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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Melville
 Melville, Australia
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
Title:Christ carried my curse to the cross
Text:LD 15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise

Hymn 62:1,2

Hymn 1A

Hymn 21:1,3,4,7

Psalm 22:8,10

Hymn 62:3,4

Read:  Isaiah 53, Matthew 27:11-37

Text:  Lord’s Day 15.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Imagine for a moment, what it would have been like to have been Barabbas.  A cold, dark cell had been his home for some time.  He was a bad man.  A really bad man.  In jail for being a robber, a murderer, for instigating a rebellion.  Nobody liked him.  Nobody was sad to see him caught and thrown into this dark, damp place. 

From his prison cell in Jerusalem, not so far from the house of Pontius Pilate, Barabbas had perhaps heard the crowds.  There must have been hundreds of voices:  Crucify him!  Crucify him!  A mob whipped up to a frenzy was the last thing Barabbas would have wanted to meet.  Barabbas was a murderer and he was not looking forward to the day when he would be dragged out of his cell, nailed to a wooden beam, and hung up as the world looked on and saw him draw his last agonizing breath. 

The words of the crowd were changing.  What were they shouting now?  First it had been “Crucify him!  Crucify him!”  Crucify who?  But now the words came, “Barabbas!  Give to us Barabbas!”

Voices and the coarse laughter of soldiers echo down the prison.  The soldiers stop at the cell of Barabbas.  They open the door and grab him roughly.  “Come on!  Move it!  Let’s go!”  It has been some time since Barabbas had left his cell.  He is dirty and his hair is matted.  A pathetic sight.  He gets pulled along by the soldiers, as they drag him to Pontius Pilate.  Pilate.  The Roman judge who had sent him to jail in the first place.  Pilate.  The one who would now give the word the soldiers no doubt wanted to hear:  “Crucify him”. 

But there is Someone else who is standing before Pilate.  There is spittle on his face.  He had been beaten and bruised.  Who was this man?  Another criminal?  Would they be crucified together? 

But then Pilate points to the Stranger, and he says, “Barabbas, I am giving this man to the crowd instead of you.  I don’t think he’s done anything wrong, but I’m going to let the people crucify him.  This Man Jesus is going to be hung on a cross.  But you are free to go.”  The soldiers give Barabbas a shove, and then they turn away from him.  Strangely, miraculously, Barabbas the criminal is a free man!

But now listen to this.  Although Barabbas was of course a real person, in a sense we could say that my name and your name and the name of every Christian who ever lived is Barabbas.  The same Man who took the place of Barabbas also takes our place and was crucified instead of us.  Because Jesus took our place, because He suffered and died, we have been redeemed from everlasting damnation and had received the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.  And that is the Gospel I wish to preach this afternoon.

I preach to you the Word of the Lord concerning the suffering and crucifixion of Christ as the Church confesses this in Lord’s Day 15.  I do so under the following heading:

Christ carried my curse to the cross.

In doing so He bore:

1.    God’s anger.

2.    God’s judgment.

3.    God’s curse.

1. He bore God’s anger.

It seems as though everywhere we turn in this world, we are confronted with pain and suffering.  Pictures of children with bloated bellies and skinny limbs, desperate for food and shelter.  An earthquake in Haiti that killed tens of thousands of people in a land that was already suffering from the scourge of crime and poverty.  Homes and communities wracked with violence, abuse, alcohol and drug dependency.  Homes and hospitals where there are people suffering intense pain, many of whom are slowly losing the battle to live.  Broken relationships, husbands and wives at war with each other, and parents and children not getting along.  Lonely people crying out for love and acceptance, and countless millions suffering from depression or another illness of the mind. 

We find it hard to know how to deal with all of this suffering.  We want everything to be good, and we struggle when it is not good.  The presence of such suffering in the world is a reason why many people say they do not believe in God.  They say “how can a good God allow so much suffering and pain in the lives of good people?”  Others have looked at this suffering and become burdened, almost immobilized by it.  “God is angry” they would say.  “He must hate us a lot to allow all this suffering.”  And then some think that they personally must be worse than others to suffer in the way they do.  “It must be my fault,” they say, “and so God is punishing me.”

We can not deny the fact that there is a lot of suffering in the world.  We also can not deny the fact that God displays His wrath and that He punishes.  Take a look at Lord’s Day 15 for a moment.  In answer 37, we read about the wrath of God and everlasting damnation.  In answer 38 we read that Christ was condemned and about a severe judgment of God.  And in answer 39 we read about a curse that lay upon me, and about one being cursed by God.  These are harsh, hard words!  They crash down on our ears with the intensity of the knock-out blow of a boxer. 

Sadly, this has caused some people to have the wrong view of God, where they see Him as an angry God who takes pleasure in the death of the wicked.  But more often, it has caused people to reject the God of the Scriptures, and to deny that a good God can display such anger.

But what is it that God is so angry about?  He is not a “bad” God, who delights in His wrath and enjoys punishing us.  Rather, His wrath is directed against something very specific.  Answer 37 says it is “the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race.”  Sin is the thing that causes God to display His wrath.  Sin is rebellion against God and a rejection of His law.  And God is angry with sin.  He hates sin.  He can not stand to have sin before His face.

