When the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” premiered, TV news showed people leaving the theatre either crying or in stunned silence. Those of you who have seen the film may have experienced this first-hand. Does Jesus’ cross make you sad or glad? Meditating on the Scriptures and the text of Lenten hymns, I’ve concluded that it will do both. The Cross shows us our sin and our Savior.
The Cross is a powerful preaching of the Law, as we see the terrible price God demanded for sin. Because of our sin, we deserve death- physical, spiritual, and eternal death (Romans 6:23, 5:12). There is a tendency in our time to de-emphasize sin, to excuse sin, to deny it, to call it a “momentary lapse of judgment” or an “alternative lifestyle.” The Cross confronts us with the reality of sin and its consequences: “Ye who think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great Here may view its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate. Mark the Sacrifice appointed, See who bears the awful load; ‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed, Son of Man and Son of God” (“Sticken, Smitten, and Afflicted,” ELH 297; LSB 451).
On the Cross, we see Jesus, “stricken, smitten, and afflicted” because of our sins. Questions about who is responsible for Jesus death- the Jews or the Romans- are ruled out by the clear message of the Scriptures: “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Our personal involvement in Jesus’ death is brought out by the hymn “Ah, Holy Jesus”: “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon Thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus hath undone Thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied Thee: I crucified Thee” (Lutheran Hymnary 300; cf. ELH 292, LSB 439)
On the other hand, the Cross shows us that Jesus is the Savior of the world. On the Cross, Jesus completed His work of paying for all our sins, as He cried out “It is finished” (John 19:30). On the Cross, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). By His Cross, Jesus won the victory over sin, death and the devil. As we sing in a hymn, “By Your cross is sin defeated, Hell confronted face to face, Heaven opened to believers, Sinners justified by grace” (“God We Praise You,” ELH 42). The Cross is the foundation of our faith, the place where all our sins were paid for in full. “Jesus, in Thy Cross are centered All the marvels of Thy grace; Thou, my Savior, once hast entered Through Thy blood the holy place: thy sacrifice holy there wrought my redemption, From Satan’s dominion I now have exemption; The way is now free to the Father’s high throne, Where I may approach Him, in Thy name alone” (“One Thing Needful,” ELH 182, LSB 536).
The Cross shows us our sin and our Savior. Both messages are necessary if Christians are to understand this vital event in world and Church history. For if we do not realize the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes, then we will not sufficiently appreciate the beauty of His grace and salvation. Our sins should make us sad, but our Savior makes us glad. As we sing on Good Friday, “Christ, the Life of all the living, Christ the Death of death, our foe, Who, Thyself for me once giving To the darkest depths of woe- Through Thy suff’rings, death, and merit I eternal life inherit: Thousand, thousand thanks shall be, Dearest Jesus unto Thee” (“Christ the Life of All the Living,” ELH 333, LSB 420).