Forgive Us for the Sake of Your Son!
It must have been quite the sight. It was supposed to be the brightest part of the day – after all it was the middle of the day – but something weird was happening. Instead of the sun beating down on the land, it suddenly became as dark as night. And it wasn’t as if some thick cloud was momentarily passing over the sun; it stayed dark for three hours! There are those who have tried to explain it as some impenetrable cloud of sand in the upper atmosphere, but Luke tells us darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining (Lk 23:44,45).
More unnatural events followed. On this day, the day that the Son of God died, nature itself was going awry. As Jesus breathed his last breath an earthquake shook the earth. Earthquakes are not uncommon in Israel, but this one shook the earth and was so violent that it split rocks open. It wasn’t a surprise that the earthquake opened tombs – but it was surprising when the inhabitants of those tombs starting walking around in Jerusalem! It seemed the universe itself was running amok.
The words of our sermon lesson are as mixed up and surprising as the events of the die our Savior died. The way God speaks in the verses before us tonight is not the way the universe is supposed to work!
But would you expect anything else from a day which began with the most out-of-place words of them all? A man pleaded to heaven for forgiveness for his murderers! Out of that disarray and confusion came the rock-solid foundation for our faith. Out of that plea came the grounds upon which our hope of salvation is built. Out of it came the answer to the prayer that we have concentrated on during the last six weeks: Father, Forgive Us for the Sake of Your Son! We have gone astray like sheep, but he has made the full payment for us all.
1. As we consider the state of the world in which we live, I’m sure all of us would all like to soothe our souls by claiming that our troubles our not of our own making. Sometimes we may try, just as Adam and Eve did, to portray ourselves as a poor and innocent victim in a cruel world of tempters. We’d like to think that it’s not our fault, that we are blameless victims of unavoidable circumstances! Unfortunately for us, that’s not how our text describes us. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way (v 6).
There have been those who blamed God for their troubles, claiming that the punishment he gives us far outweighs any crime that we have committed. Sometimes we ourselves join in those accusations of a cruel and unusual punishment. And then there are those who dream up a whole mythology where there is no God but it is only evolutionary chance that we experience the ills that come into our lives.
But again, these are not accurate descriptions. We turn again to how our text describes us. We all are sheep. We, like sheep, love to wander and the blame for us going astray lies squarely on our own shoulders. God laid the path out before us; it is clearly marked on tablets of stone, commanded by him that this is the way that we are to walk throughout our lives. And yet, we thought that we could find a better way. We decided that there was another route and so we wandered off in directions that were different than that of the Ten Commandments.
This is nothing new to us. For the past six weeks we’ve been comparing ourselves to the groups who wronged Jesus in the hours leading up to his death. We know that even as Christians, our lives are still marred by sins done against our Lord and Creator. We acted like the disciples and fled from the one in whom we should have placed our trust. We, along with the Sanhedrin, rejected the authority of his commandments. We joined the mob in Pilate’s courtyard, at times thinking that Christ owed us more than he has given us; just like Pilate himself, there are times that we are too afraid to stand up for the truth of His Word.
The soldier’s mockery of Christ finds an echo in our mouths when we have tried to deny, or at least soften, the claim that Christ has placed on us. We too have wept empty tears of sympathy when we really should have been crying tears of repentance.
As much as we might try to claim it, we are anything but innocent victims the hardships of that sin brought into this world. We weren’t forced to sin – we chose to sin! We may argue that we were born in sin and therefore had no choice but to sin, but that would be an empty argument. And while this argument may seem so biblical, it is nothing more than a well-crafted excuse that we try to use when we’re caught. Don’t try to act “theological” about this; there is only one reason we sin – because we want to.
And so we chose to fulfill for ourselves the punishments pictured in the words of Isaiah. It should be us carrying our own infirmities and sorrows; we should be the ones being stricken, smitten, and afflicted. This is the sentence we deserve, the one Paul writes about in Romans: the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
That is the natural way of things. But on that special day, that day that could only be described as a disordered and confused Friday, God went against the “natural order of things” and made things turn out differently for us. God made sure that the wages of sin were paid. The debt was fulfilled, but not by the sinners who owed it. God’s Son made the full payment for us all.
2. There was a reason that unnatural things were happening that first Good Friday. There was an upheaval in nature because there was an upheaval before God’s judgment seat. The only one who could ever claim a perfect innocence was suffering the penalty the guilty owed. The one who created all things was suffering for the sins of his creation. He who gave the law was dying for the ones who broke that law.
That’s not natural! The sinner is supposed to be the one who receives the punishment! That’s the only thing that makes sense, not just according to our own reason but also according to the Bible. Just as God told Old Testament Israel, so he repeated to every person who walked the face of this earth. The soul who sins is the one who will die (Ezek. 18:4).
It may not be natural, but it’s the way that God decided to do things. God sent someone else to suffer in our place for our own guilt. It’s not the soul who sins but the one who never sinned that dies. The one who never sinned suffered all those afflictions that Isaiah spoke of: infirmity, sorrow, piercing, and wounds. These all were the things that you and I, as sinners, were supposed to suffer. And how difficult they would have been for us to bear!
And yet, how much more difficult they must have been for the one who never wandered or went astray! And it was a great burden – we read in the gospels that Jesus was sorrowful and troubled as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. We read there that he begged that if it was God’s will that the cup of suffering before him might be removed. It was so great a burden that as he hung on the cross during a darkened midday he cried out My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matt 27:46)?
But he desired that we might be freed from our sin more than he might be freed from his suffering. It was his desire that we have peace and be healed through his suffering and death. It was only though his blood that our sins could be paid for and our guilt washed away.
If we were to die for our own sins then we would have been condemned for eternity. But in suffering on our behalf, Christ was able to save us from what we deserved. We deserved to be lost in the eternal death and torment of hell, but he promised to us, Because I live, you also will live (John 14:19).
Through this death, the unheard of and impossible became possible. Complete justice was pronounced; every sin received the horrible penalty it deserved. And yet, at the exact same time, our heavenly Father pronounced his love to sinners. He proclaimed that through his Son the sinner would not perish but have everlasting life. In the same breath God Almighty both enforced his just punishment for sin and proclaimed his mercy and forgiveness.
As he hung on the cross, Christ pled Father forgive them! There was only one way that the whole world might be forgiven their sin. It was only with his blood that he might provide the answer to our sin.
It was all too predictable that we would go astray. What was not predictable is what was done about it – the Son of God making the full payment for our sins.
And so, before the judgment seat of God Almighty, a momentous upheaval took place. How could there not be a sign of it here on earth? How could rocks not shake and split? How could the tombs not open and the dead walk around living once again? Why, on such a momentous occasion, should it be surprising that the sun stopped shining?
And when God’s only Son, the Son he loves, the Son in whom he is well pleased, offered up his life for our sins and prayed, Father, forgive them! – and when we echo that cry, praying for God’s mercy for the sake of the innocent suffering and death of Christ, his Son and our Lord – how could the Almighty refuse? How could Isaiah have written any other words than those at the end of our text, the words that shook the world, and the words that opened heaven to us all? We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. Amen.