We’re nearing the endpoint of Lent. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and with that, we’ll begin the journey through the city streets of Jerusalem in Holy Week and we’ll find ourselves situated at the foot of Good Friday’s cross.
That’s where we’re going.
In a sense, as Christians, that’s always where we’re going, to the foot of Good Friday’s cross. Each and every day, by way of our baptism into Christ, we are those who stand alongside the preaching of Saint Paul when he declares, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Why does he say it this way?
Because there on the cross, we not only see the results of Mankind’s innermost nature in Sin—the immense cost of all that we are as fallen creatures—but we also see in that terribly grotesque sight the most beautiful of occurrences: the Hope of the nations, the Rescuer of the lost, the Redeemer of the entire cosmos willingly submitting Himself to being spiked to wood as the perfect sacrifice.
This image will never be fully mined of its significance in this life. Countless theologians throughout the ages have tried to get to the absolute bottom of Calvary’s depths, but in the end, have all been forced to settle with the vocabulary and limitations of human language. Still, the power of the image, as it feeds faith, has provided for the right words to be put into the right order in order to create opportunities for the Church to sing hymns like “Jesus, Priceless Treasure.” By such sacred hymnody, the Church calls out words like, “Yet, though sin and hell assail me, Jesus will not fail me,” followed by, “Satan, I defy thee; Death I now decry thee; Fear I bid thee cease!”
Only by way of Christ’s outpouring on the cross can we sing these things with the confidence they intend.
Like other theologians in history, Luther tried to simplify the image when he wrote things like:
“Look at this picture and love it. There is no greater bondage or form of service than that the Son of God should be the servant and should bear the sin of every man, however poor and wretched or despised. What an amazing thing it would be if some king’s son should go into a beggar’s hut to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth and do all the things which otherwise the beggar would have to do. All the world would gape with open mouths, noses, ears, and eyes, and could never think and talk enough about it. Would that not be a wonderful humility?…But behold, what does it mean? The Son of God becomes my servant and humbles Himself, saying to me: ‘You are no longer a sinner, but I, I Myself step into your place. You have not sinned; I have. The whole world lies in sin, but you are not in sin, but I am. All your sin shall be upon Me, and not on you.’ No man can comprehend it. In this life hereafter we shall have a knowledge of the love of God and gaze upon it in eternal blessedness” (Exposition of John I, W.A. 46. 680 f.).
Of course, Luther is right, and as I said, we’ll never fully understand the vast dimensions of what was happening that day on that dreadful hill outside of Jerusalem’s walls, a Friday we now call “good.” Still, Lent has been helping us. It is in place to keep before us the Word of God, which reveals to us our frailty and offers the supercharged Gospel of salvation through the One who took our place in judgement.
Yes, the message is vast and powerful, but as Luther explained, it can be held so close in relative simplicity. Jesus died for you. By this act, He took your Sins on Himself. Through faith in Him and His sacrifice, all is well and you have eternal life.
Thanks be to God for this! Thanks be to God for the freedom to live in this each and every day by the power of the Holy Spirit!