And sin is also the cause of all the suffering that we experience on earth today.  No, it was not a specific sin that led to the earthquake in Haiti.  And the suffering that you experience in your life is not because you are a greater sinner than others.  In fact, since you are a child of God, your suffering is not even a payment for sin.  But the world was cursed by sin, and the effects of that is still with us today.  And God hates sin.  He is angry with sin.  His wrath against sin was great.  Very great.   Sin committed against the most high majesty of God must be punished with the most severe, that is, with everlasting, punishment of body and soul.

But if His wrath was great, His love was greater.  For all those who either see God primarily as a God of wrath, or one who is set out to destroy and punish, and for all those who can not accept a God who allows such suffering in the world, it is good to be reminded of what God did about this suffering, what He did about sin in the world. 

‘I believe in Jesus Christ … [who] suffered under Pontius Pilate, [and] was crucified.”  It was God the Father who loved this world so much that He could not let it remain under the suffering tyranny of the devil, but who sent His one and only Son to redeem this world.  He sent His Son to become a Man of Sorrows and acquainted with grief.  God determined to put an end to suffering by sending Another to suffer in our place. 

He suffered. 

I think it is hard for us to comprehend just how much He suffered.  We can get our minds around His physical pain.  We wince at the thought of a crown of thorns pressed on His head, of nails driven through His hands and feet, and of the tortured gasps of a man struggling to take his next breath.   But the Catechism is right in pointing out that His suffering was so much more than that.  Answer 37 of the Catechism says that He suffered “during all the time He lived on earth” and that He bore the wrath of God against sin “in body and soul”.  That “body and soul” means that He suffered in His entire Person.  Completely and in every way. 

For Christ to live in our sin-stained world, all the while not being stained by sin Himself must have been hard.  Isaiah 53 describes how He suffered throughout His life.  Isaiah 53 says that He was despised and rejected.  He took our grief’s and sorrows upon Himself and so became a Man of sorrows.  He was wounded and bruised, oppressed and afflicted.  His life of suffering began when He was born in a stable.  Then, the Son of God became a refugee, fleeing with Joseph and Mary to Egypt.  He got tired.  Physically tired, and tired of the fact that the Son of Man had no where to lay His head.  He got hungry and thirsty.  It appears as though his earthly father, Joseph, died when he was still young, and Jesus must have felt the grief of that.  He was tempted by the devil.  He was accused of being a drunkard, a glutton, a blasphemer, a child of the devil.  He was rejected by many.  Attempts were made on His life.  He was hated by the leaders of the synagogues and the Temple.  He knew the heart of man and it upset Him that He could not trust them.  He had to bear with the weak faith of His disciples.  And as He drew closer to the time that He would be crucified, His suffering became greater.  He knew what was coming and it filled Him with dread.  He saw many of those who had followed Him turn away and reject Him.  He knew that one of His own 12 disciples would betray Him.  And all this pain went down to His inmost being, to His very soul.  And so He said to some of His disciples in Matthew 26:38, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.”

All of this suffering caused by pain and rejection was intense.  But what made Christ’s suffering so much greater was that when He bore God’s anger, He carried the full pain of sin.  The full weight of our sin was placed on Christ.  That was indeed the most dreadful experience.  The very thought of it was enough to press out a bloody sweat when He was in the garden of Gethsemane.  Isaiah 53:12 says it like this:  “He poured out His soul unto death.”

By carrying our sin upon His shoulders, He bore God’s full and complete anger against that sin.  And that is also what the apostle Paul is referring to in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.”  God took your sin and my sin and He placed this sin upon His own Son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus was not a sinner, but He became the Sin Bearer.  The full and complete weight of God’s wrath against the sin of the whole human race was placed on Jesus.  And that is what caused Him to suffer such untold anguish as He hung on the cross.

But the consequence of Christ bearing the full weight of God’s anger against sin is that “He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness and eternal life.”  The grace of God means we are once more received into God’s favour.  Righteousness means that Christ did not just wipe the slate clean, but He presented us to God as completely righteous on the basis of His righteousness.  And eternal life means that already today we are living as children of grace and look forward to life forever with Him.

So if you ever feel burdened by the suffering that we see and experience in this world, and if you ever wonder how a good God could allow such suffering, then remember first of all that this suffering is not the fault of God but of us.  And then remember what God did about that suffering.  He sent His own Son to go through the greatest suffering of all.  Jesus came not just to identify with our pain and suffering, but He came to overcome it and to redeem this world from it.

2. He bore God’s judgment.

Of all the people from the Roman Empire, the name Pontius Pilate is on the lips more than any other.  His name was included in the short Apostles’ Creed, and was also included in the Nicene Creed.  In some ways that is surprising.  Pontius Pilate was hardly important by world standards.  He was called to be governor of Judea, and held that post from the years 26 to 36 A.D.  He was responsible for the collection of taxes for the Roman empire, and to maintain order.  From sources outside of the Bible, Pilate was described as being insensitive, cruel, and ready to use brutal force in order to keep order.  But even that was not enough to make Pilate stand out from the rest.

