Archive for April, 2021

HERE I STAND

April 13, 2021

500 years ago today—April 13, 1521—Martin Luther stood before the assembled heads of state of the Holy Roman Empire at the Diet of Worms, Germany.  Roman Catholic historian Lord Acton termed the moment “the hinge of history…” Luther himself had a different hinge in mind—a hinge on heaven’s door.  He was there to defend his writings, which contradicted church rules and traditions. They all stemmed from a revelation he had while meditating on the first chapter of Romans in his monastery cell a few years earlier.  Verse 17, an old familiar passage, hit him like a thunderbolt this time—“…the righteous shall live by faith.” R. C. Sproul relates, “And he began to understand that what Paul was speaking of here was a righteousness that God in His grace was making available to those who would receive it passively, not those who would achieve it actively, but that would receive it by faith, and by which a person could be reconciled to a holy and righteous God… ‘When I discovered that, I was born again of the Holy Ghost. And the doors of paradise swung open, and I walked through.’” That led to his writing 95 Theses, controversial issues and practices he wished to debate with church authorities, which he had nailed on the Wittenberg Church door. It shook the world like a massive meteor strike that became known as the Protestant Reformation and led to Luther’s command performance at Worms. But there was no defense or debate allowed, just a demand by the church authorities to recant. Luther refused. He declared, “My conscience is captive to the Word of God,” and in the providence of God he changed the course of world history.   

Out of a few hundred works of art I’ve produced on my scroll saw, this depiction of the Reformation is my favorite: Luther’s Rose, his personal seal, itself rich in symbolism, anchored to the framework of the Triune God whose Gospel is explained by the five “Sola’s,” (Latin for “alone”), of the Reformation:  We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone as revealed in Scripture alone, all by Grace alone for the glory of God alone.

Catholics and Protestants, though we share the foundational Apostles Creed, will earnestly debate the sola part of these “Sola’s,” clarified in the Reformation, till Jesus returns. No matter where you attend church, know its doctrinal claims. Be a Berean. Search the scriptures. Pray that the Holy Spirit would enlighten you through His Word. Examine yourself. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. There’s nothing more important in life than the state of your eternal soul. Five hundred years after saying it, knowing it could bring a death sentence in that era but fearing God more than man, Luther’s courageous words at Worms still resonate in millions of Christian minds around the world, including mine—“Here I stand.”

LEGACY

April 11, 2021

When our daughter, Lizz, was 13 years old, her friend, who was an only child, invited her along on a family vacation. One of their stops was in Savannah, GA, and she sent us a postcard with a picture of a beautiful church with towering twin steeples. She filled us in with vacation news and squeezed in a PS that read, “I saw the church and I thought of you.” Melted my heart. That post card has spent the intervening 30 years in the inside cover pocket of my Bible with all my other most precious communications.

After a lifetime of world travels we now live near her and her family. It’s not my beloved mountains nor the beach, just mundane Midwest, my roots, right where we want to be—with our family who loves The Lord. When beloved daughter wiggles her index finger I unwind myself from her little finger and jump, with tool chest in hand. When it’s an Easter meal or any excuse for a special occasion, I jump even more eagerly.

Lord, may I never give Lizz a reason to not think of her Dadd when she sees a church.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

 God knows I was a mediocre trainer on my best day, but His grace overcame.

See you in church.

JD Wetterlingwww.jdwetterling.comAuthor Blog: Cogitations 

EASTER SUNDAY

April 4, 2021

Up from the grave he arose,
With a mighty triumph o’er his foes;
He arose a victor from the dark domain,
And he lives forever, with his saints to reign.
He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

(Robert Lowry)


We heard from our pulpit this past Palm Sunday that the day has dawned in America when we Christians are now not just tolerated, we are considered the problem with our crazed culture. This Easter, 2021, we celebrate the Risen Savior, even as we have sadly but apathetically witnessed the declension our “one nation, under God,” to one nation given up by God (Ro.1:24, 26, 28). That changes nothing about the facts of the Son of God’s death and resurrection for the salvation of His chosen, but it certainly should lead you to ask, “Am I indeed among that blessed number?”


“…the hour has come for you to wake from sleep” (Ro. 13:11), lest you sleepwalk to perdition. Friend, are you willing, this glorious victorious Easter morning, to suffer persecution for proclaiming your faith in the Risen Savior, who suffered and died for you?

The cross is empty, so’s the tomb.

The Hinge of Hist’ry sealed death’s doom.

Stand boldly and echo the angel that first Easter morning (Matthew 28:6). Inconceivably great is your reward!

“HE IS RISEN!”

