“For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” Thus the Lord spoke through the prophet Isaiah. “For the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” For your transgressions Jesus was stricken. Think of that. Atoning for sin was no light matter. Satisfying the wrath of God was no light matter. The Father in heaven is not overreacting when He drives the crown of thorns into His Son’s head, when He flogs His Son repeatedly with whips, when He strips Him naked and throws Him down on a cross and drives nails into His hands and feet, when He lifts Him up in the air to suffer mocking and death. God is not overreacting at all. He is dealing out what transgression has deserved. He is dealing out what your transgressions have deserved.
This should go straight to our consciences. As the Passion of our Lord is set before our eyes, we should think, “He sweats that drop of blood for a sin of mine. He suffers that thorn, and that one and that one and that one, to pierce His head for a sin of mine, and another and another and another. He receives lash after lash after lash for sin after sin after sin of mine.” Your anger, your lust, your disrespect, your bitterness, your gossip, your envy, your love of the world and apathy toward God’s Word―these are the real hammers that drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?” Jesus calls from the cross. And the answer comes, “For the transgressions of My people.”
But do not weep for Jesus. Women in the crowd wept for Jesus as He processed toward Golgotha, and He said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Lk. 23:28). It is lamentable what torment our sins caused our Lord, but we don’t lament as if He needs our pity. We lament because when we see His torment we see what we deserve. We see the wrath of God unveiled and put before us plain to see. And as we see, we confess, “Lo, here I fall my Savior! ’Tis I deserve Thy place” (LSB 449:2). And we do feel what it is to be in His place. We feel not in our bodies but in our consciences the lashes and thorns and nails that our transgressions deserve. We feel our guilt. We confess with David, “I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Ps. 51:3). We say with Job, “Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer You? I lay my hand over my mouth...I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 40:4, 42:6).
Yet our reflection on the sufferings of Christ cannot end here with our sorrow over sin, else all were lost and Jesus died in vain. For the Son of God did not come and bear the sin of the world merely to make us feel bad. He came to testify to the truth, as He said to Pilate. You’ve heard the truth of what you are and what your sins deserve, and Jesus did come to testify to that truth. But the even greater truth to which Jesus testifies is that God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. He will be no means clear the guilty, but Jesus became the guilty one. The Father made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). Jesus testified to the truth that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). For “in this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn. 4:10).
It is appropriate to feel guilt for our sins, but with the sufferings of our Lord before us, it is entirely inappropriate to feel despair. Where do you think your sins are? You might feel your sin in your heart, but the moment you do, Jesus steps in and says, “No, no, that sin is not yours. That sin is Mine. Look, I’ll prove it to you. Do you see the marks of the nails in my hands and feet? Those marks are not in your hands and feet, but in Mine, because the sins that merited those nails are no longer yours, but I took those sins away and bore them. These gouges in My head, these stripes on My back, these bruises on My face,” Jesus says, “these all cry out to you that I have taken away your sins, that I have paid the penalty, that I have made full atonement.”
The passion of Jesus fulfills and proves the words of Isaiah the prophet, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 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” (Is. 53:4-5). There is comfort for the troubled conscience! It will not do to try to calm the conscience with our remorse, for who is sufficiently sorry for his sins, and what would even the most intense regret accomplish? Judas felt intense regret and went out and hanged himself. Nor will it do to look to our own works for satisfaction. Not only would you never know whether or not you had done enough good works to atone for your sins, but, even worse, you’d be dealing in the wrong currency entirely. For where is it written in Scripture that man can make up for his sins by doing good works? No, there is only one currency that pays for sins, and that is the precious blood of the Son of God. He said, “It is finished!” and so all is paid in full.
Hold onto that Word of Jesus. It is a soothing balm for you in distress. When your sins against you rise, certainly mourn them with contrition, but look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning the shame (Heb. 12:2). When you see the severity of Jesus’ sufferings, you can say, “How much He bears! How great His pain! How agonizing His death! What doubt can there be that all guilt is taken away and all sin atoned for? He has suffered much, and thus there is much forgiveness, forgiveness enough and more than enough for all my sins.” “If my sins give me alarm / And my conscience grieve me, / Let Thy cross my fear disarm, / Peace of conscience give me. / Grant that I may trust in Thee / And Thy holy Passion. / If His Son so loveth me, / God must have compassion” (TLH 140:5). Thus your bones, which God has broken, rejoice and He restores to you the joy of His salvation.
The Passion of Jesus is fully sufficient to remove all sins and cancel all offenses. And it is fully sufficient for every other matter of life in this world as well. When your body feels pain or you languish in sickness, you can meditate on the sufferings of Christ, see how insignificant your own pain and sickness is, and take delight in a Savior who was willing to suffer ten times worse than you will ever have to in order to spare you from the eternal pain and suffering of hell. When you must perform some task or do some duty and it is hard and unpleasant, you can meditate on the sufferings of Christ, see Him being led here and there, driven and duty-bound, and you find the drive to put one foot in front of the other and do what God has given you to do, no matter how unpleasant it may be. You can reflect that the Lamb went uncomplaining forth, and as the sheep before His shearers was silent, so you also find strength in Him to close your mouth against grumbling.
When anger or bitterness rises in your heart, you can meditate on the sufferings of Christ, that He more than anyone who has ever walked the earth had a reason to be angry and call for justice, and yet He didn’t. Instead He prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them.” In His passion you behold the heart of God that desires peace and reconciliation, and you benefit from that heart of God you reflect that heart of God. When you feel lust and the desire for fleshly pleasure, you can meditate on the sufferings of Christ and what great good came from denying pleasure to the flesh. When pride attacks, you can meditate on the sufferings of Christ, and you will see Him who is high and exalted in the form of a slave, enduring shame and mocking from base men and criminals. And you can say, “I’d rather be lowly with Jesus than glorified by men.” When tribulation and distress come, you can meditate on the sufferings of Christ and take heart that you have a Lord who knows what to do with tribulation and distress, who can take them in his nail-pierced hands and do something wonderful with them. And the same can be said about any other temptation or affliction. The suffering and death of Jesus is fully sufficient for every need of this life. Jesus has atoned for sin. Jesus has granted help for every trouble. His glorious passion has borne for us abundant fruit. Thanks be to God. Amen.