Readings: Isaiah 52:13—53:12 | 2 Corinthians 5:14–21 | John 18-19
Text: 2 Corinthians 5:14-21; John 19:30
“The Death of Jesus Changed How God Relates to the World”
The Old Testament sure is bloody. People are dropping dead every other minute, it seems. Reading through the Old Testament, you will find that there are many manifest judgments on the wicked—a worldwide flood, cities destroyed, plagues, ground opening up, people struck dead. Yet, those things fade out in the New Testament. Have you noticed that while Israel was commanded to conquer and slaughter the Canaanite nations, no such crusade has ever existed for the Church?
Judgments came upon the wicked overtly and immediately.
There are several examples of judgments coming on the wicked which were overt and immediate. The whole earth was corrupt and rejected God, besides Noah and his family of eight, and God sent the flood over all the earth. The wickedness of the men of Sodom and Gomorrah was so great that the outcry precipitated an in-person visit by angels, and at their refusal to repent, God destroyed the city and its surrounding region. Pharaoh refused to let Israel depart under Moses, so God executed ten deadly plagues against the Egyptians while sparing His people. When the Levite, Korah, and his followers were jealous of Moses’ leadership and the priesthood God established, those rebels were swallowed by the earth. The list goes on.
These judgments show the seriousness of sin. It wasn’t a light matter for people whom God created to choose their own way to go, to innovate in what the highest purpose of life is or what constitutes right and wrong. These judgments reveal the peril of rebellion against God. Forgetting that we are all nothing but dust enlivened by the Spirit of God, the idea that we can stage a revolt against our Creator and the King of the Universe, if we can only gather enough like-minded people around us, is insane. Remember and fear Him who destroyed the whole world at His command (2 Pet. 3:4-7). The Lord’s judgments teach us the danger of putting the Lord to the test. The fear of authority and serious consequences is something that is dulled in our day of overabundance and love of pleasure. But to go on living as if God were not Almighty and Righteous, is only to put His patience to the test. You can see how well that worked out for the Israelites who died in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:1-11).
And yet these varied and serious judgments—even the worldwide Flood—are only a preview of the final judgment. There is a Last Day on which all the enemies of God—both the Devil, and all evildoers—will be punished eternally: “There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.” (Ps. 36:12)
But something fundamental changed with the arrival of God’s Son, Jesus Christ.
Something tremendous happened when the Creator entered His creation: “4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…9 The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him…14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1:4-5, 9-11, 14) It’s not that God changed. He did not become any less holy and righteous when He took on human flesh. He did not change His attitude toward sin, and soften up because before He just didn’t see things from our perspective. His demands for righteousness did not diminish when He sent His Son in the flesh, as He teaches, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven…You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:20, 48)
It’s also not that you, or humanity as a whole, has gotten any better. If anything, wickedness is on the rise. People have moved into shamelessness toward their sin, and depravity which would have caused previous generations—even pagans—to wretch, is celebrated in our age. Even murder has been made user-friendly by putting it under the guise of medical care. The idea of virginity is laughed at because it’s so foreign in our lack of self-control. So, no, we have not gotten any better than our forefathers.
It is God’s Christ who makes all the difference here. What you just heard in the Passion is God visiting all the sin every person in the world, not upon the people who deserve it, but upon His own beloved Son. Four times in St. John’s Passion, the fulfillment of the Scriptures are mentioned, as they weave through this ultimate act of judgment and salvation. All the Scriptures, from the very first day sin entered the world, every ounce of hot wrath, along with every evil intention of the sinful human heart, was fulfilled. Every sin was answered for.
And that changes everything for you. Everything which you have deserved from God was hurled upon Jesus. In His suffering, see what your sin has cost Him. Do you see Him abandoned and alone, standing in judgment while already being condemned, suffering immensely in bodily anguish, and forsaken by God? Yes, that is what you have deserved because of your sin. This is what you have earned from your sinful birth and all that you have done since. A one-way ticket to everlasting condemnation.
28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
This changes everything about how God relates to the world until the end.
When He cried, “It is finished,” He meant it. The Scripture was fulfilled: God’s wrath against the sin of the world is finished. All is atoned for, for the payment has been made for all. The only price which was high enough to redeem a race enslaved to sin, death, and the Devil has been rendered by the only-begotten Son of God. This has changed everything about how God relates to His creation full of sinful men and women.
Notice how now, the immediate judgments are few and far between. How many cities have been swallowed up, how many have actually been struck by lightning? More often than not, if there is a judgment upon a person or people, it’s indistinguishable from the “natural” course of events. The Black Death took the lives of Mongol invaders and pious Christian mothers alike. HIV and AIDS doesn’t just impact homosexuals, fornicators, and drug users, but it has also made honest families bereft of a parent and spouse.
What God did on the cross through His Son changed how He interacts with this fallen world, as St. Paul writes, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor. 5:19) Until the Last Day, we no longer see what men deserve (what we deserve) because of our sin. The idea that the world runs on something like the Hindus call karma is obsolete: “one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all.”
Since the cross and the ascension of Christ to intercede for us as High Priest, we now live in the era of God’s longsuffering, “the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance” (Rom. 2:4) People will not be scared by threats of punishments into believing, but they will be convicted by the preaching of the Word of Christ. And by that powerful Word—the Word that “kills and makes alive,” “that breaks the rocks in pieces,” that “is the power of God for salvation to all who believe” (Deut. 32:39; Jer. 23:29; Rom. 1:16)—God will release all who believe from their sins. His people will rejoice that He has nailed their sin to the cross, and joyfully share that life-giving Word.
That dark day on Calvary changed everything for this world. In the same way, the Judgment at the end of the world has changed. In this favorable time [2 Cor. 6:2], God refrains from visiting one’s sins upon them. At the Last, when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ, it will be on the basis of Calvary. All who are found in Christ “do not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (John 5:24) Only on that Day, will the consequences for those who spurned the Gospel be realized. Then will the righteous “shine like the sun” while for the wicked, it will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Let all who have Christ as their Savior rejoice, now and into eternal life.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.