Based On: Isaiah 53:4-6
Today we see our Savior on the cross, but to understand better what is happening on the cross let’s start in the Garden of Eden. There in the garden, God told Adam not to eat from a certain tree in the middle of the garden. “You may eat from any other tree but if you eat from this tree you will die.” Even though Adam and Eve knew God’s command they ate the fruit from that one tree. And what was the result? Death. The sprirtual death was immediate – their relationship with God was destroyed. Eventually their bodies would also die.
Adam and Eve were only the first. When the whole world turned away from God except for Noah and his family what was the result? They all died in the flood. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai and the people disobeyed God by worshiping a golden calf, what were the consequences? Death for about 3000 of them. When the walls of Jericho came down and Achan took some of the gold and silver for himself instead of dedicating it all to God and his temple, what was his punishment? Death. When King David tried to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem what was the punishment for Uzzah when he touched the ark even though God said only the Levites should carry the ark? It was death. And in the New Testament when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the church about the offering they had given what was there punishment? Both of them died.
You get the idea. What is God’s punishment for sin? Death. When God gave the Old Testament Israelites the command to sacrifice sheep and goats and oxen he was giving them the constant reminder that sin results in death. The consequence of sin is death. The punishment for sin is death. Over and over again as the Israelites brought their sacrifices to the temple they were reminded that God demands payment for sin and to satisfy God’s justice requires blood and death. Not just the death of our bodies – but our physical death is a reminder that God’s punishment is also eternal death, the death of hell.
We can not characterize God as the gentle old man who simply looks the other way when we sin or who is lenient when it comes to our own idea of what is right and wrong. No, God has a definite standard. He says, “be Holy because I the Lord your God am holy.” Anything less than perfect holiness is sin and God abhors sin and hates the sinner as King David says of God in Psalm 5, “you hate all who do wrong.”
There is terror in those words. We know that we are among those who have done wrong. Isaiah says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.” Every time we go our own way, every time we stray off the path of God’s command, it is sin. And we have all strayed off that path, whether we consider it a small sin or a major sin makes no difference, the punishment is the same. If you want proof that everyone has sinned just consider how many people have died. Where there is no sin there would not be the consequences of sin, death.
If God takes sin seriously, and the punishment for sin is death – not just death of our bodies but the eternal death of hell – and if every single one of us has offended God and strayed from the path countless times, then what does God’s perfect justice demand? Death. The just consequence of our sin is the death of hell for each and every one of us.
Now see your Savior on the cross. Jesus had no sin. He did not deserve his suffering and death as a punishment or consequence for anything that he thought, said, or did. No, he took our place on that cross. God took all of our sin and put it on Christ. “The Lord has laid on him, the iniquity of us all,” Isaiah says. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us,” the Bible also says. God looked at Jesus on that cross and saw every one of our sins: every selfish word, every sinful action, and every hateful thought. Then God saw that horrible sinner, Jesus, and punished him. God carried out what his perfect justice demanded and poured out his wrath on Jesus Christ.
See your Savior on the cross as he suffers the punishment of hell in our place. Isaiah describes it, “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is 53:4-6)
All of it, the beating, the scourging, the nails through the hands and feet, the hanging on the cross, and the torment of hell, he did it all to meet the demands of God’s justice. It was for justice that Jesus died.
But why? Why did Jesus do it? You know he wasn’t forced to go to the cross. He told Peter that he could have 12 legions of angels fighting for him if he wanted, but he didn’t. No, the reason was love. Jesus himself told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Because of this love he was willing to take all our sin upon himself – not only willing but eager. We can imagine our Savior, already beaten and bloody, striving toward Golgatha, straining with all his strength to get to the cross. So great was his desire to save you. So great is his love for you.
And what tremendous love it is. Right here on the cross as Jesus suffers for our sin and takes the punishment for all our offenses against God, right here is the greatest display of God’s love. See your savior dying on that cross? This isn’t God just saying “I love you,” God isn’t just wishing you well and then letting you rot in your sins, no God’s love does something, it acts on your behalf, it is self sacrificing in the most literal way.
Who among us would die for someone else? Perhaps some of us would give our lives for someone we love, but would we be willing to give our lives for just anyone? Would we be willing to give our lives for people who hated us, for our enemies? That’s what Jesus did. All of us were straying sheep. We did not want to listen. We were enemies of God and at war with him, and Christ’s punishment was the peace settlement between us and God.
But with Christ every punishment for sin is now gone. God justice is satisfied, there is no punishment left for us. Now when troubles come our way they are tools that God uses for our good and for the good of his church. Even the death of this body is no longer a punishment for sin but the door to eternal life.
Listen to just how much God loves us as Jesus takes our place on the cross as we read again the words of Isaiah. “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Is 53:4-6)
God is holy and just. He demands punishment for sin. Yet, God also loves the sinner. God’s holy demands and God’s love seem to oppose each other. But see your Savior on the cross. He takes your place. And there, on the cross, as God punishes him for our sin, we see God carry out perfect justice and we see the depth of God’s love for us.