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April 09, 2009

There is just one day remaining in our thirteen-day read of Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore. Tomorrow we will finish just on time to remember the death of Jesus on Good Friday. Meanwhile, today’s text is Luke 23:33: “And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.”

Leahy looks at what it means that Jesus was crucified between two bandits, two common criminals. Here is a brief excerpt:

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In no way did the Lord resent being placed among such men at Calvary. The quotation from Isaiah 53:12 may literally be translated, “He…let himself be numbered with the transgressors.” He was totally content with his position; we would not have had it otherwise. He knew that his place among these bandits was willed by his Father and his Father’s will was his will. These criminals, placed there by God, were appropriate company at this time for his Son.

Here, too, is the mystery of divine sovereignty and human responsibility (Acts 2:23), those parallel lines that to our finite minds never meet. Those who try to make them meet succeed only in distorting both. It is possible, but by no means certain, that in heaven the parallel lines will be seen from a different perspective. In this life they must not be tampered with. They are both true and that is enough. Let the people of God praise him that his Son was so placed at Calvary. Let it be maintained that Christ died not as the representative of his people, but in their stead, dying their death that they might live. In a word, he died as their Substitute.

April 08, 2009

Today we come to the eleventh chapter of Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore, a book many of us are reading to turn our hearts and minds toward the cross as we prepare to remember Jesus’ death and to celebrate his resurrection. Today’s text is Mark 15:23: “And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it.”

Leahy uses this chapter to look to the cup Jesus refused and to compare that to the cup of God’s wrath he was in the midst of drinking, and to the cup of righteousness he could then offer to all who would believe in him.

Here is a short quote from the chapter:

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It was customary, by way of preparation for crucifixion, to offer the condemned a sedative drink. Mark says that Christ was offered “wine mixed with myrrh” (15:23). Matthew speaks of “wine…mixed with gall” (27:34). The word translated “gall,” like “marah” in the Old Testament, can be used broadly of something which is bitter. Thus in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) the word for gall is used in the same sense, and in Deuteronomy 32:32, KJV, we read “Their grapes are grapes of gall, their clusters are bitter.”

This narcotic drink was offered for the purpose of deadening the pain. Matthew in his account was probably thinking of Psalm 69:21a, “They put gall in my food…” (NIV). Dr. J.A. Alexander remarks that “the passion of our Lord was providentially ordered as to furnish a remarkable coincidence with this verse.” It must not be forgotten that, in the final analysis, it is Christ who speaks prophetically in this great passion Psalm.

The soporific mixture offered to the Saviour was immediately refused. As soon as he tasted it he realized what it was (Matt. 27:34). A drink to quench his thirst would have been welcome, and he did accept such a drink (verse 48). That sour wine he accepted, but the drugged drink he instantly refused. To the very last he must have full possession of his senses. As A.H. Strong observes, his cry of dereliction on the cross “was not an ejaculation of thoughtless or delirious suffering.” Nothing must be allowed to insulate his spirit from the reality of the situation. Spurgeon remarks, “He solemnly determined that to offer a sufficient atoning sacrifice He must go the whole way, from the highest to the lowest, from the throne of highest glory to the cross of deepest woe.” He must suffer to the utmost. He must feel the full “sting” of his death. No anaesthetic was permissible. In Mark’s account of this incident the Greek text would suggest that they persisted in offering this drink to Christ and consequently he repeatedly refused it.

April 07, 2009

Good Friday is fast approaching and, not coincidentally, we are drawing near to the end of our reading of Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore. Today, in chapter 10, Leahy looks to John 19:17 which reads “So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called the place of a skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.”

In this chapter Leahy looks to the significance of Jesus being taken outside the gates of the city. Though it may seem like only a small detail, it is one laden with significance for those who understand the Old Testament context.

Here is a short quote from this chapter:

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Christ felt both the hurt of man’s injustice and the weight of God’s justice as he went forth to bear the full curse of sin and so to be accursed of God. He was to die on a cross and “cursed is everyone that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:13 KJV). Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 21:22,23. The law required that the body of an executed criminal should hang on a post, but should not be left there overnight. “A hanged man,” it declared, “is accursed of God.” To be thus hanged on a tree was considered the greatest possible disgrace and the most shameful end for any man, being publicly proclaimed to be under God’s curse. Matthew Henry comments, “Those that see him thus hang between heaven and earth will conclude him abandoned of both and unworthy of either.” The Christ who redeemed his people from the curse of the law was himself made a curse for them, hanging on a tree proclaimed that awful fact, for in ancient Israel those punished in the manner described in Deuteronomy 21 were not accursed because they were hanged on a tree, but conversely they were hanged on a tree because they were accursed.

