What exactly is Redemption? Did the Lord die in my place? How does ‘God balance mercy and justice’? What does it mean that the Lord became sin? Or that He became a curse?
Sin, Sacrifice and Redemption (04/06/2018)- Father Antony Paul
A Homily Delivered on the Occasion of the Feast of Great Friday of the Holy Pascha
Gratitude to KR for transcribing.
Last year we discussed the whole economy of our salvation, about what our plan was and what God had had in mind when he created man and the various things that went wrong in our identity and our living and in our structure; and the different things that our Lord had to fix and that he fixed in his incarnation. Today, I want to focus on a different emphasis, on something we don’t talk a lot about in our church because we tend to like to look at things in the totality of things which is “what exactly happened today in terms of redemption? what is it that the blood of Christ actually did?” It’s something we don’t use as much as Western theology does.
I want to reflect a little bit on the hymn that we sing twice today. I’ll read to you the text again this is the hymn called “This is He“:
This is he who offered himself up as an acceptable sacrifice on the cross for the salvation of our race. His good Father smelled his sweet Aroma in the evening watch on Golgotha. We worship Thee O Christ with Thy Good Father and The Holy Spirit for Thou wast crucified and saved us. Have mercy on us.
It is a very short hymn. We discussed that when we were created, that we were created sinless, we were created in the image and likeness of God and that meant that we were meant to be holy and that we were designed to be perfect. And as a consequence, we talked about Sin being the introduction of disease in humanity, and more specifically disease that leads to death. This is why God said, “in that day if you eat of that tree, you will die by death.” It’s not just you will die, but you will die by death, meaning that now there is an end to you. Even though I was giving you, by grace, immortality. I was giving you, by your Unity with me in the garden, by my indwelling in you because you had the Holy Spirit, immortality. I didn’t intend for you to die, I didn’t want you to die.
That’s why it’s important for us to look at the difference in these Theologies to understand what we’re saying. Because if we’re saying God didn’t want us to die then why are we so death-obsessed throughout the Old Testament and with the sacrifices?
The Problem of Sin
And so we have this big problem of sin, that man was designed to be in Unity with God but this unity was compromised by sin. A married couple struggles to be one. We know that a married couple is supposed to be united. When each person persists and insists on his or her own will, in spite of the other, when a person is absolutely obsessed with having his or her own way at the expense of the other person, right away we see, just on a practical level, that unity is compromised. The unity is shaken. Unless one person is perfect at denying his or her will, then unity doesn’t last in those situations. There is going to be an explosion, there is going to be a fight, there is going to be some kind of contention. Reaching unity is hard if you have no objective truth. If everybody just has an opinion and there’s no actual absolute answer, then all that’s going to happen is arguing, because there’s not anything that’s going to bring out an end agreement because it’s just one person’s view over another’s.
However, as Christians, objective truth does exist, by the mere virtue of there being a God. If there is a God then objectivity exists and by nature of there being a design, there is such a thing as right and wrong. Our relationship with God was disrupted when we insisted on ourselves and our own will over God’s. We wanted knowledge, we wanted Divinity. The devil didn’t just coax Eve with ‘you’re going to know stuff’! It was ‘you’re going to be like God’, so there was a lust there to actually take on Divinity. We wanted many things, but what we definitely did not want was to listen to His instruction.
Sin also brought about death, as we discussed on so many occasions. And again, briefly, Sin is disease and disease untreated brings forth death. It also meant death because we lost the indwelling of God within us, whereby our bodies could have actually continued to be immortal.
Sin brought about death on a spiritual level in terms of our understanding of our identity, of this thing that’s in us: this spirit, the image and likeness of God of what it means to be healthy in our communication with God. This, by the way, is why so many people struggle in their spiritual lives saying they don’t feel God or can’t see God or can’t experience God, it’s because one is spiritually ill, which came about from sin.
Sing brought physical death, in that it brought an end to our unity with God, causing us to actually die substantively because of a disruption of our Unity with God.
So sin caused destruction in at least three ways: spiritual illness, physical death, and disruption of our unity with God (relationship is compromised). These are three ways in which we found death.
