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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:The gospel promises that Christ Jesus bore my curse
Text:LD 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-10-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Hymn 84

Psalm 22:1,3,6

Psalm 124

Hymn 1

Hymn 9

Readings:  Isaiah 53, Matthew 27:32-56, Belgic Confession article 21

Catechism lesson:  Lord's Day 15

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus,

The cross of Jesus Christ has always been offensive.  In the Greek, Roman and Jewish worlds, the cross was regarded as a stumbling block and as foolishness.  Jewish historian Flavius Josephus called crucifixion “the most wretched of deaths.”  Cicero, an ancient Roman philosopher, discouraged people from even speaking about crucifixion and the cross, because it was too disgusting and gruesome for decent people. 

Here we are today and the cross is often a fashion item.  It’s the most famous and popular symbol in all of history.  Today it’s meaning and message are all but lost.  What it symbolizes has been obscured and forgotten by the masses. 

The cross of Christ and the suffering that led to it are at the heart of the good news that Christians believe and cherish.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  And in Galatians 6:14 he writes, “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”  The cross and the suffering that led to it are central to the message we believe because through all of that, we’re promised that Christ bore the curse that belongs to me, to you, to us all.  I preach to you God’s Word, summarized in the Catechism with that theme,

The gospel promises that Christ Jesus bore my curse

We’ll consider:

  1. His suffering
  2. His condemnation
  3. His crucifixion

When we speak about the suffering of our Lord Jesus, our tendency is to focus on the end of his life, especially the last day or two.  Artistic or musical treatments of his passion haven’t helped in that regard.  Passion means “suffering,” and in the world of classical music, there have been various portrayals of Christ’s suffering.  In fact, while I was preparing this sermon I was listening to St. Matthew’s Passion by J.S. Bach.  Bach’s St. Matthew’s Passion begins with the events leading up to the Last Supper.  That gives the impression that that’s really where his suffering begins. 

However, the Catechism draws our attention to the fact that he suffered during all the time that he lived on earth.  People were often offended at him.  At the beginning of his life already, he had a death sentence hanging over him, forcing his family to flee into Egypt – Herod was trying to kill him.  During his ministry, people mocked and ridiculed him.  He was ignored by some, used by others.  He was confronted by sickness, death, and the brokenness of human existence.  Our Saviour Jesus encountered unbelief and rebellion.  In all these ways and more, the Son of God suffered during his entire time on earth.  It was all predicted and prophesied by Isaiah in chapter 53.  Isaiah prophesied that he would be despised and rejected by men – that wasn’t just for a day or two.  Isaiah said that he would be a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering – that means that sorrow and suffering would characterize his entire 33 years.  Isaiah said that he was despised and people did not esteem him – again, this was something he had to face upon waking up every morning of his time on earth. 

In that suffering his entire life, he was bearing the wrath of God against our sin.  The gospel promises us this.  Loved ones, don’t let that thought just float by without grasping it and standing in awe.  He came down among us and suffered in your place.  He took all the humiliation, all the ridicule, he took everything as part of the wrath of God that we deserve.  The gospel promises that he took it all so that we could receive the opposite of what we deserve. 

However, it was especially at the end that this wrath of God against human sin became the perfect, deadly storm.  At the end, in his last 24 hours, Jesus experienced the utter revulsion that God has for sin and for sinners.  We should have been the ones betrayed by our closest friends, rejected by everyone.  We should have been the ones beaten and mocked, with a crown of thorns on our head.  We should have had the flesh whipped off our backs and been spit upon.  We should have gone to the cross, naked and utterly humiliated.  If we had been there, it wouldn’t have been as innocent lambs going to the slaughter but as people getting our rightful due, receiving justice.  It should have been me.  It should have been you.

