When Jesus Was Absolutely Despicable

God made him to be sin

The most beautiful one in the universe was made vile in the sight of God and man for you and me.

“If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty, then if the guilty man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence with a number of stripes in proportion to his offense. Forty stripes may be given him, but not more, lest, if one should go on to beat him with more stripes than these, your brother be degraded in your sight. (Deuteronomy 25:1-3 ESV)

Forty stripes he may give him, and not exceed: lest, if he should exceed, and beat him above these with many stripes, then thy brother should seem vile unto thee. (KJV)

Jewish law limited a whipping to 40 stripes that the guilty would not “be degraded” or “seem vile” in the sight of his brothers. But the Romans who scourged Jesus would not have cared about Jewish law or sparing a Jew from being degraded or vile in anyone’s sight. Roman scourging was so horrific that Roman citizens were exempt from it. The one scourged was usually stripped and bent over or tied to a post, then beaten by one or more “lictors” who used “flagellums” or “flagrums” – whips with 2 or 3 leather strands about 3 feet long with pieces of bone or lead balls attached every few inches, which would shred the skin, exposing bones and organs. The lictors determined the number of lashes.  They weren’t generally supposed to kill the ones whipped, but often they died on the post or shortly afterwards. The loss of blood by Jesus was probably what left him so weak he was unable to carry his cross.

Jewish law limited the stripes so the guilty one would not be “degraded in your sight” or “seem vile unto thee.” Jesus was degraded and made vile in the sight of men.  But more significant, he was made despicable in the sight of God:

2 CO 5:21 says that God “made him to be sin,” the most abhorrent, disgusting, despicable thing in God’s sight.  In his perfect righteousness God will not even “look at” sin, or tolerate it in his presence, as he says in Habakkuk 1:3 “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong…”

When Jesus took our sin and our scourging, he was degraded both in the sight of God and men. Here’s why he endured such suffering:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. Isaiah 53:5

Jesus was made vile in the sight of God and man, so we could be made beautiful in God’s sight. He rejoices and exults over us with “gladness” and “loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17) and he looks on us who believe in Jesus as the apple of his eye, as David prays in Psalm 17:8 “Keep me as the apple of your eye”

Jesus was made vile in the sight of God and man, so we could be made beautiful in God’s sight.

God sees us who believe in Christ, clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and he is pleased with us and rejoices over us. All because Jesus was willing to be made despicable in God’s sight when he was scourged and crucified. What a glorious Savior we have!

Why Do We Sing About Wrath?

Sometimes I think if a stranger came into our church he might wonder why in the world are we singing songs about a Roman instrument of death, spikes, whips, and a crown made out of a thorn bush.  Why are we singing about some poor guy hanging alone in darkness, bleeding, and thirsting while crowds mock him and spit on him?

And it might really seem strange that so many of our songs mention wrath.  This stranger might wonder if we’re fixated on death.  He might say, “I thought I would come here and sing about God’s love.”  We do.  We definitely do.  But God’s love for us involves….wrath.  We can’t sing songs about God’s love without mentioning his wrath, and a cross, and a bloody sacrifice.

The common contemporary view of this is that we are estranged from God, but He is not estranged from us. The enmity is all one sided. The picture we get is that God goes on loving us with an unconditional love while we remain hateful toward Him. The cross belies this picture. Yes, the cross occurred because God loves us. His love stands behind His plan of salvation. However, Christ was not sacrificed on the cross to placate us or to serve as a propitiation to us. His sacrifice was not designed to satisfy our unjust enmity toward God but to satisfy God’s just wrath toward us. The Father was the object of the Son’s act of propitiation. The effect of the cross was to remove the divine estrangement from us, not our estrangement from Him. If we deny God’s estrangement from us, the cross is reduced to a pathetic and anemic moral influence with no substitutionary satisfaction of God. — RC Sproul

God’s wrath makes his love that much more amazing and sweet.

If there were no wrath, if God somehow just loved us and didn’t deal with our sins – if he somehow just put up with them – “Oh boys will be boys.  You just have to love them anyway” – we wouldn’t appreciate his love and mercy.  Most likely we wouldn’t love him, but go on loving our sins.  But God’s wrath that once hung over our heads like a very real sword, waiting to overwhelm us with unspeakable and unending horror and unimaginable, infinite agony is gone!  Gone forever!  And where did it go?  It fell on the one human being who didn’t deserve any wrath.  It fell on the innocent, spotless Lamb.  It fell on Jesus.  

