"THE ONLY ONE"
Palm Sunday (Sunday of the Passion)
April 14, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
"See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god beside Me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal, and there is none that can deliver out of My hand."
Deuteronomy 32:39 (ESV)
For twenty centuries people have asked who really killed Jesus--who was ultimately responsible for His death. And for twenty centuries there has never been a shortage of accusations--never a shortage of accusers and accused. Some misguided Christians accuse the Jews of what they call "deicide"--the murder of God. These people would argue that it was the Jewish religious leaders who sought Jesus' execution and the Jewish mob that cried out for His blood. Some historians have placed the blame on Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor. They contend that, in an empire that was noted for its fair system of justice, such a miscarriage of justice as the crucifixion of Jesus could only be the result of the mishandling of the case by the one in authority. Others have said that the responsibility lies squarely on the shoulders of Judas Iscariot, since he is the one who conspired with the enemies of Jesus to make it possible for the Savior to be arrested without inciting a riot. And, of course, those of us who believe the Gospel understand that, since Jesus was the atoning Sacrifice for sin, every sinner (including each one of us) shares in the responsibility for His death.
I don't know that I've ever heard anyone bluntly say that God killed Jesus, but such an idea may not be quite as ludicrous or irreverent as it originally seems. If Jesus is the Sacrifice for sin, to whom was that sacrifice offered? Certainly not to the devil and certainly not to any man. Of course it was to God that the perfect Lamb was sacrificed. God is the Holy One whose perfect justice requires that sin be atoned for by the shedding of innocent blood. What's more, there is ample evidence from the Scriptures themselves that this is so. In Romans the apostle Paul speaks of God as the One "who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). Isaiah's well-known prophecy of the Suffering Servant is saturated with language that speaks of the Messiah as the One who suffers at God's hands because He bears our sin (Isaiah 53). In the passage before us this morning God speaks of Himself as the One in whose hands rest all matters of life and death and particularly all matters regarding the execution of justice. Listening to His words, let's pay close attention to what He says about His ability to “kill” and “wound” and His ability to “make alive” and “heal.”
Just what does the Lord mean when He says "I kill"? Obviously He put His Son to death. Oh, there may have been all kinds of events and motives that contributed, in one way or another, to the crucifixion of Jesus: the defection of Judas Iscariot, the jealousy of the religious leaders, the emotion of the crowd, the indecisiveness and cowardice of Pilate--but ultimately Jesus Christ suffered and died under God's righteous anger and judgment against human sin. It was because Christ was the sin-Bearer--the One who bore the collective sin of all humanity for all time. He was put to death because He was the One who stood in our place under the judgment of God, and as such He put up no resistance and offered no excuse. He pled guilty to our sin and willingly took whatever came to Him as a result. "He was," Isaiah says, "oppressed and He was afflicted . . . like a lamb that led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth" (Isaiah 53:7). All of this is a testimony not only to the awful consequence of our sin, but also to the Savior's infinite love for sinners.
The Lord also says "I wound." Who has He wounded? He has wounded us. He wounds us with His Law, which places before us a standard of perfection and tells us: "Do this, and you will live" (Luke 10:28). The problem is that we don't "do this." We don't even make a serious attempt. And what is the end result of our failure to "do this?" The Law of God answers that question as well when it says "the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel 18:4). The Law wounds us because it makes us vulnerable to the justice of God which, unlike the justice of men, is perfect and objective. It doesn't take into consideration any factors other than what is right and wrong. It wounds us because it tears down our facade of self-righteousness and exposes us for the sinners that we are. It eliminates all of our lame excuses and leaves us with nothing but our guilt. It demolishes all of the lies that we have believed about God being like a kindly old grandfather who doesn't much care or even notice what we do. The Law wounds us in that it confronts us with God's judgment. This is a mortal wound, to be sure. Make no mistake about it. But it is inflicted on us for a purpose that is ultimately good for us.
The Lord who we worship is certainly capable of more than just death and destruction. The same Lord who puts to death also says "I make alive." The God who caused His Son, the sin-Bearer, to suffer "under Pontius Pilate" (Apostles’ Creed, Article II) also raised Him from the dead in glory on the third day. He did this not to contradict Jesus' death but rather to validate it--to declare to all that the sacrifice offered to Him for the sin of the world has been accepted by Him and truly did atone for human sin. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead, which we will celebrate in all its glory next Sunday, proclaims that the holy God and sinful man are now reconciled. Knowing this, we have peace with God because of the suffering and death of the One who God made alive again.
The Lord also says "I heal." Who will He heal? He will heal us of the wound that He has inflicted on us through the Law. We who have been knocked down by the exposure of our sin will be raised up again by the redeeming grace of Him who loves us so much that He would stop at nothing to see that we are rescued from sin and death. We who are condemned by the Law of God are forgiven by the Gospel of God. Paul says it this way in Romans: "The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). He forgives us not because our sin doesn't matter and not because we try our very best; He forgives us because the penalty for our sin has been fully paid by the One went to the cross and the grave for us.
The great Paschal drama that we are about to relive during the coming week is more than just an exciting story. Through this series of events God demonstrates (as our text puts it) that "there is none that can deliver out of [His] hand." All matters lie in His almighty hands. He kills and He makes alive. He wounds and He heals. Knowing this, we rejoice in the fact that in love He sacrificed His one and only Son so that we might have forgiveness and that He raised Him to life again so that we might have hope. That Good News comes across to us with all of its comfort and peace whenever we hear that blessed story and share it with others.
May the One who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, making us kings and priests before His God and Father, lead you to a life of repentance and trust. May He also be glorified in the lives of you, His people. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen.