Friday, July 11, 2008

THE PASSION OF CHRIST


The title of this article, as you find it above, refers to the suffering of the anointed Son of God upon the cross for the sins of God’s elect, so that they should not perish but have everlasting life.
Children, the word “passion” means suffering. The word “suffering,” as we use it now, does not refer to the suffering inflicted upon Jesus by the hand of men, a suffering then that He felt with the nerves of His body. But the suffering that we refer to is the suffering inflicted upon Him by the hand of God, when God poured forth His holy wrath into the soul of His own Son. This is the suffering of the Christ.

When we use the words “the Christ,” we mean the truth of the Scriptures that Jesus Christ was the anointed or ordained of the Father from all eternity to do the work of our redemption, as the Heidelberg Catechism teaches us. The Scriptures call Him “the Christ.” Andrew, in John 1:41, came to Peter his brother and said, “We have found the Messiah,” which is being interpreted “the Christ.” The Bible portrays Him as the only One who can bring us back to right-standing with God through His work as the Christ. The Bible tells us that there will be many who will come, saying, “I am Christ,” and there will be many who will try to pretend to be Jesus.

The passion of the Christ will be set before us today in the way that God the Father who gave His Son has willed that this passion be set before men and women. The way that He has chosen, as we read in I Corinthians, is through the foolishness of the preaching of the gospel. We will preach Christ and Him crucified.

We will not present the passion of Jesus Christ this morning by projecting a 3-D image on the wall behind me. We will not seek to have a dramatic presentation of those sufferings (or of His last twelve hours). But we will trust the means that God Himself has given to us, a means that God says will produce the effects that He intends. It will be the power of God unto salvation in everyone that believes. And it will also be, in God’s own determination, the hardening of those who reject Him. We will preach Christ crucified.

The title of this article obviously reminds us of and brings to our attention the release of the movie that has so captured the world’s attention and has received the endorsement of much of the professing Christian churches. With almost one accord, professing evangelical Christians have rallied around this film and have defended it. Entire churches on Wednesday night bought tickets that they might watch it. The sons of the Protestant Reformation have extolled this film and have given their blessing to it. Probably even today it is being viewed in Christian churches on large screens after men have first taken the pulpit away and put it into a corner or into the closet of the church.

That film, dear radio listener, is blasphemy.

That film distorts the gospel of Jesus Christ and conveys a false gospel. The film is a blasphemous affront to the very Savior Jesus Christ whom it claims that it wants to honor. It is a trampling of the glory of God in the cross.

We could oppose and condemn the film, perhaps, on the basis of its crass commercialization. The very basis of the Christian faith is being used in a way to earn obscene amounts of money. Now profit is made over Christ crucified.

We could condemn it (and will condemn it) for its perversion of the gospel.

For the film portrays, among other things, Mary as the co-mediator with Jesus Christ and is nothing but the propagation of the old Roman Catholic teaching of Mary as a mediator with her Son.

But we condemn this film primarily because it is idolatry!

The Protestant church no longer knows, evidently, and does not care, evidently, about the second commandment that there shall be no graven images in the church.

A man will pretend to be the very Son of God in flesh!!??

The sufferings of the eternal Son of God will be portrayed by a make-up artist!!??

They will act out His sufferings through special effects?

The agonies of Jesus are now to be dramatized?

On the basis of the gospel, we condemn the film as being anti-Christian. And we weep that strong delusion is sent into the churches.

But my purpose in this article is not simply to condemn the film, although it is on my heart! As a pastor, I want to make it very clear to our children and to our young people that this film is not the friend of Jesus Christ, but it is His enemy.

That is not my only purpose. My purpose is that we may delight in the cross of Jesus Christ, for in His passion and suffering is eternal life. We believe that those sufferings of Jesus Christ are powerfully and effectually conveyed to us in the preaching of the gospel.

I want to consider with you “The Passion of the Christ.” I would like to make it very clear to you and to our children what His suffering was. In the second place, I want to make it very clear to you and to our children how God wants His sufferings to be conveyed to the world. Finally, if only briefly, I want to show you two things that His sufferings produce in the hearts of those who believe.

What was the passion or the suffering of Jesus Christ?

