Posts Tagged 'Jesus'

Lord’s Day 15: He Shouldered the Curse

Catechism and Psalter

When we recite the Apostles’ Creed, it’s all too easy to rattle off each clause without devoting our full attention to the words.  “Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell…”  The Heidelberg Catechism, however, reminds us that the Creed is a careful and thorough summary of the tenets of Christianity by carefully and thoroughly examining its contents.  Today in our URC Psalmody series on the Heidelberg Catechism we turn to Lord’s Day 15.

37 Q.  What do you understand by the word “suffered”?

A.  That during his whole life on earth,
but especially at the end,
Christ sustained
in body and soul
the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.

This he did in order that,
by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice,
he might set us free, body and soul,
from eternal condemnation,
and gain for us
God’s grace,
and eternal life.

38 Q.  Why did he suffer “under Pontius Pilate” as judge?

A.  So that he,
though innocent,
might be condemned by a civil judge,
and so free us from the severe judgment of God
that was to fall on us.

39 Q.  Is it significant that he was “crucified” instead of dying some other way?

A.  Yes.
This death convinces me
that he shouldered the curse
which lay on me,
since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.

Suggested Songs

126, “Save Me, O God” (Psalm 69)

“During his whole life on earth, but especially at the end…”  It can be easy to forget that Jesus’ suffering did not begin in the Garden of Gethsemane; his entire life on earth, from his lowly birth in a stable to the moment he cried, “It is finished,” was a life of affliction and pain, both physical and spiritual.  As Psalm 69 says, it was Christ’s zeal for his Father’s house and its worshippers that caused this suffering.

Save me, O God, because the floods
Come in upon my soul,
I sink in depths where none can stand,
Deep waters o’er me roll.

It is for Thee I am reproached,
For Thee I suffer shame,
Until my brethren know me not,
And hated is my name.

It is my zeal for Thine abode
That has consumed my life;
Reproached by those reproaching Thee,
I suffer in the strife.

147, “I Thought upon the Days of Old” (Psalm 77)

“Christ sustained in body and soul the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race.”  Psalm 77 gives us just a glimpse of the wrath of God which Christ endured for our sakes.

My heart inquired with anxious care,
Will God forever spurn?
Shall we no more His favor see?
Will mercy ne’er return?

Forever shall His promise fail?
Has God forgotten grace?
Has He withdrawn His tender love,
In anger hid His face?

O God, most holy is Thy way,
Most perfect, good, and right;
Thou art the only living God,
The God of wondrous might.

34, “My God, My God, I Cry to Thee” (Psalm 22)

“This he did in order that, by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice, he might set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation, and gain for us God’s grace, righteousness, and eternal life.”  Psalm 22 sets forth for us the agony of Christ on the cross, but it does not stop there; it also goes on to show the glories of salvation.

My God, My God, I cry to Thee;
O why hast Thou forsaken Me?
Afar from Me, Thou dost not heed,
Though day and night for help I plead.

My words a cause for scorn they make,
The lip they curl, the head they shake,
And, mocking, bid Me trust the Lord
Till He salvation shall afford.

Down unto death Thou leadest Me,
Consumed by thirst and agony;
With cruel hate and anger fierce
My helpless hands and feet they pierce.

O Lord, afar no longer stay;
O Thou My Helper, haste, I pray;
From death and evil set Me free;
I live, for Thou didst answer Me.

213, “Rebels, Who Had Dared to Show” (Psalm 107)

“This death convinces me that he shouldered the curse which lay on me, since death by crucifixion was accursed by God.”  The previous three psalms reflect Christ’s experience, but what of ours?  What was the penalty we deserved, and how was it paid?  This section of Psalm 107 beautifully illustrates our plight and the deliverance wrought by God.

Rebels, who had dared to show
Proud contempt of God Most High,
Bound in iron and in woe,
Shades of death and darkness nigh,
Humbled low with toil and pain,
Fell, and looked for help in vain.

To Jehovah then they cried
In their trouble, and He saved,
Threw the prison open wide
Where they lay to death enslaved,
Bade the gloomy shadows flee,
Broke their bonds and set them free.

