Let's Save God from Himself!
Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany
29 July 2016
As a child I had deep sympathy for Jesus. During Lent I would consider the various ways in which I might have been able to rescue Him from His awful suffering and death on the cross. I did not want to see my Lord suffer and die, least of all for me. I wondered if I became a lawyer, if I might have adequately represented Jesus before the courts of the Sanhedrin and Pilate, the Roman Procurator? It seemed to me an open and shut case because Pilate had judged Him not to be guilty of anything deserving death. I thought I should be able to get this innocent man acquitted. Yet I was also aware that Jesus had declined to mount a defense on His own behalf. He seemed hell-bent on His own destruction. I realized that I probably needed to defend Jesus against His own will. I considered how I might provide Jesus with a Rambo-like extraction (long before there even was a Rambo) from the custody of the Romans. In my childish imagination, this extraction included lots of bullets and explosions. How misguided I was! I was unaware that my sympathy for Jesus was short circuiting His sympathy for me.

My childish thoughts about saving Jesus from Himself disclose the perversity of fallen humanity. I thought it was possible and actually my duty to save God from His own foolish plan to save me by suffering and an ignominious death. This was doubly blind of course. Not only could I not save Jesus in this way, but I should not do so. For by working out a way to save Jesus from Himself, I would have been liable to damnation. He declines rescue to rescue poor sinners. He declines to defend Himself to defend us. He declines to plead His manifest innocence to give innocence to us. He refuses to seek acquittal that He might acquit us of our sin and depravity. Yet, like His enemies, we too would remove Him from the cross (Mt 27:40), and thus be deprived of His saving mercy. He is the substitute for a world full of sinners. He takes all our sin and depravity into His own holy person and subsumes it under His perfect holiness, just as a drop of filth is swallowed up by an ocean.

Only Jesus could have done this and He could only have done it through His cross. The cross is the center and substance of our religion, that the man hanging on the cross embraces and swallows down all the world's sin. It is gone. The law's ugly accusations can no longer stand against me, because He bore them all as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). How weak we are in believing this divine and unchangeable truth! I do not have my sin, because He has taken it away. What part of "takes away" do you not understand? This is what we are talking about when we say that justification is by faith; we receive all the benefits of Christ's death, not by our works or efforts, our own holiness or piety, but alone by His. He takes away our sin; we do not. When we try to save Jesus from His own death by our holy life, we are trying to extract Jesus from His suffering and death against His will. This is not childlike faith, which allows God to be God for us, but a childish faith attempting to save God from Himself.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Ambrose of Milan

"Now the world becomes guilty before God by the law (Rm 3:19), in that all are made subject to its demands. However, no man is justified by its works. And since by the law comes the knowledge of sin, but not the remission of guilt, the law, which has made all sinners, would seem to have caused great damage.

"But when the Lord Jesus came, He forgave all people that sin, which none could escape, 'by canceling the record of debt that stood against us' (Col 2:14) by the shedding of His own blood. This then is the Apostle's meaning; sin abounded by the law, but grace super-abounded through Jesus. For after the whole world became guilty, He took away the sin of the whole world, as John bore witness, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). Therefore, let no one glory in works, for by his works no one shall be justified (Rm 3:28). For he that is righteous has a free gift, for he has been justified following on baptism. Faith then delivers by the blood of Christ, because it is said that 'Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered' (Ps 32:1)."

Ambrose of Milan, Epistle to Irenaeus, 73.10-11
Psalm 32

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD. Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (ESV)
Lord Jesus, You are the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Since you have taken all the sins of the world away, keep us from glorying in our own works or from thinking that by our own works we could be justified. We give thanks to you that we have received your righteousness as a free gift, for we have been justified in baptism. Deliver us by Your blood, as it is written of the blessed that their transgression is forgiven, their sin is covered. Amen.

For the people of Zion Lutheran Church in Pampa, Texas, who will be celebrating the 75th anniversary of the founding of their congregation in divine service on Sunday, that they may give thanks to the Lord for all of His goodness to them

For all those like Mary and Martha who suffer the loss of her brother like Lazarus, that they would be comforted by the voice of Jesus who says that He is the resurrection and the life

For Michael Golchert as he undergoes therapy for cancer, that he would be strengthened in both body and spirit and remain confident of the God's promise of rescue for those who suffer
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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