SILENT SATURDAY REDUX

April 3, 2021

It’s Saturday morning and no one had a good night. In his nightmares a centurion rubbed his hands raw trying to get the blood off.  A feverish soldier, feeling like he was enveloped by the fires of hell in his newly-won single-piece tunic, cried out and flung it away in the night. Sanhedrin members tossed and turned fitfully, haunted by the guilt pangs of their misdeeds as their own haughty words bored into their conscience: “Let his blood be on us and on our children.” Pilate, already on a short tether from Caesar for botching the last Jewish riot, did violence to his conscience to avoid another one, and executed an innocent man. His sleep was haunted and his equally tormented wife was driving him crazy with, “I told you so.” Sleep was impossible for the devastated disciples, who feared getting dragged away in the night to the same fate as Jesus. A grief-stricken mother was traumatized by visions of her son’s inhuman torture. Hundreds of temple worshipers stared wide-eyed at their bedroom ceilings, the sound of the 60-foot high 4-inch thick temple curtain ripping from top to bottom still echoing in their ears. The earth had ceased its rock-splitting quakes, but folks still quaked in their beds and terrorized children cried through the night. Innumerable sleepless souls lay in abject despair as the most promising candidate ever for the long-awaited Messiah was crucified before the eyes of thousands. The very rocks cried out. A lost world never felt more lost. And the devil danced till dawn.

But Sunday’s coming…

AN INTERVIEW WITH JUDAS ISCARIOT

April 2, 2021

This holy week millions of people commemorate the last chapter of the central event of history, the most amazing act of love the world will ever witness—the Passion of Jesus Christ.  On Good Friday we gratefully honor the crucifixion of Christ, God’s son, who intentionally suffered and died as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of his people.  He died as our substitute because, since the fall of Adam, we are all inherently incapable of meeting God’s requirements of holiness and righteousness, or even caring about them of our own volition.  According to a plan designed in detail in the throne room of God before time began, a sinless Christ, our Savior, was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…and with his stripes we are healed, as Isaiah prophesied 700 years in advance.  And because Jesus rose from the dead on Easter, all who have faith in him and his work on our behalf can look forward with certainty to a similar great resurrection morning—though he die, yet shall he live forever, by Christ’s own promise. This is indeed the Gospel, so simple it is mind-boggling, the best “good news” that could ever enter the mind of man. 

A key participant in this drama was a man named Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ disciples, who betrayed the best friend he could ever have.  Judas, a sinner not unlike you and me, turned his back on eternal bliss for cold, unsatisfying, transitory cash; Judas, a master of self-delusion, as is everyman, convinced himself the wrong thing was the right thing to do; Judas, an impatient, egocentric man, just like the rest of us, forsook waiting on the Lord and took matters into his own hands. 

We do not know all the details and we can only surmise the thoughts that ran through Judas’ mind, so I have taken what is known from the biblical record and filled in the blanks with my imagination based on a lifetime of Bible study.  I cannot know the heart of another, especially a traitor like Judas, but sometimes I think I know the heart of this sinner saved by grace, and I confess I am appalled.  My thoughts are sinful almost all the time, and when my words and deeds are not, my motives are. And I know that, absent the sustaining grace, the utterly unmerited favor of God who loves me beyond my comprehension, I could have been Judas.   

Christ on the cross provides the only solution to this universal dilemma.  Ponder these truths and examine your own heart as you read the anguished last words of Judas Iscariot.

Let’s suppose that network news existed in first century Palestine and a TV reporter was in Jerusalem to cover Passover, the highest of Jewish holy days. The scene is the Garden of Gethsemane, outside the city’s eastern wall on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, the evening after Jesus’ was arrested there. The camera is rolling and the reporter is saying:

“Jesus of Nazareth, controversial itinerant preacher, alleged miracle worker and nemesis of the Jewish religious authorities, was crucified just west of the city walls today.  Coincidentally, he died at the same time that Jews were sacrificing their paschal lambs on the great temple’s altar, a centuries old ritual.  The man who, according to eyewitnesses, last night led authorities to Jesus of Nazareth right here where I am standing, was one of his closest twelve associates, a man named Judas Iscariot.  According to those who knew him best, none of whom were willing to talk to this reporter on the record, the betrayer was an enigmatic sort, a mixture of altruism and selfishness, loyalty and deceit, patriotism and self-centeredness.  Candidly, the impression this reporter got was that he was just an average Joe.”

Something stage left, off camera, catches the reporter’s attention.  A dejected, disheveled looking man, deep in thought with a coil of rope in his left hand, is wandering aimlessly through the garden.

“I believe that is…yes it is.”  The reporter realized with excitement that he had the news scoop of the ratings season and quit reading his prepared script.

“Cameraman, if you could pan to my left, here he is now.  Judas Iscariot!”

The man looked up, startled at the sound of his name.

“Judas, you look like a man with a tormented soul…and for good reason, I hear.  Here’s your chance to justify your traitorous act before the world.  Speak to us.”  He walked over to the man and held the microphone to his face while the man stared back angrily.

“Speak…you want me to speak?  No matter what I say you’ve already condemned me. You’re a sorry sounding sinner with that holier-than-thou tone of voice.  Who gave you the right to judge me?

“Judas, the world is watching.  You’ll never get a better chance than this to justify yourself.”

Judas looked down at the ground, took a deep breath as he pondered his options, then dropped his rope and wrung his hands.  He began in a pleading voice full of self-pity.    

“Do you know what it is to long for recognition?  For acceptance?  Do you know that awful, lonesome feeling of an outsider?  You know, in my whole life no one ever said to me, ‘Judas, it’s good to see you.’  I wanted so badly to be somebody special.  Am I so strange?  Haven’t you had longings like that?  I bet you didn’t get where you are without them.  With me it became an obsession.  I’d pay any price…any price whatsoever.”  He paused and took another deep, quavering breath as he rubbed his bewhiskered face with both hands.

“Listen to my story.  I’m not asking for forgiveness.  I’m beyond forgiveness.  Let my life be a warning.  There is not a viewer out there who is not capable of doing the same terrible thing I did.” As he talked he shook a pointed finger right into the camera, then stopped, dropped his hand to his side like a dead weight and looked up into the branches of the olive trees.  With another uncomfortable pause, he resumed.   

“It all began so well.  I was born in Kerioth, in Judea.  Home of God’s chosen people, home of this holy city, home of almighty God’s magnificent temple.  I alone was a true Israeli—the rest of the disciples were from Galilee.  Galilee…whose only claim to fame is that nothing good ever came from there.  And I was the only one of the bunch who had a resume worthy of the job.  That’s why Jesus made me treasurer.”  With that he threw his shoulders back and thrust out his chest.

“Like all Jewish parents, mine were so happy at the birth of a baby boy.  My father proudly announced that my name would be Judas.  That means ‘praised of God.’ Did you know that? Judas, praised of God.” A smile briefly crossed his countenance as he stared into space over the head of the interviewer.

“I was raised like all Judean boys.  I was taught to fear God and to await the promised deliverer.  That’s what attracted me to Jesus the first time I saw him.  He had that aura of authority.  I heard him on several occasions and he stirred me like no teacher ever had.  Then that amazing day came when he delivered that sermon just up the slope here on the Mount of Olives.  Wow!  I was sure that the kingdom he kept talking about was the promised kingdom we’d all been waiting for. At the close of his sermon I stood there starry eyed…transfixed.  And he came right up to me, looked deep into my eyes and said, ‘Judas, follow me.’  And I did!  He was irresistible.

“Jesus chose me.”  He looked incredulous at the thought, but his tone of voice was prideful.  “He chose me, along with a few others…and I had the purest, noblest intentions when I shouldered my knapsack that day. 

“Why would he choose me, you ask?  Why would he choose you?”  Judas pondered it himself for a few seconds, then continued.

“In those early days we were such great pals.  We hung on every word that came out of his mouth.  Then, out of his presence we were always trying to guess when his revolution would begin.

“How to explain the change?  I…I don’t know if I can.  It was a gradual thing.  You know we lived like vagabonds and paupers, and somehow greed and self-centeredness just crept in.  With the passage of time…what an awful lifestyle…and no move on his part to declare his kingship of Israel, I just grew more and more disenchanted. As treasurer I found myself filching coins, telling myself I’d pay them back…but somehow never did.  Jesus saw the change in me.  He warned me.  ‘Judas, beware of covetousness.  A man’s life is not measured by the things he has, Judas.  There is nothing hid that shall not be known, Judas.’

“But as terrible as my greed was, it was nothing compared to my desire for recognition.  I hungered for that more than I hungered for food.  And yet people laughed at us, called us names, chased us out of town.  I had given up everything for Jesus and they made me feel like the scum of the earth.  And the folks we hung out with—down-and-outers, lepers, cripples….  Poverty-stricken hordes dogged us day and night.  And when we complained to Jesus about it he always said, ‘My job is to do the will of my father.’  How can you argue with that?”  Judas stared at the reporter as if he were looking for agreement.  He pressed on with increased intensity.

“Well, finally I got up my nerve to make my move.  You see…I figured that if he really was the Messiah, then his legions of angels would protect him from anything.  And if he was not who he claimed to be, well…then…he deserved to be exposed, and the man doing the exposing would be proclaimed throughout the land.  Judas Iscariot!  I would be somebody!  I didn’t do it for the money—thirty pieces of silver, the price of a slave …?   Are you kidding?

