death done! His death is the death of the selfish one, whom I called ugly and hated to look upon.

And resurrection is another me.

Reliving-passion-Wangerin-1992Quoted from Walter Wangerin, Jr.’s Reliving the Passion; Meditations on the Suffering, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus as Recorded in Mark (Zondervan, 1992), pp.25-26

This Winter I found this new (to me) Wangerin title in a thrift store and decided to read it in this season of the year. While there are thoughts I disagree with, there are also powerful and rich insights into the passion of our Savior that deeply instruct and move me. This was one of them. I hope to share others, like the one I read today (on the woman who anointed Jesus).

The Suffering Prophet – M. Schipper

Betrayal-Jesus

The suffering Prophet must follow the prophetic Scripture as He treads the way of suffering—all the way to the cross!

And so, when He chooses Judas to betray Him, He was only walking precisely in the way the Father had mapped out for Him. Not only had the Lord God determined in His counsel the fact and the manner in which the Savior should suffer, but He had also prescribed in the Scriptures all the steps the Savior would have to follow as He descended as it were into the valley of suffering. This prescription the Redeemer had to follow in detail. Hence, the Scripture must be fulfilled!

Now it should be remembered that when David wrote by inspiration the history of his betrayal by Ahithophel he was at the same time reflecting on the suffering of Christ. And Christ, Who understood clearly that these Scriptures were the revelation of God’s counsel concerning Himself and His way of suffering, chose Judas as the betrayer, both to fulfill the Scripture and to enter into the depths of His suffering—also into that aspect of it as inflicted on Him by Judas Iscariot.

But why could not the Lord Jesus have been captured and crucified without a betrayal? Why must He be delivered into the hands of sinful men by a familiar friend?

The answer is: Judas’ sin is our sin!

We have lifted up the heel against our Friend, and that Friend is our Covenant God. Jesus must bear away in His suffering all our sin and make satisfaction for all our sin, also this sin. Let us not in pride condemn Judas, though he is to be condemned; but let us humble ourselves before the face of God and taste His salvation.

Now the suffering Prophet may prophecy to His disciples, and to us!

Almost a year before He had told them that one of them was a devil and would betray Him. But they had not understood. And it was well that they had not understood, for had they known they might have cast Judas from their midst. But now the Prophet must speak clearly so that the betrayer can also understand: “The Scripture must be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me.”

And the reason why they must know now is expressed in the verse following our text: “Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he.”

That ye may know that in spite of all that is about to take place, I am the Messiah; and that I am the One of Whom David did write in the Psalms. And that I am the One Who took your sins upon Me, also the sin of lifting up your heel against your Covenant Friend, the God of your salvation.

That ye may believe!

And believing, ye may be saved!

Taken from a Lenten meditation on John 13:18 and Psalm 41:9 by Marinus Schipper (then minister of the Word in SE PRC, Grand Rapids, MI) published in the February 15, 1969 issue of the Standard Bearer.

David, the Believer, and Christ in Psalm 22

The psalm begins with a section dominated by the agonized prayer of David (vv.1-21). David is expressing in the first place his own experience of feeling abandoned by God. Here is the most intense suffering God’s servant can know – not just that enemies surround him (vv.7, 12-13) and that his body is in dreadful pain (vv.14-16), but that he feels that God does not hear him and does not care about his suffering. And this is not just the experience of David. It is the experience of all God’s people in the face of terrible trouble. We wonder how our loving Father can stand idly by when we are in such distress.

And then after pointing out the faith and hope of David expressed in that deep cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (v.1), showing that David still held on to the truth that God was his God, Godfrey returns to that idea of God’s apparent abandonment:

John Calvin in his commentary concluded that a sense of being forsaken by God, far from being unique to Christ or rare for the believer, is a regular and frequent struggle for believers. He wrote, ‘There is not one of the godly who does not daily experience in himself the same thing. According to the judgment of the flesh, he thinks he is cast off and forsaken by God, while yet he apprehends by faith the grace of God, which is hidden from the eye of sense and reason.’ We must not think that living the Christian life is easy or that we will not daily have to bear the cross.

But then the author takes us to Christ, in whom these words are fulfilled – for our salvation:

This psalm  is not only the experience of every believer, but it is also a very remarkable and specific prophecy of the sufferings of Jesus. We see the scene of the crucifixion especially clearly in the words, ‘A company of evil doers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet – I can count all my bones – they stare and gloat over me; they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots’ (vv.16-18). Here we see that indeed this psalm comes to its fullest realization in Jesus.

Jesus knew this psalm and quoted its first words to identify with us in our suffering since He bore on the cross our agony and suffering. ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death’ (Heb.2:14). Jesus does deliver us by becoming our substitute and the sacrifice for our sins.

Learning-love-psalms-Godfrey-2017Taken from W. Robert Godfrey’s new book Learning to Love the Psalms (Reformation Trust, 2017). I am now reading through the sections that treat various psalms from each of the five books into which the Psalter is divided. This is drawn from the author’s explanation of Psalm 22 (Book 1).

For a beautiful arrangement of this Psalm put to music, listen to this video of the Protestant Reformed Psalm Choir (Psalter #47).