MVOPC 29 March 2015
Call to Worship: Psalm 98:1-3
Opening Hymn: 2 “O Worship the King”
Confession of Sin
Most holy and merciful Father; We acknowledge and confess before You; Our sinful nature prone to evil and slothful in good; And all our shortcomings and offenses. You alone know how often we have sinned; In wandering from Your ways; In wasting Your gifts; In forgetting Your love. But You, O Lord, have pity upon us; Who are ashamed and sorry for all wherein we have displeased You. Teach us to hate our errors; Cleanse us from our secret faults; And forgive our sins for the sake of Your dear Son. And O most holy and loving Father; Help us we beseech You; To live in Your light and walk in Your ways; According to the commandments of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 2:1
Hymn of Preparation: 257 “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”
Old Covenant Reading: Psalm 22:1-18
New Covenant Reading: John 19:16b-37
Sermon: Him Whom They Pierced
Hymn of Response: 263 “Lift High the Cross”
Confession of Faith: Heidelberg Catechism Q/A #1
Doxology (Hymn 732)
Closing Hymn: 261 “What Wondrous Love Is This”
OT: Exodus 7:14-25
NT: Revelation 11:1-14
The Two Witnesses
Adult Sunday School: Larger Catechism 74: What is Adoption?
Shorter Catechism Q/A #91
Q. How do the sacraments become effectual means of salvation?
A. The sacraments become effectual means of salvation, not from any virtue in them, or in him that doth administer them; but only by the blessing of Christ, and the working of his Spirit in them that by faith receive them.
Monday (3/23) Read and discuss John 19:16b-37. Western cultures tend to approach the Scriptures from the standpoint of the courtroom and therefore tend to pay more attention to those parts of Scripture that speak of legal guilt or righteousness. Eastern cultures tend to focus more on shame and honor than Western cultures do. People from these cultures are particularly attuned to the incongruity of the perfect Son of God being subjected to shame. We should train ourselves to pay attention to both aspects of Scripture. In today’s passage Jesus is subjected to great degradation. R.C. Sproul writes:
This passage is full of indignities. Notice first of all that the soldiers divided Jesus’ clothes among themselves. They were able to do this because Jesus had been stripped. Prisoners were crucified naked. This practice stemmed from the ancient notion that the worst form of humiliation that could be imposed on an enemy was to strip him of his clothing. Frequently, when the Romans were victorious in battle, they paraded the officers of the conquered army through the streets bare naked to reduce them to total shame. If you can bear it, in all probability the Son of God was made a public spectacle in the shame of nakedness, following the ancient custom.
A prisoner who was executed normally had five articles of clothing. The tunic, which was a seamless garment, was the undergarment. The four soldiers divided Jesus’ other articles of clothing among themselves, but the tunic presented a problem for them. Because the tunic had been made with no seam, it was significantly valuable, and they didn’t want to lessen its value by cutting it into four pieces. Therefore, they decided to cast lots for it, winner takes all.
This indignity also was prophesied (Ps. 22:18). John does not say that the Roman soldiers got together and said, “We should gamble for His garments because it says in the Jewish Scriptures that someone is going to cast lots of His clothes and we want to make sure that the Scriptures are fulfilled down to the last detail.” No, this is John’s editorial comment, pointing out that the soldiers, when they went through this act of gambling for the garments of Christ, unknowingly and involuntarily were fulfilling the precise details of the Old Testament prophesies concerning the death of the Messiah. John is zealous to help the reader understand that what happened on the cross was not an accident of history, but it came to pass through the invisible hand of a sovereign Providence.
Read or sing Hymn 2 “O Worship the King” Prayer: Please pray for the people of Syria who are being devastated by a brutal civil war.