Sons of men, awake to praise
God the Lord who reigns above,
Gracious in His works and ways,
Wondrous in redeeming love;
Iron bars He breaks like clay,
And the brazen gates give way.

With these words in mind, we ought to find ourselves paying more attention next time we recite the part of the Apostles’ Creed that says Christ “suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell.”  This confession should motivate us to turn in disgust from our sins and cling rejoicing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered and died that we might live.


Lord’s Day 14: In All Things Like Us

Catechism and Psalter

Today we return to our series on the Heidelberg Catechism with Lord’s Day 14, which explains the benefits of Christ’s holy conception and birth.

35 Q.  What does it mean that he ‘was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary’?

A.  That the eternal Son of God,
who is and remains
true and eternal God,
took to himself,
through the working of the Holy Spirit,
from the flesh and blood of the virgin Mary,
a truly human nature
so that he might become David’s true descendant,
in all things like us his brothers
except for sin.

36 Q.  How does the holy conception and birth of Christ benefit you?

A.  He is our mediator,
and with his innocence and perfect holiness
he removes from God’s sight
my sin—mine since I was conceived.

Suggested Songs

172, “My Mouth Shall Sing for Aye” (Psalm 89)

“The eternal Son of God…took to himself…a truly human nature so that he might become David’s true descendant.”  The Catechism emphasizes that in order to fulfil the prophecies of the Old Testament, Christ had to be actually descended from King David.  The accounts of Matthew and Luke demonstrate that in God’s incomprehensible plan, David was Christ’s ancestor through the family lines of both Mary and Joseph.  This fulfilled the promises God made to David back in the time of his own kingship, some of which are recounted for us in Psalm 89.

‘With My own chosen one, e’en David,’ God affirmed,
‘I’ve made a covenant, with sacred oath confirmed;
I’ve sworn in truth to him, My servant: “I will surely
Build up thy lustrous throne through every age securely;
Forever will thy seed, in spite of degradation,
Endure upon thy throne through every generation.”’

331, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“He is our mediator.”  This statement is central to the Catechism, as well as to this old Christmas carol.  Through a variety of images, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” points again and again to the work of Jesus Christ as our Mediator.

O come, Thou Branch of Jesse’s stem
Unto Thine own, and rescue them!
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

O come, Thou Lord of David’s key!
The gate of heaven unfolds to Thee;
Make safe for us the heavenward road,
And bar the way to death’s abode.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

333, “Blest Be the God of Israel” (The Song of Zacharias)

“With his innocence and perfect holiness he removes from God’s sight my sin—mine since I was conceived.”  The Song of Zacharias, recorded for us in Luke 1:67-79, captures all of the nuances of this Lord’s Day—Christ’s descent from David’s line, his fulfillment of prophecy, and above all, his work of salvation for his people.  I’ll end this post with the entirety of Dewey Westra’s paraphrase.

Blest be the God of Israel,
The Lord who visited His own;
Who by His gracious providence
Redemption unto us made known.
Within His servant David’s tent
Has He to us, His people, sent
A horn of full salvation;
E’en as He spoke by holy men of old,
Who unto Israel foretold
How He to them His mercy would unfold.

He promised us that He would save
From all who for our ruin wait,
And from the hands of them that rave
Against us with a warring hate,
To show the mercy once foretold
Unto our fathers, and uphold
His holy covenant with us,
That He would still remember in His care
The oath which He to Abram sware,
To benefit His seed from heir to heir.

He spoke that He would strength command,
And grant to us when foemen near,
That we, delivered from their hand,
Might worship Him without a fear,
And walk before Him faithfully
In righteousness and sanctity,
While life to us is given.
And thou, O child, so shall they say of thee,
“The prophet of the Lord is he,”
For thou shalt go before Christ’s majesty.

Yea, thou shalt make salvation known,
That we may be revived again,
Receiving favor as His own,
In free remission of our sin,
Through God’s compassion and His love
Whereby the Dayspring from above
Has visited His people;
To lighten them that in the darkness hide,
And in the shade of death abide;
Our feet into the way of peace to guide.


