Video Good Friday Service
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
1 Peter 2:24, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 53:4-6, Romans 5:6-8
April 10, 2020

How Should One Feel about Christ’s Death

Dear friends, A few weeks ago in confirmation class, I was talking to our confirmands about Jesus’s death and its importance for our salvation. We talk about this as “substitutionary atonement” in our doctrinal tradition.

With the word substitutionary, we recognize the word “substitute.” This means that Jesus substituted Himself for us before God when it comes to God’s just judgment against our sin. Imagine yourself in court before the judge. The judge says that the jury has found you guilty. I now sentence you. Suddenly, Jesus pushes you aside and stands there in your place and takes upon Himself your sentence. You go free. He becomes your substitute.

The word “atonement” speaks of making up for or making amends for sin. In other words, Jesus takes upon Himself the sentence, the penalty. He fulfills it and satisfies it. You go free.

How did Jesus make atonement for us as our substitute? He died on the cross. The cross was an instrument of execution.

In fairness, it should have been me on that cross; it should have been you. We are the sinners before God. Jesus is innocent. But Jesus took our place there, and we see it tonight.

The Apostle Peter says: “He bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24 ESV).

The Apostle Paul says: “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

The prophet Isaiah says: “We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

All of this is the reality of what God the Father and Jesus were doing in Jesus’s suffering and death on that Friday in Holy Week. We went through all this in confirmation class.

But then I asked them how they felt about it. Did they regard it as “good news” that Jesus died in our place, taking upon Himself the punishment that we deserve? The confirmands said it made them feel sad. It was not striking them as good news.

I appreciated their honesty. Maybe you have felt the same way. I asked them why they felt sad about it. Besides Jesus’s suffering and death on a cross being horrible, they said that it was unfair. It is unfair that Jesus should be made sin and suffer and die for me, when He was totally innocent.

So how do we respond? I think the first thing to do is to affirm that it was not fair. Jesus did not suffer such things because it was just and right that He should have suffered them. That may strike us as obvious. It is, however, important to state it clearly because then we understand grace, for grace is receiving favor from God that we do not justly deserve; then we can understand Christian love—God’s love.

Then we can also understand how it goes if we take a stand before God on the basis of justice, as opposed to on the basis of God’s grace and love. For if we take our stand before God in justice, on the basis of the Law, then we take our rightful place on that cross, for we are sinners and do not measure up to the Law. In God’s justice the “soul that sins shall die,” and God determines what sin is (Ezekiel 18:4).

So then let us take our stand before God in His grace, that is, in the cross of Jesus, in His sacrificial death for us. Let us cherish the cross before God and live.

So we need to see that Jesus substituted Himself for us out of love. Love is the reason. Love here means doing and willing what is good for the other, even at the expense of oneself. Love is grace in action. “God demonstrates His own love for us that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

The point is to see that Jesus wanted to do this for us because He wants us to live. It was love alone that motivated Him.

Now this still may make us feel sad. It may break our hearts. It may break our hearts because we realize that it is our wretchedness and selfishness and awfulness that put Jesus on the cross. If we had had no such things, then Jesus’s love would have had no occasion to die in our place.

Indeed, if we see Christ dying in His love for us and then take no account of what God says is sin before Him, then we are wicked indeed. If we are not made of stone; if we are not utterly convinced of our own goodness; if we are not blind to our own selfishness and sin, then Jesus’s death in our place should bring us sorrow, because Jesus had to die to save us from our sin.

But if we were dealing with all of this on the basis of justice, then there would be no comfort and nothing more we could say. There would be no answer to such sadness. Because then we would be left with only the injustice of it, and there would be no reason that could bring healing.

But since we are dealing with this on the basis of God’s love, then there can be healing. Then we can be brought by Jesus through the sorrow and sadness to the place of reverent thanksgiving and peace. Because then we can realize in His love that He was doing what He knows we could not do; we cannot redeem and atone for ourselves, not before God. He was bearing a burden we cannot bear, taking it off our shoulders. And He did it out of love and affection for us, so we could be well, and He could have our fellowship.

His taking our burden is not a cop out; it is not a pathetic and selfish giving up without trying; or it is not an utterly self-indulgent pride of being entitled to be waited upon and affirmed.

Rather, His taken our burden goes with realizing that we literally are not capable of impressing God so much as to atone for ourselves. Jesus taking the burden of our sin is not a cop out on our part or self-indulgence, but our deepest need.

As He relieves the burden from us, the peace and rest He wants for us brings life into our weary souls. His love makes this happen.

In His love, Jesus says to you this day: “‘It is finished.’ I have completely taken your burden of sin upon myself. I wanted to do it, and it is done. Rest in gladness and be at peace in Me.” Amen.


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