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April 03, 2010

There are many who consider Janet Leigh’s murder in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho to be the most terrifying scene in the history of film. The setting, the mood, the music and the camera work combine to create a scene of absolute terror. Her screams were impressed upon the memories of many who watched her macabre death on the silver screen. Since 1960, when the film was produced there have been tens of thousands of horror films made, but in the minds of many who enjoy such films, few of them have begun to approach the brutal genius of Hitchcock’s film.

The horror genre delights in the scream. Bloodcurdling screams are common in horror films, and filmmakers are constantly looking for ways of making them seem more genuine, more heartfelt, more terrifying. I remember reading of a film in which the director had the actors sprayed with the remains of a slaughtered pig during a particular scene in order to be able to capture real disgust and surprise. He wanted to evoke in his actors a pure terror and hoped that would translate to horror in the hearts of those who later watched.

June 28, 2009

In his book The Truth of the Cross, R.C. Sproul spends some time discussing the human condition and as he does so he uses three biblical concepts: debtors, enemies, and criminals. The Bible describes all of us in these terms. What Sproul does here, and this really helped it hit home for me, is show how it is always the Father who has been offended and the Son who intercedes. We have committed crimes against God and are, thus, justly termed criminals. The Father stands as Judge, passing the just sentence of death. But Christ stands between us and the Father, acting as substitute. Our sin puts us in debt to God so that we are debtors to Him. God is the creditor who demands repayment, but Christ stands in as surety. And sin puts us at enmity with God, making us His enemies. He has been violated by our sin, but Christ intercedes as mediator, opening the way between man and God.

Sproul breaks this down into the following simple table:

Sin As…ManGodChrist
DebtDebtorCreditorSurety
EnmityEnemyViolated OneMediator
CrimeCriminalJudgeSubstitute

He concludes this: “Christ, then, is the One Who made satisfaction. By His work on the cross, He satisfied the demands of God’s justice with regard to our debt, our state of enmity, and our crime. In light of the facts of God’s justice and our sinfulness, it is not difficult to see the absolute necessity of the atonement.”

What a great Savior!

April 10, 2009

As seems to be the case with most boys, my friends and I went through a stage where we found great joy in tying people to things. In second or third grade we would take turns being the guys who would grab the skipping ropes and twist endless knots, fastening one of our friends to a tree or fence or flag pole. And, of course, we would take turns being the unfortunate one who was on the receiving end of the action. I remember one time when I was, thankfully, not the one being tied. It was recess, and we had only a few minutes to have our fun. We had tied a friend to a tree and it was now his time to play Houdini and escape from the ties. But something went wrong—we had tied him up too well. He struggled to get undone but could make little progress. And then, from across the school yard, the bell rang. We were torn. Should we help our friend and risk detention for being late to class? Or should we forsake our friend and look out first for ourselves? Typical children that we were, we left our friend struggling with the ropes and dashed for the door. A few minutes later he walked meekly into class, late and knowing there would be consequences.

I thought of this incident some time ago in what was a rather unlikely context. In our church’s evening service, a service that culminated in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, we sang Stuart Townend’s hymn “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us.” Like all good hymns, this one gives a lot to think about; it contains deep and biblical content. As we sang it, I was struck by the words “It was my sin that held him there.” As we sang those words I found my mind bouncing to some of the other occasions in Jesus’ life, times when He escaped pain or death.

There were several occasions in Jesus’ life when He escaped the wrath of His enemies. For example, in John 8:56-59 Jesus called Himself by the name “I am,” utter blasphemy to the Jewish nation, and cause for death. Though they picked up stones with which to execute Him (in the temple, no less), he managed to hide Himself and to make His way out of the temple. Just a short time later, in John 10:31-39 we read that people picked up rocks and sought to stone Him. But Jesus escaped their attempts to arrest Him and to put Him to death. This was the pattern, for a while. The people would misinterpret Jesus, accusing Him of blasphemy one time and seeking to make Him king the next. Jesus would escape or rebuke to ensure that His mission did not get derailed.

But then came the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter, drawing his sword and swinging at one of the men, clearly thought this was going to be another chance for Jesus to slip away from His accusers. But Jesus knew that this time would be different. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). With only a single word, Jesus could have summoned to his defense more than twelve legions of angels. Look to the Old Testament and you will see the kind of devastation that could be brought about by twelve legions of angels. With a single word Jesus could have caused the heavenly host that sang of His birth spring to His defense. But He did not. This was true in the Garden, in the court, and on the hill. This was true as the spikes were nailed into His body and as the cross was raised to the sky.

Some words that I first pondered a few years and that have continued to be deeply affecting to me are found in Matthew 27:50: “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” The amazing thing about these words is that they show us that Jesus was in control of the timing of His death. Though the nails had pierced His hands and feet, and though He had been beaten to be point of being almost unrecognizable, He died only when He decided to yield up His spirit. In his account of the crucifixion, John says Jesus “gave up His spirit.” This was an active, not a passive act. The significance of this wording is that it shows that Jesus was in control of the timing of His death. He did not die because His body could take no more punishment or because of blood loss. He died because He decided it was time to die. His work was accomplished and there was no reason for Him to linger. And so he gave up His spirit and returned to His Father.

All of this tells me that Townend is right—it was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross. He could so easily have escaped the cross and, even if He decided to go there, could just as easily have escaped from the cross. He could have stepped down and watched as His angels gained vengeance on the heartless men who had nailed Him to that tree. But He did not. Jesus remained there until the work was accomplished. He stayed there until He had done the work His Father had assigned Him. He stayed there until He had secured the redemption of all of His people. It was not the nails that held Him, but His love for the Father and His love for us. It was my sin that held Him there in the deepest expression of love the world could ever know. It was death by love.

The key to it all comes from John 10:17-18. “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” No one took Jesus’ life from Him. He did not lose it, He gave it.

How deep the Father’s love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He would give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the Man upon a cross
My guilt upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no powr’s, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

April 10, 2009

Today is Good Friday and, not coincidentally, today we finish reading The Cross He Bore by Frederick Leahy. It has proven, I think, a valuable read leading to those days we set aside to particularly remember Jesus’ death and resurrection. Today’s text is Matthew 27:45: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour.”

Here is a short quote:

*****

At Bethlehem, when the Saviour was born, the night was changed to day as the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds. On Golgotha the day gave way to night as Christ sank deeper and deeper into the abyss of damnation. At Bethlehem there were countless angels praising God; on Golgotha legions of darkness filled the impenetrable gloom, hoping that darkness would finally triumph over light.

Golgotha was so different from the mount of transfiguration where the Lord conversed with Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets (Mark 9:2-4). There, for a brief moment, the glory of deity broke through the veil of flesh, a fleeting glimpse of the radiant splendour of Christ when he comes at the end of this age “in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38).

Between the shining forth of glory at the transfiguration and the glory of the second coming, however, lies the heavy darkness of Golgotha.

At the creation, God, at an early stage, introduced light. Yet now he leaves his Son suspended in darkness at midday…

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:

*****

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:

*****

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:

*****

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

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.

*****

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:

*****

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.

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