Tuesday (3/24) Read and discuss Galatians 6:11-18. At the end of the day what really matters? Paul answers this question in verse 15: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Notice Paul’s balance. With the coming of Christ we don’t move from Jew good/Gentile bad to Gentile good/Jew bad – “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision.” What matters is that God has brought about new creation through the person and work of Jesus Christ and by placing our trust in Him we participate in this new creation. “The Jews in Paul’s day often looked forward to a ‘new creation’ that would follow the destruction or renewal of the world. What the Jews eagerly anticipated, for Paul has already arrived in [Jesus] Christ (Andrew Das).” History has dramatically turned on a hinge. All ‘simply human’ factors become meaningless in the face of God’s world-transforming work in His Son Jesus Christ. To place confidence in the flesh reveals that we have totally missed what God has done. As Paul would later write in 2 Corinthians chapter 5:
…, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
That’s what matters for you both today and for the rest of your life. Are you in Christ and therefore a participant in His new creation – or are you separated from Christ and part of the world that is passing away? If you put lipstick on a pig – it’s still a pig. If you put the shiny veneer of religious activities on the decaying corpses of a fallen world – they are still dead. What we need is not new makeup but new life – and that life is in God’s Son Jesus Christ and in Christ alone. Prayer: Give thanks that God gives new life to all who are united with His Son.
Wednesday (3/25) Read and discuss Psalm 22:1-18. Today’s psalm begins with jarring abruptness: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from the cry of my groaning?” We are naturally drawn into the psalmist’s agony and wonder what he could have done that led the LORD to abandon him like this. Then we come to the cross and find these very lips on the lips of Jesus – the only intrinsically righteous man who has ever lived – and we are dumbfounded. Why? How could it be that He would suffer like this? The great sixteenth century Anglican, Richard Hooker, answers this question perhaps as well as is humanly possible:
Let men count it folly, or frenzy, or whatever. We care for no knowledge, no wisdom in the world but this, that man has sinned and God has suffered, that God has been made the sin of man and man is made the righteousness of God.
Why was He forsaken? Jesus chose to be forsaken for you. As we meditate on this prophetic psalm, written a millennium before the cross, we enter into the horror of what the King of glory suffered for His people. Yet that isn’t the end of the story. We should remember that Psalm 22 begins with our Lord’s cry of dereliction but that is not how it ends. Verse 23 calls the people of God to praise “For He has not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither has He hid His face from Him; but when He cried unto Him, He heard (v. 24).” Indeed, the last nine verses of the psalm are a celebration of the Lord’s victory. Surely Jesus knew this when He cried in agony from the cross. As unfathomable as His suffering was; Jesus knew that it was a suffering unto victory. Read or sing Hymn 257 “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted” Prayer: Give thanks for Christ’s victorious substitutionary death.
Thursday (3/26) Read and discuss Exodus 7:14-25. Some modern commentators try to seek naturalistic explanations of every miracle in the Bible. We should realize two things about such attempts: (1) First, they are a flat out attack on the God of the Bible as insisting miracles don’t happen is a denial of the personal God who created all things and remains sovereign over them. (2) Second, they clearly don’t fit what is actually being claimed in Scripture. That is, rather than being “explanations” they are simply denials of what the Bible says. W.H. Gispen writes:
Verse 17 is formally introduced to impress Pharaoh: “This is what the LORD says”, which is later to become a favorite expression of the prophets, and proof that Moses was a prophet. “By this you will know that I am the LORD,” cf. 5:2; 7:5. It reminded Pharaoh particularly of his arrogant remark in 5:2 and was in this respect a call to repentance, threatening, designed to persuade. Moses and Aaron indeed asserted themselves with authority (cf. 7:1), a marked change from their attitude in chapter 5.
The threat Moses had to convey is reminiscent of 4:9, except that what was promised there was more limited in nature, merely a sign and not a plague, since it was intended for Israel. The “serpent” for the Israelites became a “large serpent” for the Egyptians. But now Moses had to inform Pharaoh that not merely some, but all of the water in the Nile, and even all the waters of Egypt (cf. v. 19) would be changed into blood. Thus this wonder also took on larger dimensions for the Egyptians and became a true destructive attack. The text clearly indicates that real blood was meant and not merely the annual phenomenon of the so-called “Red-Nile.” It could not have made much of an impression on the Egyptians if all that happened was merely what happened every year from June through October or December, when the Nile before and during its flooding took on a red color, probably due to chalk particles that gave the water a blood-red color, especially when the sun shone on it. Besides, the “Red Nile” was to Egypt’s advantage, since this period of flooding was what made the land fertile. Verse 18 indicates that the fish in the Nile would also die which did not happen during the “Red Nile.” It was rather the “Green Nile,” caused by plant remains in the water prior to the Red Nile that was harmful, although even then the fish did not die, certainly en masse.