Throughout the week we talked about how God was trying to remedy this through our condition while waiting for the full economy to be fulfilled in Christ. He desired a relationship with all of humanity. He maintained an outward relationship with the children Adam and Eve as we read throughout the week. But overall, the relationship was rejected by humans. It didnn’t go well, not only with Adam and Eve’s children, but nor did it go well after the flood with Noah and his descendants. Finally, we see the Lord make a special relationship with Abraham and in Abraham, the old covenant was made. A covenant, a relationship and a promise of spiritual wealth and a physical wealth even, so long as God’s design and sovereignty was honored.
Abraham did honor this and became the father of many nations symbolized in the nation of Israel and its 12 tribes. And through the 12 tribes was delivered the law. What the law did was give them the knowledge of sin. How would they know that stealing is wrong if it’s not told to them? How would one know that envy is wrong unless they were told so? God revealed this in writing because the remembrance of Holiness for the most part was lost – of the very beginning there was a memory of what it meant to be righteous that many of us, with our own spiritual eyes have seen. Many of us might be able to think about a period in our lives when we had a very strong zealous spiritual life right and where we were very strict on ourselves and our behaviors and then we’ve lagged so far from that that we don’t even remember what it was that we liked. But there is a memory that there was something nice.
But in the history of man, by the time the 12 tribes are there, they have forgotten what it means to be righteous, to them they don’t know what it was like to be Abraham and dialogue with God. They were in a position of we just know we’re the descendants of the promise and God just said he’s going to give us stuff. But they didn’t know what they were supposed to do on their end of the Covenant. And the law was given to them so they would have an objective measure by which to live. There was an absolute, an existence to say this is the right way, this isn’t your opinion Moses or your opinion Joshua, this is the statement of God that this is how you ought to live.
The twelve tribes, like Adam and Eve, also lived in a unity with one another and God at the beginning, this was the intention. He was saying let’s restore what I intended to do, I will be in your midst. Like in the Garden of Eden, God was in the midst of them, God lived in the midst of the Jews and this is why in the hymns and in the writings of St. Paul you’ll see our God who ‘tabernacled with us’, our God who tents with us. In modern English, Our God who camps out with us. Because God was in a tent among the people living among them.
So, God is saying ‘I will give you a kind of unity if you honor the same covenant that I made with your forefather and your foremother Adam and Eve. I will do the same thing with you if you keep the commandment. I’m attempting to re-establish this with you.’ His fire protected and guided them, His cloud sheltered them, they were fed by Mana from His hand from heaven, they were guided by the laws He himself declared to them. There is a singular form of worship that knit them together and vividly presented to them God himself.
They were living in a unity as we say in the midnight praises, ‘indescribable’. This was a theocratic Nation with God as their Sovereign ruler and with the law given to them by God Himself. Should they maintain the law, they would be free and they would be holy unto the Lord. But as we have read throughout the week, they were not able to do this. they were not able to keep the Covenant in spite of being given access to Himself, in spite of Him even honoring a temple built by hands.
Even when they built the temple, right when King Solomon builds it, God says to him as He said to his father David, ‘Keep in mind I don’t really care about your buildings’ He goes, ‘I lived in a tent for you, so your temple doesn’t mean that much but I understand what you’re trying to give me. I will do it, I will honor it, I will live among you, but I care much more about your heart. I care much more about you actually honoring the relationship that we have with one another.’ God indeed dwelt among them, with it the Temple seen as His Capital, the place where He lives. But we saw in no time that the people weren’t satisfied with what they had.
The problem of sin was not solved. The problem of sin abounded. In fact, that people sinned more and more and more and more and, as a result, God kept sending them prophets telling them ‘come back to Me and if you do not then I will also forsake you. But you were the one that first forsook Me.’ So then we need to ask what was the remedy of the Old Testament?
The remedy was sacrifice. This was what God was using for them. It was sacrifice and it’s often asked why? why Blood? why blood sacrifice? The worship of the Israelites included the option of bloody animals so what exactly could blood do for sin? What exactly is it going to accomplish, was it cleansing them from sin? Was it forgiving them? Was it making them holier so that they would forget what wrong even is? Obviously not, because they were sinning more and more! So if it was supposed to have removed from them the knowledge of sin, clearly it was ineffective because they were coming up with new ways to sin every single day.
In fact these blood sacrifices definitely could not forgive anyone his sins. This is what St. Paul said, For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. (Hebrews 10:1-4)
So this Blood wasn’t purifying, in fact let’s see what God thinks of these very sacrifices that he ordered for them to offer:
11 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?
says the Lord;
I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
and the fat of fed beasts;
I do not delight in the blood of bulls,
or of lambs, or of he-goats.
12 “When you come to appear before me,
who requires of you
this trampling of my courts?
13 Bring no more vain offerings;
incense is an abomination to me. (Is 1:11-13)
God is saying that He is sick of those sacrifices and does not Delight in them. so obviously God is not looking for some kind of physical blood to appease Him, or to bring him joy. If the issue of sin was just one of blood then all this bleeding surely should have been enough for Him. I would venture to say that if it was blood that He wanted so badly that He would have just demanded human blood. But it was not blood that He was looking for, so what then was the sacrifice doing? St. Paul tells us about one thing that this sacrifice did for them:
the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh (Hebrews 9:13)
So, on some level it is a physical purification, but even that was limited, in that, “it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1) So it was a form of a virtual purification, why is this? Because even if we are to be pardoned for our transgressions, we can never be united with God through some kind of animal. It’s not an animal that’s going to make me reunite with God and this is exactly what God was trying to fix. I can only return to my original state by being united to God Himself (which we will come back to). No sacrifice is able to do this.
So then what was the point? First, to help us understand the need for a solution; that all this Blood wasn’t doing anything and having continual sacrifice day after day we are becoming more acutely aware of the problem that we are unable to be righteous. I am becoming more and more aware of the fact that I was unable to be righteous, but this is what God wants of me because he designed me to be righteous. I am finding myself in the Dilemma. Imagine if I am told that I need to be an athlete and that I need to be fit to be one, but I lack an important enzyme that helps metabolize (enabling me to be fit). So I keep eating but I get fatter and fatter because I lack the enzyme, but I need to eat! If I can’t eat then I’m not going to be able to have the nutrients.
Then, I find out that I can take a daily dose of enzyme (externally), I get this external solution for myself but I have to keep taking it day after day in order to achieve my goal. So my daily taking of this dose actually becomes a reminder to me that I don’t have the enzyme. Instead of it fixing me, I am finding out that I will never be this perfect being that I am supposed to be. I am not supposed to need the enzyme, the enzyme is doing something I was supposed to be able to do intrinsically. My continued reliance on external thing, makes me realise this thing that I’m supposed to intrinsically be or do isn’t there. And so the continual sacrifice had nothing to do with God’s desire for blood as much as on one level it was helping them realise their need for righteousness that cannot be accomplished through the law that the continual sacrifice was not fixing them, was not changing them, not restoring them to their identity. The continual sacrifice showed that it wasn’t working for them and that they were making all these sacrifices and yet not becoming holier.
The second thing that it did, the sacrifice, is that it eased their consciences. God was giving them a form of reconciliation, He is giving them a way to apologise while preparing for us our true atonement, our Lord Christ. He gave an outlet for the people to make their apologies, which is a holy thing. We are supposed to say sorry and make amends when we erred. It is a good thing to acknowledge your sins and fix what you did wrong. So this was the surface-level purification that a faithful person could stand before God and say ‘I transgressed I’m sorry and here’s something that I am offering’.
Most importantly, the third point of the sacrifice is to help the people understand the link between sin and death at all times. This is the most important reason to understand why blood is in the picture at all. As our Lord said in Leviticus explicitly to them when establishing these sacrifices: “For the life of every creature is the blood of it… (Leviticus 17:14)” The blood became a symbol of physical life and it became the way of expressing how something is alive. Blood is the symbol of the life of a living thing and the reason for that physical death was sin. In offering blood there was an understanding that your sin is the reason why death is happening at all; it was a constant reminder to them that this is what it is. right that’s the main point of this.
Our God explicitly explains in Leviticus 17: for the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it for you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement, by reason of the life (Leviticus 17:11). He is saying that explicitly because blood is of a living thing, this is your atonement. Why is it that blood was used to make amends? Because it is a sin that caused death to begin with. Every time an Israelite slays an animal, the Israelite is reminded that it is his sins or her sins that caused the death.
When we apologise to someone, we’re supposed to make amends too, rather than just saying nice things. If we stole from someone most people don’t find it sufficient to call and say ‘I’m sorry I stole from you’. There is an expectation that you’re going to make restitution and restoration for the money that you took, that you’re going to offer something back in return for the things that you took. Likewise, if my transgression is that I killed! If it’s my sin that caused death then the response is supposed to be to offer life back in its place. So our Lord instituted this sacrifice to help them understand that.