The wonder of the gospel is that Jesus Christ did it for me and for you.  He took our place.  The wrath that we deserved, he took it for us.  The Catechism says that his suffering is the only atoning sacrifice.  That means that his sacrifice, all his suffering, makes us at one with God.  Atone literally means “to make at one,” or to reconcile.  Without Christ and his suffering and death for us, God is an enemy.  God’s wrath is our due.  But 1 John 4:10 tells us that Christ came to be the propitiation for our sins.  He is the sacrifice that turns God’s wrath away from us and returns his favour.  He takes it square between the eyes so that we might be accepted by God and never forsaken by him. 

The result is that he has redeemed us body and soul from the everlasting damnation that we deserve.  God’s wrath is that everlasting damnation that waits for all who do not believe, for all who don’t accept the promise of the gospel.  But for all who do, for all who accept this gift of God and say, “Yes, it was for me that Christ endured this horrible suffering” – for you, the benefits of Christ, all of them, are yours. 

What are those benefits?  The Catechism mentions the grace of God.  Grace – getting the opposite of what you deserve.  Being formerly an enemy of God, and now being received into his family.  It mentions righteousness.  That means being right with God.  That means not only having your sins erased, that you get a clean slate and get to start over again.  It means that the slate is full of good works, all the good works of Christ done for you and on your behalf.  It means that the slate is never going to stop being full and it can never become dirty ever again.  Amazing good news, isn’t it!?  There’s also eternal life, the life that lasts forever.  Because of Christ and all he’s done we have the promise of living with God forever in peace in the new heavens and new earth.  Eternal bliss, a perfect blessedness such as no one has ever seen, heard or thought of.  That benefit too has been won for us by Christ the Saviour.

An important thing to keep in mind is that the gospel promises that he did all this for us.  Lord’s Day 14 reminds us that he was actively involved with his incarnation.  His active involvement doesn’t stop with his suffering and death.  His obedience in his suffering is sometimes called his passive obedience.  And that is sometimes distinguished from his active obedience.  As if active and passive are opposites.  Active and passive usually are opposites.  However, in this case they’re not.  When we talk about his passive obedience, it’s part of his active obedience and it refers specifically to his suffering obedience.  Remember what I mentioned about St. Matthew’s Passion?  Passion means suffering, passive also refers to suffering, it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t active in his suffering.  We can see that in a number of places in Scripture, but just take our reading from Matthew 27 and see what’s there.  He refused to drink the wine mixed with gall, a drink which would have dulled his senses and made his suffering easier.  He actively chose to fully and consciously experience the wrath of God against human sin.  And in verse 50, when he died, he didn’t take the role of a victim, but actively gave up his spirit.  Also in his death, he did it for me, for you, for all who believe.  As the Belgic Confession emphasizes in Article 21, “He presented himself in our place before his Father, appeasing God’s wrath by his full satisfaction, offering himself on the tree of the cross, where he poured out his precious blood to purge away our sins, as the prophets had foretold.”  Notice how all the verbs there are active:  he presented, he appeased, he offered, he poured out.  He did it all.

It’s important to stress that point today.  We call what we’ve been talking about substitutionary atonement.  Christ was our substitute, taking the wrath of God on himself instead of having us receive the wrath of God forever in hell.  Today, some popular preachers and writers strongly object to this doctrine of substitutionary atonement.  They call it cosmic child abuse.  God the Father punishes his Son for what somebody else did.  They say that if substitutionary atonement is true, then God is a child abuser and that makes him wicked.  But the important point that such a criticism misses is that the Son agreed to come into the world.  The Son committed himself to suffering and going to the cross.  Not only did he agree, but he also actively and willingly participated.  This was no cosmic child abuse, but an act of love on the part of the Triune God to save sinners who didn’t deserve it, and who in fact deserved the very opposite.  The cosmic child abuse argument just doesn’t hold water.