According to God’s Word, the suffering of Jesus Christ was when He bore the just wrath of the holy God against all the sins of God’s chosen people in grace. We read in Galatians 3:13 that Christ was made a curse for us. In Isaiah 53:6 we read that the Lord laid on Him the iniquities of us all. That means, young people and children, that His sufferings were not primarily, not most importantly, those sufferings that were inflicted upon Him by the hand of men, as gruesome and as brutal as those sufferings were and as the Scriptures tell us about them. But primarily the sufferings of Jesus Christ, the heart and the core of those sufferings, were inflicted upon Him by the hand of God. It pleased (Isaiah 53) the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief.

The physical sufferings of Jesus Christ, we might say, were the most severe any mortal ever experienced. But even if they were the most severe, they were not unique. He is not the only man who has suffered brutality by the hands of men. There were two other thieves crucified with Him. Those physical sufferings were not the suffering that caused Him at the end of the cross to cry out from His heart, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” What men did to Him did not cause Him to sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. But His passion was the indescribable, it was the immeasurable, it was the unique bearing (1 Peter 2) in His body our sins on the tree. And then, bearing them in love for God.

We want to note in Mark 15:33 that the emphasis of the Holy Spirit at that point shifts dramatically from that which He was suffering at the hands of men to that which He suffered at the hand of God. “And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour” — three hours of darkness. And out of that came His cry.

That darkness signified, which I will show in a moment, that God came down to Golgotha at that point in a special work of judgment. But the darkness was not something that man did. God did that.

It was after the ordeal of being in that darkness for three hours that it seemed finally as if a dam burst in our Lord’s heart and He cries out of the darkness, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me?”

Jesus Christ hung upon the cross for six hours. He was crucified, we read, at 9:00 in the morning. And for the first three hours men were fiendishly active. They beat Him. They scourged Him. They nailed Him to a tree. They mocked Him. They jeered Him. They ridiculed Him. They held Him up to contempt. But then, at 12:00 noon, the sixth hour, God put the lights out over the whole world. (The word land is not simply a section, but earth — over the earth.) For three hours in human history, over the whole globe of men, men did not do anything but sit in fear and darkness. It was the darkness that God once put upon the land of Egypt, the darkness in which, the book of Exodus tells us, a man could not see his hand in front of his face. Darkness came upon the earth, says the Holy Spirit. And every human action at that point ceased. We are not told of one action of man during those three hours of darkness. And in the day of days, I believe, when the book of all human deeds are opened, you will not find recorded there during those three hours of darkness one act of man, because the earth is now going to be silent. God is going to appear in judgment. He will come to His own beloved Son with all the fury, the just fury, of an offended God because of our sins.

What happened in the three hours of darkness that no camera could record?

God dealt with our sins. God punished them all in His Son.

I said the darkness represented God’s judgment. And so the Savior taught us when, numerous times in His ministry, He said that those who rejected Him would depart and be cursed in outer darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is the darkness of being cast away from the presence of God and experiencing only the horrible wrath of the almighty God. Darkness is simply when God gives sin what sin deserves. That is darkness. Upon the cross God gave to Christ, the head of the church, what the sin of the church deserved. This is the gospel.

2 Corin­thians 5:21
He made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

God made His Son to be sin, to be the sin-bearer for us.

Isaiah 53:5
He was wounded for our transgressions! He was bruised for our iniquities.

Isaiah 53:8
For the transgression of my people was He smitten.

Isaiah 53:10
It pleased the Lord to bruise Him. Verse 11: He shall bear their iniquities.

Now although those three hours of darkness are an eternity that is too great for us possibly to fathom, the Scriptures are nevertheless abundantly plain. We are told exactly what the passion, the suffering, of God’s Son for us was. God was punishing our sins on His Son. God was breaking over the head of His own Son the vials of His own wrath that our sins deserved. God in love gave His Son to bear what our sin deserved so that we would not have to bear it. His Son was there suffering for all the sins for which we are accountable.

He endured hell, our hell, for our sakes. He was abandoned and He was cast into the darkness. And He experienced it for us.

At the end of the three hours He cried: “My God, My God, why hast Thou abandoned Me?”

