Dear Radio Friends,
The title of this sermon, 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 our 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 sermon obviously reminds us of and brings to our attention the movie that so captured the world’s attention a few years ago and received the endorsement of much of the Christian church. With almost one accord, evangelical Christians rallied around this film and defended it. Churches bought tickets so that entire congregations might watch it. The sons of the Protestant Reformation extolled this film and gave their blessing to it.
That film, dear radio listener, was 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 was used in a way to earn obscene amounts of money. Profit was made over Christ crucified.
We could condemn it (and will condemn it) for its perversion of the gospel. For the film portrayed, among other things, Mary as the co-mediator with Jesus Christ and was 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 sermon 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 such a 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, the 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 the Lord to bruise Him; He hath put Him to grief (Is. 53).
The physical sufferings of Jesus Christ, we might say, were not 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 (I Pet. 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 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 is 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. II 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—for our transgressions! He was bruised for our iniquities. Verse 8: For the transgression of my people was He smitten. Verse 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. The sin that 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, so that we might never have to bear it but have life eternal.
Let us pray.
Father, we pray that Thou wilt bless the preaching of Christ crucified and even now use it effectually in hearts of faith that we might know Him and the power of His suffering. Amen.