Calvin says, “It was not unknown to God what death his own Son would die, when he pronounced the law, “He that is hanged is accursed of God.”

April 06, 2009

The internet is such a strange phenomenon and one we are really only beginning to understand, at least in terms of its impact on society and faith and family and just about everything else. What passes for entertainment on the internet would, at most other times in history, be regarded as shocking or wasteful or disgusting or maybe just plain absurd. Witness the web sites that offer video after video of people cracking bones doing stupid skateboard tricks. You can search YouTube for videos of people breaking bones and spend hours in senseless entertainment, guffawing at the stupidity and wincing at the pain. Or witness the sites that specialize in the macabre, displaying lineups of dead or dismembered bodies or photographic evidence of brutal accidents. Or witness the almost limitless amounts of pornography which is a contemporary form of entertainment for boys and men (and, increasingly, girls and women) of all ages. So much of the entertainment the internet offers is entertainment at its very worst. Evil has become entertainment.

April 06, 2009

Today we come to chapter 9 of The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. And today the author focuses on the words of John 19:5 and the crown of thorns. “So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Behold the man!’” Leahy looks to the shame, the significance and the wonder of this brutal crown.

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There he stood, his face bruised, swollen and bleeding, and that thorny crown upon his head. He was so alone, “friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all.” That crown symbolized what sinful man thinks of Christ. He was not to be taken seriously. He was only fit for a stage-play! They made him a carnival king and placed on him the stamp of derision. With this mock robe, reed scepter and crown of thorns, he was made to look like a theatrical figure. Luther says Christ was “numbered with the transgressors, crucified as a rebel, killed by his own people in supreme disgrace, and as the most abandoned of men.” Ah yes! “Supreme disgrace,” as the shameful crown of thorns woven by the hands of men and placed on the Saviour’s brow—man’s estimate of Christ!

Christians may well be troubled and moved by this sight. Not so the crowd outside Pilate’s palace. As Pilate pointed to that battered, bleeding figure saying, “Behold the man!” he hoped for some pity, some compassion, but he hoped in vain. That sight only served to heighten their lust for blood. Had he not suffered enough? Did this not satisfy them? Could this pathetic figure really be a threat to them? But all that smote Pilate’s ears was the steady chanting of “Crucify…Crucify” (there is no “him” in the original)—a veritable crescendo of angry voices. What cries greeted the Saviour in those few eventful days! Hosanna! Hosanna! … Crucify! Crucify! They could not bear the light of the world; they felt more at ease in the darkness of deception and hypocrisy. As Krumacher says, they could not endure “the broad daylight of unvarnished truth.” The Holy One of Israel exposed them, unmasked them, condemned them and they turned against him with vicious hatred and a consuming desire to destroy him. They would give no glory to this Jesus, no honor, nothing but shame and contempt. The crown of thorns pleased them well. That is the response of the heart of fallen man to the Lord’s Christ. Nothing has changed. “The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’ ” (Psalm 2:2,3).

April 05, 2009

A week from today we will be celebrating the resurrection of our Lord. Today, those of us who are reading through The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy are focusing on the mockery he first endured on his way to the cross. The text is from Matthew 26:67,68: “They spit in his face, and struck him. And some slapped him, saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?’.

I will share just a brief quote from this chapter:

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How terrible was that mockery of Christ by the Sanhedrin! How godless! Had Christ not been thrust outside the sphere of the law, such contempt and unbridled abuse would have been impossible. If his judges had been sincere in their assessment of the prisoner, and in the verdict they reached, and if they had feared God, they would have delivered the accused to Satan that he might learn not to blaspheme (1 Tim. 1:20). That would have been a lawful and loving act, but the Sanhedrin had no regard for either justice or love. Lawlessness and hatred are boon companions. And so the Saviour was treated as an arch-liar, a worm to be trampled under foot, someone to be put for ever without the domain of law. For the one who had God’s law in his heart and who delighted to do God’s will, to be thus ejected from the sphere of justice meant intense suffering of spirit, for him an agony that far surpassed the pain inflicted by physical abuse. And so those prophetic words were fulfilled: “I am a worm, and am not a man” (Psalm 22:6). “He was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

So suffered our divine Substitute. Worse was to come. As sinners we earned the punishment of hell—and there, too, God’s law was established—but the Lord Jesus took our place willingly and lovingly and endured the mockery and defiance that Satan would have hurled at us in hell. “With his stripes we are healed.”