But the reason why we all know the name “Pontius Pilate” is not because of who he was, but because of who he judged.  Pontius Pilate, the servant of an earthly king, placed the death sentence on the head of the eternal Son of the Most High God!

Pontius Pilate’s name is on the lips of millions every week because his name has been included in the Apostles’ Creed.  Some say it was included in order to give a date to when exactly Christ died.  But there is a more important reason than that.  The manner in which Christ was put to death is of great comfort and significance to us.  Jesus was not thrown off a cliff, nor did he have a knife stuck into His ribs in some dark alley way.  He wasn’t crushed by the crowds, killed by a demented follower or struck down by a killer disease.  Rather, He was judged by an earthly judge and condemned to death.

But behind the authority of Pontius Pilate was the authority of God.  Christ Himself pointed that out in John 19.  In John 19:10 Pilate asked Jesus, “Are You not speaking to me?  Do You not know that I have the power to crucify You, and the power to release You?”  To which Jesus answered, “You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above.”  Behind the earthly judge, we must see the Heavenly Judge.  As Romans 13:1 teaches, the king was the representative of God and it was God who gave him the power to rule.  And so the power that lay behind the power of Pontius Pilate and behind the power of the Caesar of Rome was the power of God. 

And here is an intriguing thing.  It was clearly wrong and sinful of Pilate to condemn Jesus, an innocent man, to death.  But through that judgment the LORD allowed the Death Sentence to be announced over His Son Jesus Christ.  Ultimately it was not Pilate’s judgment that Jesus was subject to, but God’s.

But the Catechism points out one thing more, and that is that Christ was innocent.  He had lived a perfect life.  Pontius Pilate Himself could find nothing wrong with Him.  Pilate said in John 18:38, “I find no fault in Him at all.”  And yet Pontius Pilate was the one who handed Him over to be crucified.

And the Gospel in this for us is that innocent Jesus was declared guilty by an earthly judge so that, when we appear before the heavenly Judge, we will be declared innocent – even though we have been found to be guilty.

3. He bore God’s curse.

Death by crucifixion was a terrible way to die.  The nails were pounded through the wrists after which the one crucified would be lifted up in nearly unbearable pain. Then the feet would be nailed in a way that enabled the victim to lean on the nails, stretching himself upwards, making it temporarily easier for him to breathe.  Every time the one crucified stretched himself upwards to breathe, the pain was excruciating.  And all the while he would be abused by the local people who had come to watch the show. 

But the magnitude of Christ’s suffering was not caused by the nails or the painful position of being stretched out on two pieces of wood.  The magnitude of the suffering was caused by the curse that went with the crucifixion.  Knowing that this was the manner in which His own Son would die years later, the LORD had told His people in Deuteronomy 21:22,23, “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.”

To be cursed means to be placed under the severe judgment of God.  It means that God wants nothing more to do with a person, a thing or a place.  To be cursed is to be abandoned, forsaken by God.  And that was the deepest, most terrible part of the suffering of Christ.  It was this that caused Christ to call out in anguish, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  This was not an agonising cry of total despair.  Jesus knew He was going to the Father.  He could still call Him “My God”.  Jesus knew too the context of those verses in Psalm 22 – that it is a psalm that turns into a song of praise for deliverance.  But it was a real cry of real anguish because the suffering had gone on for so long. 

To bear the guilt of the sin of the whole human race even for a moment would cause incredible anguish to the soul.  Even if it was just for a moment, the weight of God’s wrath, the weight of His curse for sin is so great it could never be weighed in a scale.  But Jesus did not merely suffer for a minute or two or ten.  And so He cried out.  When would it end?  Could there be yet more weight of sin?  Wasn’t the full wrath of God poured out yet?  Hour after hour it went on.  The dark weight of sin and the deep wrath of God was poured out on Jesus in wave after wave.  “Oh My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Oh My God, when will You bring it all to an end?

But it did end.  The curse which lay on me and the curse which lay on you was laid on Jesus and He bore it to the very end.  He freed us from the severe judgment of God.  He bore the full wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race, and has fully redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation.  He has obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.  And Jesus wants nothing more than to freely give those things to all those who come to Him in faith.

The suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ that culminated in His death on the cross was so terrible that we can not comprehend it.  He suffered.  But He did so willingly.  He suffered to take away your suffering!   That’s your God!  That’s your Saviour!  There is the comfort that you have in belonging body and soul to Jesus Christ.  He bore God’s anger so that God would turn His anger from me forever.  He bore God’s judgment, so that I might be declared innocent.  He carried my curse to the cross.  There I was, like Barabbas.  Guilty as charged, knowing that I deserved no less than what Jesus went through.  But Jesus stood in my place.  He carried my curse to the Cross and died my death.  He set me free.  He obtained for us and He freely gives us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life. 

He suffered. He was judged under Pontius Pilate and crucified.  In doing so, Christ carried my curse to the cross.  And now my curse is history.  I can enter God’s presence with my head held high, glorifying the Lord and praising Him forever.  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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