There’s a restitution for the error that there was life taken, but does the sacrifice actually forgive the sinner? or act as a solution? No. It was, however, helping us toward the goal of real restoration and knowing all of this was important in order to do so. God wasn’t looking for blood to please Him, rather the blood was an aid for the people to understand their predicament, to make amends, and to make an apology. It is not because God was bloodthirsty at all.
So then what did man need in order to be restored to Holiness? Nothing short of unity with God, and this was never going to come through the actions of the law. This is important among other things because we need to make sure we understand how God was effecting Redemption. There are various understandings of how salvation was achieved and we need to make sure that we understand properly what our God was doing.
The most famous of these understandings, that is common in the west and sometimes I have heard in the churches, is a theory that God needed to balance mercy with a need to punish. This view depicts a divine dilemma within God of being merciful while being just. And this sounds to some people like a logical thing but there are many problems with this. To them, those who adhere to this, the cross reconciles this and ends this inner tension inside God between mercy and justice. The problems with these are many.
The most important is that God can’t have an inner conflict. If God is stable He cannot have an inner conflict. And if we were to blaspheme and say that he has a dilemma, how much more absurd is it that this internal Divine spiritual dilemma could only be solved in a physical expression? That some spiritual dilemma is solved physically on a rational level is nonsense. For this to happen would mean that the Lord changes, because we see that our Lord doesn’t require blood sacrifice today.
So if this dilemma that was in Him was solved by Him changing worship, then we’ve also rendered Our God changeable. Our God, one of His characteristics is that He is immutable, He is unchangeable. He declares this himself “I am the Lord I do not change” (Malachi 3:6). Humans have conflicting desires because we are changeable, we are not immutable. We have the ability to be inconsistent, but God cannot. God can’t before the cross demand death constantly to fix sin and then suddenly change after or it would mean that He changes. It isn’t God that was changing pre and post redemption, but rather God was changing us. We were being changed, it was not our God. There is not a different God in the Old and New Testament, rather God was changing His creation.
The nature of the new man is righteousness; it’s to not sin. Today when we sin, we are going against our nature, it is not supposed to be our nature to sin. When we choose to sin we are going against it. God has always been single-minded and loving, the work of Salvation has always been to transform sinners who die to intimacy and unity with their creator. To this the whole Trinity is eternally committed.
But there are deeper problems still with this view of God. I speak of this because we will often hear people say that Jesus ‘died in my place’, this is a common expression, or ‘He paid all my debts’. There can be a proper understanding of paying a debt, but I don’t know that we’re often using it in the right way. It can be dangerous. I was once sent a video of an old man, it was very dramatic with emotional background music, of a train conductor who everyday watches a train as it goes down the tracks. He’s got his grandson or his son nearby playing and every day that the train would take a pass, they would need to pull a lever to change the train to another track to make sure that it would be on route. If it goes off route then it’ll be death to everybody on that train because it would end up going over some cliff or something like that. One day, the kid is playing (the man’s son or grandson) and the grandfather is now faced with a dilemma, if he pulls the lever the train is now going to kill his son or his grandson that’s playing on the diverted track. But if the train goes straight then all of the people are gonna die but the kid stays alive. Now there’s this choice that he has to make. should the father slay the son or should the people live?
That is a wrong understanding of Salvation: this is creating this dilemma of God choosing who to kill, as though there needs to be blood. As though the issue is that God must kill and is killing. How would our omnipotent God be limited to pulling a lever? Why is that His dilemma? Why must there be blood in order for people to be saved?
