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Apostles' Creed 8: Crucifixion

By Pastor Phillip Howle
web posted July 17, 2013

RELIGION – Let me begin with a very morbid thought. Imagine for a moment holding a gathering where the sole purpose of the meeting was to celebrate and go through in vivid details the events surrounding a tragic death of someone you loved.  That would be very messed up right? But this is oddly what goes on at churches every week.  We celebrate the death of Jesus of Nazareth. 

Why? First off, it occupies a central spot in the four Gospels. If you were to look at the definitive biography of Martin Luther, he devoted only 2% percent of his work to the last week of King’s life. On the other hand, Matthew devoted 33 percent of his gospel to the final week of Jesus’ life, Mark 37 percent, Luke 25 percent, and John a huge 42 percent.

The next part of the Apostles’s Creed will shed more light on this. Our phrase this week is “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified.” So let’s first look at Pilate. Pilate goes down in history as the man who killed Jesus. Apart from this there would have been little noteworthy about this coward of a man.  Under the Roman occupation, the Jewish authorities could not execute anyone; so when they had passed sentence on Jesus for confessing his true identity as God’s Savior-King, the Christ (they thought the confession blasphemous), they passed him on to the governor in hopes he would give them what they want, death on a cross for Jesus.

Pilate saw no guilt in Jesus and seemed to have considered there squabble a second rate theology debate amongst the volatile Jews he ruled over. So he washed his hands (somehow in hopes that would make him less complacent in the act).  But at the end of the day, even though guiltless, he decided that Jesus should die all the same to keep people happy.

It also says that Jesus “Suffered.” This word carries not only the everyday meaning of bearing pain, but also the older and wider sense of being the object affected by someone else’s action. The Latin is passus, where we get the word passion from. While we can blame Pilate or the Jews for the death of Jesus, we also have to look at the sovereign and permissive will of God. Please understand that both God and man were agents of Jesus’ passion. Peter, in Acts 2:23 says that “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.”

But was God’s role in this horrific act mean? Is this, as some liberal theologians have protested, an act of divine child abuse? What was God’s purpose? J.I. Packer writes the purpose was that “Judgment on sin, for the sake of mercy to sinners. The miscarrying of human justice was the doing of divine justice. Jesus knew on the cross all the pain, physical and mental, that man could inflict and also the divine wrath and rejection that my sins deserve; for he was there in my place, making atonement for me. “All we like sheep have gone astray... and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).As one of the songs we sing at churches says “Because the sinless Saviour died, My sinful soul is counted free;, For God, the Just, is satisfied, To look on him—and pardon me.”

How did Jesus take God’s divine wrath? The big word propitiation will help to explain to us what that looked like.  Propitiation is the appeasement or satisfaction of the wrath or the anger of God at sin. All mankind seeks to do this. In pagan religions, the worshipers offer animal sacrifices to appease their gods. In my time spent in Haiti I learned that about 90% of the people practice voodoo to one degree or another.  The Haitians will slaughter a chicken and place the blood (with the entrails) on a dish by the front door, hoping to ward off evil spirits. It is their way of appeasing the god who stands behind voodoo.  That is the pagan idea of propitiation.

It works like this in my home: I realize that I have been an idiot and angered my wife. So hoping to make it up to her, I clean the house and send her a sweet text. Of course as she comes home to the sight of a clean house and good looking me all is well again.
Jesus took all of the Father’s anger at the sin on the world on Himself. Imagine how much anger you have when you read of child molesters. Now imagine things from God’s perspective. He fully knows and fully sees all the evil in the world. The anger that God feels was placed on Jesus at the cross. This meant that the physical suffering paled in comparison to the emotional and spiritual sufferings that Jesus suffered. Jerry Bridges writes that “Jesus did not die just to give us peace and a purpose in life; He died to save us from the wrath of God. He died to reconcile us to a holy God who was alienated from us because of our sin. He died to ransom us from the penalty of sin – the punishment of everlasting destruction, shut out from the presence of the Lord. He died that we, the just objects of God’s wrath, should become, by His grace, heirs of God and co-heirs with Him.”

So why do we celebrate the death of Jesus? Because it is only through it that we can know or have any access to God at all.
Pastor Phillip

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