He is not asking, “God, why do men do this to Me?” He knew why they did it to Him. He is not asking, “Lord, why do My disciples forsake Me?” He knew why they must forsake Him. But He asks, “Why hast Thou forsaken Me? The very Son and the beloved of the Father. Why hast Thou made Me to be abandoned?”

As the Lord took His words deliberately at that point from Psalm 22:1, “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?” so also in His own heart He knew the answer, also given in Psalm 22:3, “But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.”

God did this because He is a holy God. That sin which is committed against Him must be punished. And in mercy He brings that punishment to the heart of His Son, that His Son might take it away and replace it for us with love. God did that.

Romans 8:32
“He that spared not his own Son.”

Fathers, you know what it means to spare your son. It means that you do not inflict upon your son what he has coming. But God did not spare His Son,
“but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

Who gave Jesus to the cross?

It was not Judas Iscariot for money. It was not the Jews for envy. It was not Pontius Pilate out of fear. But it was God in justice and in love for us.

When men had done their absolute worse, God pulled down a curtain and He plunged His Son into the wrath that is ours that we might never bear it but have life eternal

Now, young people and children, if that is the passion of Jesus Christ, do you think we can act that?

Do you think that men may attempt to act that?

Do you think that we can fit eternity of suffering on a 3-D screen?

It is exactly this truth of the passion of Jesus Christ — that He bears the sins of God’s people — that offends men apart from grace. It offends us, apart from grace. For the passion of Jesus Christ is a declaration concerning us as men and women that we do deserve the eternal judgment of God for our sins. And it is the declaration to men and women that there is no escape of that punishment. There is no possibility that we can possibly blot out that punishment or take away our sins unless by grace alone God gives the substitute — His own Son.

Instead, man (and that means us — for we are no different) would rather tend to view the cross of Jesus Christ as some kind of expression that in the end everything is going to turn out OK because God will not punish sin. We would rather be moved in our hearts by the brutality of men against Christ. We would rather have the Christ become one who is able courageously and serenely to endure such brutality in order that He might gain sympathy in our hearts and so that we would all leave after this sermon resolved to live a little better and to do better. What I am saying is that we all want that cross down to the human level. We want the cross to be about man. We want it to be about man’s cruelty and man’s innocent suffering. But the cross is not about that! It is about God. It is about sin. It is about your sin. It is about the need that the eternal justice of God cries for payment.

There is only one way of payment. It is in the tender mercies of God through a substitution in Jesus Christ. This is what His passion is saying to us. It is saying to us that God takes sin seriously. That little three-letter word, sin — I have told you that the most important letter in that word is the middle one, the “i.” Sin is everything that I am and everything that I have done that is contrary to the law of my Creator. Sin is, at bottom, nothing less than my awful, stinking, and besetting pride. That pride breaks forth into my deeds and into my thoughts and into my words.

Is God indifferent to sin?

Is God indulgent about sin?

The cross and the passion of His Son tells you, No! He takes it seriously. So seriously that, rather than it should go unpunished, He punished it in His beloved Son.

Do you think that we can fit eternity of suffering on a 3-D screen?

God tells us from the cross that He not only takes sin seriously, but that He punishes sin severely and justly. That is not popular today either. In Romans 11:22 the apostle says, “Behold the goodness and the severity of God.”

Do we dare?

By God grace we do.

Do we dare proclaim publicly the word severe?

And God?

It seems the moment we would do so, the devil himself would attack us. God judges sin severely. I did not say excessively. I did not say wildly. I did not say evilly. I said severely. God will give to sin that which sin deserves, for He is holy.

Therefore the cross and the passion of Jesus Christ proclaim to us that there is but one hope — that is Christ and Him crucified, which is the power of God unto salvation. There is no other way. There is no work, there is no feeling, there is no tear, there is no act that can take away your sin except His own passion. Not the virgin Mary, not if you sympathize for Him, not a million good deeds. But only His laying down His life for the sheep.

Therefore the passion declares,
“there is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.”

How shall we convey the passion of Jesus Christ to the world?

What is the vehicle that we must use to carry the truth of this passion to mankind?

What is the way, the medium, to convey effectively and to create in the hearts of men and women Spirit-worked faith and the experience of this passion as being personally for them?

In the intense words of the apostle Paul in Philippians 3:10, how shall men and women be brought to know Him and to have fellowship with His sufferings?

That word suffering there means passion, “being made conformable unto his death.”

Has God thought about this?

Or has He simply given the passion of His Son, the crucifixion of His Son, and then left it up to us to convey it through the media and through the means that we believe will be most effective? We may be sure that God has thought about this, that He has thought about the way in which He will effectually, that is, in an effective and efficacious way, portray the passion of His Son upon our hearts. He has decided the way by which He will accomplish exactly what He intends.

What is that way?

The gospel also here is abundantly plain to those who will read it. We preach Christ crucified. This will be, says the apostle, by the Word of God as it is expounded. The Holy Scriptures brought to our hearts — this is the way whereby the power of salvation shall be effectually worked.

The enthusiasm over this movie during past weeks in the evangelical church is not so much a testimony about what the church thinks about movies, as it is a testimony about what the church really believes about the Word, and about the preaching of that Word. It is a testimony that they do not believe that the preaching is an effective way of bringing the passion of Christ by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of sinners whom God calls by grace to Himself. They do not believe that the services of the church are really effectual if they consist of just preaching the gospel.

Drama is not new to our society. Paul was well aware of it. Drama had its crowning point under the Greeks and the Romans and their playwrights and in their theaters. The apostle Paul was well aware of its appeal and its power.

When he went forth to preach and to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ and bring the sufferings of the Savior, how did he go forth?

Does the book of Acts tell us that he entered into every theater and contacted every actors’ guild and arranged for them to put on the last twelve hours of the passion of Jesus Christ?

The media existed in the apostle’s day.

The enthusiasm over this movie is a testimony about what the church really believes about the Word, and about the preaching of that Word.

He says to us plainly, “Christ sent me forth to preach, because it is the preaching of the gospel, the expounding of the living and the abiding Word, by the power of the Spirit in the heart, that is the power to salvation.” The passage can be read in 1 Corinthians emphasizing to us that God has appointed the means by which the church is to bring the gospel unto the world. It is a means that the apostle says is going to be called foolish and weak. That means is that God has inspired the truth of the crucifixion in every page of His Word. You may read of it. And now He has commissioned the church to preach that Word. He has given ministers an office to preach the gospel. The apostle said there that he is well aware that the Jews of his day would rather that he bring them a sign. “The Jews require a sign.” They were a people who believed that you needed to have an impressive, and a visible, and a physical display if you really want to catch and rivet people’s attention. Paul, do something like Elijah did and call fire from heaven and we will believe that this Jesus is the Christ. But you certainly cannot expect that the gospel is going to get anywhere if you just stand there and preach.

The Greeks, on the other hand, says the apostle, want wisdom. That is, they were telling Paul, you need to learn how to put your message together in a crafty and in a skillful manner, aiming primarily at the emotions of men, trying, through your words, subtly to manipulate and control their reaction even unconsciously.

The church world today is saying the same. We require a sign. We require the wisdom of this world. They say to us, “We don’t dispute the contents of the gospel.” That is what they say! “We want the content of the gospel.” That is what they say. “But we want an effective way to get it across.” Paul says, “But we preach Christ crucified. To the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness. But to those who are called (notice, to those who are called) both Jew and Greek, Christ the power (effective) and Christ the wisdom of God.” Paul says, “We preach, we testify from the Holy Scriptures, through the office that is given to us, and through this preaching God calls.” We don’t have time to go into that beautiful truth, but that call is a personal work of the ascended, risen Jesus when He brings the Word to your heart and calls you by name to Himself. Paul says, “This is the power of God to salvation.”

Do we believe this?

Are we committed to this?

Are we as committed to this as we are committed to the gospel itself, to Christ our Lord, our only Savior?

Are we committed also to this, that the effective tool is the preaching of Christ crucified?

Is that why we are here?

The apostle Paul would say to the Thessalonian church, “for this cause also we thank God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, (now note) which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” The Word of God works powerfully in you who believe.

It is always going to come down to this, you know.

Does the church believe that this is God’s Word which is the power?

Or do we not.