And why?  Because of God’s love for us. Because of God’s tender mercy and compassion.  Oh yes, we will sing of wrath. Wrath well deserved.  Wrath stored up from day one.  Heaps and mounds and oceans of wrath barrelling down on us like a juggernaut, then suddenly diverted.  Suddenly turned aside.  And heaped on Jesus.  Jesus, like some kind of heavenly lightning rod, absorbing billions of volts of retribution that was due us.  Jesus, on the cross, going to hell.

Yes we will sing about wrath.  And meditate on it.  And marvel at what we deserved but didn’t receive.  We will celebrate and sing our strange songs about wounds and blood and darkness of soul and a cry of abandonment.  Because God’s wrath makes his love for us so much sweeter.

O Father, thank you for your deep, deep love.  Jesus thank you for the height, width, breadth and depth of your love.  Thank you Father for sparing us the terrifying wrath we so well deserved and pouring it out on your Son.  Jesus, thank you for taking our place on the cross and drinking this unimaginable cup to the dregs for us.  Holy Spirit, thank you for showing us the wrath of God and the love of God.

A Salvation Bought With Blood, Sweat, and Tears

Have you ever had one of those moments when one little bit of Scripture leaps from the pages and punches you in the mouth (in a good, wonderful way)? It happened to me this morning. I was reading the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, which I’ve read, like, infinity times (hat tip to Napoleon Dynamite). And I’ve made all the “right” applications of the passage to my life. Jesus was suceeding in overcoming temptation where Israel had failed. Jesus was overcoming and conquering Satan, living a sinless life in my place. Jesus was fighting against Satan with the word of God, which provides a model for us. And on and on.

But then this little sentence jumped out:

Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:11)

The angels were ministering to Jesus. That’s interesting, I thought. Why did Jesus need the angels to minister to him?

Because, you idiot, he just endured the full, intense, exhausting, carefully calculated, carefully planned, forcefully executed onslaught of Satan himself! He went head to head in an all-out battle against King of Darkness! He hadn’t eaten for forty days, and was probably physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted. After Jesus won the battle against Satan, the angels ministered to him, strengthening him, comforting him, lifting him.

Sometimes I think of Jesus as walking through life without ever really struggling. I mean, come on, he was the Son of God. Surely that made things easier for him, right?

Wrong! What scripture makes clear is that Jesus experienced the utter fullness of our humanity, and was tempted in every deep, full, multi-faceted sense of the word. Just because Jesus didn’t have a sinful nature doesn’t mean that it was easy to resist sin. Remember, Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature either.

Jesus endured the constant, relentless onslaught of Satan’s choicest temptations. Jesus wrestled with Satan himself, not a middle level management demon. I don’t think Satan himself needs to bother with me. He can simply send one of his demons to tempt me. But not so with with Jesus. The Prince of Darkness harnessed all his powers of temptation and deceit in an effort to derail our Savior. In Hebrews 5:7 it says:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

Jesus fought for our salvation with loud cries and tears. Cries of desperation, discouragement, exhaustion, and numbness. Tears of grief, betrayal, and heartache. He was sinless, but he was also a Man of Sorrows, intimately acquainted with grief, betrayed by friends, assaulted by enemies, sweating drops of blood in Gethsemane.

For thirty-three years Jesus was pressed, stretched, and assaulted on every side. The relief didn’t come until he uttered the words, “It is finished.” Why did Jesus endure this? To win our salvation! To do what Adam, and Noah, and Israel, and David, and Solomon, and me, and you all failed to do. Jesus spent all of his might, strength, and emotion to conquer sin and Satan, and to make our forgiveness possible.

I’m so grateful for Jesus, the King of Kings who desperately needed the angels to minister to him. I’m grateful that we have a Savior who was tempted in every way, and who now ministers himself on our behalf. That’s the kind of Savior that I need.

Down Into the Abyss of Sorrow

photo by jam343


Matthew 26:38: “Then he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’”

“With the exception of our Lord’s actual crucifixion, [Gethsemane] is perhaps the most awful and solemnizing scene which the Scriptures contain,” writes Hugh Martin, a 19th century Scottish pastor in his excellent book The Shadow of Calvary. Anyone who reads through the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life cannot help but be amazed at how time and time, whether in dealing with the Pharisees, his disciples, or the needy crowds, Jesus is so obviously in control of the situation. He knows the right words to say to pierce the heart of a sinful woman at the well (John 4) and to disarm and turn the tables on the traps of his opponents (Mark 12).

And yet here in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus seems utterly undone. He asks for his disciples’ support in prayer with the terrifying words, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Then he falls to the ground, wrestling with God in prayer and even sweating drops of blood. What could cause the very Son of God such agony, such grief, such fear?  Only one thing: his pending death as sin-bearer. In Martin’s words, “The sorrows of the garden arose from the prospect and foresight of the sorrows of the cross.”

