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I am a 1967 graduate of The Citadel (Distinguished Military Student, member of the Economic Honor Society, Dean's List), a 1975 graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (M.Div., magna cum laude, member of the Phi Alpha Chi academic honor society); I attended the Free University of Amsterdam and completed my History of Dogma there and then received a full scholarship from the Dutch government to transfer to the sister school in Kampen, Holland. In 1979 I graduated from the Theological Seminary of the Reformed Churches of Holland (Drs. with honors in Ethics). My New Testament minor was completed with Herman Ridderbos. I am also a 2001 Ph.D. graduate of Westminster Theological Seminary (Systematic Theology) in Philly with a dissertation on the "unio mystica" in the theology of Dr. Herman Bavinck (1854-1921). I am a former tank commander, and instructor in the US Army Armor School at Ft. Knox, KY. I have been happily married to my childhood sweetheart and best friend, Sally, for 43 years. We have 6 children, one of whom is with the Lord, and 14 wonderful grandchildren.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Good Friday Special Issue

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Why Was It Necessary for Christ to Humble Himself?
The theologians speak about Christ’s humiliation and his exaltation. As we contemplate the time leading up to Resurrection Sunday (otherwise known as Easter to the Peter Cottontail groupies) it’s proper for us to reflect on the death of our Lord and his accompanying humiliation.
Why was it necessary for him to humble himself even unto death? Obviously, satisfaction had to be made for our sins. We couldn’t do that, and according to God’s plan, not even an angel could make that satisfaction. Our sins are in the forefront of the necessity of Christ’s death. But there are other considerations that we need to ponder.
When we think about man’s fall into sin we are reminded that both guilt and pollution attended that first act that has made all of us to be born with a sinful nature. Therefore, God’s justice and truth demand complete, perfect satisfaction for those sins. According to the Word of God, the satisfaction for our sins and the conditions required by God’s justice and truth were met in the death of our Savior (Rom. 8:3; Phil. 2:8; Heb. 2:14-15).
Our Lord’s willingness to allow himself to be nailed to the accursed cross (Gal. 3:13) is further described by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:9 when he says, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”
The willing humility of our Lord and Savior is couched in terms of the fulfillment of covenant promises firmly ensconced in the riches, treasures, and benefits of Christ. Our Lord freely and lovingly emptied himself, took the form of a servant, and was born in the likeness of man. In his love for sinners, Christ humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross (Phil. 2:7-8).

Left Alone
I’ve perform a ton of weddings. As often as not, somewhere in the ceremony the point is made that early on in Genesis—before sin entered the world—God said that something wasn’t good. In spite of the constant refrain in the grand scheme of God’s gracious, perfect creation that God saw everything he had made and it was (very) good, there’s that one egregious text in Genesis 2:18 where God says that it isn’t good for the man to be alone.
Within the context of the creation (and that verse) God creates Eve and puts her at Adam’s side. Even after they both fell into sin, the Lord did not remove her from Adam so that he would be left alone on the earth in his sin.
Our Lord, however, into order to satisfy the justice and truth of God and to pay the price as the substitute for our sins became increasingly alone in his Passion. One older document for the celebration of the Lord's Supper describes what occurred in our Lord’s life this way.

By all this, he has taken our curse upon himself that he might fill us with his blessing. On the cross he humbled himself, in body and soul, to the very deepest shame and anguish of hell. Then he called out with a loud voice, My God, My God, why have You forsaken me? that we might be accepted by God and nevermore be forsaken by him.

Surely, Christ humbled himself in all of his life, but especially on the cross his humiliation comes rushing to the forefront. When God fulfilled the words of death he had spoken to Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:17), he did it in his Son. God saved man and said to his Son, “You shall die! You shall bear the burden of my eternal wrath and damnation.”
This burden caused him to become increasingly alone. Even when he asked his disciples to watch with him, they couldn’t do it (Matt. 26:28). This text in Matthew’s gospel is one of the few places—if not the only place—where Jesus asks his disciples to do anything for him. He has spent three years teaching them, equipping them, and praying for them. In all that time, he didn’t ask them to do anything for him. As many times as those disciples took from him, they were not prepared to give him their time that night.

Wrestling in Prayer
The scriptures inform us that Jesus wrestled tremendously that night in prayer. The burden of the salvation of lost souls came with a very high price tag attached to it. Therefore our Lord wrestles with the Father in prayer as no man ever has. Finally, he prays these words, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
We’ve read those words so often that we more or less take them for granted. When we place them within the context of Christ’s redemptive work, they take on a new meaning. In violating God’s holy, good, and perfect commandment, Adam and Eve essentially said, “Not Your will be done, Father, but mine!” The Second Adam takes the exact opposite posture even in the face of impending, excruciating death (Phil. 2:5-7).
In Jesus’ case, the words from Romans 6:23 (for the wages of sin is death) did not apply. Our Lord was sinless, yet it was precisely this sinless One that willingly, knowingly, and lovingly laid down his life for lost sinners like you and me.

What Benefits Do We Receive from Christ’s Death?
We need not feel guilty about asking such a question. Many of the documents that have come down to us from the period in history known as The Reformation have asked similar questions. These types of questions are not meant to be self-serving or self-seeking, but rather to aid us in our true manifestation to God for our salvation. So what are some of those benefits? There are many, but allow me to mention a few.
First, through Christ’s death, our old nature is crucified, put to death, and buried with him (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:5-11; Col. 2:11-12).
Second, the evil desires of our flesh may no longer reign in us (Rom. 6:12-14). This doesn’t mean that we still don’t have to wrestle and struggle against remaining sin. We do. For the true believer, however, sin no longer has dominion over us. God’s justifying grace takes away the guilt of our sin and his sanctifying grace progressively removes sin’s pollution. The former is legal—man sinned and broke a law—and the latter is moral.
Finally, as a result of Christ’s humiliation and death on the cross, true believers may offer themselves to him as a sacrifice of thankfulness (Rom. 12:1; Eph. 5:1-2). Good Friday might be celebrated with certain somber undertones, but the overall atmosphere must be that of every Sunday of every year: joy and thanksgiving.
Good Friday must not be isolated from the rest of God’s redemptive dealings with his covenant people. One of the prominent purposes of Good Friday is to require us to take a long, hard look at the cost of our salvation. Accompanying this requirement is the creation of a thankful heart to our gracious God who loved us so much that he did not withhold the very best: his only-begotten Son. A thankful heart praises the Son who, though rich, became poor in order that you and I might become rich in him. We thank and praise the Holy Spirit who takes everything from the risen and ascended Christ and imparts his riches, treasures, and benefits to us unto eternal life. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!


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