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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 found in the suffering of our Saviour
Text:LD 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Christ's Suffering

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 123
Psalm 109:1,2,9
Hymn 37
Hymn 1
Hymn 83

Scripture reading:  Revelation 16
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 Christ,

When we think about the suffering of Christ, our thoughts usually go straight to the cross.  We can’t help but think of what he endured those several hours on Golgotha.  There was the physical aspect of being beaten, flogged, abused, and then crucified.  Isaiah 53:5 says, “…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”  He was physically wounded.  Modern medicine says there are five different types of wounds:  incisions, lacerations, abrasions, contusions, and punctures.  By the time Jesus died on the cross, he had all five of these wound types.  His physical suffering was enormous.

But what Christ went through was not merely suffering at the hands of other human beings.  The physical suffering he experienced and the shame and insults he endured pointed to the most intense aspect of his suffering, suffering at the hand of God.  The miracles he performed in his ministry were physical events.  But they pointed to his power to heal relationships with the holy God.  Similarly, his physical suffering pointed to what he was undergoing before the face of God in order to bring that healing about.  He didn’t suffer in the abstract, he didn’t suffer for suffering’s sake.  No, when he suffered there was a subject and an object.  Jesus was the object upon whom the suffering came.  But God was the subject.  It was God who brought the suffering upon him.  He suffered at the hand of God.

He did this for us.  Christ took our place.  Before and at Golgotha, he was our substitute, our scape goat.  All the suffering he endured was for the purpose of redeeming specific persons.  Jesus suffered and died in the place of all those predestined to faith and salvation.  He suffered and died so that we who believe in him would be forgiven and accepted by the holy God. 

This is why the suffering of Christ has an essential place in the gospel promises.  Back in Lord’s Day 7, we saw that a Christian must believe “all that is promised us in the gospel, which the articles of our catholic and undoubted Christian faith teach us in a summary.”  Those articles are the Apostles’ Creed.  The gospel promises are found in summary form in the Apostles’ Creed.  It’s important that we remember that, especially every Sunday as we profess our faith in the afternoon service.  When we sing the Apostles’ Creed, we’re not singing about ourselves and what we have done.  Instead, it’s all about the gospel, it’s all about good news.  From front to back, the Creed is about what God has done for our salvation.  That includes the suffering of our Saviour.  This afternoon we want to consider the gospel promises found in the suffering of our Saviour. 

We’re going to see how that becomes evident with Christ having taken for us: 

1.      God’s wrath

2.      God’s judgment

3.      God’s curse

There once was this preacher who had a serious problem with the Old Testament.  His problem was especially with the God described in the Old Testament.  He didn’t like the fact that this Old Testament God expressed his holy justice with wrath.  When he read about Jesus in the gospels, he concluded that there was a serious conflict between what Jesus was saying and what the Old Testament was saying.  He preferred what Jesus said, and so he rejected the God of the Old Testament.  Of course, he realized that there was a lot of this Old Testament God in the New Testament too.  New Testament writers had been too much influenced by the Old Testament.  So this preacher ended up cutting out large parts of the New Testament.  His Bible only contained parts of the gospels and some of Paul’s writings.  The preacher was the early heretic Marcion, who lived between 85 and 160 AD.  His views were roundly condemned by the church and he was excommunicated.  Yet his sentiments are still around.  Still today, many people have difficulty with a God who expresses wrath.  They like the verse from 1 John 4 where it says that God is love.  But they don’t so much care for Hebrews 12:29, “our God is a consuming fire.”  The spirit of Marcion is still very much around.

Marcion definitely didn’t like the book of Revelation.  When Marcion made his own Bible, he left Revelation out.  There was too much of the Old Testament God that he disliked.  There was too much wrath, and not enough love.  There was too much death and blood, and not enough grace.  What we read from Revelation 16 would have been like nails on a chalkboard for Marcion.  It would be like that for many people today as well.  For many people today, God is supposed to be a lot like Santa Claus.  He’s supposed to be indulgent.  He’s supposed to be permissive and tolerant to everyone unconditionally.  He’s the happy old man who always looks down on everyone with a smile.  But if we take the Bible seriously, this view of God is an idol.  This view of God is a lie.  This view of God is both mistaken and extremely dangerous. 