April 04, 2009

We are now a week into our reading of Frederick Leahy’s The Cross He Bore. We are also, of course, just a week away from remembering Jesus’ death and celebrating his resurrection. Today’s text is Matthew 26:65,66: “Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘He has uttered blasphemy. What further witnesses do we need? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your judgment?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’”

Here is just a brief quote from the chapter:

*****

There stands Caiaphas, his torn robe a fitting symbol of his redundancy, now that the great and everlasting high priest has come. There stands the Christ whom God introduced into the loins of Abraham and whose day Abraham rejoiced to see (John 8:56). Now his heart is broken by a heavy grief, broken by the hand of God. “It was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…” (Isaiah 53:10). Before the hearts of God’s elect could be broken, the Saviour’s heart had to be rent with unspeakable anguish. For all who would know God’s mercy in Christ the message is clear. “Rend your hearts and not your garments” (Joel 2:13). “A broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

Caiaphas has followed his declared policy—one for all. There is a strange irony here, for unwittingly the high priest was enunciating a principle that lay at the very heart of redemption. “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). The Apostle Paul elaborates on this principle. “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). One for all! So another voice has spoken in Caiaphas’ court. That word was spoken in the eternal counsels of the Godhead, and Christ had accepted it on behalf of those whom the Father had given to him. One for all! Did he hear that voice again as he stood condemned by the Sanhedrin? He certainly had not forgotten it. Ultimately two voices have spoken in that courtroom, the voice of God and the voice of Satan: both said, “One for all.” But there is a fundamental disagreement between them. God speaks in terms of redemptive substitution, substitutionary atonement; Caiaphas, who is Satan’s tool as much as Judas, speaks in terms of elimination. God would have his son die for his people so that they might live; Caiaphas would have Christ die in order to be rid of him, and so he sticks by his policy that it was expedient that one man should die for the people rather than that the whole nation should perish.

April 03, 2009

In a couple of weeks I am going to travel to Five Points Community Church in Auburn Hills, Michigan, to lead a Families & Technology Seminar. I will be speaking to the adults while my buddy Matt McAlvey, Pastor of Connections and Communications (say what?) at Parkside Church in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, will be talking to the students. I have really enjoyed preparing for these talks, trying to understand and explain how technology has changed our lives and then looking at the effects of technology on family, church and Christian living. I am rapidly changing the way I view technology in general, and digital technology in particular.

The more I study, the more I see that the progress of technological transformation in the past century is nothing short of breathtaking. A little while ago I wrote just a little bit of text that has continued to be in my mind. I had just finished reading my children Little House in the Big Woods and had Laura Ingalls Wilder on my mind. You know her, I am sure. Her story highlights to me the remarkable transformation we’ve seen in the past century. Here is what I wrote:

She is one of America’s best-loved daughters. Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867 in the big woods of Wisconsin. Her “Little House” series of books chronicle the life of a pioneer girl. And though we know now that much of what she wrote was semi-fictitious, at least when she describes the facts of her own life, she offers a fascinating glimpse into nineteenth century life. In one of her books she describes the long and arduous journey from Wisconsin to Walnut Grove, Minnesota and then on to Dakota Territory. This is a journey that took weeks, moving no faster than the pace of a team of plodding horses. For generations of young readers, Laura has been the very personification of pioneer life and pioneer spirit. She is the pioneer girl.

Though Laura was born a pioneer, she world she died in was vastly different.

Laura died in 1957, the same year that Russia launched a satellite (and a dog—why a dog?) into space. She died only four years before humans orbited the moon and only twelve years before Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. 1957 marked the dawn of the Jet Age with the first flight of the Boeing 707, an aircraft that could make the journey from Wisconsin to North Dakota in less than an hour and with 150 passengers on-board. The world she was born into ceased to exist long before she died.

It is amazing to me that a person could have lived through such amazing technological transformation and upheaval, to witness the birth of technology that must have changed, quite literally, everything she did. What a remarkable time we live in!

My study continues. Incidentally, if you are interested in having me lead a similar seminar at your church, I may be booking a few dates in the fall. Feel free to shoot me an email if you are interested.