Read or sing Hymn 263 “Lift High the Cross” Prayer: Praise the LORD for His exhaustive sovereignty.
Friday (3/27) Read and discuss Revelation 11:1-14. Sometimes people imagine that this passage teaches a new physical Temple is going to be built in Jerusalem. Given that the Temple is seen as genuinely belonging to the true God there are significant theological problems with this understanding. A better approach is explained by N.T. Wright:
John’s measuring of the Temple (which echoes similar prophetic actions in Ezekiel 40 and Zechariah 2) has nothing to do with the Jerusalem Temple, or with the heavenly temple/throne room of chapters 4 and 5. By the time John was writing – indeed, this was true from very early on in the Christian movement – the followers of Jesus had come to see themselves as the true temple, the place where God now lived through His powerful Spirit. John is commanded to mark out this community so that, as in chapter 7, it may be protected against ultimate harm. However, there is another sense in which the community – seen here in terms of the ‘outer court’ – is to be left vulnerable. The pagan nations will trample it for three and a half years (a symbolic number, half of the ‘seven’ which stands for completeness, here broken down into 42 months or 1260 days). Just as Ezekiel’s measuring of his visionary temple was a way of marking out the place where God was going to come to dwell, so John’s marking out of this human temple, this community, is a way of signaling God’s solemn intention to honor and bless this people with His presence.
Prayer: Lift up our brothers and sisters at Island Pond Baptist Church in Hampstead, NH.
Saturday (3/28) Read and discuss John 19:16b-37. One of the problems we have in rightly reading the Bible is that we naturally tend to identify with the heroes in any story. Yet, Christ’s death was a substitutionary death. He, though innocent, died in the place of those who were guilty. If we want to identify with someone we will have to look for someone who, though guilty, was spared. The man who best fits that bill is Barabbas. That man was an insurrectionist. When we consider that Jesus was crucified between two insurrectionists (some translations say two thieves) we realize that these three men were probably co-conspirators in the very same capital crime. Yet, Jesus would die in the place of Barabbas to symbolize His death for guilty people like you and me. Chuck Swindoll writes:
In the quest to devise the most painful mode of execution possible, no one exceeded the Romans’ capacity for cruelty. The Romans reserved their variation of crucifixion for slaves, deserters, revolutionaries, and only the worst criminals – people considered less than human. Cicero wrote, “To bind a Roman citizen is a crime, to flog him is an abomination, to slay him is almost an act of murder: to crucify him is – what? There is no fitting word that can possibly describe so horrible a deed.” Crucifixion gave the Romans extraordinary opportunity to inflict agony along with humiliation. Therefore, it became “one of the strongest means of maintaining order and security. Governors imposed this servile punishment especially on freedom fighters who tried to break away from Roman rule.”
So, imagine Pilate’s surprise when the angry mob demanded an innocent man take the place of a guilty man on a cross. Imagine Barabbas’s shock! As he sat on death row listening to the trial, he couldn’t hear Pilate’s side of the conversation. All he could hear was the roaring crowd in the distance: “Barabbas! … Away with Him, Away with Him, Crucify him!”
Barabbas must have felt overcome with dread upon hearing the guards approach his cell. I can only imagine his utter amazement to feel his shackles fall from his hands. He must have felt overwhelming relief as soldiers led him to the end of the cell block and out into the light of day. His just punishment had been passed over. He was free!
I sometimes wonder, what if Barabbas had said, “Freedom? I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather suffer the most excruciating death imaginable?” No one in his or her right mind would decline the offer to avoid death on a cross. So, why do people reject the opportunity to avoid eternal torment in a place of eternal death? Why would anyone refuse to accept the free gift of eternal life, purchased for them by the suffering and death of Jesus Christ in their place?
What has been your response to the offer of grace?
Read or sing Hymn: 261 “What Wondrous Love Is This” Prayer: Please lift up tomorrow’s morning and evening worship services.