We accept Revelation 16 as part of the inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God.  That chapter speaks in apocalyptic terms of God’s judgment upon the wicked and unbelieving.  I’m not going to get into all the details of this chapter this afternoon.  We read this chapter simply so that I can drive home the point that Scripture speaks clearly of God’s wrath.  It speaks of it as a present reality:  “our God is a consuming fire.”  But Scripture also speaks of God’s wrath as a future reality.  These seven bowls of God’s wrath in Revelation 16 culminate in the last judgment.  God’s fierce wrath comes upon the wicked and ungodly and they cannot escape it.  They will be faced with it for eternity.  For ever and ever, the unbelieving will be with the devil and his angels in the lake of fire, tasting into eternity the fruits of their rebellion and treason against the holy and just God.  Scripture teaches in Revelation 16 and elsewhere that God’s wrath is real.  It is the display of his holy justice – he will not tolerate those who slap him in the face.  Brothers and sisters, we have to understand this in order to understand and believe the gospel in a saving way.  All sinners have a problem in heaven.  The problem is a just God who has prepared eternal, conscious torment for those who refuse to obey him.

The gospel promises a solution to this very serious problem.  The good news is that there is a way of escape for those who will listen to God’s Word.  Revelation 16 does not have to be your story or mine.  But this can only be true as we look to the suffering of our Saviour and believe that he did that in our place. 

On the cross, Jesus fully drank the cup of God’s wrath.  In Mark 14:36, Jesus was in Gethsemane and he prayed about this cup.  He asked God to take the cup away because he knew the absolute terror that it would involve.  Yet he submitted to God’s will.  He knew that he would have to drink this cup of wrath for us.  That is exactly what he did.  He did that out of his love for us. 

Throughout his whole life, but especially at the end, Jesus took God’s wrath for us.  Paul says at the end of 2 Corinthians 5 that God made him to be sin.  You have to feel the full weight of those words.  God made him to be sin.  Sometimes people say that God loves the sinner, but hates sin.  There is some truth in that sometimes, but there are passages in the Bible where God says that he does in fact hate the sinner as well as the sin.  The statement is true when it comes to Christians, to children of God.  Then God surely does love the sinner, while hating the sin.  But that being what it may, everyone who takes the Bible seriously agrees that God hates sin.  He has nothing but just wrath when it comes to sin.  Since he is holy, he can’t abide sin.  Yet 2 Corinthians 5, speaking about the cross especially, says that God made Jesus to be sin.  God made Jesus to be the thing that he hates, the thing that he justly rages against.  Think about that, loved ones.

Then think about the rest of 2 Corinthians 5:21.  The whole verse reads, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  I love this verse and I hope you do too.  This is what we call the sweet swap, or the joyous exchange as Luther called it.  Christ became sin for us – he became the thing that God expresses his wrath against.  He did that for us, took our sin on himself.  Every single sin that has earned you a place in hell is placed on Jesus at the cross.  In exchange, Christ gives you his righteousness.  You become the righteousness of God.  You become the thing that God loves.  God loves righteousness.  You become what he loves.  In this exchange, in this sweet swap, Jesus takes your wrath, you receive the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.  This is what the gospel promises us, brothers and sisters.  This is why the gospel is good news for sinners like you and me. 

But this all takes place through the sufferings of our Saviour.  There is no other way for you to become what God loves.  We have to throw ourselves on Christ.  We have to cast contempt again on our sin and wickedness, and turn from it.  We have to see our sin as the wicked rebellion that put Christ on the cross and despise it and want to kill it.  Then you have to rest and trust in what Christ has done.  Only in what he has done for you.  It’s only in Jesus that you can become the righteousness of God.  You can’t become the righteousness of God through your own feeble efforts at law-keeping.  You can’t become the righteousness of God through your own attempts to become a better you.  Loved ones, the only escape from the wrath of God is through the Saviour who bore the wrath for you.  That’s why it’s imperative that we hear the gospel call regularly and heed it, not just once, but every time we hear it.  Hear it again this afternoon and by true faith accept the promise of the gospel.  Embrace this Saviour and know that wrath is turned away and God looks upon you with favour as his child.

