And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall, but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his garments among them by casting lots. Then they sat down and kept watch over him there. And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews."
Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left. And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross." So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, "He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way. Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. (ESV)
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The Sin Is Mine
18 April 2014
Today is the day. Heaven and earth meet. Everything is drawn into a single point: the cross. Every moment coalesces on this one day. All of history focuses on this one death. Heaven and earth are all suspended in silent waiting to see the spectacle of the Son of God dying. It dwarfs anything ever conceived by Cecil B. DeMille. The angels await the outcome of the struggle for salvation. The rocks explode with the tension. The sun hides his face from the dreadful scene. The graves cannot possess their dead any longer (Mt 27:46-56). The Son of God is suspended between earth and heaven, bearing the burden of the one and the holiness of the other. This is the story that gives meaning to every other.
But what does it mean to us personally? Who are you in the passion play? Where do you belong in the dramatis personae? Are you Pontius Pilate who is skeptical about the existence of truth, religious or otherwise? Are you in the crowd howling for His death and wishing His blood upon you and your children? Are you with the soldiers that flay the flesh from his back with the lash? Could you be Barabbas, whom Pilate released when Christ was condemned instead? Are you the disciple who ran and hid, the one who denied Him thrice, or he who betrayed him for a trifle? Who are you in the story of salvation? The great mystery is that we are them all. How easily we delude ourselves into thinking that this crime is someone else's fault. The foolishness of anti-Semitism arose at times from the presumption that this was a Jewish crime. We want to blame someone, as long as that someone isn't me. "They" must have done this. Therefore, I did not.
But the truth is that if He did not die because of me, His death is no longer for me. If my sins did not nail Him there, then I am keeping my sins to myself, and that will have eternally detrimental effects. If His death is not my crime, my crime is not taken away in Him. If my skepticism about the divine truth was not refuted by His holy silence in the face of the ridicule of the world, then my denial of the truth has not been silenced by Him. If I do not call for His blood, then it cannot be mine. If the blood leaking from the lash's work does not splatter me, then I am not cleansed from all sin. If I am not set free when He was condemned, then I am still a prisoner of death. If I am not with the fearful I shall never be freed from fear. It is suicidal if I do not confess my betrayal of His cause. If I deny that I have heard the cock crow, I will never see His face as He looks into my eyes with yearning pity. No, the sin is not "theirs." It is mine. And so is His salvation.
"They contemplate Christ's passion properly who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them. Thus he says in Isaiah 53 [:8], 'I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people.' If the dearest child is punished thus, what will be the fate of sinners (Lk 23:31)? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God's very own Son, the eternal wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you think about it, the more intensely will you be frightened.
"You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. In Acts 2 [:36-37] St. Peter frightened the Jews like a peal of thunder when he said to all of them, 'You crucified him.' Consequently three thousand alarmed and terrified Jews asked the apostles on that one day, 'O dear brethren, what shall we do now?' Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ's hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts, etc.
"For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ's passion. This earnest mirror, Christ, will not lie or trifle, and whatever it points out will come to pass in full measure.
"St. Bernard was so terrified by this that he declared, 'I regarded myself secure; I was not aware of the eternal sentence that had been passed on me in heaven until I saw that God's only Son had compassion upon me and offered to bear this sentence for me. Alas, if the situation is that serious, I should not make light of it or feel secure.' We read that Christ commanded the women not to weep for him but for themselves and their children [Lk 23:28]. And he adds the reason for this, saying, 'For if they do this to the green wood, what will happen when it is dry?' [Lk 23:31] He says as it were: From my martyrdom you can learn what it is that you really deserve and what your fate should be. Here the saying applies that the small dog is whipped to frighten the big dog. Thus the prophet said that all the generations on earth will bewail themselves over him (Jer 4:31); he does not say that they will bewail him, but that they will bewail themselves because of him. In like manner the people of whom we heard in Acts 2 [ :36-37] were so frightened that they said to the apostles, 'O brethren, what shall we do?' This is also the song of the church: 'I will ponder this diligently and, as a result, my soul will languish within me' (LSB 450).
"We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ's passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ's passion. The real and true work of Christ's passion is to make man conformable to Christ, so that man's conscience is tormented by his sins in like measure as Christ was pitiably tormented in body and soul by our sins. This does not call for many words but for profound reflection and a great awe of sins. Take this as an illustration: a criminal is sentenced to death for the murder of the child of a prince or a king. In the meantime you go your carefree way, singing and playing, until you are cruelly arrested and convicted of having inspired the murderer. Now the whole world closes in upon you, especially since your conscience also deserts you. You should be terrified even more by the meditation on Christ's passion. For the evildoers, the Jews, whom God has judged and driven out, were only the servants of your sin; you are actually the one who, as we said, by his sin killed and crucified God's Son."
Martin Luther, A Meditation on Christ's Passion, 4-8
Collect for Good Friday
Almighty God, graciously behold this Your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, to be given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death on the cross; who now lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
For those who will be baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ during the Great Three Days, that they would live unto Christ
For the faithful, that they might not be enticed into participation in worldly entertainments during the Great Three Days, but commit themselves to meditation on the suffering, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ
For Bud Obert, that the Lord would rescue him and grant him peace
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias Isenheim Altarpiece (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2014