“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


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).

“A shelf in my head.” C. H. Spurgeon

spurgeon_sm1I appreciated this recent devotional that appeared on Grace Gems (October 15, 2017). Taken from Charles H. Spurgeon’s popular devotional book Morning by Morning, it shows the importance of Christ for all of our knowledge and understanding. It is my hope that it profits you as well.

A shelf in my head!

(Charles Spurgeon)

Before I knew the gospel I gathered up a heterogeneous mass of all kinds of knowledge from here, there, and everywhere–a bit of chemistry, a bit of botany, a bit of astronomy, and a bit of this, that, and the other. I put them altogether, in one great confused chaos.

When I learned the gospel, I got a shelf in my head to put everything in its place, just where it should be.

It seemed to me as if, when I had discovered Christ and Him crucified, I had got the center of the system, so that I could see every other science revolving around in order.

From the earth, you know, the planets appear to move in a very irregular manner–some are progressive, retrograde, stationary, etc. But if you could get upon the sun, you would see them marching round in their constant, uniform, circular motion.

Likewise with human knowledge. Begin with any other science you like–and truth will seem to be amiss. But if you begin with the science of Christ crucified, you will begin with the sun–and you will see every other science moving around it in complete harmony.

The old saying is, “Go from nature–up to nature’s God.” But it is hard work going up hill. The best thing is to go from nature’s God–down to nature. If you once get to nature’s God, and believe Him and love Him–it is surprising how easy it is to hear music in the waves, and songs in the wild whisperings of the winds; to see God everywhere, in the stones, in the rocks, in the rippling brooks; and to hear Him everywhere, in the lowing of cattle, in the rolling of thunder, and in the fury of tempests.

Get Christ first, put Him in the right place–and you will find Him to be the wisdom of God in your own experience.

How to Contemplate Christ’s Holy Sufferings – M. Luther

Luther&LearningFor this second Sunday in October – Reformation 500 month – we post one of Martin Luther’s most popular sermons, a Good Friday sermon titled “How to Contemplate Christ’s Holy Sufferings.” It was preached in the early years of the Reformation and first published in 1519, undergoing several editions.

We post a few paragraphs from the third point of the sermon (yes, Luther also had three points to his sermon!), which is called “The Comfort of Christ’s Sufferings.”

…When man perceives his sins in this light and is completely terror-stricken in his conscience, he must be on his guard that his sins do not thus remain in his conscience, and nothing but pure doubt certainly come out of it; but just as the sins flowed out of Christ and we became conscious of them, so should we pour them again upon him and set our conscience free. Therefore see well to it that you act not like perverted people, who bite and devour themselves with their sins in their heart, and run here and there with their good works or their own satisfaction, or even work themselves out of this condition by means of indulgences and become rid of their sins; which is impossible, and, alas, such a false refuge of satisfaction and pilgrimages has spread far and wide.

…Then cast your sins from yourself upon Christ, believe with a festive spirit that your sins are his wounds and sufferings, that he carries them and makes satisfaction for them, as Is 53,6 says: “Jehovah hath laid on him the iniquity of us all;” and St. Peter in his first Epistle 2, 24: “Who his own self bare our sins in his body upon the tree” of the cross; and St. Paul in 2 Cor 5,21: “Him who knew no sin was made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” Upon these and like passages you must rely with all your weight, and so much the more the harder your conscience martyrs you. For if you do not take this course, but miss the opportunity of stilling your heart, then you will never secure peace, and must yet finally despair in doubt. For if we deal with our sins in our conscience and let them continue within us and be cherished in our hearts, they become much too strong for us to manage and they will live forever. But when we see that they are laid on Christ and he has triumphed over them by his resurrection and we fearlessly believe it, then they are dead and have become as nothing. For upon Christ they cannot rest, there they are swallowed up by his resurrection, and you see now no wound, no pain, in him, that is, no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul speaks in Rom 4, 25, that he was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification; that is, in his sufferings he made known our sins and also crucified them; but by his resurrection he makes us righteous and free from all sin, even if we believe the same differently.

For the full sermon and many others, visit this site.


Is God unfair to save sinners only through Jesus? – August “Tabletalk”

TT-August-2017The August issue of Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries’ monthly devotional magazine) has as its theme, “Giving An Answer,” focusing on the Christians’ calling to be faithful witnesses to and apologists of the gospel of our Lord based on 1 Peter 3:15.

I read a couple more of the featured articles yesterday before worship services, including James N. Anderson’s “Is There Only One Way of Salvation?” Part of his defense of the gospel of exclusive salvation through Christ alone involves answering the objection that God is unfair not to save sincere followers of other religions.

I appreciated his great answer to this issue (which included the truth that because salvation is by grace alone God is under no obligation to save anyone) and post part of it here, so that you too may have a good defense of salvation in Jesus only.

The unfairness objection also reflects flawed assumptions about who gets to define salvation. Surely, it is up to our Creator – not us – to diagnose our problem and prescribe a remedy for it. The pluralist treats salvation as if it were like a hair treatment: you should be able to choose your color, your style, and so on, all according to your own preferences. Whatever works for you.

But what if salvation is more like a medical treatment for a fatal disease? If there is only one medication that can actually cure the illness, it would be extremely foolish to advocate ‘medical pluralism’ – a have-it-your-way approach to treatment – and it would be bizarre to accuse your doctor of unfairness for prescribing the only remedy that works.

And so Anderson makes the application to salvation from sin:

The point should be obvious: the prescription must fit the diagnosis. If the basic human problem is as the Bible describes it – that we’re sinners standing under the judgment of God, unable even to begin to make an adequate atonement for our sins – then only Christianity presents a solution that adequately addresses the problem. No other religion offers a perfect mediator between God and man who removes the enmity between us and our Creator by bearing the penalty for our sins in our place (Rom.5:6-11; 2 Cor.5:18-21; I Tim.2:5-6) [p.17].

Do we truly believe that? And are we, then, prepared to “give an answer” to those who may ask us about our precious Savior?

The Cross and Our Sanctification; “Fall on your knees, …and worship.” – D. Powlison

How-sanctification-powlison-2017We have started to look at another new Crossway title – a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work?,  the author being noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation).

I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject. In the meantime, I am profiting from this brief and easy read.

In the third chapter, “Truth Unbalanced and Rebalanced,” Powlison has a section treating how the cross relates to our sanctification. He writes:

…It is also important to remember that Christ’s cross has multiple implications. His dying and death express a number of ways that Scripture is relevant to forming our faith and our obedience.” {p.35]

He proceeds to give seven meanings of the cross that “explain a glory before which we must bow.” I give two of them here for our benefit.

First, consider how the cross reveals the character of God. Mercy meshes with justice. Steadfast love joins holy wrath. The ‘competing sides of God’s self-revelation demonstrate their complete complementarity. God is light so bright that no man can dwell in his presence; God is love so tender that he makes his dwelling place with man.

In other words, the cross is not just about us. Innumerable men and women have found this reality profoundly humbling, comforting, and sanctifying. Something incomprehensibly wonderful unfolds before our eyes. Fall on your knees, put your hand over your mouth, acknowledge your incomprehension, and worship. The cross says, “O come, let us adore him.”

And then he has this for the fifth meaning of the cross as it relates to our sanctification:

Fifth, consider that innumerable children of God find encouragement in the friendship of Christ. A man lays down his life for his friends – and Christ has befriended us. We were once his enemies, but he has won us over and won our hearts. The cross tangibly demonstrates how much God loves, and his love has a winsome effect. His love is more than a benevolent feeling of affection. He makes known his intimate counsel. He shows it by what he does. The cross says, “You are my friend. I open my heart to you and lay down my life for you” (cf. Ps.25:14; John 15:15). [pp.36-27]