There are also gospel promises in our Saviour bearing for us the judgment of God.  This judgment comes on our Saviour in connection with Pontius Pilate.  Pilate was the Roman governor or prefect of Judea.  He had the power to determine whether Christ would live or die.  He could have set him free.  He recognized that Christ had done nothing worthy of death.  Yet he condemned him to be crucified on Golgotha. 

It would be easy to focus on the human aspect of what happened there.  We can analyze Pilate’s motives for condemning Jesus.  Scripture in fact gives us insights into why he did what he did from a human perspective.  He wanted to appease the Jews.  He was in a precarious position politically.  But as with the miracles and the physical suffering of Christ, we would miss the full significance of what’s happening if we only take that approach.  We need to dig deeper and understand Pilate’s actions in connection with the Supreme Ruler of heaven and earth.

God places human kings on their thrones.  Tiberius Caesar was the Roman Emperor because God put him in that position.  Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect of Judea under Caesar because God had placed him there.  These things didn’t happen by accident, but by God’s set purpose and action.  God rules the world through political leaders.  Paul says in Romans 13 that rulers are God’s ministers, his servants.  Proverbs 21:1 tells us that the “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.”  That applied equally to Pontius Pilate.  God was in control of the judgment that he issued regarding Jesus.  When he was condemned by Pontius Pilate to death, that was God speaking through him. 

When Pilate essentially said, “Let him be crucified,” we should not hear just the voice of a man, not just the voice of the Roman governor, but the voice of God.  God the Judge was issuing this death sentence.  It’s important that we see that because the gospel promises are found in this fact. 

Our Saviour Jesus takes the death sentence in our place.  According to biblical teaching, the severe judgment of God was to fall on us.  We should be condemned to eternal death.  We should stand in front of the holy Judge of heaven and earth and hear him announce what we deserve, “Sinner, you deserve to experience a death drawn out into the far reaches of eternity.  All the evidence is against you.  You have sinned against me and my holy law.  You are a rebel and a traitor.  You have no defense to make for yourself.  There are no mitigating circumstances.  Sinner, you stand before this holy court condemned!”  That is what we should hear.  That is what everyone who does not have Jesus as Saviour will hear.

But the gospel promises that all who trust in Christ will have a different ending to their story.  All who place their hope in Jesus can expect a different judgment.  If we plead on the merits of Christ, God will announce not merely an acquittal, but a positive judgment of righteousness.  He will say, “Child, we both know what you deserve.  You are a sinner.  But you claim Jesus as your Saviour.  He lived perfectly for you.  He kept the law that you could not keep for yourself.  He paid for all the times that you sinned.  You are free from my severe judgment.  You are not only innocent, but entirely righteous in Jesus and you can live with me forever in the new heavens and new earth.  You’re my child and will live in my love forever.” 

You see brothers and sisters, with Christ we are free from the judgment and condemnation that we deserve.  Because Christ was judged and condemned in our place, we can have the hope of heaven, we can have peace in our conscience today, we can have joy in our hearts right now.  But again, this is all linked to faith in our Lord Jesus.  To receive these benefits, one must repent and believe in Christ.  You’re not going to receive any of this automatically by virtue of your church membership, or your baptism, or covenant status, or anything else.  All of this comes to us only by way of faith, by throwing ourselves on Christ alone.

