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.

Abortion: The Infamous Decision, the Prolonged Sin, and the Steadfast Christian

Psalm139-14Today marks the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Woe v. Wade, the infamous ruling legalizing abortion on demand in our country (Jan.22, 1973). It is a day that most Christians and most Christian churches (except the most liberal) rue. On that date our state sanctioned the murder of the unborn, contrary to the law of God and its testimony in the conscience of the human soul (cf. Romans 1:18ff.).

Since that day Christians have consistently protested that decision and in opposition proclaimed a pro-life message. While the specific grounds for that pro-life message may vary among Christians, they are united in their conviction that life is the gift of God alone and that death too is in His hands, so that the senseless taking of the life of the unborn is murder, plain and simple. Abortion is man taking to himself the prerogative of God, bringing on himself the judgment of the very One he pretends to usurp.

Today our pro-life president Donald Trump declared this to be National Sanctity of Human Life Day. While we can easily criticize such declarations, we ought at least recognize the attempt to set things right in terms of life and death with regard to the unborn and many others whom our society judges unfit or unworthy of life. Here is part of what President Trump said today:

Reverence for every human life, one of the values for which our Founding Fathers fought, defines the character of our Nation. Today, it moves us to promote the health of pregnant mothers and their unborn children. It animates our concern for single moms; the elderly, the infirm, and the disabled; and orphan and foster children. It compels us to address the opioid epidemic and to bring aid to those who struggle with mental illness. It gives us the courage to stand up for the weak and the powerless. And it dispels the notion that our worth depends on the extent to which we are planned for or wanted.

Science continues to support and build the case for life. Medical technologies allow us to see images of the unborn children moving their newly formed fingers and toes, yawning, and even smiling. Those images present us with irrefutable evidence that babies are growing within their mothers’ wombs — precious, unique lives, each deserving a future filled with promise and hope. We can also now operate on babies in utero to stave off life-threatening diseases. These important medical advances give us an even greater appreciation for the humanity of the unborn.

Today, citizens throughout our great country are working for the cause of life and fighting for the unborn, driven by love and supported by both science and philosophy. These compassionate Americans are volunteers who assist women through difficult pregnancies, facilitate adoptions, and offer hope to those considering or recovering from abortions. They are medical providers who, often at the risk of their livelihood, conscientiously refuse to participate in abortions. And they are legislators who support health and safety standards, informed consent, parental notification, and bans on late-term abortions, when babies can feel pain. These undeterred warriors, many of whom travel to Washington, D.C., every year for the March for Life, are changing hearts and saving lives through their passionate defense of and loving care for all human lives. Thankfully, the number of abortions, which has been in steady decline since 1980, is now at a historic low. Though the fight to protect life is not yet over, we commit to advocating each day for all who cannot speak for themselves.

But, of course, as Reformed Christians we go deeper and further in our evaluation of abortion. In a Standard Bearer article penned in August of 1994, 21 years after Woe v. Wade, Prof. David Engelsma wrote an editorial with the title “Some Other Thoughts on Abortion.” Here is part of what he had to say in his important message on this subject:

From this world, the Reformed believer is called to separate himself by the Word of God. Abortion is an urgent reminder. For there is divine wrath upon this wickedness. An impenitent Justice Harry Blackmun, main framer of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, lauded upon his recent retirement as a great jurist, will shortly stand in judgment before the Judge of all the earth. The sentence will be the everlasting death due a man who has done evil, not only in decreeing the death of scores of millions of boys and girls but also in betraying his office as minister of God, charged to punish evildoers and protect well-doers.

Wrath falls upon the nation. Every storm, earthquake, and natural disaster; all the social and economic trouble; and, particularly, the increasing violence are God’s punishments of the nation for the national sin of abortion, as for its other transgressions. In the end, the nation will perish, perhaps in a judgment of God in history, certainly in the Day of Christ.

