In the name of Jesus.
Day of wrath, O day of mourning!
See fulfilled the Prophet’s warning,
Heav’n and earth in ashes burning. (TLH 607.1)
Even the pagans recognize divine wrath and judgment in catastrophic events. When God sent deep and utter darkness upon the Egyptians in the 9th Plague, Pharoah did not question whether or not this was the work of a god. He only raged at Moses for being the prophet of the God who sent it. So it went with all ten of the plagues. The only question was whether or not Pharoah would obey the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And for that matter, we see divine judgment in many of the terrible things that have taken place throughout the course of history. We know that God is the one who works these punishments, because He says so. The worldwide flood was God’s doing, an act of judgment and wrath. The utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was God’s condemnation. The destruction of Jerusalem—both times—was the outpouring of God’s just anger. So also natural disasters—lightning and tempest, all calamities by fire and water—these come from the judgment of God’s wrath. It is the same with pestilence and famine, war and bloodshed, sedition and rebellion. And if that were not enough, God’s wrath permits also the assaults of the devil, sudden and evil death, sin, error, and evils of every kind. Thus He punishes sin with sin. And the final judgment of His wrath is everlasting death, the torments of hell.
No one missed the sign of God’s wrath and judgment at the crucifixion of Jesus. They couldn’t. “And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness upon the whole land until the ninth hour.” Three hours of darkness, noon to 3 o’clock. Three hours to contemplate sin and death, divine justice and wrath. “Day of wrath, O day of mourning.” For those gathered at Golgotha, there was no mistaking the point. God was doing a mighty act of judgment. The 9th Plague: deep darkness. The 10th Plague, the death of the firstborn, the death of the Only Begotten Son of God.
The death of Jesus on the cross is an act of the judgment of God. Here the divine and eternal law is revealed in its full power, its power to judge, its power to condemn, its power to damn the sinner, its power to execute the punishment of God’s holy and righteous anger.
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. (LSB 451.3)
We have seen that the judgment of this day is God’s judgment. But how shall we measure this death, this man who is the object of God’s wrath? After all, if Jesus were no more than a man, the crucifixion would just be the death of another man. And even if Jesus were merely an innocent man, unjustly condemned to die, His death would still be no more than one more miscarriage of justice, one more senseless death inflicted by evil men.
But the Centurion who supervised the crucifixion of Jesus saw in the end that this was no ordinary man. “Truly, this man was the Son of God.” This crucified Man, this Man who was tormented in body and soul, this Man whose death is marked by the wrath of God, this man was true God.
The centurion’s confession is our confession: Jesus is the Son of God, true God. Thus we are taught by the Holy Spirit: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1). “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. . . He is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1). “In Him all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily” (Colossians 2). He is “God over all, forever blessed” (Romans 9). The Man who hangs crucified, tormented, dying, and dead, is the eternal Son of God, “the Lord of Glory” (1 Corinthians 2).
Now take the measure of this death. Now take the measure of God’s wrath! “O wondrous Love, what have You done? The Father offers up His Son, desiring our salvation” (LSB 438.3). God has poured out the full cup of His wrath upon God. God the Father punishes His eternal, dearly beloved Son in our place. Here is all our sin. Here is all our guilt. Here is all our shame. Here is our sickness and pain and sorrow and suffering and death. Here is the eternal torment of our hell. It is upon God Himself, the eternal Son, that the Father has executed His justice.
Now we come to the purpose, to the great work, which God has accomplished in the death of His Son. The Evangelist reports, “And the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” Thus ended 1500 years of animal sacrifices, 15 centuries of priests slaughtering the prescribed animals, catching their blood, splashing it against and around the great altar and the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. This was the demand of the law, God’s provision for dealing with sin and guilt, so that He may forgive their sins and not destroy them in His wrath against sin. “The life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life” (Leviticus 17:11).
But that altar is rendered obsolete by the altar of the cross. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2). Gone is the old covenant; here is established the new covenant, the New Testament in God’s blood. Here is a blood “that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12), far superior in kind and in power to the blood of bulls and goats and lambs. Here is a far greater sacrifice of atonement, eternal, once for all, by which God has put away sin for all time and provided an eternal salvation.
For here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Here the Creator Himself is the all-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of His creatures. Here alone, the suffering and death of the eternal God—God’s own blood—satisfies the eternal wrath of God. Here alone, the Lord of Life—Life Himself and the source and giver of all life—gives His life into death for all. “The bread that I will give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world” (John 6).
Dear Christian friends, our Lord Jesus in His death by crucifixion has atoned for our sins and won for us eternal forgiveness. Now fulfilled is the prophecy of Isaiah (53): “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” And, “You shall make His soul an offering for sin.” And again, “He shall see the anguish of His soul and be satisfied.” In Jesus we find our shelter from the storm of God’s wrath and rest along our weary way.
To the rest Thou didst prepare me
On Thy cross; O Christ, upbear me!
Spare, O God, in mercy spare me!
In the name of Jesus.