Sermon/ Lenten Preaching Exchange/ O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken/ Vicar James Preus
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit”
Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior!
O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken
That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken?
Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession,
What dark transgression?
These words written in 1630 by German pastor Johann Heermann epitomize the astonishment of anyone who has heard of the abuse borne by Jesus as recorded in Scripture. From reading Heermann’s words, one gets the sense that Heermann actually witnessed the very crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus bore unbelievable abuse. Soldiers shoved a crown of thorns into his scalp, piercing skin until blood streamed down his face. They struck Jesus both with fists and objects. They scourged him! What does that mean? Scourging was a form of punishment carried out by the Romans, where the victim is beaten with a multi-lashed whip with pieces of bone or metal imbedded, intended to rip and tear skin and flesh. Everyone around Jesus mocked him as soldiers mercilessly urged him to the top of Golgotha to be crucified. Even in his last moments of breath they gave him nothing but vinegar to quench his thirst.
This is punishment. Cruel punishment! One must be guilty of a horrific crime to warrant such severe punishment. “What law hast thou broken?” the hymnist cries. The answer? None! Jesus broke no law. He never did anything wrong. Even the heathen governor Pilate proclaimed to those demanding Jesus’ crucifixion: “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.” This is an understatement! Jesus has no guilt deserving death! He has no guilt at all! Yet here he is being punished as if he were the worst kind of criminal, a thief, molester, and murderer.
Yet is this all that shocking? This scenario is sadly somewhat common. People are punished for crimes they didn’t commit all the time. Johann Heermann knew this. His village was sacked by soldiers half a dozen times during the 30 Years War. Although he was his parents’ fourth son, he was the first of his parents’ children to reach adulthood. Sickness dealt his older siblings a death sentence when they were only children. He witnessed the plague sweep through and kill countless people who were never found guilty of any crime. As we look through history we cannot enumerate the many instances when innocent people were sentenced to die. People have been lynched for the color of their skin, forced to death camps because of their ethnicity and religion, we know of many cases of genocide, and countless children have been killed inside the womb for having genetic defects, being female, or simply being an inconvenience.
So why is Heermann harping on this one (albeit gruesome) example of injustice? Not only is Jesus innocent, the only truly innocent human being to ever live, but look at the source of Jesus punishment!
Whence come these sorrows, whence this mortal anguish?
It is my sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish;
Yea, all the wrath, the woe, Thou dost inherit,
This I do merit.
It is MY sins for which Thou, Lord, must languish. The original German says: “My sins have beaten you!” Here comes the great tragedy. Jesus, the only innocent person who ever lived, is punished for MYsins. Our sins put him on the cross. Our sins sentence him to death!
Another hymn puts it this way:
Tell, me ye who hear Him groaning, Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning, Foes insulting His distress;
Many hands were raised to wound Him, None would intervene to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him Was the stroke that justice gave.
The worst punishment Jesus endured on the cross was not the crown of thorns that dug into his scalp, it wasn’t the flogging that tore the skin off his back, and it wasn’t the nails that were driven into his hands and feet. The worst punishment Jesus endured was the divine judgment for the guilt of all mankind that was placed on him. As Isaiah the Prophet long foretold:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
He was crushed for our iniquities;
Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
And with his stripes we are healed.
Here is the greatest irony ever conceived. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father. By him was created everything that was created. Through him all things have their existence. He makes all things good. He is incapable of doing wrong. Yet this Son of God took on our human nature. He lived upon earth, submitting to his parents, submitting to the Roman government, submitting to the Judean government, serving even those who called him ‘master.’ He kept the commandments perfectly. He perfectly taught others how to keep the commandments. Jesus never sinned. Every single human being ever to live has deserved death as surely as the wages of sin is death; every human being except Jesus. Jesus never sinned. Jesus did not deserve death. Yet here, Jesus dies. Jesus is punished for the transgression of sinful people.
What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know him.
What a bizarre carrying of justice! Here we see the hymn’s connection to our sermon text: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous.” That is, the Righteous One for the unrighteous ones, the Righteous One in exchange for the unrighteous ones! Jesus, the Righteous One is our Substitute! God’s eternal justice demanded payment for all sins. The price was the eternal damnation of every sinner. What on earth could substitute that? Nothing, until God became man. Jesus is the perfect substitute, the perfect sacrifice for all sins. His eternal divinity is greater than all mortals. His spotless righteousness exceeds the sins of the whole world.