A Good Friday Meditation

As a child I never could figure out why we called it Good Friday.  The story of Jesus’ crucifixion seemed anything but good; in fact, it seemed absolutely horrible.  My reaction tended to be similar to the response someone might have to a tragic secular narrative: “Did it have to end this way?  Oh, if only Jesus and his disciples hadn’t gone to the garden of Gethsemane the previous night!  If only Judas hadn’t betrayed him!  If only Pilate hadn’t condemned him!”

It shames me to admit this now, because I was clearly missing the story of salvation, the entire reason why Christ came into the world.   The apostle John counters this notion with parenthetical notes in his Gospel that Jesus knew “all that would happen to him” (18:4) and “that all was now finished” (19:28).

One of the themes throughout John’s gospel is “that you [the reader] also may believe.”  After he describes Jesus’ death, John comments:

He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.  For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’  And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’

–John 19:35-37 (ESV)

Here the apostle clearly shows that nothing about Jesus’ arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion was accidental; each event transpired to fulfill all of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament.  In the gospel of Luke, the risen Christ explains the fulfillment of these prophecies to his despairing disciples:

‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.’

–Luke 24:44-48 (ESV)

What is amazing about this passage is that Christ himself explicitly refers to the psalms as prophecies about the Messiah.  As we remember the Lord’s death today, I’d like to point you to one of the most powerful messianic passages in all of Scripture: Psalm 22.  As you read the excerpts below, think back to the events of the Crucifixion.  Seeing these prophecies so powerfully fulfilled, we ought to be inspired to declare with the centurion, “Truly this was the son of God!” (Matt. 27:54).

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!

None of us can come close to fully comprehending the suffering Christ endured, and the wrath of God he bore for us.  At the same time, however, Psalm 22 looks forward to deliverance—to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and our redemption and eternal life.

I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.

It has been pointed out, very appropriately I think, that the very last phrase of Psalm 22—“he has done it”—was paralleled in Jesus’ final words on the cross: “It is finished.”  This moment was the climax of history, the culmination of God’s incomprehensible plan of salvation.  As the Heidelberg Catechism explains it in Q&A 37:

This he did in order that,
by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice,
he might set us free, body and soul,
from eternal condemnation,
and gain for us
God’s grace,
and eternal life.

As we commemorate Good Friday, then, may our grief never stem merely from Christ’s suffering on the cross; may it grieve us more that it was our sins that put him there.  But although we may grieve, this should also be an opportunity for us to offer our humble thanks to God for bringing about our salvation.  In the powerful words of the old hymn:

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior,
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee.


Lord’s Day 13: To Be His Very Own

Catechism and Psalter

As the Apostles’ Creed progresses through the key tenets of Christianity, the Heidelberg Catechism moves slowly and steadily behind it, asking and answering thoughtful questions such as, “What do you believe…?”  “Why is he called…?”  “What does it mean…?”  “How does this benefit you…?”

Today’s installment of URC Psalmody’s 2013 Heidelberg Catechism series brings us to Lord’s Day 13, in which the Catechism expounds upon the Creed’s references to Jesus Christ as God’s “only begotten Son” and “our Lord.”

33 Q.  Why is he called God’s “only begotten Son” when we also are God’s children?

A.  Because Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.
We, however, are adopted children of God—
adopted by grace through Christ.

34 Q.  Why do you call him “our Lord”?

A.  Because—
not with gold or silver,
but with his precious blood—
he has set us free
from sin and from the tyranny of the devil,
and has bought us,
body and soul,
to be his very own.

Suggested Songs

To further the goal of increasing Psalter Hymnal literacy in parallel with our study of the Catechism, I’ve tried to avoid referring to the same song more than once in this series.  In Lord’s Days like this, where Psalms 2 and 72 come to mind almost immediately, keeping to this regimen can be difficult.  However, I did discover three unique psalm settings from the Psalter Hymnal that pretty well cover the entirety of these two questions and answers.

