In preparation for serious reflection upon the Lord’s cross and his victorious resurrection from the dead many Christian faith traditions practice Lent. Lent, in essence, is a period of time set aside by worshipers to reflect upon the significance and magnitude of Christ’s cross work in light of their desperate need for grace, mercy and forgiveness. The observance of Lent is usually accompanied by fasting, prayer, mourning, self-denial and repenting over sin.
As a Christian practicing his faith in the sphere of Baptist tradition, Lent is typically frowned upon, so I’ve never participated in it. However, I must admit, that I’m not totally opposed to such practices on the condition that reflection upon our sin, Christ’s cross, fervent prayer and a holy lifestyle of self-denial aren’t solely practiced only within the limited confines of the 40 days of Lent. We as Christians should keep these sacred truths close to our hearts at all times, especially every time we sit down at the Lord’s Supper.
In recent years I’ve seen the wisdom in setting aside and sanctifying a period of time for serious reflection upon the glorious cross of Christ and subsequent conquering of death, hell and the grave. For those not comfortable with the idea of participating in Lent, perhaps I can offer an acceptable alternative. I highly recommend reading a couple of short books on the passion, purpose and application of Christ’ sacrifice on the cross. These books are brief with short, succinct chapters that can be read as a devotion everyday over the course of the month preceding Easter Sunday.
The first book is titled: The Cross he Bore by Frederick S. Leahy. The second is titled: The Truth of the Cross by RC Sproul. Below I’ll post a review of each, including a list of the chapters contained in each volume.
Title: The Cross He Bore
Author: Frederick S. Leahy
Publisher: Banner of Truth
Page Count: 100
Synopsis: The book’s subtitle says it all: Meditations on the Sufferings of the Redeemer. Starting with Christ’s struggles as he wrestles with the Father in prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane, Frederick Leahy takes us on a retrospective tour through the final hours of the life of Jesus. He stops along the way to ruminate on the theological import of what is recorded in scripture concerning Christ’s travails in this tragedy turned triumph. Leahy sums the scope of his little book best in the introduction:
“It is not my intention in these brief chapters to give a detailed account of the trial and crucifixion of our Lord…. Rather, I have selected certain passages which help us to meditate on what the Saviour endured for our salvation. If our meditation on the cross be meagre, can our love for the Saviour be great?”
Leahy will sometimes roam into the realm of speculation, using what Edward Donnelly in the Foreward calls, ‘a disciplined and sanctified imagination’. However, his feet remain firmly planted on the ground, staying consistent with the narrative of the text throughout.
Kudos: I found this book to be a tremendous help in putting me square in the middle of the unfolding drama in the ancient holy city of Jerusalem. I could empathize with Christ’s sufferings in a way I’ve never experienced before. I felt like I walked the very path of Jesus from the garden, to his trial and up the winding trail to Calvary, sharing the wide range of emotions he must of felt. I know scripture tells us that Jesus became flesh to empathize with us in the weakness of our flesh, but I think Leahy does a fantastic job here of returning the favor.
Knocks: how can I knock a book dedicated to meditations on Christ’s sufferings – something every thoughtful believer should think upon?
Recommendation: This book should be reread every year as the celebration of Christ’s death and resurrection approaches to remind us of the enormous personal suffering and sacrifice our Lord and King suffered for our sake.
- Man of Sorrows
- Prayerful Submission
- Strengthened to Suffer
- Satan’s Hour
- The Dumb Lamb
- Taking the Oath
- Sentenced to Death
- The Butt of Mockery
- The Crown of Thorns
- Outside the Gates
- Satan’s Cup Refused
- The King Among Bandits
- Outer Darkness
Title: The Truth of the Cross
Author: R.C. Sproul
Publisher: Reformation Trust
Page Count: 167
Synopsis: As the title implies, this is a book focused upon the significance of the crucifixion of our Lord. Sproul sets out to explain, in his trademark winsome fashion, how the cross remains meaningful to humans living in a technologically advanced civilization far removed from the ancient world Christ was born into. He establishes why an atonement is necessary, both from the viewpoint of human depravity and of divine justice. Sproul then beautifully outlines man’s dire standing in relation to a Holy God in one of my favorite chapters. He explains that God sees all humans in Adam as debtors, enemies and criminals. We owe God a debt of complete and total righteous obedience that we cannot pay in full. We also stand in hostility toward God, whom we have greatly offended, whose righteous standards have been so thoroughly abused by us all. Lastly, we stand condemned as criminals who have committed high treason against a Holy God, breaking every one of his commandments, often with great zeal and enthusiasm. Sproul spends the rest of the volume exploring the various facets of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our redemption. Sproul teaches how as debtors, Christ has become our surety; as enemies how he has become our mediator; as criminals how he has become our substitute.
Kudos: RC Sproul is one of my favorite theological authors for the simple reason that he makes theology simple. He has a rare gift of taking deep, complex doctrinal issues and simplifying them in a warm, folksy manner that makes his readers raise both eyebrows in an ‘Oh, now I get it!’ moment of epiphany all throughout his writings. This little book should give the reader several of these moments. The Truth of the Cross is educational and a true joy to read.
Knocks: Maybe I’m too soft but again, I can’t really find much to complain about. Everyone would greatly benefit from a careful reading of this little book.
Recommendation: Buy both these books and read them like a devotion, one little chapter at a time and meditate on the profound truths they have to offer.
- The Necessity of the Atonement
- The Just God
- Debtors, Enemies and Criminals
- Ransomed from Above
- The Saving Substitute
- Made Like His Brethren
- The Suffering Servant
- The Blessing and the Curse
- A Secure Faith
- Questions and Answers