TITLE: A Right Understanding of Christ’s Sacrifice
THEME: How we rightly contemplate Christ’s Sacrifice
- Knowing it was required by God’s Wrath over sin – OUR sin – for which WE should have suffered.
- We are comforted by it – it’s sufficiency for sin – knowing it was a willing sacrifice for those He loved
- We take it as an example in our own trial and suffering
It becomes a trap, on this day, to be persuaded to focus upon the actions of confused and lost sinners as they put to death our Lord Jesus. As those untouched by the light of knowledge that comes from God, the leaders of Jesus’ day could do nothing different. In their sin, they are blinded by their envy, their greed for power and their desire to maintain their status. Ensnared in the darkness of sin, the Jews, Pilate, the Roman Soldiers were helpless to see the inhumane injustice being done.
Anger and ire against them really have no place in our consideration of these events. They more are to be pitied than pilloried. After all, such hatred and ire against God is what life is like for all who have not been rescued and redeemed by Jesus and given His Holy Spirit to know and believe the truth.
Even His own disciples did not know the truth – that all this was the necessary outworking of God’s plan of salvation – that Christ Jesus willingly submits Himself to this cruel and inhumane treatment. None of it could happen apart from His will and the will of His Father.
Therefore, we dare not fall into another trap – that of merely weeping for Jesus and taking pity on Him. For He does not go to the cross and die as one who has been defeated. Christ goes to the cross willingly – He submits Himself to suffer in His flesh the beatings and the scourging laid upon him by human hands, and then drinks the cup of the Father’s wrath over sin as He hangs on the accursed tree.
On this most holy night of the Christian church year – when the church clearly proclaims the glorious work of her Lord and Savior – there are many false ways to consider Christ’s death. Let us, then, pause to consider how we rightly contemplate Christ’s sacrifice – so that we would derive the proper benefits from it.
First, if we are to rightly consider this most noble of our Lord’s works, we must become terror stricken. We must know and take to heart the fact that God’s wrath rests upon this innocent man because of us.
It is not enough to merely consider that the hammer and spike that secured Him there are in your hands. It is not enough to think that you are the one who callously pierced the innocent brow of God’s beloved Son with a crown of thorns.
But you must see yourself as the very reason that God’s beloved Son cries out to His Father, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?” For upon the cross, Jesus suffers the pain and torment of an eternal death – languishing as one being eternally roasted on a spit over the red hot fury of God over the deeds done by your sinful hands – by the thoughts of your sinful mind – and by the desires of your sinful heart.
Your sin and mine not only put Jesus on the cross – the pain and torment of the tortuous death He suffered to be inflicted is what YOU deserve.
Yet He is the one who suffered death a thousand times over and more in the span of those three hours in the darkness. And, like the murder Barrabbas, YOU are made free.
This is the first way by which we should know and understand the events of that day. And if we cannot perceive and feel the terror over our guilt and our sin welling up within us, we should fear and tremble – because if we cannot here and now realize the depth of our sin – if we do not now recognize how great a suffering our misdeeds caused our Lord and our God, it will be left for us to experience such terror as our own soul is ripped from our bodies at our own physical death.
Unless we become well practiced here and now to recognize our own wretchedness and understand what we truly deserve for our sin, when our last hour comes it will only be with painful difficulty that we will be able to lay hold of the blessing of forgiveness and salvation won in our place by Jesus as He hung, gasping for breath.
And this is the second way in which we rightly think about Christ’s sufferings and death.
We rightly consider the events of Good Friday when we have learned to look at the marred and disfigured image of Jesus upon the cross, knowing that our sin put Him there and taking comfort from the fact that through His self-giving sacrifice, God’s wrath over our sin has been met. Christ’s suffering was sufficient. God no long bears any wrath or anger toward us over our sin. Though we deserve to be punished in this life and forever, Christ suffered it all in our place.
Jesus’ own words from the cross bear testimony to this fact. “IT IS FINISHED!” The terror in our conscience cannot remain there, for we have our Lord Jesus sure and certain word, “IT IS FINISHED.” God has reconciled us Himself and He no longer counts our trespasses against us. His wrath and displeasure with you is finished in the finished work of the crucified Christ.