277, “Gracious Lord, Remember David” (Psalm 132)

(Sung at Synod 2012)

“Christ alone is the eternal, natural Son of God.”  Once we recognize that Christ, as the Son of David, fulfills the roles ascribed to the Israelite king in the psalms, selections like Psalm 132 suddenly begin to carry a deeper and more permanent meaning.  This song begins by recounting the king’s devotion to the Lord and commitment to build him a house, but then it moves on to declare the Lord’s promises to this ruler and his line:

Let the king behold Thy favor
For Thy servant David’s sake,
Unto whom a sacred promise,
Sure and faithful, Thou didst make.
If his children keep Thy covenant
And Thy testimony own,
Then, as Thou, O Lord, hast promised,
They shall sit upon his throne.

In the fifth stanza, the Psalter Hymnal once again capitalizes the pronouns referring to the Lord’s anointed.  The messianic implications here are clear.

I will cause the might of David
Ever more and more to grow;
On the path of Mine Anointed
I will make a lamp to glow.
All His enemies shall perish,
I will cover them with shame;
But His crown shall ever flourish;
Blessed be His holy Name.

“Gracious Lord, Remember David” was stunningly rendered at Synod 2012:

49, “O Lord, Regard Me When I Cry” (Psalm 27)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“We, however, are adopted children of God—adopted by grace through Christ.”  The opening words of Psalm 27—“The Lord is my light and my salvation”—are well-known to many, but this psalm also contains a striking emphasis on God as our heavenly Father.

O Lord, regard me when I cry,
In mercy hear me when I speak;
Thou bidst me seek Thy face, and I,
O Lord, with willing heart reply,
Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

Hide not Thy face afar from me,
For Thou alone canst help afford;
O cast me not away from Thee
Nor let my soul forsaken be,
My Savior and my Lord.

Though earthly friends no pity take,
Yet Thy compassion knows no end;
E’en though my father shall forsake,
E’en though my mother’s love shall break,
The Lord will be my Friend.

My heart had failed in fear and woe
Unless in God I had believed,
Assured that He would mercy show
And that my life His grace should know;
Nor was my hope deceived.

201, “O My Soul, Bless Thou Jehovah” (Psalm 103)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

“Not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood, he has set us free from sin and from the tyranny of the devil, and has bought us, body and soul, to be his very own.”  Psalm 103 is rich with soteriological truth, portraying God as our merciful Savior, Father, and Lord.

O my soul, bless thou Jehovah,
All within me, bless His Name;
Bless Jehovah and forget not
All His mercies to proclaim.
He forgives all thy transgressions,
Heals thy sicknesses and pains;
He redeems thee from destruction,
And His love thy life sustains.

As the heavens are high above us,
Great His love to us has proved;
Far as east from west is distant,
He has all our sins removed.
As a father loves his children,
Feeling pity for their woes,
So the Lord to those who fear Him
Mercy and compassion shows.


Lord’s Day 11: He Saves Us from Our Sins

Catechism and Psalter

Believers and unbelievers alike are certainly familiar with the name “Jesus Christ.”  Indeed, our culture is saturated with references both reverent and profane to this appellation.  But do the words “Jesus” and “Christ” carry any deeper meaning of which Christians should be aware?  In Lord’s Days 11 and 12, the Heidelberg Catechism helpfully expounds the Scriptural truths behind these two names of God’s Son, while drawing out key points of application for the believer.  Today, as we return to our ongoing series connecting the Catechism with the Psalter Hymnal, we turn to the two questions and answers of Lord’s Day 11.

29 Q.  Why is the Son of God called “Jesus” meaning “Savior”?

A.  Because he saves us from our sins.
Salvation cannot be found in anyone else;
it is futile to look for any salvation elsewhere.

30 Q.  Do those who look for their salvation and security in saints, in themselves, or elsewhere really believe in the only Savior Jesus?

A.  No.
Although they boast of being his,
by their deeds they deny
the only savior and deliverer, Jesus.

Either Jesus is not a perfect savior,
or those who in true faith accept this savior
have in him all they need for their salvation.

Suggested Songs

Since the number of hymns that focus on Jesus as Savior is overwhelming, it’s a relief to be able to limit this discussion to the psalm settings in the blue Psalter Hymnal.  In particular, I found four songs based on Psalms 98, 62, 95, and 115, all of which powerfully confirm the theses of this Lord’s Day.