Is it possible for us to begin to fathom the grief and agony Jesus endured for us? How can we begin to measure the sufferings that would cause our Lord sorrows unto death? What did it cost him to become our sacrifice? In his chapter on the agonies of Gethsemane, Hugh Martin gives us one answer: we can begin to grasp the sorrows Jesus endured when he took our sins by looking at the joy we experience in receiving his righteousness.

“For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21. This is imputation: God places our sins on Jesus so that he might place Jesus’ righteousness on us. To be the recipient of such a glorious exchange is the greatest source of joy sinners can know. “How happy is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin!” (Romans 4:8) But if to receive imputed righteousness brings us such joy, what depth of sorrows must it have cost our sinless Savior to become sin for us? “Sin imputed to a holy one must produce effects directly the reverse of righteousness imputed to a sinner.”

We must go a step further. The gospel has brought joy not just to one person, but to millions. Jesus as our Head suffered not just for one of us, but for all of us. “Who shall measure the sum of the joy wherewith these millions of once apostate but justified transgressors, saved and sanctified for ever, shall joy in the God of their salvation?…It was that mighty aggregate of joy to which Jesus gave being by his sorrow. It is with that mighty aggregate of joy…that the sorrow of Jesus must be contrasted!”

Let us remember today what it cost our Savior, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, to bear our sins in his body on the tree. There is no high peak of joy we experience for which Jesus did not sink to the corresponding abyss of sorrow – for us.

But Good Friday gives way to Easter. The cross leads to the crown, and the Son of God did not suffer in vain. If Jesus has born our griefs and drained the cup of sorrow in full, what mountain tops of joy must await us when we gather around our risen Lord and Savior with people from every tribe, tongue, and nation!

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Revelation 7:9-10).

The Amazing Power Of God’s Love

“Did it never strike you as strange that there should be two – one, the perfectly holy Christ, the beloved Son of God; and, on the other hand, a reeling, cursing, blaspheming drunkard – and that God should bring His Son to grief and suffering rather than the blasphemer?  …such is the power of God’s love that when one out of two must suffer, He chooses that the innocent Christ should die and the sinner go free! – Charles Spurgeon

Let this thought amaze and bless each of us today: Christ suffered in my place.  In one sense, God chose me over Christ.  God chose to punish his perfect obedient Son instead of me, the rebel who spit in God’s face.  God chose me for mercy and Christ for judgment.  I should even now be receiving God’s wrath for my sins, but Jesus received it instead.

And Jesus didn’t receive the wrath for my sins only, but  for the sins of my brothers and sisters in my church.  And all the believers in my city.  And this nation.  And all over the world.  For every believer who ever lived.  How much wrath is that?  How much love is that?

How Do You Stay Joyful When You’re a Sinner?

Have you ever had this experience? You’re listening to a worship song while driving in the car, feeling passionate for the Lord and filled with joy – then you walk into the house and get into an argument with your spouse or yell at your kids. Grace and spiritual joy deflate like a leaky balloon. And then in the aftermath you wonder, Did I just fake all that worship and joy stuff? Did I all my godliness leak out?

Here’s the reality: our experience of joy in the Lord, our desire to be humble when our spouse corrects us or patient when the kids are noisy, our faithfulness in prayer, will all go up and down over the course of our life – sometimes even over the course of a few hours! So how can we maintain joy even in those moments where godliness is at low tide?

The answer is that ultimately our salvation has taken place outside of us. It’s objective, finished, written in history. Jesus Christ died for sins once. Salvation is complete. There are things that take place inside of us, transformations of the heart and will and desire and emotion, but these things are not the grounds of our salvation, but its fruit. In the moment – perhaps this moment – where you feel least godly and most tainted by your short temper, harsh words, or lack of love, the gospel is still complete.

So where does your and my joy come from in the “leaky balloon” moments? Our joy comes from this: the gospel is not on God’s “Unfinished Business” list. Our sanctification isn’t complete, but the full and complete sacrifice for all our sins is.

“Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:12).

Lord, Take Me Deeper…

Jesus’ suffering was:

Immeasurable – Even one sin against our infinitely holy God merits eternal punishment in hell. Adam’s single sin ushered into the world unfathomable evil.  Yet Jesus took upon himself an immeasurable number of sins. Every sinful thought, word deed of every one of his people for all time. Every impure motive. Every failure to obey, rejoice, give to the poor, pray, trust, and love others. Every willful sin, high-handed sin, unconscious sin.  Every sin of envy, discontentment, unbelief, lust, greed, slander, pride, anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, hatred, fear of man, selfish ambition, complaining, murder, abortion, cursing, stealing, rape, and adultery.  Christ suffered for oceans and oceans of sin.

