One of our elders here at CrossBridge said on Sunday, as he preached John 18:1-12, that Jesus took the cup of God’s wrath. Granted the Apostle Peter didn’t really understand that that is what the Son of God had come for, so of course he cut off Malchus’ ear (pretty reasonable thing to do), but sitting there on Sunday morning in 2015, we the church could look back through the Holy Spirit given Scripture and see what Peter hadn’t seen yet: That Jesus Christ had to die on the Cross that God had prepared for Him. That He is the Lamb of God come to take away the sins of the world.
Now, bearing the wrath of God isn’t the sum total of all that Jesus came to do; He is also Redeemer of the lost sheep, and He is victor over death and the sanctifier of the Church, but as Good Friday comes and as I let those words from our elder/pastor on Sunday sit in my soul, it is the cup of God’s wrath poured out on the cross on God’s perfect Son that stands out in stark relief to me.
I thought it might be helpful if I pointed out some ways my flesh can minimize the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and therefore rob me of joy and rob God of worship:
Self-Righteousness: I am good, and they are bad. I have been moral, and they have been immoral. That is the story of my life, folks.
That is what self-righteousness sounds like when it’s clunking its heavy, useless, spiritually-blind self around my brain. Self-righteousness forgets or denies that every good deed I ever did, and that every steering-clear of sin I was ever able to pull off, were all like filthy, soiled rags before the pure, white-hot holiness of the God who sits on the throne. Self-righteousness forgets that before Jesus Christ called me, I did good things simply to be praised, and I sidestepped bad things simply to avoid earthly consequences. The truth is that my pre-Christ works did nothing to save me and post-Christ works do nothing to keep me saved. I am, by God’s grace, bearing fruit in keeping with repentance. But a dead tree that’s been made alive and made able to bear fruit doesn’t deserve the praise its fruit; the Good Gardener does. He is the One who gave my gnarled, lifeless soul spiritual growth. I can kill my self-righteousness by remembering and believing that.
Self-Pity: I can’t do anything right. I keep screwing up and I’ll never be as good as ______________.
This is often just a subtle form of pride. When I’m thinking this way, I’m really allowing myself to believe that my biggest issue is an inability to be or do something admirable or successful. Even though it doesn’t sound like it (since I’m thinking it or speaking it in a depressed way), I am actually painting myself (apart from Christ) in a better light than the Bible does (note: I am not talking here about genuine discouragement, sadness, or depression; I am here only referencing that sinful sort of self-pity that constantly paints one’s self as the victim or the helpless flop). The truth, instead, is that my biggest issue is my God-defying, idol-loving sin, warring away in me, and that before Jesus Christ I was a miserable wretch who sinfully hated the only wise God. I wasn’t simply a screw-up; I was a lusting, hateful, drunk. I wasn’t a sad Eeyore who needed a boost of self-esteem, and neither was the Apostle Paul; we were both deceitful traitors against a perfect and merciful King. The reality isn’t that I’m such a huge loser that God didn’t save me and can’t use me; it’s instead that I was a selfish and hideous sinner who God did save and does use.
Apathy: This one can overlap with the others, obviously (self-righteousness or self-pity can cause spiritual apathy, for instance), but here is what this apathy towards the Cross that I am thinking of looks like: Yeah, I believe Jesus died on the cross. Whatever. I don’t know or particularly care what that means for my life right now.
Now, this can happen when I don’t understand how terrible my position apart from Jesus Christ is, and it can also happen when I don’t understand how massive and holy and just and worthy of praise God Almighty is. You see, when my whole field of vision is taken up by my desk at work and my crying children and the rent check due at the end of the month, or when it’s taken up by my e-mail and my favorite TV show and the coming vacation, I am prone to forget what the world really is and what my position in it actually entails. In actuality, the soil I am standing on is the King’s, and without the grace given to me through Jesus Christ my feet are planted on His planet as someone who deserves His just wrath. The all-too-forgotten reality is that I was dead in my sins and trespasses and was a darkened, sin-loving enemy of the Most High. But now through faith and by His grace I have been given the right to stand on recreated soil in the new earth and to worship the King of kings as his adopted son forever. How can I be apathetic if I’m thinking about such things? The world is not a succession of annoying moments followed by a weekend where I can watch TV; the world is a wonderful but wrecked place groaning for the returning King, and I have been saved, in part, to proclaim the message of His atoning death and swift return to all who are in it. If I can use a movie analogy, my apathy towards the cross of Jesus Christ comes from believing that the matrix is real instead of the actual world of meaningful warfare and great coming good behind it.
Let me end with one last thing that can rob a human being of the joy and worship that come from knowing Jesus Christ bore the curse that comes from sin as He hung on that tree: Not truly believing in Him. The Corinthians were told in God’s Word to examine themselves and ensure that they were truly in the faith. It wasn’t the arrogant sort of thing you’ll hear from some fan of a band who claims that he’s a real fan because he liked their music before they made it big, or from some die-hard follower of a sports team who mocks the “bandwagon” types. No, this was a loving plea to people who may only have pretended to love God, to people who may only have thought that they had trusted in Jesus Christ but had really put their faith in religion or church or being a good person. The plea was heartfelt and it was an open entreaty, to all who heard the Corinthian letter and were in their church’s midst. Paul was imploring the members of the church in Corinth, a church that he was willing to die for, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test! I hope you will find out that we have not failed the test.” I pray that every member of CrossBridge has truly believed and trusted in Jesus Christ, and that all reading this would if they haven’t. All who have can join the people of God, the called out church stretching across continents and centuries, as we all remember His death with great gladness, humility, and worship.
The cross of Jesus Christ is where the only hope you and I could ever have was bought, paid for with perfect and sinless blood. It is where the only innocent human being who ever had skin and breathed breaths and took steps on earthly dirt willingly humbled Himself and became the curse for all the selfish, awful rebels who would believe in Him and repent. It stands on the hill where they mourned for Him whom they had pierced, and where the Great Exchange, our life for His death and our sin for His righteousness, occurred on trembling ground and under darkened Friday skies.
The only One who could bear the wrath for my sins did. The only One whose blood could be the New Covenant did give Himself up, and did pour that blood out. The only One whose life could be given as a ransom for many laid it down on Golgotha that He might take it up again in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. He did.
We have hope because the only One who could procure it did.
This Friday is Good for a reason.
*Note: This post is adapted from an e-mail I sent to our church.