This view of Salvation is that His blood was given as a substitute for my blood before the Father, and that without this blood, without His blood, the Father was in a state of wrath. In fact it goes further to say that the Father’s wrath was directed at the Son in our place on the cross and we’ll sing songs that say things like ‘the Father turns His face away from His own Son’ (suggesting that it’s in disgust or wrath). But how can we accept this? Does this not mean that God cannot save without being paid? That in fact our own God then, if this is the case, believes in an eye for an eye right and a tooth for a tooth? Does this not mean that God can have no fellowship with Sinners until they pay? If so, how is it that we read of so many stories where the opposite is true – where our Lord sat with sinners and they hadn’t paid anything?! Does this mean that there can be conflict within the Trinity? That the Father can be angry with His Son, to Whom He is eternally United? And if someone needs to pay the price, then why are we claiming that there is forgiveness? Because it’s not forgiveness that we’re talking about here, instead we are talking about debt exchange, not debt release! We’re saying with such a model that someone else gets to pay. I was just lucky that I didn’t pay but someone else is still paying! There is no forgiveness in this; it is just simply an exchange of blame. Can sin even simply be physically transmitted from one person to another? If the issue is balancing Justice with Mercy, how is it just for the Father to punish the innocent Son? On every level, this kind of thinking is theologically flawed, this is all nonsense.
Indeed we do believe that our Lord is our Ransom. “For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man” (Mk. 10:45), this from Saint Mark. This is repeated also in Saint Matthew, The word “ransom” means to “cover” – in other words, God concealed or covered death for us. This is what we mean when we say “for you have covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us to yourself”. The plan for our covering was from the foundation of the earth, it wasn’t something that came up later. Saint Paul tells us that “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.” (Eph. 1:4,5) The Plan of Redemption was eternal. It was before we were even created. Saint Peter explains it by saying: You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. (1 Peter 1:18–20)
One contemporary father comments on St. Peter comparing Christ to a lamb, and comments that St. Peter is not as concerned about the lamb as much as he is about his blood. The lamb with blood is a sacrificial victim – the lamb is pure and perfect innocence even as our Ransom (our Lord) is, and this is how he links the lamb to Isaiah prophesying that the Lamb wouldn’t open his mouth when bought for slaughter. The lamb of the Passover, which we read about in one of the hours, is a type or a symbol of our Christ.
But why is there a price? Because sin caused death. The natural law and the spiritual law proclaim this, and the Law itself was totally incapable of curing them from this condition. The law only condemned but could not bring life. It could only describe life! What our Lord did was offer the remedy – He didn’t abolish the moral law, but offered the solution to those who want to be liberated from the effect of death. Is there, according to the law, a debt to be paid for sin? Yes! There is a consequence to my sin.
It is only in that sense that we say that God paid our debt, not a debt of needfulness of death (i.e. not because God exacted death as payment). And to whom though should this debt be paid, is it to the Father? We already said this is nonsense. That’s completely unacceptable. Is it to the devil? If so, does that not give the devil a higher authority than God? If our God needs to descend to earth and lower to pay back the devil, that’s a problem. Rather, the wages of sin, the price of sin is death, for natural reasons not because of a payment system. The consequence of sin is death, and consequently it was death that needed to be fixed or resolved.
We have spoken about how sacrifice was made for expiation and for reconciliation to remain in unity with God. If we want to understand even more deeply what our Lord was doing, let us look at what ended up happening with the Israelites with their sins. When their sins were grievous beyond measure and exceedingly abundant, they took sin to a higher level: idolatry had taken over the people. And so the very people of God, who had had a special covenant with Him, replaced their God with graven images, with sacrifices (they would even sacrifice their children) and all sorts of strange things entered them.They had forsaken their God altogether. And God made a final expiation by destroying the city of Jerusalem! This is what we read about in many of the readings throughout the week. The sins of the people were put upon the City, and the City was destroyed, while God saved his people in their exile. Was God pleased at Destroying Jerusalem? No. But He was pleased that the city was purified and that idolatry was eradicated and that His children lived.
If it was about death, He wouldn’t have slayed the Temple, He wouldn’t have killed the city, He wouldn’t have saved the people. Instead He takes the sin and puts it on the city and removes the city so that the people live. In this way did our Lord act. Just as all the sins of the people were placed upon Jerusalem and it was destroyed, the Messiah took upon Himself the sins of the whole world and was destroyed through His death upon the cross. It is God Himself who sets up his own Son as the place of atonement and these previous sacrifices were all types of Him.
He is now establishing and showing righteousness not wrath for the people. He is expiating their sins Himself. He is offering Himself on behalf of the people to ransom them from death – not because He owes them anything or not because the Father is angry at Him but rather because He loves the people and wants to restore them to their real existence in Him! He wants them united to Him as they were in the garden! So God is not punishing sinners in this concept of salvation at all, what He’s doing is destroying their sin and eradicating the punishment: death. We cannot understand our Lord’s atonement if we don’t look at their sacrifice, and that’s why our Lord placed it for them as a type of Himself.
How is it then that He bore our sins in His body? How is it that we say that God, that Christ became sin? If we examine the trials that our Lord went through, the actual legal trials that He went through from early this morning till late last night, the six times that He was held under scrutiny, we will find our answer. The Lord is being accused of real sin. He’s being accused of blasphemy, He’s being accused of breaking the Sabbath. He’s accused of all sorts of laws that were given to them by God and that He’s breaking all of these. All of these sins had on it the sentence of death. For all these accusations, whether before Caiaphas, Annas, Pilate, Herod etc… in all of these – He is silent. During the actual trial, when He is asked about this transgression, when He is asked about the sins, in every single instance in the challenge about Sin, our Lord holds His mouth and keeps silent completely. When He’s asked about why He doesn’t answer for the accusations, He remains silent. What He is doing is allowing the curse of the crucifixion, or the saying ‘cursed is anybody who hangs from the tree’ (Dt. 21:23) to take hold. We say that God became sin and God became cursed.
Our Lord is emphatically silent at these accusations and the silence is perceived by them as a confirmation that the accusations must be true and thus the sentence of death was delivered. He was silent and He let them prevail and in so doing He was slain for sin and as sin on the tree, accepting both Sin and curse to be put on Him. Even more compelling is that if Christ is the new Adam restoring the old, then you can understand even more greatly the magnitude and the depth of His silence. Because if the accusation being leveled is that mankind blasphemed and put himself in the place of God, well this was the sin of Adam. Adam did put himself in the place of God. The people did break the sabbath, the people did blaspheme the Temple. This is why Lord was expelling them, just earlier this week.
Of every single sin which they accused their God, not knowing He was their God, they themselves were guilty. Adam was guilty and for this reason our God, the new Adam, accepted on Himself the accusations and took the guilty sentence for us.
But something greater is happening than even this! Our Lord is uniting Himself to our body. He became sin – a vessel of destruction, as St Paul says ‘that there are vessels made for destruction and vessels made for righteousness’ (Rom 9:22). Our Lord allowed Himself to be a vessel made for destruction, in order that there might be life. This was the solution that was being prepared before Time that was veiled in the Old Testament: that God was coming in the flesh to slay death and give life. They didn’t know that it was God who was going to solve the issue Himself, they didn’t understand the veil and the shadow. They started to think that the law was the end instead of that means. They didn’t know what His blood was doing, and this is why St Athanasius says, “for by the sacrifice of His own body, He both put an end to the law which was against us and made a new beginning of Life for Us, by the hope of the Resurrection which He has given us. For since for man it was that death prevailed over men, for this cause conversely by the Word of God being made man, has come about the destruction of death and resurrection of life, as the man which bore Christ says ‘for since by man He made alive and so forth, no longer now do we die to subject condemnation but as men who rise from the dead, we await the general resurrection of all”.
This was only accomplished in that the body that was slain was the body of God, and that God Himself would be able to raise Him. Instead of understanding how God was saving them, however, they thought his aim was for them to be a nation, and a powerful one. Even though God has said there would need to be a new deal, they couldn’t, as many still can’t still today, comprehend that God would allow himself to be touchable, to be human and tangible. They didn’t know the humility of God. They couldn’t recognize the humility of God because of their deep arrogance. Because they were wise in their own eyes, they missed the truth of the truth in front of them, that the Truth Incarnate was before their eyes. They didn’t understand that this Being, this person that they condemned to death was the very Messiah that they were waiting for and that this cross that they spurned was His throne. The sins of the people were borne in His blood that flowed over the mercy seat — the Cross!
The expiation in the Old Testament is that they would take the blood that we just talked about and it would be put on The Mercy Seat. On the Ark of the Covenant, there was the cherubim and seraphim on each side and in the middle was a seat, and this was the Throne of God. So the new Mercy Seat became the Cross. The blood that was offered was now put on The Mercy Seat for them! Oh what a great mystery!
Earlier this week we read an account between our Lord and the Jews, because they didn’t understand this mystery at all. The conversation went like this, our Lord says, in front of the Jews,
Again he said to them, “I go away, and you will seek me and die in your sin;† where I am going, you cannot come.” Then said the Jews [very sarcastically said], “Will he kill himself, since he says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” [the words of the hymn we sing called This is He] They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Even what I have told you from the beginning.
He wanted them to know that He is He! But they wouldn’t understand because they were hard-hearted. The dialogue continues:
They did not understand that he spoke to them of the Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he… .
And the lifting up was of His elevation on the cross, so that is how they would know that it was He when He was on the cross. And here we see the two philosophies come to life, for those who believe in an angry Father, when they hear the Lord saying “My God My God why have You forsaken Me” they think that the Father has forsaken Him. This is impossible. The Father and Son cannot ever be separated, just as the Lord’s humanity and divinity cannot be separated.
Rather, our Lord, as we talked about many times, was directing them to scripture and revealing Himself as he said “when you lift Me up you will know that I am He”. Now He is telling them, now He is revealing it, now that is being accomplished and now that the devil and the humans and everyone that had been confused cannot put an end to this plan of Salvation, now is the time when He reveals to themselves in planliness who He is: “My God My God why hast Thou forsaken me” and if we take ourselves to this very psalm which we will pray during the communion during Joyous Saturday,
22 ¶  * My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
2 O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.
3 Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.
6 But I am a worm, and no man;
scorned by men, and despised by the people.
7 ¶ All who see me mock at me,
they make mouths at me, they wag their heads;
8 “He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him,
let him rescue him, for he delights in him.”
9 Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you kept me safe upon my mother’s breasts.
10 Upon you was I cast from my birth,
and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
11 Be not far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is none to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me,
strong bulls of Bashan surround me;
13 they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax,
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue cleaves to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Yes, dogs are round about me;
a company of evildoers encircle me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
17 I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
18 ¶ they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
…and many more.
Our Lord was revealing to them that this is He of whom David spoke.Yes, indeed, this is He. This is He that neither the people nor the devil Himself recognised, and for this reason we declare Him solemnly!
This is He of whom it was told that the seed of the woman – not a man – because God is His Father – would crush the head of the serpent!
This is He that the prophets foretold would be born in Bethlehem, yet nobody would know his generation!
This is He who would be a seed of Abraham, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah whose Kingdom would be eternal! This is He of whom it was said that He would specifically be a son of David!
This is He who was foretold to be called Emmanuel, and whom the Angels called Emmanuel in their declaration of His coming!
This is He about whom it was foretold the children of the town of His Nativity would be slaughtered!
This is He of Whom it was said that He would ride to Egypt on a swift cloud!
This is He of Whom it was said He would be called the son of God! (Psalm 2:7)
This is He of Whom it was declared He would be called King!
Yet, this is also He of Whom it was foretold that the children would praise, but that His kinsmen would betray! This is He of whom it was foretold the price of His betrayal would be used to buy the potter’s field!
This was He about Whom it was foretold that He would be falsely accused, spat upon and struck, and that He would be hated without a cause – and about Whom it was also foretold that He would be killed with criminals, and even it was told that He would supplicate and intercede for a criminal while in that place!
This is He of Whom it was foretold that He would be given vinegar to drink, that His hands and feet would be pierced, but that none of His bones would be broken, and that He would still find it in Him to pray for His enemies! This is He of Whom it was foretold that He would be pierced in His side, buried in the tomb of a rich man, and would be an acceptable sacrifice for sin.
Yes, indeed – This IS He. This is He who offered Himself as an acceptable sacrifice – the Father’s plan appointed before the foundation of the earth, was now executed in time.
The timeless entered time, the bodiless took on flesh, and God became man. Behold, this is He, that in weakness has shown what is greater than might because He did it all willingly.
Yes, the Church proclaims, this is He, this is God – and it is He that has delivered us. It is He that will slay death, it is He that will rise again, and it is He that will reverse the pains of our humanity. Adam who was disobedient in the garden is not he, but our new Adam is He, who was obedient to the Father in the garden. Adam who plucked fruit from the tree, is replaced by He who is before us – Who reigns from the wood and gives us from the Tree of Life! Adam who took the curse of mortality and suffering, is redeemed in our New Adam, who has undone it all and restored us to immortality.
This is He who is restoring humanity again to Paradise. This is He who is with us, like us and for us. This is He, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. This is our God, and to Him and in Him is the power, the glory, the blessing and the might forever and unto the ages of ages amen.