Friday, April 22, 2011

Passionate about the Passion of Christ

The Latin variations on their word for suffering: 'passus', 'passio' and so forth, are the origin of our word 'passion'. It is from the word 'suffering' that we get the word 'passion'. But in modern English we don't tend to mean pain when we use the word passion. If you tell me baking cookies is your passion, you are not saying you find cooking a pain. Likewise if I hear that she loves him with a passion, I don't understand by that that she finds him to be a pain.

So language changes. That's fine. There's nothing wrong with that. In fact, for the purposes of preaching the Gospel, I'm glad that 'passion' doesn't mean 'pain and suffering' to us today! Because it is the modern understanding of the word 'passion' – an intense and all pervasive driving force of love - that best describes the impulse behind God's Son dying on a cross for the sin of the world!

For, if we focus on the original meaning of the word passion, as in 'Ooo doesn't crucifixion really hurt', then what are we doing? Or, if we emphasize what a terrible thing it was to cause Jesus so much suffering; again – where are we going with this? You see, there is a right way and a wrong way to meditate on the passion and sufferings of Jesus Christ.

This is why we are not here this evening to express outrage at the way those Jews or those Romans mistreated Jesus. We know God is not impressed when we congratulate ourselves that we are not as evil as 'those people'.

Nor are we here to merely sympathize with Jesus, like the women who wept for Him as he staggered by them carrying His cross. You may recall that Jesus actually said to those women, 'weep not for me' (Luke 23.27). His view on that has not changed.

All the wrong ways to meditate on the passion of Christ have one thing in common: they aim to achieve God's favour and earn His approval. Such meditation has the opposite effect of what God intends!

God wants us to take away from the passion of the Christ one message only and that is that none of us could earn God's approval nor make up for our own sins and failures necessitating God's Son's coming into the world – to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. He had to save us from our sins or else we would be lost to God forever. That is the precise message of the passion of the Christ.

During this 2011 Lenten Season, we have been turning our attention to the miracles of Lent. I would suggest to you that the sacrifice of Christ by which He redeemed sinners like you and me is the great miracle of Good Friday.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word miracle as “an extraordinary event manifesting divine intervention.” It seems most appropriate to describe as a miracle the intervention to save humanity that the atoning death of God's Son is. It is most extraordinary that God would do this and the most wondrous example of divine intervention there is.

St. Peter wrote: “Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.”

The salvation of the human race is truly God's passion – an intense and all pervasive driving force of love. When Christ was hanging on that horrible cross, He was thinking not of Himself but rather of you, me, and the whole world.

And it was truly 'passion' – in the modern sense, meaning love – that was the impulse behind His saving us and the plan to do so from the very creation of our world.

Scripture abounds with the use of this word 'love' to describe the accomplishment of God's work of redeeming the world through Christ' crucified:
In Galatians 2:20, we read, “Christ . . . loved me and gave Himself for me.”
• In Ephesians 5:2, we read, “Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
• In Ephesians 5:25, we read, “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.”

Jesus Christ, out of passionate love for us, accepted the full punishment for our sins and the sin of the whole world, as I said in my opening text:
“Christ . . . suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God.”
It was a miracle that God would take us, in our unrighteousness, ruined and contaminated by sin and not discard us forever, but instead choose to save us – and to do so despite the unthinkable pain that it would cause Him! But He did it! That is the miracle of Good Friday – the miracle of the passion of the Christ!

As the result of that miracle of Good Friday, you and I can rejoice in the Gospel, the Good News that although '...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23–24).

We will spend eternity benefitting from the fact that “The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” as St. Paul wrote to the Romans (Romans 6:23).

To be sure, the phenomenon of three hours of darkness at mid-day, the torn temple curtain, the earthquake, and the other miracles were all supernatural events intended by the heavenly Father to set apart the death of His Son from absolutely every other death—past, present, and future, but the greatest miracle on Good Friday, is the passionate love that was the impulse behind Christ crucified.

As I like to quote Isaac Watts, 'Here His whole Name appears complete; nor wit can guess nor reason prove which of the letters best is writ, the Power, the Wisdom, or the love'.

The love of God, the Father the Son and the Holy Spirit for us, is certainly different from the other miracles of the Passion. In fact it is absolutely unique.

And there is nothing like the Gospel. Just as it was God's passion to make it a reality for us, so it deserves to be our passion that the awesome price paid in blood by Christ so that our sins might be forgiven that we need not perish but have everlasting life, should be proclaimed to the end of time and beyond. Amen.