The Catechism goes on in QA 38 to consider Christ’s condemnation under Pontius Pilate as judge.  Remember we’re dealing with the Apostles’ Creed here, and besides the Lord Jesus and his mother, Pilate is the only other human being mentioned in the Creed.  The fundamental statement of beliefs for millions of Christians mentions a Roman politician who happened to be rather crooked.  Mention of him establishes the historicity of what happened in Jesus’ trial and death.  In other words, by mentioning him, we know for sure that it’s historical, that all this really happened.  Pilate was an historical figure, he appears in other historical documents.  Everyone knows that he was the Roman governor of Judea at that point in history.  He represented the political power of the Roman Empire.

Christ was innocent, but because of the power plays between Pilate and the Jews, he was condemned to die.  Pilate recognized that Jesus had done nothing wrong, but yet the Jewish leaders continued to insist on having him put to death.  Fearful for his own political future, Pilate gave in and condemned him. 

Pilate was completely responsible for his actions.  He chose to take this course and he was culpable for his decisions in this.  Yet, Jesus said to him in John 19:11, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”  Pilate’s power came from God, and Pilate’s role in this was all part of God’s plan.  In Acts 4, the believers were gathered together and prayed and they referred back to what had happened in Jesus’ condemnation.  In Acts 4:27-28, we read, “…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”  So, when Pilate condemned Jesus, he was personally responsible, but yet he was also God’s instrument to bring about our redemption.

Through the condemnation that Pilate laid on Christ, the gospel promises that we have been freed from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.  Again notice the theme of substitution here.  We were to have God’s judgment on us, but instead Christ took it for us.  Now instead of judgment falling on us, we have blessings.  God is our Father, we are his children.  God is our shepherd, we are the sheep he loves.  God is our rock and refuge, we are safe.  God is our fortress and our high tower, his and our enemies can’t touch us.   

And that brings us to the crucifixion of our Saviour and its special meaning.  To begin with, we should be clear about what the crucifixion involved.  For the first readers of the New Testament, no explanation would have been needed.  The first readers would have had an intimate, first-hand knowledge of everything crucifixion involved.  But for us, some two millennia later, we know that it involves a cross, but not much else.  Living so much later, we may not have a clear idea of how horrific and painful a death this was.  We have a word in English, “excruciating,” which is derived from the Latin for the word cross.  Excruciating is the appropriate word to describe crucifixion.

To make sure that those who were crucified suffered as much as possible, the Romans usually scourged someone beforehand.  This scourging was so severe that many people died from it without even making it to the cross.  Christ’s hands were chained above his head and he was whipped with a cat-o’-nine tails.  This was a whip with a number of long leather straps with lead balls on the end of each.  Some of the straps had hooks that would catch the flesh of the one to be crucified and tear it off.  As the scourging progressed, skin, muscle, tendons and even bones would come off.  Victims typically shouted in agony, shook violently, and bled heavily.  This is why Isaiah 52:14 speaks about his appearance becoming disfigured and his form marred beyond human likeness.

When Adam and Eve fell into sin, part of the curse that God laid on them involved the earth bringing forth thorns.  Now, in his suffering, the Second Adam physically and visibly bears that curse.  The thorns which sin brought forth are part of his humiliation.  The Roman soldiers made a crown of thorns and pressed it into his head as he was mocked as “the king of the Jews.”  Blood would have flowed down his head and matted his beard.  He was stripped to his underclothes and his robe was used as the pot in a gambling game. 

He was then forced to carry the cross bar of his cross to Golgotha, the place of his crucifixion.  That cross bar would have been about 100 pounds and he had to carry it on his scourged and bloodied back and shoulders.  Crosses were often recycled, so the cross was probably already covered with the blood of others who’d been crucified before him.  But our Saviour Jesus was so beat down from not getting any sleep the night before and from his scourging that he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t carry the cross bar any further.  Simon of Cyrene was enlisted to do it.  When they arrived at Golgotha the typical crucifixion routine would have followed:  Jesus’ beard would have been pulled out, he would have been spat on some more, and he would have been mocked.  He was stripped completely naked.   

Our Saviour was a carpenter by trade.  Now this carpenter would have had five to seven inch rough metal spikes driven through his wrists and feet, being nailed to the cross as it lay on the ground.  The cross was then lifted up and dropped into a prepared hole and as it dropped, his completely naked body would have shook violently.  Many victims laboured to breathe at this point and they would go into shock.  History records that many crucifixion victims quickly became incontinent.  They could be on the cross for days.  They would frequently pass in and out of consciousness and they could be exposed to the elements of sun, wind and rain, to mention nothing of flies and other pests.    Whether death came slowly or quickly, it was usually by suffocation or because of shock.

All of this was done in a public place and that’s important too.  He publically bore our shame and curse.  We have sinned publically, we should be punished publically, but because of Christ, the gospel promises that we won’t.  Because he suffered the shame of our sin publically, the gospel promises that we will never be put to shame.  Instead, the opposite awaits us.  We can look forward to public vindication and glory.    

That was all because of the crucifixion.  It was grotesque and we too easily forget that.  We prefer a sanitized cross.  We easily forget that the cross was a picture of his hellish agony in body and soul, the likes of which we’ll never know.  We easily forget that it was endured by our Saviour for us and in our place.  We should have been on that cross, but he did it instead of us.  Loved ones, please don’t let that thought ever cease to draw your hearts upward in gratitude to God.  The cross is where we find grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  The cross is where he was pierced for our transgressions, and crushed for our iniquities.  The cross is where the punishment that brought peace to straying sheep came upon the innocent Lamb of God.  The cross is where we see the wounds by which we have been healed.  The cross is where we find good news for sinners.  The cross is at the heart of all the gospel promises.

Through the cross, I am assured that Christ took upon himself the curse which lay on me, for a crucified one was cursed by God.  Yes, the Catechism is right.  In the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 21:23, God says that anyone hung up on a tree or a cross was cursed by him.  Utterly rejected and forsaken.  This is also the way in which his cry of Psalm 22 makes sense, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Forsaken is another word for cursed.  God did not merely turn his back on Jesus, as if to ignore him or forget about him, but he actively poured out wrath on him.  The cross is a graphic, raw picture of the suffering he endured.  God’s wrath came upon his entire person, not just his body.  He suffered in body and soul.  And in so doing, Jesus received the curse we deserved. 

The result is that I can be assured, you can be assured!, that Christ took our curse.  When the curse is gone, what’s left?  We’re not left on some sort of neutral ground.  No, if the curse is gone, then we are blessed by God.  Then we’re not only on our way back to the Garden, we’re on our way to something far better.  The glory of the Second Adam far surpasses that of the first.  And it’s the second with whom we have union, and it’s the second into whose image we’re being transformed.  And so it’s not just Paradise Restored, but Paradise That Will Blow Your Mind and leave you praising God forever.      

Brothers and sisters, the gospel and the cross are inseparable.  Through the cross and the suffering that led up to it and included it, the greatest problem we have has been dealt with by God.  For all who believe, through the cross, God has taken our sins and removed them from us as far as east is from west, thrown them into the depths of the sea.  He promises to remember them no more, opening the way for us to have a healthy relationship of fellowship with him, our Father.  Let me just finish by again encouraging all of us to be sure that we’re all believing these precious gospel promises.   Believe and be assured of hope and eternal blessings.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, our faithful Saviour,

Thank you for bearing in body and soul the wrath that we deserved.  We thank you that you did that your entire life, but especially at the end.  Lord, we adore you for having made the only atoning sacrifice so that we can be beneficiaries of grace, righteousness and life eternal.  We will always be grateful that you were condemned by Pilate, even though you were innocent and that you did that for us, so that we would not have severe judgment fall on us.  As we consider your cross this afternoon, Lord Jesus we thank you for taking our curse upon yourself, for giving us the assurance that the curse is gone, and that there is now no condemnation for those who are in you.  Help us with your Spirit and Word to treasure these gospel promises and believe them every day of our lives. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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