“So I set it all up with the Sanhedrin for his arrest, then joined the others in the upper room for the Passover Meal.  I was so nervous….  I had never done anything like that before.  While the meal was being served Jesus did the most demeaning thing imaginable: he washed our feet.  You know in our part of the world showing the sole of your foot to another person is the most insulting thing you can do to him.  Servants wash feet,” he shouted indignantly. 

“When he was done he said, ‘All of you are not clean.’  I knew who he was talking about.  He added, ‘One of you will betray me.’  Just like all the rest, I said, Is it I, Lord?  I might have fooled the others but I didn’t fool Jesus.  My heart was beating so hard I feared everyone could hear it.  So when he leaned toward me and said, ‘Do it quickly,’ I got out of there.  The man was reading every thought in my head.

“Well…you know the rest of the story.  Jesus allowed himself to be condemned in a trial that was the biggest travesty of justice Israel has ever seen.  Then he let them kill him in the most hideous way they knew how.  They scourged him—ripped the flesh off his bones till he was unrecognizable and nearly dead—and then crucified him…and he went like a lamb to the slaughter…and I knew…I had made a big mistake.”  Tears were running down his cheeks into his beard.

“Jesus was forever preaching about repentance and forgiveness…and I know have sinned and need to get down on my knees and repent…but I cannot bring myself to do it.  I have betrayed innocent blood—I have killed the Son of the Most High God.  I can’t forgive myself.  How can I ask anyone else to forgive me?  I threw the cash back in their faces but my guilt…and my despair have consumed me…and I can’t stand it any longer.” Judas was almost incoherent now.  He buried his face in hands and great choking sobs were broadcast to the world.  He turned his back on the camera for a moment, then slowly turned around, stared straight into the camera and said in a composed, resigned voice, “I deserve no common decency.  Don’t mark my grave.  They’ll just dig me up and hang me again….  

“Hmmph.  I have my recognition now.  The world will never forget my name.  But if we meet again where I am going, you are in big trouble sinners, and you will share my pain and my agony for all eternity.  Fall on your knees and repent…while there is still time.  You know not the day nor the hour.”

Judas picked up his coil of rope, studied it a moment, then turned and resolutely walked off through the trees. 

“Well, there you have it, folks.  Back to you in the studio, Augustus.” 

The Bible states that Judas hanged himself outside the city in a field called Akeldama, the Field of Blood.  To this day when you go to Jerusalem they will show you where he obstinately took his own life rather than ask a merciful God for forgiveness.

This holy week consider the sins of Judas, and where he spends eternity, and remember that Christ died for the sins of those who believe in his life, death and resurrection and are sincerely repentant.  There is no sin so great that Almighty God cannot forgive a truly contrite heart but for the asking, nor will the smallest unconfessed sin in thought, word or deed be overlooked by the Gatekeeper of Heaven. And human effort will never be perfect enough to earn admittance to the perfection of heaven. We are debtors who cannot pay.  Faith alone in Christ’s amazing act of atoning love alone is our boarding pass to eternal glory with him.  Blessed is he whose…sins are covered. 

The night before he was crucified, Jesus stated simply and unequivocally, I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. His disciple, Peter, who frightfully denied knowing Jesus the night he was arrested, a few weeks later declared to the same authorities who crucified Christ, with a boldness that astounded them: …there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.   

Renowned eighteenth century hymn writer, Isaac Watts, penned the best possible response to this exalted Easter passion.  May it be your response this Holy Week:

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

CATASTROPHIC FRIDAY: For My Good and His Glory

April 2, 2021

There’s a lot hidden behind that benign codger smile in my Facebook mugshot. If you’re standing near me on judgment day when all is revealed, you’ll know what God has known all along.  I was such an incorrigible rebel God sent his Son to ransom me from eternity in hell. Jesus said, “God so loved the world…” and He proved just how and how much by paying my ransom—the atonement price. It was catastrophic. Two thousand years ago today the Son of God, his body shredded to a bloody pulp by the executioner’s whip, was hung naked from nails on a cross, fighting for every dying breath. God so hates sin that in His wrath He killed His sinless Son to execute His perfect justice for my sin? God so loved a wretch like me that His Son voluntarily died the death due me? Sometimes it causes me to tremble …  Then, in due time He gave me the gift of faith to repent and believe it all (Eph. 2:8-9) as an adopted child of the living God, and inherit an eternal life of unimaginable bliss with Him? My salvation is His sovereign act from first to last. What manner of love is this…?  “Mysterium Tremendum”—the tremendous, tremor-inducing, awe-inspiring mystery (R. C. Sproul). I would have to be a raving lunatic to forsake the shadow of the cross. It is the only sanctuary from the wrath to come. Here I stand…dumbstruck in gratitude. He reigns. 

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).


%d bloggers like this: