What Wondrous Love – When Giving Up His Life
In the + name of Jesus. Amen.
Matthew 27:50 Jesus, when He had cried out again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… God’s wisdom never ceases to amaze us, especially when we consider the fact that God is able to use anything or anyone to accomplish His will and meet His own ends.
Consider the words of Joseph speaking to his astonished brothers, who had planned to murder him and ended up selling him as a slave, only to discover that Joseph had become second-in-command in Egypt: “Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives’” (Gen 50:19,20). Despite the evil intentions of his brothers, Joseph literally became their earthly savior by God’s grace, preserving the entire Jewish race and the promise of the Savior.
Or we might consider the prophet Balaam, who was hired by Balak, the king of Moab, to curse Israel. Balaam started out with the intent to curse the Israelites, but upon arrival, Balaam could only speak what the Lord allowed him to speak and ended up blessing the Israelites.
Or think of Caiaphas, the high priest, a man who wanted to put Jesus to death. When the Jewish council began arguing about what ought to be done with Jesus, Caiaphas said: “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” St. John goes on to inform us, “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one” (Jn 11:49-52).
Ah, the wisdom of our Lord! He is able to use anything or anyone to accomplish what He desires. But by far the greatest display of His wisdom and love is found in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who demonstrated His wondrous love in giving up His life on the cross. It was intended for evil, but God, in his manifold wisdom, used it for good.
A mob of people stood by as Jesus was being nailed to that horrible cross. What a gory and disgusting sight it must have been. How appalling it must have been for His disciples, who knew He had done nothing deserving of death. Despite the fact that Jesus had gone through four different trials – before Annas, before Caiaphas, before Herod, and before Pilate – nothing was found of which to accuse Him or condemn Him. It was out of hatred and jealousy that the Jews had arrested Jesus in the first place. And even as He hung on that cruel cross, His enemies taunted Him and mocked Him. They ridiculed His claims that He was the Son of God and that He would rebuild the temple in three days. They scoffed at Him and challenged Him to come down from the cross and save Himself IF He was the Son of God.
The fact is, what happened to Jesus on that day was the result of sinful people carrying out their sinful desires. Everything Jesus’ enemies did came from sinful motives. Jesus was put to death unjustly. He was murdered. It was a gross sin. There was not a righteous person in that mob who consented to Jesus’ death. There was not even a hint of fairness or piety. Everything that happened to Jesus that day was the result of abhorrent and despicable sin. Every evil thought, every evil motive, every accusation leveled against Jesus on that day, every slanderous remark spoken against Him – all of them were wrong, all of them were sinful, all of them were damnable.
Yes, it was because of sin that Jesus was on that holy cross. It truly was the “hour of darkness,” as Jesus had earlier referred to it. Satan and sinful man were reveling in what they thought was their victory over Jesus, His teachings, and His miracles. They had boldly defied God. They were acting contrary to His will.
Saint Paul wrote, “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8). Peter also told the people of Jerusalem: “You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life,” (Acts 3:13-15). It is clear from these words that what was done to Jesus was a terribly sinful thing. God’s will is never in accord with sin.
As the hymn writer says of Jesus on the cross, “Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate” (TLH 153:3). Please remember, first and foremost, that Jesus was there on the cross suffering such injustice at the hands of sinful men because you have defied God’s will. You have sinned. It was never God’s will, originally, for anyone to die, much less His own Son. But your sin brought death. Your rebellion against God brought condemnation. Your defiance to God’s will brought the sentence of damnation for all. The cross itself was originally about death, pain, curses, shame, damnation – it was about the consequences of sin.
Yes, what sinful men did to Jesus on that day – what we all did to Him on that day – was done against God’s will. The evil deeds we have done and the sinful thoughts we have conceived in our hearts caused Jesus to be nailed to the cross in defiance of God’s will. Thus, Jesus was put to death against God’s will, since sin was the cause of His death.
And yet here is a great paradox of the Christian faith. Although Jesus was put to death against the will of God, at the same time He was put to death in accordance with God’s will.
We cannot help but remember what happened in Gethsemane. Jesus prayed specifically: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mt. 26:39). Let us also remember the prophetic words of Isaiah, who by God’s foreknowledge wrote: “Yet it was Yahweh’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though Yahweh makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of Yahweh will prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10).
While God originally never intended for anyone to die, while injustice is something upon which God will never put His stamp of approval, while damnation is nothing God in His grace desires for anyone, the Bible still teaches that it was God’s will for Jesus to suffer and die, to bear our sin, and ultimately to suffer the pains of hell itself. It was not that God looked with favor upon any of these things, but the will of God was finally achieved through them all.
It was God’s will to deliver sinners from damnation. It was God’s will that all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. It was God’s will that the forgiveness of sins would be secured for everyone. And all this could only be accomplished by allowing Jesus to become what God despised most. Jesus became sin for you. Jesus became for you the object of God’s hatred, wrath and scorn. Jesus became for you everything that was contrary to God’s precious will, in order that you might be saved.
And so, against God’s will, Jesus died in accordance with God’s will. What wondrous love this is! How great is the wisdom of our God, who brings life from death, who brings salvation from damnation. No genius on earth could have devised such a plan for the redemption of the world. But our God in His wisdom not only designed the plan but carried it out on your behalf. He sent His innocent, perfect Son to die in your place and to bear your sin so that He would be punished in your stead. God credited Christ’s death and perfect righteousness to you as if it were your own.
Yes, after Jesus had suffered the pains of hell on the cross for all people, He declared, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Jesus had accomplished all that needed to be done and had paid sinful mankind’s debt to God. The text goes on to say, “When Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.” Luke, in his gospel, tells us that Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (23:46).
Although Jesus was put to death by sinful men with sinful intentions, which were against God’s will, Jesus proved, even in His death, that He was doing the Father’s will. Jesus gave up His spirit. He died willingly. Jesus had commented earlier that no one could take His life from Him but that He gave it up of His own accord (John 10). Jesus had come to be the Savior of the world. He loved you and proved it by becoming your substitute in life and in death.
That is what Good Friday is all about. It is at the cross where we see the wondrous love of God displayed by the injustice Jesus willingly suffered on our behalf. As He committed His spirit to God on that dark afternoon, let us be reminded that He was also commending all of us to God.
And as His spirit left His body in death, we are reminded that we have been released from the bonds of sin that held us. Jesus, put to death against the will of God, accomplished the will of God by His death for you.
In the + name of Jesus.