19 April 2019

The Willing Self-Sacrifice of God the Son

It is clear throughout the Passion of our Lord that none of these events happen by accident.  None of these things unfold or transpire apart from the Will of the Father and the Son.  Each of the holy Evangelists has made that clear in his own way, but none more so than St. John, not only in the way that he has described these events, but in the Words of our Lord Jesus throughout the Holy Gospel and in the course of His Passion.  It is made clear, as Jesus Himself says at one point, that no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down willingly, and He will take it up again.

It is not simply that He knows ahead of time what is going to happen.  He wills what is going to happen.  His Father hands Him over for the salvation of mankind, and the Son of God — in love for His Father, and in love for you and for all people — willingly hands Himself over to death.

Which is not to say or suggest that it was easy for Him.  It surely was not.  And it is certainly not as though any of this were necessary for His own benefit.  He lacked nothing.  He needed nothing.  There was nothing that He had to do for Himself.  There is only what He chose to do in His divine and holy love, that He should save you from your sins and death and give to you eternal Life.

That is why all of these things happen.  It is the fulfillment of God’s creative purpose, God’s good and gracious will, His holy intention from the very beginning.  So is it also the fulfillment of all that God has spoken and promised throughout the Holy Scriptures — as He promised to our first parents in the Garden of Eden following their fall into sin, and as He repeated by the mouth of His Prophets throughout the ages, even down to us — that God and Man should be perfectly united and brought together in harmony with one another, in faith and love, in peace and reconciliation.

That union of God and Man is already perfectly accomplished in the Person of Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, who is both true God and true Man.  In Him God and Man are perfectly one.  But this He has accomplished in Himself, in order to open the way for you, to make it possible for you to live in harmony with God, for you to be united with God in peace, in faith, and in love.

When God first created Man in His own Image, when He shaped Adam out of dirt from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the Breath of Life, it was in the likeness of this Man, Jesus Christ.  Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, begotten of His Father from eternity, but also conceived and born of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the fullness of time — He is the Model after which Man is created.  He is the Image of God in whom you have been created and given life.  So it is that you live as a son of God by grace when you are conformed to the pattern of this Man, Jesus, by faith in Him.

Now, suffering and death were not a part of God’s original Creation.  It was not His desire that any of His creatures should suffer and die, but that all should live by His grace.  It is rather on account of man’s sinful disobedience that God uses suffering and death to accomplish His true purposes.

Although He did not desire man’s suffering and death, it is yet by His own suffering and death that He exemplifies the true divine life of faith and love within the context of this fallen world.  That is to say, it is with perfect faith in His God and Father, and with perfect love for both His Father and for all the children of men, in steadfast faithfulness even to the end, that the incarnate Son of God, Christ Jesus, willingly submits Himself to His innocent suffering and death, to His Cross and Passion, in order to atone for the sins of the world.  In order to conquer death.  In order to reconcile Man to God in Himself.  In order to save you and give you life.  And all of this He has done.

So, if you want to know what the one true God is really like, and if you want to know what Man is truly supposed to be like, then look to Christ on the Cross.  There you see God opening His great heart of love to you, revealing Himself to you, giving Himself for you.  And there you see true Man living by perfect faith, living in perfect love, dying in the confidence that He will live with God.

The Jews actually have it right, therefore, in spite of their malice, when they declare that according to the Law of God this Man must die.  Not because He has broken the Law; indeed, He has not, not in any part.  But it is according to the Law that He must die, precisely because He, being the Son of God, the very Word made Flesh, is the fulfillment of the Law.  And it is precisely by His innocent suffering and death that He fulfills the entire Law for the salvation of all mankind.  It is by His death that He fulfills the Law and the Prophets and all the Words and promises of God.

It is in this same way, and in this same sense, therefore, that He is also the true King.  So in that respect, it is Pontius Pilate who gets it right — in the ascription that he assigns to the Cross.  And his soldiers likewise get it right, although they do so in mockery of Jesus.  Even if they don’t get anything else right, they are correct in calling Jesus the King of the Jews.  He is more than that.  He is the King of the world, the King of all creation.  He is your King, because He is your Savior.

Jesus is not the cruel taskmaster, the slave driver that Pharaoh is.  No, He is a kind and gentle King who saves His people from death, who serves His subjects with His own body and life.  On your behalf He is a mighty Champion, He is a Warrior against your enemies.  And yet, at the same time, He is a kind and gentle Shepherd who cares for His subjects like sheep, who feeds you and waters you, who guards and protects you.  He is the perfect King.  He is the true King.  And He reigns in love and mercy for you from the Tree of His Cross, crowned with thorns and pierced with nails.

And as your King, by His Cross and in His Resurrection, He has brought you out of the kingdom of the devil, in which you were enslaved and trapped, into the Kingdom of His God and Father, wherein you now live by grace through faith in Him, as a free citizen, as a royal priest of God.

In this respect, not only is Jesus a far better King than Pharaoh, but He is Himself the firstborn Son who is slain; and He is also the Passover Lamb who is sacrificed on your behalf, in order to set you free from sin and death — in order to give you life with God forever.  For He is sacrificed once for all upon the Altar of His Cross, that the Angel of death should pass over you.  You shall not die, you shall live, because this Son of God has given Himself and suffered and died in your place.

And even to the end of the age He remembers you.  He remembers you in love.  He remembers you by acting.  He remembers you from the Altar of His Church by feeding you with the Fruits of His Cross, with His own holy Flesh, His holy and precious Blood.  As the true Passover Lamb of God, He is not only sacrificed for you, in your place, but He is also given and poured out for you as your Meat and Drink indeed, as the festival Meal of all the children of God within the Father’s House.

In eating this Lamb who has been sacrificed in your place, you are brought out of death into life, out from under Pharaoh and his bitter yoke into the Kingdom of your gracious Lord and Savior.  No more are you held in bondage.  No more are you subject to the fear of death.  No more are you a slave to your own sin, enticed, ensnared, and led about by the temptations of the devil.  No more are you condemned by Satan’s accusations.  No more are you trapped under the curse of the fall.

You are set free.  Your bonds are burst asunder by the willing Sacrifice of this Man, this Lamb of God, your Savior, Jesus Christ.  His Blood has atoned for all your sins, and His death has defeated your death and the devil.  The Son of God has set you free, and you are free indeed.

In feasting upon His Body, which is the true Manna from heaven — in drinking His holy Blood, which is your true spiritual Drink from the side of this Rock, who is Christ — in eating this Food and drinking this Drink, you are strengthened and sustained in the true faith on your pilgrimage through the desert from Egypt to Canaan, even into Paradise, where you live with Jesus forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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