There is also a curse that Christ bore for us on the cross.  That’s also included with the gospel promises in the suffering of our Saviour.  It’s often been pointed out that the cross was a shameful way to die in the Roman world, in fact probably the most shameful way to die.  Humanly speaking, if you had a hero who ended up dying on the cross, you would probably want to leave that part out if you were talking about your hero.  There’s nothing really to compare to the cross in our own culture today.  Sometimes people will compare the cross to the electric chair.  They’ll say, imagine saying that you glory in the electric chair (like Paul says he glories in the cross), because someone you respect died by that means.  There’s a bit of a parallel, but there’s an important difference.  People are always executed by the electric chair in a relatively private setting.  The cross was public.  The cross was a spectacle for the whole world to see.  The cross involved nailing a bloodied and bruised naked man to a piece of wood in a public place.  That’s what made it so shameful.  The electric chair really doesn’t compare, neither would even public hangings from olden days.  Someone once said the only way you can compare the shock and shame of crucifixion would be to imagine going to the grocery store and the government nails a bloody, bruised and naked criminal above the entrance.  From a human perspective, crucifixion was regarded as contemptible; there was no more despicable way to die.  It was an accursed death.

But again, we have to move beyond the human perspective when it comes to the cross.  We can’t just leave it at the horizontal level, so to speak.  We have to account for the vertical; we have to speak about the crucifixion from God’s perspective.  To do that, we need to turn to what Scripture says about someone being crucified, or hung on a tree.  God spoke about that already back in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 21:23.  One whose body hung on a tree was cursed by God.  Paul applies those words to Christ crucified in Galatians 3:13. 

What does it mean to be cursed?  It means the opposite of being blessed.  When you are blessed, someone looks with favour on you and gives you good things, desirable things.  When you are cursed, someone looks with disdain on you and gives you things that you don’t want to receive.  When you are cursed, there is harm and hurt coming your way.  No one wants to be cursed.

Yet, apart from Christ, a curse is what falls on all human beings.  The curse goes back to the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve.  God told them that should they eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die.  They ate and they brought the curse of God on themselves and on the whole human race.  Still today, the curse rests on all of humanity that’s outside of Christ.  God’s law demands perfect obedience.  God’s law says that everyone must obey him, or they will die eternally.  Apart from 100% complete obedience, there is a curse, the curse of death.  Of course, we have all failed and fallen short, and therefore the curse applies to all of us.

But if we believe in Christ, he has taken that curse on himself.  The cross is the picture of that reality.  In Christ crucified, we see him made a curse so that we can be filled with blessings from God.  We deserve to be cast away and despised by God forever, but with Christ crucified we receive the opposite.  We are welcomed into his family and embraced as his beloved children and heirs.

This is why we glory in the cross like Paul did in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2.  The cross is the wisdom of God and our salvation.  At the cross we died with Christ, so that we may live with him forever.  The curse is gone and blessings are ours, all the blessings of being children of God! 

Now what do you do with these glorious gospel truths we’ve been considering this afternoon?  Two things.  First of all, believe them.  Listen, don’t believe them merely as pieces of interesting information, but believe in the Saviour to whom they point.  This is not doctrine for the sake of doctrine, but doctrine meant to direct you to a person in whom there is life, hope and peace.  You need a saving relationship with him.  Make sure you have that and don’t take it for granted.  The second point is related.  Let these glorious gospel truths fill your heart again with love for your Saviour.  We can’t let these things just enter into our ears and then leave us unaffected.  What you’ve been hearing this afternoon is meant to get you to see what a great Saviour you have so that you would love him more deeply.  And what follows from our love for him is commitment to him.  Our Lord Jesus says that if we love him, we will follow his commandments.  But it all starts with love.  It all starts with the gospel of grace.  When we’re impressed with that, and we’re impressed with our Saviour, then we will more and more want to live for him, to aim to please him and show him our love and gratitude with a godly life.

Brothers and sisters, the gospel promises are precious.  The worst thing I can imagine is that there is someone here this afternoon who’s heard this and was yawning in their mind.  The worst thing would be for anyone here to be going to themselves, “Ho-hum, same old message.  Nothing new.  Whatever.  Boring.”  I would be broken-hearted if I knew that there was someone here with that reaction.  Because what I’ve been proclaiming here is the Word of life, the gospel of our salvation, the only hope we have.  This is good news for sinners, the best news imaginable.  I pray that all of you would receive it with faith, rejoicing that we have such an awesome Saviour, filled with love for him again.  I pray that this message would go with you into the coming week, giving you hope, joy, encouragement, and every motivation to live for his glory.  AMEN.    


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 receive your gifts 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 this gospel message and believe it 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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