As we noted here last Sunday, for the Sundays leading up to Good Friday and Easter we plan to do a series of meditations centered on the suffering and death of Jesus Christ. For my own devotional reading during this season of reflection I recently purchased the little book Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross: Experiencing the Passion and Power of Easter, a wonderful collection of sermons and writings edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway, 2009).
Last week we quoted from a sermon of the Reformer Martin Luther. Today we take an excerpt from a contemporary preacher, Alistair Begg (Parkside Church, Chagrin Falls, OH). Chapter three of Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross contains a sermon by Begg titled “An Innocent Man Crushed by God”, based on three Bible passages: Is.53:10, Romans 8:32, and 2 Cor.5:21. Below is a wonderful section from that sermon, explaining the depth of what happened on Calvary, and indeed throughout the life of Jesus Christ.
This is beyond belief. An innocent man is about to be crushed by God. An innocent man is being delivered up by God to be sacrificed. An innocent man is being made sin on behalf of others.
…Here our advocate does not simply end up in the courtroom, he ends up on the cross.
On a daily basis we see courtroom scenes on the news of people on trial for various crimes. We see the defendant accompanied by his advocate or lawyer. Can you imagine turning on CNN and the roles are reversed? Can you imagine seeing the lawyer or advocate on trial for the crime his client committed? Or even more incredible, can you imagine that a judgment of guilty is made and the death penalty is meted out and it is the attorney who dies and not the defendant? That would be bizarre. It would be immoral. It would be wrong, because the attorney didn’t do anything.
But that’s what we see in Jesus as our sinless Advocate receives the punishment we, who are guilty, deserve.
Jesus is our high priest, but what kind of priest is this who becomes the sacrifice? Priests offer sacrifices – but this priest is the sacrifice. This priest lays himself on the altar.
You see, Jesus died for sin – but not for his own sin. He had no sin. He was in every sense made sin for us. He became all of our rebellion, all of our lying, all of our cheating, all of our adultery, all of our filth, all of our ugliness. He became all of that on the cross. Otherwise, how could God crucify his Son? It wasn’t that Jesus simply stepped up and said, ‘I’ll do this for you.’ It is that Jesus became the very embodiment of all that sin is.
Without substitution the death of Jesus is unintelligible. Unless what we have here is what is being described in 2 Corinthians 5:21, that he was made sin for us – not that he was made a sinner for us – but made sin for us, then how else do you explain it? What possible justification could God have for crucifying the innocent unless in substitution he became all that we are in our sin and rebellion in order that, in the mastery and mystery of his grace, in him we might become the very righteousness of God?
And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, sent him to die, I scarce can take it in,
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, he bled and died to take away my sin.
He goes to the garbage heap for all my garbage. He goes to the cross for all my rebellion, for all my filthy thoughts, all my selfish preoccupation, all my pride, all my self-aggrandizement.
Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood.
There is no story in all of human history like this. There is no notion in all religions of the world that comes close to touching this. This is imponderable, mysterious, majestic, glorious. This is all about God and the wonder of his grace (pp.22-24).
May our meditation on this incomparable wonder of grace inspire us to humble and grateful worship on this Lord’s Day.