As we look at the picture Scripture paints for us of Jesus’ crucifixion, we see the weight of our sins. We see Jesus, sprawled out on the cross, gasping for breath. Did you know that that is how crucifixion kills? One who is crucified doesn’t bleed to death. He suffocates to death. The six hours Jesus spent on the cross were six hours struggling for every breath. How excruciating. How gruesome. We see the blood. We hear the mocking. We see the betrayal. We see that even God the Father forsakes Jesus during his time on the cross. It is healthy for us to consider Jesus’ suffering. Here we see what it truly costs to love ourselves more than God. We see what it truly costs to lie, to gossip, to hurt our neighbor’s reputation. We see the true price of our hatred, lust, and selfishness. It is good for us to reflect on the true cost of our sins…
Yet, this is not the only reason for us to reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion. God did not punish Jesus simply to show us how severe our sins are. Jesus bore our guilt so we don’t have to. Jesus bore our sins so that we could be righteous. It is a strange exchange. We give Jesus nothing but labor and death and Jesus gives us righteousness and eternal life.
How do we know that Jesus fully satisfied the price for our sins? God the Father raised him from the dead. In the flesh Christ was put to death, but in the eternal spirit Christ is made alive. When God the Father raised Jesus from the dead, he proclaimed that Jesus had fully paid for all our sins. If Jesus’ suffering and death were not enough to pay for the sins of the world then Jesus would have remained dead in the tomb. Isaiah says, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Not a single transgression was omitted from Jesus’ load. Yet our text says: “Christ [was] made alive in the spirit.” Christ Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus endured all this to lead us to God.
Yet how are we led to God? How does Jesus apply to me his righteousness? Isaiah tells us: “by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous.” We simply put our trust in this fact, “Jesus bore the sins of the world” and we are given his righteousness. No work required. We are saved through faith. We give Jesus nothing but our sins and Jesus gives us eternal life simply through knowledge of him.
O Wondrous love, whose depth no heart hath sounded,
That brought Thee here, by foes and thieves surrounded!
All worldly pleasures, heedless, I was trying
While Thou wert dying.
The hymnist states it quite bluntly. While we enjoyed our sins, Jesus died for them. Jesus loves us so much, he didn’t wait for us to stop sinning. (If he had, he would still be waiting). Instead, Jesus died for us. We didn’t ask him to. He did it purely out of love for us and for his Father. Heermann then asks what he can do to repay Jesus for this immense favor. Again, the answer is nothing. It is impossible for us to pay Jesus back for what he has done for us. In fact, as long as we live in this world we are corrupted by the flesh. We cannot by our own strength do anything to please God.
But since my strength will never more suffice me
To crucify desires that still entice me,
To all good deeds O let Thy Spirit win me
And reign within me!
As Jesus presented his physical body as a sacrifice for our sins, we present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God, meaning we seek to do good works. We can only present ourselves as living sacrifices if the Spirit of God creates faith in us. This Spirit leads us to do good works. Through the message of the Gospel the Spirit gives us Christ’s righteousness. And through this message the Spirit gives us the ability to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God.
But worthless is my sacrifice, I own it;
Yet, Lord, for love’s sake Thou wilt not disown it;
Thou wilt accept my gift in Thy great meekness
Nor shame my weakness.
Our flesh fights against the Spirit. None of our works have value of their own. Yet, Jesus loves our sacrifice, as impure as it is. Jesus accepts our works, our songs of praise, and our prayers of thanksgiving for the sake of his precious blood that he shed on the cross for us.
Jesus does not despise our weakness. Instead, Jesus bears our weakness. As long as we live on this earth, we will feel our weakness and we will not fully see the righteousness Jesus gives us. Yet, these weak bodies will die. And Jesus will raise our bodies to live for eternity just as his body lives for eternity. Our sins will die with us, because Jesus has paid for them. And Jesus will grant us a crown of righteousness and glory. All this will be done for us, because of what Jesus did on the cross. Our sins cannot condemn us. Instead we will live in joy with Jesus for eternity. Each and every one of us can apply this promise to himself.
Let us pray:
And when, dear Lord, before Thy throne in heaven
To me the crown of joy at last is given,
Where sweetest hymns Thy saints forever raise Thee,
I, too, shall praise Thee.
O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken: LSB 439. Stanza 1
Thomas Kelly LSB 451 Stz. 2.