192, “Unto God our Savior” (Psalm 98)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI)

The Son of God is “called ‘Jesus’ meaning ‘Savior’…because he saves us from our sins.”  For this part of Q&A 29 I’ve selected another versification of Psalm 98, which was first mentioned in association with Lord’s Day 6.  “Unto God our Savior” is more concise than “Sing, Sing a New Song to Jehovah,” but it nicely captures the wonder of salvation and our joyful response:

Unto God our Savior
Sing a joyful song;
Wondrous are His doings,
For His arm is strong.
He has wrought salvation,
He has made it known,
And before the nations
Is His justice shown.

110, “My Soul in Silence Waits for God” (Psalm 62)

(Sung on YouTube to a different tune)

“Salvation cannot be found in anyone else; it is futile to look for any salvation elsewhere.”  While Psalm 62 primarily focuses on God’s help in opposition to a crafty foe, much of its text displays the exclusive confidence known only to the believer.

My soul in silence waits for God,
My Savior He has proved;
He only is my rock and tower;
I never shall be moved.
My honor is secure with God,
My Savior He is known;
My refuge and my rock of strength
Are found in God alone.

For God has spoken o’er and o’er,
And unto me has shown,
That saving power and lasting strength
Belong to Him alone.
Yea, lovingkindness evermore
Belongs to Thee, O Lord;
And Thou according to his work
Dost every man reward.

184, “Now with Joyful Exultation” (Psalm 95)

(Sung on YouTube)

“[T]hose who look for their salvation and security in saints, in themselves, or elsewhere…boast of being his, [but] by their deeds they deny the only savior and deliverer, Jesus.”  Psalter Hymnal 184 might initially strike the ear as an exuberant psalm of praise, which of course it is.  But Psalm 95 concludes with a stern warning.  The Lord alone is “the rock of our salvation,” our Maker and our shepherd, yet he is also “over idol-gods victorious” and will condemn hardened and insincere hearts.  The third and fourth stanzas put it thus:

To the Lord, such might revealing,
Let us come with reverence meet,
And, before our Maker kneeling,
Let us worship at His feet.
He is our own God and leads us,
We the people of His care;
With a shepherd’s hand He feeds us
As His flock in pastures fair.

While He proffers peace and pardon
Let us hear His voice today,
Lest, if we our hearts should harden,
We should perish in the way;
Lest to us, so unbelieving,
He in judgment shall declare:
Ye, so long My Spirit grieving,
Never in My rest can share.

226, “Not unto Us, O Lord of Heaven” (Psalm 115)

(Sung by Cornerstone URC in Hudsonville, MI, and West Sayville URC in Long Island, NY)

“Either Jesus is not a perfect savior, or those who in true faith accept this savior have in him all they need for their salvation.”  In powerful antithetical language, Psalm 115 offsets the idols of the nations with the God of heaven, much as this part of the Catechism contrasts the weak Christ of the false church with the power of the true Savior.  Furthermore, this psalm exhorts and encourages each faithful believer to place his wholehearted trust in the Lord.  Here is the entirety of the Psalter Hymnal’s version:

Not unto us, O Lord of heaven,
But unto Thee be glory given;
In love and truth Thou dost fulfill
The counsels of Thy sovereign will;
Though nations fail Thy power to own,
Yet Thou dost reign, and Thou alone.

The idol gods of heathen lands
Are but the work of human hands:
They cannot see, they cannot speak,
Their ears are deaf, their hands are weak;
Like them shall be all those who hold
To gods of silver and of gold.

Let Israel trust in God alone,
The Lord whose grace and power are known;
To Him your full allegiance yield,
And He will be your help and shield;
All those who fear Him God will bless,
His saints have proved His faithfulness.

All ye that fear Him and adore,
The Lord increase you more and more;
Both great and small who Him confess,
You and your children He will bless;
Yea, blest are ye of Him who made
The heavens, and earth’s foundations laid.

The heavens are God’s since time began,
But He has given the earth to man;
The dead praise not the living God,
But we will sound His praise abroad.
Yea, we will ever bless His Name;
Praise ye the Lord, His praise proclaim.

What comfort is ours as we realize that our savior Jesus Christ has fully paid for all our sins with His precious blood!  How good it is to be His own!


URC Psalmody on YouTube

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