March 6, 2013

O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken - Mar 6, 2013

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“O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken? Of What great crime hast thou to make confession – What dark transgression?”    
–The Lutheran Hymnal, 143, verse 1

The hymn “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken” was written by Johan Heerman, and was first published in 1630. But the thoughts about our Savior that are contained in this hymn were written down much earlier than that. Heerman’s hymn is based on a chapter found in a devotional book called “The Meditations of St. Augustine”. Augustine lived in the late 300’s and early 400’s. So, when we sing this hymn were are echoing the devotional thoughts of a Christian now nearly sixteen hundred years in the grave.

But apart from a handful of archaic words and phrases, this hymn speaks very clearly about one of the main things we focus on during the season of Lent: the sufferings of Jesus Christ.

The Bible passage which we connect with our hymn this evening, is found in 1 Peter 3, verse 18. This verse not only mentions the suffering of Christ, it also tells us the purpose of that suffering.

1 Peter 3:18 (NKJV)

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,
If you’re going to observe Lent the way it has been traditionally observed, there’s one thing you won’t be able to avoid. And that’s a description of Jesus’ brutal suffering. The Gospels spend a lot of chapters on Jesus’ life and ministry, but they spend at least two chapters each chronicling the events of His suffering and death. At some point during every Lent we hear how Jesus was wrongly arrested, beaten, mocked, spit upon, denied, scourged, and crucified.

Likewise, if you sing any of the Lent hymns found in a typical hymnal, you’re going to hear a detailed description of Jesus’ suffering.
One of the brilliant things about our hymn for tonight, is that it doesn’t just describe the horrible things done to Jesus, it transports us to the cross by the way that it relates these things.

The first verse essentially sets us down at the foot of the cross, where we look up and ask Jesus what has brought Him here to suffer in this way.

The second verse flashes the sufferings that preceded the cross before our eyes. It says,

“They crown Thy head with thorns, they smite, they scourge Thee; With cruel mockings to the cross they urge Thee; They give Thee gall to drink, they still decry Thee; They crucify Thee.”
-The Lutheran Hymnal, 143, verse 2

Now, imagine for a moment that we were actually there. That we had come in from the countryside to celebrate the Passover in the city of Jerusalem, and happened upon the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. This wasn’t just your ordinary crucifixion of criminals by the Romans. That much was obvious. There were crowds of people watching what was going on, and a group of Pharisees? Pharisees didn’t usually come to these types of things. Why were they here? And what could have stirred them up so much that they are openly mocking the center criminal. And boy, He doesn’t look so good. I mean, sure He’s being crucified, but He’s also been scourged almost to death. And His face and body bear the signs of a recent and brutal beating. And those sunken eyes look very tired indeed.

If we had happened on this scene we would have asked the same question our hymn does, “What sin could have brought this kind of suffering down on this man?”
Now imagine, that we could ask whoever we wanted to find out what had brought this horrible suffering down on Jesus. Who would we question first? Why not Pontius Pilate? After all, the Roman governor was the one who authorized this crucifixion. Surely he would know what this man’s crime had been. Pilate would say, “What sin brought this suffering on Him? No sin of His own, that’s for sure. That’s what I tried to tell the people – I find no reason for the death penalty in this man.”

And if we asked some of the people who knew Jesus well, they would tell us that He was innocent of ALL crimes. They honestly couldn’t think of a single bad thing He had ever said or done. But this wouldn’t surprise us. After all, the Bible tells us that Jesus committed no sin in His life. (2 Corinthians 5:21)
So, if it wasn’t His own sin that brought this suffering on Him, whose was it? Maybe we could find someone who had been there at the trial before Pilate. Someone who had watched it all play out and ask them. That witness would say, “It was the sins of the Pharisees and the other religious leaders. It was their hatred, jealousy and greed that brought this on Jesus. They hated how He showed their teachings to be false. They were jealous of the way people flocked to Him. They were angry that He was hindering their lucrative business in the Temple courts.” “Oh, yes”, someone who had seen it all would say, “It’s the sins of the Pharisees that are causing this man’s suffering”.
But the quiet voice of the Old Testament prophets would have corrected this statement. The old prophets knew that the Savior’s suffering wasn’t happening just because of a group of corrupt priests. The prophets of God had long foretold that the Savior of the world would have to suffer to redeem sinners. It wasn’t just the sins of the Pharisees which made this suffering fall on Jesus. It was the sins of all mankind. Like it says in Isaiah 53, verse 6,

“All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NKJV).
What would God the Father say if we could ask Him what brought this suffering on Jesus? Perhaps He would tell us that it wasn’t just the sins of the world that brought this suffering on His Son. It was also His Son’s love for sinners. After all, the Son of God didn’t have to come here – He chose to come here. Chose to suffer in the sinner’s place. The book of Revelation calls Jesus the one…

“…who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Revelation 1:5 ESV).
After asking all these witnesses what brought this suffering on Jesus, perhaps we could turn our thoughts inward and ask ourselves too, “Do you know what sin brought this suffering on Jesus?” And if we could be honest with ourselves, if we could peal away all the excuses we have for our own behaviors and face the facts, we’d have to say, “It was MY sins that put Jesus on the cross. I was the hurtful things I said this moring. It was the way I lived when I was younger. It was my bad attitudes, and my evil choices. Yes, it was MY sins that brought this horrible suffering on Him.”

And if it’s this conclusion that we reach when we meditate on the cross, then the cross has done the first part of it’s job. It has convicted us of our sin. But we must also listen to the rest of the cross’ message. For tonight’s Bible verse continues, it says,

18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit,” (1 Peter 3:18 NKJV).

“Once”, it says. But not anymore. Now Jesus lives, having been raised from the dead. He is suffering no longer. No more sacrifice is needed. It is done. The Just One has suffered for all, and redeemed us, the unjust. Once we were separated from God because of our sins, but not anymore. In Christ we have been brought to God as cleansed, forgiven sinners.

“O dearest Jesus, what law hast Thou broken That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken? Of What great crime hast thou to make confession – What dark transgression?”    
–The Lutheran Hymnal, 143, verse 1

His answer is, “None. I have broken no law. I am innocent”. And because Christ Jesus gave Himself to suffer and die on the cross, that is the same thing we’ll be able to say on the Day of Judgment. If we are asked, “What law have you broken that deserves the sharp sentence of eternal Hell?” We’ll be able to say, “None. All my transgressions have been removed. In Christ, I stand innocent.”

That is why we call the story of Christ’s suffering and death “Good News”. That is why Lent, with all it’s focus on suffering, is a time of peace and relief for the sinner.

Once, He suffered. But not anymore.

Once, we were condemned. But not anymore.


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