Without any mercy. We experience many mercies in our suffering.  We have God’s compassion and comfort.  He gives us relief from our pain – we fall asleep at night; we have moments of distraction; moments of laughter and joy even in the midst of sadness.  We have brothers and sisters to pray for us and encourage us.  Jesus had none of this.  No comfort from his Father’s nearness – his Father turned his face away.  He had no moments where the pain subsided or the wrath was less intense.  No friends encouraging him, only mockers scorning and insulting him.  Jesus enjoyed not one drop of mercy in his affliction.

Completely voluntary – He delighted to do God’s will, as horrific as that was.  He obeyed happily, cheerfully, gladly, looking to the joy before him.  In love he humbled himself infinitely, God of glory taking on a body of flesh.  In all he endured, he never murmured or grumbled.  He embraced the cross with all his heart and soul to bring filthy sinners to God.  He didn’t drag his feet.  He didn’t need to be persuaded or pressured, but loved us freely and fully without reserve.  He didn’t protect himself or cling to his “rights” as God, but laid them aside without blinking an eye because he loved us so much.

Infinitely powerful – His blood atoned for each and every one of the immeasurable number of sins he bore in himself.  He paid the full price.  He drank God’s cup of wrath to the very last drop.  There’s not a single shred of guilt before God, not one ounce of judgment left for any of God’s people, Jesus’ death was so thorough, complete and powerful.  Like a giant tidal wave that sweeps away everything before it, Jesus’ blood swept away forever every last one of our offences.

My heart is filled with a thousand songs
Proclaiming the glories of Calvary
With every breath, Lord how I long
To sing of Jesus who died for me
Lord, take me deeper
Into the glories of Calvary

–Steve and Vicki Cook

photo by freephotouk

Jesus Has Been There

It’s so easy to fail to sympathize with those who struggle in areas we don’t.

Before my dad got saved, he smoked for 20 years.  One day he decided to quit and did – just like that – no struggles, relapses or cravings.  He couldn’t understand how anyone could struggle to quit.  (He gave me permission to share this).  He’d say, “I don’t see why people can’t stop.  I just decided to quit and, boom, never had another cigarette.  It was easy.”

I, on the other hand, tried to quit numerous times, and failed repeatedly.  Once a friend and I decided we’d quit by making ourselves sick, so we each stuck 5 cigarettes in our mouth, lit and smoked them all at once.  By the time we finished, we’d cursed Sir Walter Raleigh.  We drove downtown and threw our packs out in a back alley, certain we were now smoke-free.

Next day I was scouring the alley for my pitched smokes.  Eventually I did quit, but I can sure sympathize with those who struggle.

Jesus can sympathize with our struggles, for he too knows what it’s like.  Hebrews 4:15 says:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Jesus knows what temptation feels like.  He endured the worst Satan could throw at him for 33 years without caving in.  We can’t imagine the force of temptation Jesus bore, for we often give in so quickly.

Imagine 3 soldiers are captured and interrogated.  First the captors promise pleasure.  Give us the information we want and we’ll give you wine, women and song.  Soldier #1 holds out for a while, then gives in.  Next the captors use torture.  Soldier #2 endures a few hours, then spills his guts.  Soldier #3 is beaten and battered, placed in solitary, and subjected to every conceivable torture for years but never breaks.  Who endured the most?  Jesus is like the last one – he bore the full force of Satan’s temptations for 33 years yet never gave in.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be tempted to lust, despair, and anger.  He was tempted to pride, selfishness, fear, apathy and unbelief.  He’s been there.

That’s why Hebrews urges us to come to him with confidence.  Jesus is sympathetic.  He won’t say, “What?  How could you fail again?  You just decide to quit lusting and you quit – boom – just like that.  I don’t know why you’re struggling so much to forgive that person.  Just do it!  Buck up!”

No, he’s been there.  So draw near to Jesus – pray – seek him.  He’s ready to help us in our weaknesses.

photo by SuperFantastic

What Made The Cross So Heavy?

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When Simon was forced to carry the cross for Christ, all he did was haul some wood.  Christ carried infinitely more.

[Simon] carried only the wood of [the cross], he did not bear the sin that made it such a load. Christ did but transfer to Simon the outward frame, the mere tree. But the curse of the tree, which was our sin and its punishment, rested on Jesus’ shoulders still. Dear friend, if you think that you suffer all that a Christian can suffer, if all God’s billows roll over you, yet remember, there is not one drop of wrath in all your sea of sorrow. Jesus took the wrath. Jesus carried the sin.” — Charles Spurgeon

Today on Good Friday, let us praise Jesus that he bore the load of our sin, so we would never have to.  Any cross we have to bear is light by comparison.  Thank you, Jesus, for bearing our curse!

photo by American Backroom