The greatest offense in the Church is the Cross. It is the scandal of scandals, the stumbling block for all nations.
The crucifixes in the sanctuary are veiled now. The image is cloaked in darkness, as Christ was covered by the darkness of sin and death and judgment.
On Passion Sunday, Christ hid Himself from the Jewish leaders lest they stone Him before it was the right time to lay down His life. The knowledge of Christ and the atonement was not revealed to the wisdom of men. So there is a hiddenness about the cross. It is foolishness to the human mind. What God has done there confounds the best thoughts that man can think up apart from the Spirit of God. A veil of ignorance concerning these matters remains upon the minds of all who are perishing apart from faith.
Consequently, the sight of the Cross is an offense. What God has done there appears ugly and nasty. So many, even some Christians, shy away from the sight of the crucifix. A nice, sanitized cross they will more easily accept. But why show the suffering or dead Son of God? That seems so cruel, so painful, so sorrowful.
We naturally like the beautiful Savior, but we do not like the hideous Redeemer. Or as the Lord said through Isaiah the holy prophet, “As many were astonished at You; so His appearance was marred more than any man, and His form more than the sons of men. … He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men; a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
The ugliness of the Cross includes this: that we, the human race, rejected Christ. We did not want a Savior. We did not want Him to shed blood for us. The very best of the pious among us might have said, with Peter, “Never Lord! This shall never happen to You!” We did not want nor think we needed the ugly, nasty atonement. A nice gentle, pretty atonement please. But that is really the old Adam pulling the wool over his own eyes. We do not want a redemption by blood because we think our sin is not that serious. But it is most gravely serious. Our sins show a rejection of the Law of God. Our sins show a rejection of His right to judge us, which is also why we naturally turn away from the crucifix. We want ourselves on the throne and God serving us. We want the right to complain to Him when things go wrong, as if He were an employee whose work performance we have the right to evaluate. We want the right to make our own choices and determine our own course and follow our own heart, as if we are pure of heart and mind.
When we want to be on the throne as judge, we do not realize what that means. Christ shows us. He says, “Here is the throne,” and He allows Himself to be nailed to the Cross. “Here is the crown,” He says, and they jab thorns into His brow. That is what the King does. He dies to save His people. Nowhere is He more the King than on the Cross, that ugly, nasty place.
Christ is indeed the King of glory. He is exalted on high. Yet His appearance, as He wants to be known to us, is a jolting shock. What He considers glory is repulsive to our flesh.
The banner and flag of Christianity is the Cross. If we learn by the Spirit’s teaching, we see the Cross as the wonder and majesty of God’s love for us sinners. We learn to love the image of our Savior’s suffering. We are taught what true glory is.
To us the knowledge of the Savior has come. We gentiles had good news to come to us. We were not Christ’s people, without any right to His heritage or inheritance. Yet His Testament is also for us. As it says, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all;” “all” not some, had their sins placed upon the Suffering Servant, Jesus Christ. He would not allow any sins to go unatoned, even though many will not receive the benefits because they reject the Benefactor. But for us who see the truth of His Cross, we know that He has died for us.
So Isaiah says, “For that which they had not been told they shall see; and that which they had not heard they shall consider.” So we see the sight of the Savior crucified for us. We see our sins placed upon His Body on the Tree. We see our salvation written in His Blood.
This is the meaning of what the prophet writes: “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” They are our sorrows, not His. He, the beautiful and holy and glorious Son of God, in His immaculate grace, should never have shed a single tear. But He wanted, out of love for us and obedience to His Father, to carry all the pain that belonged to us. Our pain should have been eternal. There should have been no end to our suffering, no comfort for our sorrows. But Christ took it on Himself.
Here is the core of the scandal of the Cross. The Cross shows us, like a mirror, what we deserve. If we cannot accept that fact, then we take offense that anyone would judge us that harshly. Our flesh says that surely we do not deserve hell and all its anguish, which can only be removed from us by the atonement of the life of the Son of God! But if we accept it, and say, “This is God having mercy upon me, the sinner,” then we receive the Cross as the precious treasure for us.
So it says, “When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed.” The word “seed” usually means descendants. But Christ had neither children nor wife, at least not according to the flesh. Although He did not have children by blood, He had them by His Blood. He created His family and household by the redemption He suffered to accomplish.
This seems to be the meaning of that difficult word Isaiah wrote in chapter nine: “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His Name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The difficult word come where it says that Christ will be called “Father”. But Christ is not the heavenly Father, although He is equal to the Father and one with the Father. Yet Christ does have children in that He begets us by His redemption. By the Cross, we are made His people. We are born in the waters of Baptism in which we are united to Him in His death. So we are His children by faith. Or to say it in the words of Isaiah, “By His knowledge shall My righteous servant justify many; for He shall bear their iniquities.”
That Christ creates children by redemption is clearly the meaning in our text today because Isaiah says, “When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed.” Therefore it is in the act of suffering and dying that Christ creates His Church, which is His seed. We are given birth by the forgiveness of sins found in the Blood shed on Calvary. Or to say it another way: Because He died, we live.
So Christ cries out, “It is finished!” Or, as Isaiah says, “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.” Before He reached the Cross, Christ was filled with sorrow and wished it were already accomplished. When it was completed, and His sacrifice was perfectly attained to the very last, then He was deeply satisfied. He had accomplished the most magnificent and wonderful thing ever done – not just a magnum opus, but the opus maximus, the very greatest work. None better could exist.
If anyone is to be righteous, it must be through faith in this work of the Suffering Servant. By His knowledge, that is, the knowledge about Him which includes faith in Him; in this we are declared innocent by the great Judge. There is no other way to be innocent in God’s sight.
This is the main point of the text, and the main point of the Cross. If we are caught up in absurd questions like, “How could God let His Son suffer so much?” then we will not get it. Or if we take offense and say, “The Cross is too ugly!” or “The Cross is too Roman Catholic!” then we miss the point.
But if we learn to know Christ through the Cross, we get it. If we see in the Cross the defeat of sin and death, then we have what we see. If we see that the Cross is our victory, then we understand properly.
The thief next to Christ understood. He said, “Remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” The thief did not see the true meaning of Christ in the ugliness or the tragedy or the injustice. No, He saw the King entering His Kingdom. He saw the Man to whom one must beg in order to enter the Kingdom.
So we beg, “Lord, have mercy upon us! Crucified Lord, remember us also in Your Kingdom!” - not as if He has a faulty memory. No, He sees and loves us and will never forget us. We will surely enter His eternal Kingdom by His grace.
For the mighty King has won the battle! He has crushed the head of the serpent and carried away the spoils of war. We are the spoils. We are the treasure He has carried off from the devil’s kingdom, where once we were held captive in our sinful wretchedness.
All this by the wonderful mystery of the holiest Man taking the place of sinners. “He was numbered among the transgressors,” so that we might be numbered among the saints. And so we are.
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