Monday, March 23, 2020

The King on a Cross

Monday after Laetare

Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus (Luke 23:26).

As Jesus begins His journey down the Via Dolorosa, carrying the instrument of His torture and death, it is easy to imagine the crowd that gathers to watch Him. It was certainly composed of those who were his followers or associates, to some degree, those who opposed Him and sought His death, and those who wanted to see the spectacle. It is probably safe to say that Simon the Cyrenian wasn’t one of those people cheering for Jesus to die. Perhaps he was just an interested bystander whom the soldiers just happened to draft into their service. More likely, Simon was where he was because he was a follower of Jesus. Mark writes that Simon is the father of Alexander and Rufus,[1] and St. Paul mentions a man named Rufus in Romans.[2]

It is also easy to imagine why the Roman soldiers would have had to compel someone to carry Jesus’ cross for Him. Jesus had just been scourged and mocked by the solders. A scourging was serious business; it wouldn’t have been a surprise if Jesus had not even survived the scourging. It was common for victims of scourgings to suffer broken bones, lacerations, and significant blood loss.[3] After such treatment he certainly had no form or comeliness and when they saw Him there was certainly no beauty that they should desire Him: He is despised and rejected by men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.[4] Certainly, Jesus simply could not physically carry the cross the ½ mile down the Way of Sorrows to Gologtha, the Place of the Skull.

Jesus the man was unable to physically carry the cross down the road. Jesus the Messiah, God in human flesh, however, was the only one strong enough to bear the weight of the sin of the world on the cross. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.[5] Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows! He was wounded for our transgressions! He was bruised for our iniquities! The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed![6]

It is tempting to understand Isaiah’s prediction of the sin-bearing Messiah and His passion in the way our sinful flesh wants to understand it: as a promise of protection from worldly affliction and healing from physical illness. This is how the prosperity gospel heretics explain these things. They ignore Jesus’ suffering and never speak of sin, death, or the devil. They point to worldly success and prosperity as proof of real faith and God’s approval; economic hard times and illnesses show that faith is weak or absent. That is all a lie. The healing that Christ gives us all goes far beyond physical health. He heals us from sin, the disease that leads us to eternal death. Because He lives, those who share in Christ’s death and resurrection through their baptism will also live.[7] He has promised us that whoever believes in the Son may have everlasting life, and He will raise them up on the last day.[8] So, to echo Paul, for us to live is Christ and to die is gain.[9] He has not promised us an easy existence as members of His body in this fallen, sinful world. He has told us that in this world we have trouble. He has also promised us that we can take heart, because He has overcome the world. And He bids us to repent of our sin, believe the Gospel, and to take up our cross and follow Him along the way of sorrows.

[1] Mark 15:21
[2] Romans 16:13
[3] Nicolotti, Andrea. “What Do We Know about the Scourging of Jesus?” The Ancient Near East Today. American Schools of Oriental Research, December 2018.
[4] Isaiah 53:3
[5] 1 John 2:2
[6] Isaiah 53:4-5
[7] John 14:19; Romans 6:3-5
[8] John 6:40
[9] Philippians 1:21

Monday, March 9, 2020

Repent or Perish

Monday after Reminiscere 
There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Jesus constantly refocuses those to whom He preaches from their preoccupation with themselves, to what is truly important – Him. The question asked of Jesus here is reminiscent of the question asked of Him by His disciples regarding the man born blind. (John 9:1-5) Then, the disciples asked Jesus to tell them who’s sin was responsible for the man’s blindness: his, or that of his parents. Jesus’ answer surprised His disciples. He said neither. Jesus said that the man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:3) This came as a shock to the disciples who, like most others in that culture, saw such things as blindness and other tragedies of circumstance, as God’s punishment for sin. They wanted to know why the terrible thing happened; they probably wanted to know for the same reason that we today cry out, “Why, God?” when bad things happen to us and to those we love. They were trying to justify themselves.

We might be bad, but we’re surely not as bad as that man; after all, God struck him with blindness. The very best spin one could put on one’s motives for knowing why would be that they wanted to avoid sinning, so that they weren’t punished in a similar way. But that isn’t really it. We want to compare ourselves with others so as to prove that we are, if not actually good, not completely bad and worthy of damnation. Such an attitude is the likely motivation of the ones who questioned Jesus about the Galileans.

Jesus sets them straight right away. They are focusing their eyes on their neighbor. In order to get their eyes focused on Him, He must first focus their eyes on themselves. “Do you suppose That these Galileans were worse sinners than other Galileans, because they suffered such things?” says Jesus. He answers His own question immediately and tells them no. “But unless you repent you will all likewise perish,” Jesus tells them bluntly. Don’t worry about what kind of sinners your neighbors are. There is only one sinner who will cause you to be separated from God forever, and be cast into hell where their worm does not die, and their fire never goes out – you. You, along with with every other member of the human race have been poisoned with the toxin of sin from the time you were conceived. (Psalm 51:5) The imaginations of your heart have been evil from your youth, just like everyone else’s. (Genesis 8:21) Is this sinner worse than that sinner? Are tragic events punishments for our sin? Why do bad things happen to good people?

These questions take our focus off the real issue. There are no good people, at least from God’s perspective. Terrible things that happen may or may not be direct punishments for individual actual sins, but only God knows that; they are definitely punishments in the sense that terrible things that happen to us, like death, are the result of our sin, and we experience all types of consequences of sin because we live in a creation which is fallen, cursed, and full of sin. From God’s perspective, we all are the worst sinner. We all deserve the things that happen to us. We all deserve death.

Jesus calls us to repentance, that is, He calls us to recognize and be horrified by sin, and to believe in Jesus as our savior from sin, death, and the devil. (Luther 2005) Jesus tells us that He did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world by the shedding of his own blood. (Mark 10:45; John 1:29)

“Brutal murders, shocking accidents, death in whatever form – all are sermons of God’s law: the soul that sins will die. Death is one way God calls people to repentance, lest they perish eternally. Some falsely conclude that if nothing really bad happens to them in life, it is a sign that they have been living good lives. Jesus is teaching that not only certain very wicked people need to repent but repentance is necessary for everyone.” (Prange 2000)

He calls us to endure the suffering we experience in this fallen world with an eye on the coming new creation, “…for here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.” (Hebrews 12:14) The purpose of the Lenten season is to help us understand our circumstances, to repent of our sin, and to fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning it’s shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2) ###



Luther, Martin. 2005. Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation. St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House.
Prange, Victor H. 2000. Luke. Milwaukee, WI: Northwestern Publishing House.