For the past 31 years at my congregation’s Good Friday worship services, we read the entire Passion story of Christ’s suffering and death with hymns interspersed between each scene. It is a meaningful experience for us. The reason I insist on doing it this way is I believe it is important to be reminded of the cruelty, brutality, evil, and darkness Jesus went through for us.
One has to agree, it is a dark, gruesome story as we observe humanity at its worst. Jesus suffered greatly at the hands of sinful, mean spirited men. We look at the beatings, the humiliation, the crown of thorns, the flogging, the mockery, the spit, the nails in His hands and feet, the injustice, and the desertion and betrayal of friends, and it makes us cringe.
However, I always make a point during my message to emphasize to the congregation that what makes the death of Jesus unique (like no other) is not these gruesome details, as important as they are to solemnly review. Death on a cross and the cruel treatment of prisoners was not unusual. But something else was happening at that cross – you might even say it is in the behind-the-scenes – that no one could see but Jesus. His death was different from all others. What makes it so different is the purpose behind it. It was a lifesaving mission of mercy and grace planned by God for our good.
In his first sermon, the Apostle Peter told the crowd on Pentecost, “This man, Jesus, was handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). This plan began – as God told the serpent in the garden of Eden – after Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Genesis, “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15b). This is a fulfilled promise to Abraham of a Descendant who would be a blessing to all the nations of the world (Genesis 22:18). This is the One whom Isaiah the prophet described would be led like a lamb to the slaughter and by His wounds we would be healed (Isaiah 53:5-7).
The death of Jesus was more than a martyr’s death. Look at who is on that cross – Jesus, true man but true God. As the Nicene Creed says, “Very God of very God.” He was utterly innocent and had done no wrong. Yet, here He is on a cross – suffering and dying. In fact, Scripture tells us He was sinless. Peter says in one of his letters in the New Testament that Jesus was without sin. Paul talked of Him as one who knew no sin. He willingly died on the cross.
By the way, Jesus didn’t to be dragged to the cross. He actually embraced His oncoming death with authority saying, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:17-18). He chose the cross out of obedience to His heavenly Father who ordained it.
Ultimately what made Jesus’ death like no other is, it had to happen. It was a necessity. It was God’s gracious plan to save a perishing world. Jesus told His disciples three times, “I must go to Jerusalem and be rejected and suffer and die, and then on the third day rise again.” I must, He said. It’s that necessary.
Why? It is easy to answer. In one word – sin. Sin. All of us have sinned, and we fall short of the glory of God. There is an emphasis on the word all. No one is excluded!
What is sin? We’re not just talking about murder and robbing banks here. Our thoughts, our words, our actions, and sometimes our lack of action break God’s commands. We are self-centered. Our thoughts are oftentimes impure. We continually fall short of the mark.
To break one commandment is to break them all. Each of us is stained with sin. Guilty! In God’s sight, we are deserving of punishment and cannot save ourselves. We cannot erase the stain or make ourselves right again before God any more than we could long jump the Grand Canyon. We will always fall short, no matter how hard we try to live in total obedience to God and do great things in order to earn our way into His favor. All our good deeds, Scripture tells us, are nothing more than filthy rags in His sight.
Remember. God is holy and just. He loves us. After all, He made us in His image. But He is holy and just, and our sins must be punished, paid for in some way. In Scripture it says the sins of the guilty will not go unpunished. God cannot have a sinful humankind in His heaven, which is pure and unblemished. The wages of sin is death. We are spiritually dead in our relationship with God in this world, and we have nothing but eternal death waiting for us in the next. We are away from God.
Here is what God did out of love – the Good News for sinful men and women like me and like you. Jesus came into this world. He lived the perfect, sinless life I could not live. He was absolutely righteous. Then He suffered and went to the cross to pay for our sinfulness. He took the judgment for our sin upon Himself. As the Apostle Paul writes to the Colossian Christians, “And you who were dead in your sin, God made alive together with him having forgiven us all our trespasses by canceling the record of death that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross” (Col 2:13-14). When Jesus was nailed to the cross, our sins were nailed to the cross. He took our place. He who knew no sin became sin and experienced God’s wrath and judgment on our behalf as we hear Him cry out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?”