There is convincing evidence that the means that God uses to bring the passion of Jesus Christ to our hearts is the preaching of the gospel, especially in Galatians 3:1: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, (now, note the words) before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”

The apostle Paul says that the crucified Christ was set forth before their eyes.

How is that so?

Is it possible that some of these Galatians had been at the foot of the cross?

No. The apostle says “He was crucified among you.” He was crucified right among them. In their church. He was crucified, and you saw Him in your church.

How did that happen?

Did the apostle Paul, then, beat Mel Gibson to the punch and stage it and act it out so that they could see it?

Is that what he means?

No. See Galatians 3:2, “This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

It was through the hearing of faith. That hearing becomes eyes. The Word of God is received through faith, which becomes eyes whereby we see to the heart of the passion of Jesus Christ. And we apprehend that and lay hold of it to eternity.

The Word of God is received through faith, which becomes eyes whereby we see to the heart of the passion of Jesus Christ.

God has chosen the means — the preaching of the Word. Woe to us if we depart from that, if instead we insist that we want signs and wisdom of men. Then it must be declared to us, to the Protestant church, whenever men arise to represent God’s truth in the way that we want to represent it, we destroy the truth and make an image. We bring it down to man, and the center of our message becomes man, not God, and not the glory of the incorruptible God. The apostle in Romans 1 says that that is our nature — we take the glory of the incorruptible God and make it like unto man.

Can man paint God on a canvas?

Can man act God on a cross?

Can man express eternal wrath being borne in darkness?

He can not! All he will succeed in doing is making God like unto himself.

Leave it to man. Leave it to me. Leave it to a worship committee. Leave it to a theater group — and you will not have the passion of Christ plus a few errors, or minus a little bit. No, you will not have that — you will have the lie!

But the means of God are effectual. The means of God do not return void, God has said, and of this we are sure,
“My word shall not return empty to me. It shall accomplish the purpose to which I sent it.”

That, after all, is the question. We do not want to hide the passion of Jesus Christ. We do not believe that that passion is somewhere off in the corner and that it should not be displayed before this world. We want that passion displayed. And, above all things, we want that passion displayed to our own hearts as foundation and assurance of my salvation this morning. I need to know that. I need to know that He suffered for me.

How shall we do that?

Shall we buy tickets to a movie and pass them out in the neighborhood?

Shall we show a film tonight to underscore the brutality?

I want to know about those sufferings.

And I want to know that they were for me.

How?

By the Word of God. The Scriptures are saying that the One who put Him on the cross is the One who must tell you in His Word. He must open your heart so that your ears become eyes and you see Him.

Then we will leave, by the grace of God, with those effects produced by the Holy Spirit, which are a conviction of sin and its pardon. Before the cross of Jesus Christ we will be convicted of its horror, of our sin, of its consequences, and of the fact that it cannot be removed by us.

Leaving the cross of Jesus Christ, I will not think that sin is a joke, that sin is light, and that sin is my friend.

Do you leave the cross of Jesus Christ that way, thinking that sin is a joke, that the cross simply means that you have insurance, so that you can go on in your sins?

Those who do not know the cross go on in their sins and do not have insurance. Woe be to us, then. For then we have not seen.

But we will leave the cross convicted of our sin, that it is no joke. We will be convicted that the guilt of our sin, which nothing could remove, has been borne away by the Lion of Judah’s tribe. Now we are righteous before God. We will, then, leave the cross in amazement at the love of God. There is nothing that is going to reveal to us the character of our God as does the cross. Even in eternity, the Bible tells us, the revelation of God will always be through His Son and through the Lamb that has been slain. Everything that has to be known of God is revealed in the cross. In the cross we see that He is unchangeably holy, inflexibly just, marvelous in grace, perfect in wisdom, immeasurable in love. For at the cross we ask the question:

Why?

Jesus cried out “Why?”

We do too.

Why?

If this were His passion that He endured for me, the hell I made, Why?

Why would the Son of God, who could gain nothing from it personally, why would He do that?

The answer is too big, too much for our hearts. It is because of the unconditional love of God, the infinite and unchangeable love, that He gave His Son to bear what would have made us perish, in order that we might live eternally.

Now hear the passion of Christ.

“And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying,… My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

So that we might never be forsaken of God.

By Carl Haak

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