Abortion makes loud to the Reformed ear the call of God in the gospel, Come out, my people, and be separate, “that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Rev. 18:4). This call the Reformed believer obeys, not by any physical removal to a remote place or to another country, certainly not by any revolutionary behavior, but by living antithetically in the power of the Holy Spirit. He refuses to amuse himself with the world’s pornography; he keeps himself from the television programs, movies, and books that entertain by means of violence; he will not allow the state’s schools to teach his children the goodness of adultery, the lawfulness of abortion, and the necessity of the deifying of man; he sees to it that his thinking on sex, marriage, children, state, justice, killing, and bearing (rather than escaping) responsibility is formed exclusively by Holy Scripture; and he most assuredly leaves, indeed, flees, the church that is unable unequivocally to condemn abortion, as well as the sexual unchastity for which abortion is the world’s panacea.

In this separation is nothing of pride. “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures . . . .” (Titus 3:3). Resentment of our own children, when they come, is heart-abortion. Reformed Christians who now vehemently (and rightly) condemn abortion will soon be put to the test concerning the genuineness of their abhorrence of the destruction of the unborn. When the pill is marketed in North America that enables a woman to destroy the unborn child soon after conception in the privacy of her bathroom, without any trip to an abortion clinic, the Reformed young woman who has sinned and is sorry, but dreads being found out, and the Reformed couple who have convinced themselves that they cannot bear the responsibility of yet another child will be tested whether their hatred of abortion was rooted in the love of God.

Grace rescues us from this present, evil, aborting, heaven-storming, perishing world.

Only grace.

In its own way, abortion brings home to us Reformed Christians the reality of the grace of God to us and our children.

The world butchers its own offspring.

Reformed believers obediently have children in marriage; thankfully receive them; gladly rear them; and joyfully fellowship with them in the family.

The grace of God in the covenant with believers and their children makes the difference.

This is the difference. Either parents bury their children in the blood of Christ in baptism, or they choke them in their own and their mother’s blood in abortion.

We have it so good in the covenant. The covenant means life for us and for our sons and daughters.

We must be thankful.

Outside the covenant, it is horrible: grisly death for unbelievers and their children.

Well may we pray the petition of Psalm 74:20: “Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty.”

In humility, may we all repent of our murderous sins and seek refuge in that sin-removing, guilt-covering, and wrath-sheltering grace of God.

What Are We Afraid Of? – M.Smethurst

TT-Jan-2018Today before our worship services I did some more reading in the new issue of Tabletalk (January 2018), which is built around the theme of “Fearing God.”

The first main feature article is by Matt Smethurst and is titled “What Are We Afraid Of?” The author does an excellent job of analyzing our human fears and pointing us to the one whom we ought truly to fear.

Tonight we pull a few choice sections from this article to give us some good, spiritually healthy food for thought, both negative and positive.

First, the negative:

The achievements of modern life—medicinal, technological, and otherwise—have given us an ever-increasing sense of control. Actually, more than a sense. We really do enjoy more control over more aspects of life than ever before in history. We’re so accustomed to a convenient, custom-designed, there’s-an-app-for-that quality of life that we’re more shocked when things are hard than when they’re easy.

Without realizing it, this increasing sense of control can begin to feel natural, intuitive, right. Not a gift, mind you—a right. And we start to believe that if we can simply manage our fears, they will never master us.

We are wrong, and we are miserable.

But it’s even worse. Addicted to what we can control, we extend the borders of our kingdom into realms we can’t control. We try to control circumstances, but trials rudely show up uninvited. We try to control people, but they don’t stick to our wonderful plan for their lives. We try to control our future, but He who sits in the heavens always seems to laugh (Ps. 2:4).

And now consider this positive instruction:

So what is the answer to our dilemma? How can we disentangle ourselves from the fears that won’t leave us alone? One answer is the doctrine of inerrancy. Yes, inerrancy. Simply put, if your Bible is not wholly true, then you should be terrified. Why? Because if your Bible is not wholly true, then you have no reason to trust that the One in charge of your life is both great and good.

I’m so grateful that my college campus minister, Dan Flynn, loved to emphasize these twin truths from Scripture. “God can and God cares,” he would say. I didn’t quite realize it at the time, but in those simple words he was distinguishing biblical Christianity from every religion on the market. Protestant liberalism, for example, offers a God who is good but not great. He cares, but He can’t. He’s a nice buddy, an experienced life coach, even a world-class psychotherapist, but ultimately He’s just “the man upstairs.” Meanwhile, other religions such as Islam offer the opposite: a God who is great but not entirely good. A God who can, but perhaps doesn’t care.

But when we open our Bibles, something unprecedented happens. It’s stunning, really. We encounter a living Lord who is both great and good, sovereign and kind, who can and who cares.

If God were only good, I would go to bed frightened. How could I worship someone who, bless His heart, means well and is doing His best? But I would likewise go to bed frightened if He were only sovereign. What assurance is there in knowing He’s mighty if He’s not merciful? What comfort is there in a deity who doesn’t care about us?

Strikes home, doesn’t it? What are you and what am I afraid of? What we cannot control. And who has it all under control? Our sovereign, loving Lord. Isn’t it time to stop being afraid and to start fearing the Lord?

Trying to Understand the World without Reference to God and His Glory: “a pathetically parochial point of view” – J. Piper

…We live in such a pervasively secular culture that the air we breathe is godless. God is not part of the social consciousness. Christians, sad to say, absorb this. It combines with our own self-exalting bent, and we find ourselves slow to see the obvious – that God is a million times more important than man, and his glory is the ultimate meaning of all things.

The world thinks that because we can put a man on the moon and cure diseases and build skyscrapers and establish universities, therefore we can understand things without reference to God. But this is a pathetically parochial point of view. It is parochial because it assumes that the material universe is large and God is small. It is parochial because it thinks that being able to do things with matter, while being blind to God, is brilliant. But in fact, a moment’s reflection, in the bracing air of biblical God-centeredness, reminds us that when God is taken into account, the material universe is ‘an infinitely small part of universal existence.’

Those are the staggering words of Jonathan Edwards. To be impressed with the material universe and not be impressed with God is like being amazed at Buck Hill in Minnesota and bored at the Rockies of Colorado. If God wore a coat with pockets, he would carry the universe in one of them like a peanut. To ponder the meaning of that peanut, without reference to God’s majesty, is the work of a fool.

So, yes, the portrait of God in the Bible demands that we always read the Bible with the aim of seeing the glory of God. When Paul that ‘from him and through him and to him are all things’ (Rom.11:36), he did not mean ‘all things except the things in the Bible.’ He meant all things. And then he added, ‘To him be glory forever.’ Which means: it is God’s glory to be the beginning, middle, and end of all things. It is his glory to be the alpha and omega of all things – and every letter in between. And therefore his glory belongs to the meaning of all things. And would we not blaspheme to say that this glorious God is anything less than the ultimate meaning of all things?

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017Quotation by John Piper, taken from Chapter 5, “Reading [the Bible] to See Supreme Worth and Beauty” in Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017), pp.89-90.

WORLD’s Top 25 articles and columns for 2017

As we end the year of your Lord 2017, we reflect on the many events that have transpired in our lives, in our churches, and in our nations.

We know that nothing happens by chance or without purpose, but all by the hand of our almighty Father and all for the good of His people and the glory of His name.

World magazine has posted its top 25 articles for this year (part of its “Saturday Series”), and it is worth remembering these stories and how they impact us as believers. And, of course, we remember these stories and reflect on them in the light of God’s Word, our spiritual lens for all things that happen.

Here is World’s brief introduction, followed by three stories from the list. Use the link below to read the rest.

In 2017, we witnessed tragedy and scandal. We celebrated a theological anniversary and said goodbye to a gifted Reformed communicator. As Christians, we responded to issues concerning our origins and the way God made us. As Americans, we fought for our rights to life and liberty. WORLD covered these stories throughout the year in our magazine, on our website, and on our podcast. Here are the Top 25 articles and columns that grabbed your attention the most.