What makes His death like no other is He was a substitute for our atonement. He told His disciples He came to give His life as a ransom, a payment for everyone. Later on, Paul wrote of Jesus’ death saying He died that we might be justified. Justification is a legal term from the law court meaning we might be declared not guilty by God. His death was for the forgiveness of our sins.
Jesus’ death was not the final word. It ended in RESURRECTION, which was part of the plan. God affirmed His sacrificial death on Easter morning when He raised Him back to life.
His death is like no other because His death rescues us from sin and death and the power of the devil. It is the way, the only way, back to a restored relationship with God and eternal life.
Why did Jesus go through this? Why did God give us His Son like this? Simple. Out of love. Our Father desires for all to be saved from sin and death. Jesus’ death calls for a response from each of us who hear it. Just hearing about it and knowing about it doesn’t help. A person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is simply trusting Christ for what He has done for you, receiving the free gift He is offering you (eternal life), and following Him the rest of your days as you build your life upon His Word and His promises.
Perhaps you are someone listening today who has not yet received that gift. You haven’t understood that God wants to give it to you. If you were to die today, perhaps you don’t know where you would be spending eternity. It eats away at you wondering.
Here is some good news for you. You can know! There is a statement in I John – “All these things have been written so you may know you have eternal life.” Near the end of the New Testament in Revelation chapter 3 is the statement, “Here I am,” says Jesus. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person and they with me.”
William Holman Hunt, the Pre-Raphaelite artist, illustrated this verse with a painting that has become quite famous. It’s called The Light of the World. Perhaps you’ve seen it. It is a picture of Jesus standing outside a house. He is knocking on the door. It is the door of your life, and he is saying, Here I am. I stand at the door and knock. I’d like to come into the house of your life and be a part of it. To eat with you, which was a sign of friendship.
In the picture, the door is kind of overgrown with thorns and thistles and weeds. It’s like this person has never opened the door to Jesus. Holman Hunt was once told by some that his painting had a terrible flaw. The door does not have a handle. In response he said, “The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing ‘the obstinately shut mind.’” Jesus is not going to force His way into a person’s life. He knocks and leaves it up to you to decide whether to ask Him in. He waits for your response.
Have you responded? If not, why not open the door to your life right now to Him? It’s simply a matter of asking Him to come and, as you talk to Him in prayer and tell Him you want to receive the forgiveness and eternal life He wants to give. Tell Him you are sorry for how you’ve tried to run your own life and you want to follow Him from now on. He promises to come in and be your friend. Your Savior, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light, will give you rest for your soul.
Perhaps you have lived with Jesus Christ in your life for quite some time. You’ve enjoyed the free gift of salvation with Jesus. This assurance is yours. You know how costly the gift was and what His death on the cross accomplished for you. But you’ve wondered how to say thanks and show thanks for the things He has done for you.
I am reminded of a verse from an old sacred hymn. It’s like a prayer.
“What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest friend,
for this thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end.
Oh make me thine forever, and should I fainting be.
Lord let me never, never outlive my love to thee.”
I invite you to consider and act upon a statement made in Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, the second article. After describing who Jesus is and what He has done for us on a cross, Luther says, “All this he has done that I may be his own, live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he has risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.”
There you have it! Live under Him and let Him take over your life. Live the rest of your days doing life His way according to His Word. Be a doer of His Word. When you open the Scripture and see things like Forgive as you’ve been forgiven or Love as I’ve loved you or Turn the other cheek, instead of just studying it and thinking about it, do it. This is what it means to live under Him. He calls the shots! After all, remember you now belong to Him. You have been bought with a price – His precious blood.
Serve Him. Serve Him – not yourself, not the things of this world – but Him. Service to Him means throwing caution to the wind and telling others in your sphere of influence what He has done for them so they can get in on what you’ve received. Then nurturing them in their newfound relationship with Christ. Compassionately serve others in His name as He has called us to do so all may get in on the life God wants us all to receive – eternal life.
O, how He loves you and me. Is there any doubt? Just look at that cross. His death is like no other. It saves. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer