Saturday, April 03, 2010

Who Put Christ on the Cross?

Who put Christ on the cross? This is a question that is set forth by many and frequently, especially during Lententide and Holy Week. Good Friday is a day when every heart that hears of Christ’s sacrificial death is inclined to ask this question.

Hearing and perceiving the correct answer to this question is the difference between hearing the Gospel or hearing yet again the tyranny of the preaching of the Law and works righteousness.

Most times, what is preached and/or perceived in connection with this question is akin to the answer given at CyberBrethren in the post entitled: Who Put Christ on the Cross? You did.

This is indeed the commonly held perception. This is very likely the first response that any person has to the preaching of the cross of Christ. Cyberbrethren’s post opens with this line: “It was your sin, and mine, that put him on the Cross.”

While this is the commonly held perception, is it true? No. Even more, absolutely no!

As the appointed pericopal texts from Maundy Thursday and Good Friday inform us, it was the love of God that put Jesus on the cross. Our sin did not put Jesus on the cross. Our sin put US on the cross. Our sin killed US and damned US to everlasting condemnation. Our sin placed US under the curse of everlasting death on account of separating US from God’s Holy Communion.

From the Maundy Thursday Gospel reading, John 13:1-15, the very first sentence in this text sets this plainly before us, saying, “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end.”

This is a brief reiteration of what Jesus Himself declared earlier in John 10:13-18:

     The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.

Jesus, Immanuel, with-us-God, did all that was foretold of Him to insure that those who rejected and hated Him would hand Him over to the Gentiles to be crucified. This was God’s will from eternity. It was foreshadowed in the Passover. In merciful love, God Himself took up our flesh, tabernacling among us with the fullness of His glory enshrouded by flesh and blood, so as to take our sin and carry it to the cross. Immanuel willingly took our place on the cross.

Who put Jesus on the cross? Jesus did! He went to the cross in order to carry our sin to the judgment and to the grave for us in order to set us free from the guilt and the condemnation from which we could never escape. He subjected Himself to the cross so as to remove all guilt of the curse of the tree from us. To incorporate us into the freedom that He purchased for us, He instituted Baptism, as the means of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the regeneration and renewal of faith that the Holy Spirit works. By this newly generated faith He then leads us to the continual proclamation of His death till He comes again in glory, that we should partake of the fullness of the life of the Holy Communion that is in His body and blood.

This distinction is important. It is vitally important. For in recognizing that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is entirely according to the will and gracious providence of the Lord Himself, we are freed from all guilt, including the guilt of the putting of Jesus upon the cross. In the appointed Gospel reading for Good Friday, John 18:1-19:42, Jesus makes this unmistakably clear.

     When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; And went again into the judgment hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? Knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?
     Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.

Who had the greatest sin? Who but the Lamb of God who takes the sin of the world? Even Satan has no sin equal to this! Jesus alone carried the sin of the entire world. He sent Judas from the Supper to do the wickedness that dwelled in his heart. Jesus went to Gethsemane, where He knew that Judas would bring the soldiers from the Sanhedrin. Jesus commanded Peter to put away His sword. Jesus prayed for the strength not to call upon the legions of heavenly angels to fight for Him. Jesus healed the ear of the servant. Jesus permitted Himself to be chained and led away, to be falsely accused, to be mocked and spit upon, to be beaten and scourged, and finally to be crucified. The sin of the cross was fully upon the shoulders of Jesus alone. He carried it all, willingly, lovingly.

So, fellow sinner redeemed by Christ, allow no one to put that guilt upon you. Jesus has taken the sin of the world and continues to take it through the means of grace. Do not allow the devil, the world, or your own flesh to tempt you to believe that in some way you must take any part of this upon yourself. The Truth is that in Christ Jesus you are absolutely and unequivocally free!

Paul Gerhardt understood this clearly as he expounds in his magnificent hymn, “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” which you can read and sing again for yourself. (TLH 142)

1. A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,
The guilt of all men bearing;
And laden with the sins of earth,
None else the burden sharing!
Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,
To slaughter led without complaint,
That spotless life to offer;
Bears shame and stripes, and wounds and death,
Anguish and mockery, and saith,
"Willing all this I suffer."

2. This Lamb is Christ, the soul's great Friend,
The Lamb of God, our Savior;
Him God the Father chose to send
To gain for us His favor.
"Go forth, My Son," the Father saith,
"And free men from the fear of death,
From guilt and condemnation.
The wrath and stripes are hard to bear,
But by Thy Passion men shall share
The fruit of Thy salvation."

3. "Yea, Father, yea, most willingly
I'll bear what Thou commandest;
My will conforms to Thy decree,
I do what Thou demandest."
O wondrous Love, what hast Thou done!
The Father offers up His Son!
The Son, content, descendeth! O Love, how strong Thou art to save!Thou beddest Him within the grave
Whose word the mountains rendeth.

4. From morn till eve my theme shall be
Thy mercy's wondrous measure;
To sacrifice myself for Thee
Shall be my aim and pleasure.
My stream of life shall ever be
A current flowing ceaselessly,
Thy constant praise outpouring.
I'll treasure in my memory,
O Lord, all Thou hast done for me,
Thy gracious love adoring.

5. Of death I am no more afraid,
New life from Thee is flowing;
Thy cross affords me cooling shade
When noonday's sun is glowing.
When by my grief I am opprest,
On Thee my weary soul shall rest
Serenely as on pillows.
Thou art my Anchor when by woe
My bark is driven to and fro
On trouble's surging billows.

6. And when Thy glory I shall see
And taste Thy kingdom's pleasure,
Thy blood my royal robe shall be,
My joy beyond all measure.
When I appear before Thy throne,
Thy righteousness shall be my crown,-
With these I need not hide me.
And there, in garments richly wrought
As Thine own bride, I shall be brought
To stand in joy beside Thee.

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