6. Burying vs. burning

A preference and a proposal for Christians to choose burial instead of cremation

by John Piper 
July 8 | WORLD Digital | Saturday Series

5. Esther’s story

In a state known for legal assisted suicide, one terminally ill young woman instead chose to live each God-given day to its fullest

by Sophia Lee
Oct. 14 | WORLD Magazine | Features

4. Walt’s story

Walt Heyer is a man again, and he has a manly purpose: protect the vulnerable from the transgender movement

by Sophia Lee
April 15 | WORLD Magazine | Features

Source: WORLD’s Top 25 articles and columns for 2017

M. Luther: Bold Reformers Rest in the Sovereign God

Luther's95ThesesIt is easy to idealize men like Luther and set aside their sins and struggles. Luther was a sinner like anyone else and wrestled fervently with indwelling sin. He battled pride. He waged war with a temper that posed problems on the battlefield. He uttered words that were not befitting of a Christian man. Yet, this sinful man rested in the sovereignty of God.

It is no secret that Luther battled fear and anxiety, an ailment sometimes referred to as spiritual depression. Luther referred to these bouts of spiritual depression as anfechtungen. The German term is difficult to translate but has the connotation of being ‘under assault.’ The word is closely associated with ‘temptation’ or ‘despair.’ It has connotations with what is typically referred to as ‘the dark night of the soul.’

Then after describing Luther’s personal experiences with these soul struggles at Wittenberg, Worms (Diet), and the Wartburg (castle), Steele asks, “How did he [Luther] battle his fear, anxiety, and despondency? How did he face the dread of anfechtungen?” And he points out that Luther’s great hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” provides us to the answer: “Bold reformers rest in the sovereignty of God.” He quotes these lines:

For still our ancient foe
does seek to work us woe;
his craft and power are great,
and armed with cruel hate,
on earth is not his equal.

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God has willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The prince of darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo! his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

Which leads the author to say this by way of summary:

Martin Luther was a man who rested in the sovereignty of almighty God. This bold reformer not only taught about the sovereignty of God, he breathed it and lived it. Luther’s faith in God’s sovereign control over all things in clearly revealed in Wittenberg, Worms, the Wartburg Castle and beyond. May bold reformers in this generation draw strength and courage form the life and legacy of Luther, a man who rested in the sovereignty of God.

bold-reformer-steeleTaken from chapter 5, “Bold Reformers Rest in the Sovereignty of God” in Bold Reformer: Celebrating the Gospel-Centered Convictions of Martin Luther by David S. Steele (Kindle version).

The Calvinistic (Biblical) Way to View and Handle Afflictions – J. Calvin

…But the believer must in these same circumstances [of calamity and loss] consider the mercy and fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: ‘The Lord’s grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate.’ If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: ‘But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever.’ (Ps.79:13). God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God’s discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord. Moreover, he must not stubbornly resist the rule of God into whose power he has placed himself and all his affairs. So let the Christian make it his priority to drive from his breast that foolish and unfortunate comfort of pagans, who, in order to bolster their spirits against all adverse events, credit those events to fortune. They think it’s silly to be angry at fortune, since she is reckless, aimless, and blind – inflicting her wounds equally on the deserving and the undeserving. In contrast, the rule of godliness is to recognize that God’s hand is the sole judge and governor of every fortune, and because His hand is not recklessly driven to fury, it distributes to us both good and ill according to His orderly righteousness.

Little-book-christian-life-calvinTaken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017). This is taken from the end of chapter 2, “Self-Denial in the Christian Life”, pp.52-54.

God: The Winner of Souls – September 2017 “Tabletalk”

The September 2017 issue of Tabletalk has been out for over a week now and it is time to introduce its theme and contents. Editor Burk Parsons introduces this issue on “Soul Winning” with his editorial “Rescuing Souls from Death.”

The first featured article is Dr. David Strain’s “God: The Winner of Souls,” in which he emphasizes that fundamental to our reason and motive for evangelizing is the truth that God is the One who saves sinners by His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ.

Here are a couple of paragraphs that bring that home – one at the beginning of the article and the other at the end:

Though we may not realize it, behind and before our “lisping, stammering tongues” ever manage to proclaim the good news about Jesus, before we can muster the courage to speak a word for Him, God Himself has been in hot pursuit of sinners to save. Few truths offer more encouragement to us in our efforts to share the gospel than this: God is the great winner of souls.

