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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:

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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.

April 03, 2009

This is day six of our thirteen days trek through The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. Today’s text is from Matthew 26:63,64: “And the high priest said to him, ‘I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so.’”

In this chapter Leahy continues to look at the farce of a trial Jesus was subjected to by the Sanhedrin. He looks at the oath Jesus took when, by the living God, he attested that he was the Christ, the Son of God. In the midst of all these religious leaders Christ declared that he was, indeed, the Messiah.

Here is a quote taken from the very beginning of the chapter.

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This was the last meeting of the supreme Jewish ecclesiastical court, the Sanhedrin, warranted by God, in the sense that it could legitimately meet in his name and expect his blessing. In the counsels of heaven, once the “curtain of the sanctuary” was “torn in two, from top to bottom,” the Sanhedrin was dismissed. In future it would be redundant. It would be left stranded in the blind alley of its willful rejection of the truth. Historically, it was swept away with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

This last, divinely accredited session of the Sanhedrin—a council which inherited the teaching and noble traditions of a great nation—met as the clock of prophecy indicated the approach of noon and the question to be decided was the question of the ages, the question put by the Saviour himself, “Who do you say that I am?” But the Sanhedrin did not hear the ticking of that clock and had no awareness of the tension and gravity of the hour. The Christ who had refused to share the secret of his riddle with the wicked, maintaining a firm silence before Caiaphas, when put on oath would solemnly swear that he was the Messiah, the Son of the living God.

April 02, 2009

This is day five of our thirteen days spent reading The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. Today’s text is from Matthew 26:62,63: “The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?’ But Jesus remained silent.”

What stood out to me in Leahy’s description of this event in the life of Jesus was that his silence was not merely part of his passive obedience but was active obedience to the Father. I had never thought of it in this way—as a deed.

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Christ remained silent about the hidden things. He left his judges with the Word of God and there lay their great responsibility. They must busy themselves with the things that had been revealed. Christ will take his riddle with him to the grave. The meaning will become apparent in due course. He will not cast his pearls before swine, rather he will leave it to his judges to execute their high office before God. In this he did justice to them and at the same time condemned them.

To have explained the riddle to the Sanhedrin would not have been to the glory of God or for the good of Christ’s judges. Imagine what would have happened had he said, “Bury me and within three days I will rise again.” He would have been regarded as an ostentatious and supernatural escapologist! He would have relieved the Sanhedrin of its moral responsibility. The dawn of the New Testament Sabbath would have become the occasion for a gathering of gawping spectators hoping to see the latest wonder. What a mockery of predestination that would have been! And what a windfall for Satan! Christ the redeemer reduced to a mere super-fakir, not lying on a bad of nails or walking on hot coals, but rising from the grave!

If Christ had explained his riddle that day, it would have been a most untimely word. That he would never do. He would not prostitute his God-given mission. All his miracles, including his resurrection, were essentially part of his kingdom and of his redeeming work. They were totally different from those related in the Apocryphal Gospels, as when it is written that the boy Jesus making clay birds with other children made his birds fly! But Christ was no magician; he had neither need nor place for stunts.

All too often Christ’s silence has been given a dangerous one-sidedness, as his passive obedience is stressed almost, if not altogether, to the exclusion of his active obedience. Christ’s silence was deliberate, emphatic and authoritative; it was his deed. The passivity of his suffering was real, but so was the activity of his obedience. Led as a lamb to the slaughter and like a sheep before the shearers, he was active right up to and on the cross. He went as a king to die.

April 01, 2009

This is the fourth day of our thirteen days spent reading The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. Today’s text is from Luke 22:53: “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.”

In this chapter Leahy looks to the sovereignty of God and his foreknowledge of all that would come. “This hour was predestined, and because predestined it was prophesied: prophecy depends on predestination.” And so all that happened to Christ this night was done so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.

For many months now, our church has been studying the gospel of John. One theme that repeats itself in that gospel is Jesus’ statement that his hour had not yet come. Leahy says, “John makes it clear from the very beginning that there was an appointed hour for the Saviour and before that time he could not be harmed.” What jumped out at me in today’s reading is this: Christ’s hour was also Satan’s hour.

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Initially the plans of his enemies would succeed, not just because they came to him under cover of darkness, but essentially because in this hour Satan and his forces were permitted by God to subject Christ to further suffering and humiliation. God reserved this hour for Satan. In all of time this hour was especially his. The darkness of which Christ spoke was the darkness of evil and of the prince of darkness. In this dread hour Satan had free rein. In the case of Job God set a limit to Satan’s activity. In the experience of Christ there were no limits to Satan’s onslaught. He was free to do his worst, and he did.

Gethsemane and Calvary marked high noon in the world’s long day, and God’s permission was absolute as Satan mustered his legions for the decisive encounter. The first Adam had been easy prey. How would he fare with this Adam? As Satan entered the battlefield he did so fully conscious of the Word of God: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Did he recall his cynical contempt for God’s Word earlier when he asked, “Did God actually say…?” (Gen. 3:1). Or did he fear the sentence passed in Eden? Doubtless he did. But the hour was fixed. It was decreed by God. When tempting Christ in the wilderness, Satan had done his utmost to deflect him from this hour, to take some other road than the way of the cross, but all in vain. Now the battle had commenced in earnest. Nothing could stop it. This is your hour, Satan!

March 31, 2009

This is the third day of our thirteen days spent reading The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. Today’s text is from Luke 22:43: “And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him.”

In this chapter Leahy writes about the angel who comforted Christ and shows that the angel not only brought comfort, but that he strengthened Christ for the greater pain and torment he was about to endure. “The angel’s presence served to aggravate his suffering.” Here is a passage that stood out to me:

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There was an outstretched hand, his Father’s hand—even in the darkness—and Christ knew it. Initially the presence of the angel must have brought some modicum of comfort to the Sufferer. It came at a moment when unaided human nature could no longer take the strain. It was a critical moment. Christ knew that his sorrow was “unto death” and as Dr Frederick Godet remarks, this was “no figure of rhetoric.” But it was not the Father’s will that the Saviour should die in the garden, and just as after the temptation in the wilderness angels ministered to him (Matt. 4:11), so now he was strengthened by an angel. How strange is the sight! A creature sent to minister to the Creator! But then, as man he “for a little while was made lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9). Here the theologians run out of answers. Mercifully so! There is a place for mystery. There is need for ground on which, in a unique sense, one walks by faith and not by sight. Bishop Ryle says well of Christ’s experience in Gethsemane, “It is a depth which we have no line to fathom.”

For one fleeting moment immense joy must have leaped within Christ’s soul as the Father’s hand touched him. This was a message from home. Heaven was behind him. He was forsaken, but not disowned. His Father was there, somewhere in the darkness. His loud cries and tears had not been unnoticed.