In this way, the frightening image of Jesus body on the cross that we see when we consider He is there on account of our sin – becomes a comforting image of the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world to reconcile us to Himself.
For there upon the cross, the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. In His own body, He bore our sins. For He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God.
Therefore, as you look upon the body of Christ on the cross, we must not look with pity or sorrow – but we must look with gratitude and a humility that sees in His flesh our salvation and our redemption.
We can no longer hold onto our sins as if we could pay for them ourselves. We cannot consider them unforgiven and strive and seek to find ways to “forgive ourselves.” Such actions deny Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for sin.
For there, on the sixth day, having completed the work of redemption, our Lord Jesus speaks His final words, “IT IS FINISHED.” And He does not lie. There, on the cross, God’s wrath is assuaged, your guilt is covered, your penalty is paid. You need not live in fear and dread of your sin. You can face it openly and honestly – owning the fact that you are a sinner and when tormented by fear and guilt over your sin, echo Jesus’ words, “IT IS FINISHED.” And trust that what He had suffered and accomplished for you was sufficient.
For after Jesus speaks these comforting words, He gives up His Spirit and enters the Sabbath rest.
And, having finished His labors, with eyes closed in slumber, His side was opened with the spear of a soldier, and there flowed from His side blood and water. Water which points us to the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit in Baptism by which He gives life to His church – and the very blood which we drink that nourishes and strengthens the Church to live as His bride.
And so, we come finally to the third way by which we rightly contemplate Christ’s death on the cross. First was that we see in it the gravity of our sin and God’s great wrath. Second that we see in Christ’s body upon the cross our savior – the one who has appeased God’s wrath and given us new life and made us His own. Third, we rightly look upon Christ’s tortured body and see in it the way of suffering we must travel in this life as His body.
The inhumanity and injustice showed to Him by a world blinded by sin and greedy for the power and control of God over the lives of others will set its sights on those who follow the narrow Way of faith and righteousness paved by Him who rescues us from sin death and hell. There will be no escape.
And as He submitted to those who abused the authority given to them by God the Father, so we are to submit and suffer when the rulers of our age give in to their lust for power and the deluded crowds who would go so far as to crucify us.
But more than that, consider how Christ willingly entered into Jerusalem, how he made no reply to Pilate, gave no defense, and took upon Himself the distress and anguish of purging the world from guilt over sin. Then you will be prepared to apply that to your own life.
Jesus righteously went forth, even after begging that the cup of His Father’s wrath would be removed. And this serves as an example for us to follow – to lead us to live as God calls us to live – in righteousness and holiness. It is hard and distasteful to set aside our fleshly urges and our inward desires to sin. And in this way, Christ’s suffering provides strength and comfort against all vice and bad habits in our lives. As St. Paul writes, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Here is how Luther describes this use of Christ’s passion, “Does pride attack you? Behold how your Lord was mocked and disgraced with murderers. Do unchastity and lust thrust themselves against you: think of how bitter it was for Christ to have His tender flesh torn, pierced and beaten. Do hatred and envy war against you? Do you seek vengeance? Remember how Jesus with many tears cries and prayed for you and all His enemies against whom, indeed, He had more reason to seek vengeance. If trouble or adversity of body or soul afflict you – strengthen your heart and say, ‘Why should I not also suffer a little while, since my Lord sweat blood in the garden because of anxiety and grief?’”
In our day, such a consideration of Jesus’ suffering and death is not done. We too quickly gloss over this most holy festival and look forward to His victory lap on the day of His resurrection.
But the one who would be a true Christian will carefully weigh these words. After all, though St. Paul said, “If Christ had not been raised, our faith is in vain,” He also said that true Christian preaching is a preaching of Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, a stumbling block for the Jews and foolishness for the Greeks. but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
Therefore, on the cross extended, BEHOLD YOUR KING! In the Name of Jesus. AMEN.