…So here is the liberating truth: God is the true and great soul winner. The Father purposed to save sinners in love, and so He sent His Son for us. The Son of God has loved us and given Himself for us. The same Spirit who rested upon Christ now gives life to dead sinners, uniting us to Christ, and He empowers us in turn to bear witness for Christ. When we realize these great truths, when we see that God is the Evangelist, evangelism will cease to be a fearful work, pursued in an effort to curry divine favor. Instead, it will become a joyful expression of gratitude and an outpouring of holy zeal that others might know the salvation that has been lavished upon us by Almighty God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Read the full article at the link below. And, by the way, Ligonier has made a new special website for Tabletalk, with more content and featured articles available online. Check it out when you visit the link below.

Also, the daily devotions continue on the doctrines and practices restored to the church at the time of the great Reformation. This month they are on “The Reformation of Worship.” Want a sample of what they are like? Here’s part of the devotional for Sept.1:

Often when we think of the Protestant Reformation and what it accomplished, we focus on the doctrinal reforms related to such topics as divine grace, justification, and the authority of Scripture. This association of doctrinal reform with the Reformation is, of course, good and proper, for the Reformers were concerned to conform Christian doctrine to the teaching of God’s Word. However, the Reformers understood that there could be no true doctrinal reform without a corresponding reform of the church’s worship. In fact, in The Necessity of Reforming the Church, written to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, John Calvin listed the reform of Christian worship first in his explanation of why the Reformation was necessary. Our worship and our theology are inextricably linked.

Source: God: The Winner of Souls

Summer Creation Marvels

When we are daily surrounded by God’s creative and providential work in this season of summer, it is easy to overlook these miraculous marvels, large and small.

Gorgeous Hibiscus and Asian lilies at my parents’ flower garden.

Lilies amid other blossoms in my rock garden.

I have been taking pictures throughout the summer, here and there, and share a few of them with you tonight.

A trip to Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids after dinner out in June.

Storm clouds over the area this past Thursday.

New family of deer (fawns) at seminary.

Lying down in the shade this past week.

View of the one of the lakes at Millennium Park in Grand Rapids (another bike ride).

Catching a turtle with grandsons on the 4th of July (It was fish we were trying to catch!).

It was the last one my wife and I saw tonight by the Grand River that especially prompted me. Enjoy! Isaiah 40:31

Yes, a bald eagle was perched above the river at Grand Ravines Park (new Ottawa County park along the Grand River just north of where we live). Earlier in the week I rode my bike there and enjoyed this serene scene.

Published in: on August 5, 2017 at 9:15 PM  Comments (2)  

Regeneration: God’s Sovereign Act – D. Phillips

world-tilting-gospel-phillipsOne of the Kindle books I continue to make my way through is Dan Phillips’ The World-Tilting Gospel; Embracing a Biblical Worldview and Hanging on Tight (Kregel, 2011). I had put it aside for a few months to read some other things, but returned to it yesterday to read a couple more chapters from Section 3 on God’s way of salvation.

Phillips has back-to-back chapters on justification and regeneration as the ways in which God deals with our sin problem – the guilt of it and the filth of it, respectively. Both are good chapters, laying out the Scripture’s teaching on these two aspects of God’s saving work.

Today I quote from the chapter on regeneration, what he calls the “second towering truth – born from above (“How God deals with our bad nature”). In that connection he proves the plain biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty in this work, in the face of what much of modern Evangelicalism teaches about the relation between regeneration and faith:

Though I realize this knocks heads with a lot of evangelicals’ notions (including the view I myself cherished for many years), I do now know any other honest way of handling John 1:12-13: ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.’ There we have the certain fact that all who are born again believe in Jesus Christ. But their new birth is expressly traced – not to anything they had inherited from their parents, nor to any exercise of their own will or any decision they made, but to the kingly grace and work of God.They believed savingly in Jesus because God had given them new birth before their embrace of Christ.

Later in this chapter, after pointing to other Scriptures that prove this proper relation, Phillips concludes with this:

So which the chicken, which the egg? [that is, which is first, faith or regeneration] Because I see all of Scripture (and these specific passages among others) giving God all the glory, and tracing regeneration to God’s action preceding our faith, it does not shock me to find that the Bible teaches that regeneration precedes and necessarily provokes saving faith.

To which we give our hearty “Amen”!