Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"CHRIST BORE FOR US THE WRATH OF GOD AGAINST OUR EVERY SIN."
37. Q. What do you confess when you say that He suffered?
A. During all the time He lived on earth, but especially at the end, Christ bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. Thus, by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life.
 Is. 53; I Tim. 2:6; I Pet. 2:24; 3:18.  Rom. 3:25; I Cor. 5:7; Eph. 5:2; Heb. 10:14; I John 2:2; 4:10.  Rom. 8:1-4; Gal. 3:13; Col. 1:13; Heb. 9:12; I Pet 1:18, 19.  John 3:16; Rom. 3:24-26; II Cor. 5:21; Heb. 9:15.
38. Q. Why did He suffer under Pontius Pilate as judge?
A. Though innocent, Christ was condemned by an earthly judge, and so He freed us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall on us.  Luke 23:13-24; John 19:4, 12-16.  Is. 53:4, 5; II Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:13.
39. Q. Does it have a special meaning that Christ was crucified and
did not die in a different way?
A. Yes. Thereby I am assured that He took upon Himself the curse which lay on me, for a crucified one was cursed by God.
 Deut. 21:23; Gal. 3:13.
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ!
It’s a dangerous thing to live today on planet earth. No, it’s not dangerous simply because of potential nuclear war or the depletion of the ozone layer or the erosion of morals in society. There’s a much bigger danger. Earth is today a dangerous place to live because holy God in heaven is –in Habakkuk’s words- "of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Hab 1:13). Yet God looks down on earth and sees … evil. Abortion, divorce, genocide, swearing – the list goes on and on….
God’s reaction? Says Paul to the Romans:
"… the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…" (Rom 1:18).
How God reveals His wrath from heaven against the ungodliness of today’s world? Vs 24:
"Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves…."
Note it: sexual liberty is not freedom for a society but is instead expression of God’s wrath upon that society! And in turn, because a people gives itself to the accesses of sexual passions, God’s wrath is roused the more and –vs 26- He gives them up to "vile passions". So:
"… even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful…" (vs 26f).
We understand: here’s a reference to lesbianism, homosexuality. Sydney’s annual Mardi Gras is part of God’s wrath on Australia! And where divine curses as homosexuality do not bring forth repentance, God visits the society with more evil still. The details of God’s visitations are given in vss 28f….
That’s what is happening around us: Australian society, yes, Western society as a whole, languishes under the heavy hand of God’s wrath against evil. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and that makes living on this sin-filled earth a dangerous place to be!
We live on this sin-filled earth. How shall we escape the terrible anger of holy God against the evils of today? One way alone, congregation. We can escape the crushing hand of God’s anger only through faith in the Christ who "bore in body and soul the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race." For this Christ, "by His suffering as the only atoning sacrifice," has redeemed the believer "from everlasting damnation and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life." That deliverance from damnation and the enjoyment of God’s grace begins already in this life. That’s the material of LD 15.
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
Christ bore for us the wrath of God against our every sin.
You and I, congregation, were placed on earth in order to live. Though so many of us suffer in some way, we were not put on earth in order to suffer. Not so Jesus Christ. He came specifically to suffer. His whole life long, from the beginning in Bethlehem’s manger to the end on Calvary’s cross, was for Him suffering. The climax of that suffering was at the end of His life, and to get a taste of the what His suffering was all about, we need to focus on what happened at the end. Our LD lifts out for us two moments of this suffering that need our attention; the first is His conviction by Pontius Pilate, the second His sentence to crucifixion. Both point up that Jesus suffered for our benefit.
Pontius Pilate was the governor of Judea from the ten year period spanning the years 26 to 36. He received his position as governor of Judea from the Caesar of Rome, and so was his representative in Jerusalem.
The Jews hated Pilate greatly. They hated him because he symbolised Roman sovereignty over them. They hated him the more because he was inconsiderate and unfeeling in carrying out his office. Nevertheless, the Jews knew from their Bibles that Pilate was more than just a lackey for the Roman authorities. They knew from the fifth commandment that behind Pilate was the Lord their God; Pilate, ultimately, was God’s ambassador. God, after all, was sovereign, was the King of glory, was the Lord of hosts (Ps 24), so that the rulers of this earth were so many pawns in His hands (Is 10:5ff). To say it in New Testament terms:
"There is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God" (Rom 13:1).
In Jesus’ own words to Pilate:
"You could have no power at all against Me unless it had been given you from above" (Jn 19:11).
Behind Pilate, then, was God; Pilate was God’s servant, a tool in His hands to govern the affairs of men in Judea.
There came the day when a dignified group of priests and elders of the people sought a hearing with Pilate the Governor. They had in tow a plain Jew of 33 years old. The apostle John describes Pilate’s investigation into the accusations –we read them- and then relates Pilate’s finding in vs 38: "I find no fault in Him at all." That’s to say: by Pilate’s judgment, Jesus is innocent of the charges against Him.
But Pilate, by the sovereign leading of God, needs to repeat that finding twice more. Says Pilate in 19:4:
"Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him."
And in vs 6 Pilate says the same words again:
"Pilate said to them, ‘You take Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him.’"
Why, congregation, this repetition? Why must Pilate declare three times over that he finds no fault in Jesus? We understand: what you repeat you want to underline, you want to put into bold print, you want to emphasise. There’s the point: Pilate has no doubt, and he wants the priests and the elders to have doubt either: Jesus is innocent.
With that ruling, though, congregation, we are to see not just the opinion of the man Pontius Pilate. Behind this earthly judge stands the heavenly Judge whom Pilate represents. When Pilate makes his emphatic, thrice-repeated ruling known, he speaks from his office as Governor, speaks on God’s behalf. Pilate as God’s ambassador rules that Jesus of Nazareth has "no fault", and so we for our part are to hear in his emphatic pronouncement the judgment of heaven on Jesus of Nazareth: this man, says God, is without personal sin.
But see: Pilate does not push through to administer justice agreeing with his findings. The man is a coward, and so buckles under the pressure of the Jews around him. Sure, he tries to wash his hands of his failure to carry out his office as he ought, but the fact remains that Pilate the Governor hands over an innocent man for crucifixion. This is sin on his part, something for which he shall need to give account before the God whom he represents.
Yet, congregation, even while Pontius Pilate distinctly retains his responsibility for handing over for crucifixion a man he first finds innocent, we need to see behind Pilate’s act the hand of sovereign God. For the fact of the matter is that Yes, God in heaven saw Jesus as innocent of the charges levelled against Him by the Jews. But that does not mean that God saw Jesus as innocent altogether! For all the sacrifices of sins offered throughout the many years of the Old Testament cried out for this one awful moment in the history of the world. All those sacrifices demanded the death of man, the death of the Man; all those sacrifices meant that sins had been transferred from the sinner to…. Well, here was now the Son of God who had come to save His people from their sins (Mt 1:21). All those sins of ages past that had provoked the awful anger of holy God so much, and all those sins of times to come that would also provoke the awful anger of holy God, were now gathered together and loaded onto the shoulders of that single man whom Pilate declared faultless. Innocent He was of Himself, free of sin. But by God’s just decree He was not innocent at all, for the sins of the people of God of every time and place were piled onto Him. Here it came to pass as the prophet Isaiah had foretold:
"… the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53:6).
And because God laid on Him Abraham’s doubts and lies, laid on Him David’s adultery and murder, laid on Him Paul’s persecutions and threats, laid on Him my evils and yours, Jesus was to God’s holy eyes most guilty! God in heaven above is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and here in Pilate’s court God saw the Sinner, the Man upon Whom were piled the sins of all those chosen to life. God cannot stand sin, He pours out His holy wrath upon sin, and so Jesus of Nazareth had to suffer the worst of sufferings possible; He had to be stricken, smitten by God and afflicted on account of our transgressions, our iniquities (Is 53:4ff). "I find no fault in Him," said Pilate on God’s behalf, and so it was; Jesus was innocent, free of sin. "But take Him nevertheless and crucify Him yourselves," said Pilate on God’s behalf, for God saw Jesus loaded with your sins and mine, and God is of purer eyes than to behold evil. Innocent He was, and yet guilty…, and therefore to be damned….
Your sins, my sins: how does God react to them? Our blatant lies and white lies, our thefts and our acts of selfishness, our anger and desires for revenge, our sins of adultery and greed: how does God respond? He is so holy, congregation, that He explodes on earth-shattering anger when our sins come before Him. The prophet Nahum said it like this:
"Who can stand before His indignation?
And who can endure the fierceness of His anger?
His fury is poured out like fire,
And the rocks are thrown down by Him" (1:6).
"The mountains quake before Him,
The hills melt,
And the earth heaves at His presence,
Yes, the world and all who dwell in it" (vs 5).
Precisely that is why earth is such a dangerous place; our God is a consuming fire, and He pours out His anger on this earth. And just how awesome that holy anger is –you and I deserve it!- was so vividly displayed on the cross of Calvary.
Sovereign God appointed the heathen, Pontius Pilate, to be Governor under Caesar in Israel. The Romans had learned a most cruel way to put someone to death. So cruel was death by crucifixion that the Romans were unwilling to let anyone die via this means except traitors to the state and runaway slaves – and then only if they had no Roman blood in them. The two who were crucified with Jesus are described in the Bible as murderers and robbers; we need to understand that these two did not rob a corner store and murder the shop-keeper in the process, but instead rebelled against the Roman empire and in that capacity killed and looted. Traitors and runaway slaves: these were, we understand, the scum of society, dogs. Such folk could be crucified…. For others this form of death was too cruel…
What crucifixion actually was? From sources outside the Bible we learn that the person to be crucified was first publicly humiliated by being striped naked. He was then laid on his back on the ground, and his hands and feet either nailed or roped to the cross under him. Yonder a hole was dug, then a number of soldiers would pick up this cross-plus-victim, walk the cross-plus-victim to the hole, then drop the foot of the cross into the hole. To prevent that the hands and feet tear loose from the nails due to the weight of the body, a peg or small cross plank was fixed to the cross to provide a seat of sorts. There the crucified person would hang, helplessly exposed to intense physical pain, public ridicule, daytime heat and night-time cold. It could take days before death delivered the victim from his suffering. The whole thing was cruel beyond understanding…. Add to this cruelty the fact that God Himself had years earlier declared His curse on all who were hanged. That’s Dt 21: "he who is hanged is accursed of God" (vs 23).
Why did sovereign God allow Pilate to hand Jesus over to something so cruel as crucifixion? Why not a sentence of stoning, or imprisonment followed by beheading? This, my brothers and sisters, is because nothing but the worst was bad enough for a man so vile in God’s holy eyes! And what made Jesus so vile in God’s holy eyes? Your sins, beloved, your sins and mine made Jesus so vile in God’s holy eyes! You want an indication of how much God loathes sin, your sins? Look simply at what Jesus experienced on the cross! That excruciating pain of having your weight rest on feet pierced by a spike, the wrenching agony that comes with muscles and ligaments continuously stretched: truly, "who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger?" How would you, beloved, like to be on the receiving end of such heated wrath?! But make no mistake: that’s what you and I should expect! Such is God’s holy reaction to sin. God from heaven on high looks down upon the sons of men and sees what you and I do and say and think…, and He’s of purer eyes than to behold evil…; woe be to us! How enormously great is our guilt before God if this is the sort of penalty we ought to expect!
But see: this is not the sort of penalty God in fact promises to you and me! In the covenant He made with each one of us He promises instead to be gracious to us, to give us life with Him. That’s to say: He promises that we’re innocent before Him!
How come? Simply because, congregation, our sins were laid on Jesus Christ. He suffered the terrible anger of God on our sins so that we don’t have to suffer His anger on our sins. He suffered in our place so that we might be freed from God’s curse and receive instead His blessing. Recall what we read this morning from the Form for the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Listen:
"From the beginning of His incarnation to the end of His life on earth, [Jesus] bore for us [=in our place] the wrath of God under which we should have perished eternally. By His perfect obedience He has fulfilled for us all the righteousness of God’s law. He did so especially when the weight of our sins pressed out of Him the bloody sweat in the garden of Gethsemane. There He was bound –why?- that He might free us from our sins. He suffered countless insults –why?- that we might never be put to shame. He was innocently condemned to death –why?- that we might be acquitted at the judgment seat of God. He even let His blessed body be nailed to the cross - what for?- that He might cancel the bond which stood against us because of our sins. By all this He has taken our curse upon Himself that He might fill us with His blessing."
You see the purpose, congregation, for Christ’s suffering? "Though innocent, Christ was condemned by an earthly judge" so that we, though guilty, might be acquitted by a heavenly Judge. Though innocent, Christ was declared guilty by God and so loaded with the worst of possible suffering so that He might free us from the severe judgment of God that was to fall upon us. So, in the words of our LD, "by His suffering, as the only atoning sacrifice, He has redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtained for us the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life." So speaks the believer, the one who embraces as true the good news of God that Jesus on the cross suffered in my place, who clings to the gospel of God’s grace that our sins were piled on Him so that there might be no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Is earth today a dangerous place? Make no mistake: 5 billion people on this earth today transgress daily against the God of heaven. This God today remains of purer eyes than to behold evil, and when He comes in His indignation it shall not go well for any person whose sins have not been washed away in the blood of the Lamb. Where there is an unwillingness to admit sin and be broken because of sin, where there is an unwillingness to cling to the gospel of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, where there is an unwillingness to show true thankfulness with one’s entire life, there sin remains and therefore the holy anger of God shall most certainly descend in its awful severity. Forget not, congregation, how the King of kings has described to John the panic that will overwhelm every sinner at the return of Jesus Christ. You can see the panic:
"… the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’" (Rev 6:15ff).
What horrifying fear that must be if one begs an entire mountain to fall on you – so desperate you are to get away from the indignation of this God! Most certainly is earth a dangerous place for those not repentant of sin, those who cannot confess the wealth of LD 15! And the plagues on earth today are but a foretaste of the greater evils to come.
But blessed is the man whose trespass is forgiven, who sins are covered in the sight of heaven! For such a one earth is not a dangerous place to be, not at all. For the humble, the repentant, the believing, face no terrible prospect of God’s severe judgment, face no terrible prospect of the curse of God. The humble, the repentant, the believing receive today the grace of God, righteousness, and eternal life; it’s precisely of that gospel we were assured at the Lord’s table today. Today the repentant receive the beginning of eternal bliss; tomorrow, when Christ returns, they receive the fullness of God’s wonderful grace in life eternal with Triune God.
For the believer knows: I deserve to suffer most agonising torment because of my sins against holy God, but Jesus Christ suffered that torment in my place. Amen.