In his explanation of the 2nd article of the Creed, in the Small Catechism,
Luther writes: Jesus Christ, true God… has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all of this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness… This is most certainly true.
God is not passive, you see, out there somewhere, waiting and watching. No, God is proactive. God reconciles us and all that he has made to himself, by the blood of the cross. Christ Jesus, the one who knew no sin, becomes sin for us, and we are made the very righteousness of God. The author of life is killed, and the dead are brought to new life. The innocent one is condemned, and the condemned are made innocent. Say it in whichever terms you wish, the fact remains the same – not only does Jesus not retaliate, he forgives, and in this we see the true nature of God, the nature into which we are to be conformed…
Last night, in my sermon on Maundy Thursday, as well as in my sermon on Passion Sunday, I pointed to the language Paul uses in Philippians chapter 2 about Jesus being in the form of God and yet taking the form of a human slave, and I explained that the Greek used, that we translate as “in the form of” really means that it’s what the thing truly is.
Jesus was truly God and became truly human, and, by his obedient suffering and death on the cross, became a slave for our sake – became a slave, that we might be made free,
- Free from sin
- Free from death
- Free from every dark and demonic and deadly bondage
- Free from everything that made us lost and condemned human beings
In the Luther quote with which I started tonight, Luther is drawing on the world he knew, a world in which Lords were responsible for the safety and protection of those who lived under their lordship. And if a rival Lord, from a nearby area, were to capture someone and hold them for ransom, it was the responsibility of that Lord to redeem – to purchase and thereby free – that lost and condemned citizen before the rival Lord killed them. And this is what Jesus has done for us. He is our Lord, and, as such, bears ultimate responsibility for our wellbeing.
But Jesus hasn’t purchased our freedom from an earthly bondage, Jesus hasn’t saved us from an earthly death, and Jesus hasn’t redeemed us with earthly treasure – with silver and gold. Jesus has saved us, redeemed us, bought us back from bondage to sin and death, and has done so at the cost of his own suffering and death, by his own most holy, precious blood, and with his innocent suffering and death.
Jesus does not retaliate or seek retribution against us for our sin, for, as we say in our rite of confession:
“We are captive to sin and cannot free ourselves.” One who is captive is by nature unable to experience freedom, though we like to try to delude ourselves into thinking that we can free ourselves, that we can somehow do enough, be holy enough, be good enough to make God want to save us. But this is all delusion. No, we are captive to sin and completely unable to save ourselves, but thanks be to God that God has loved us, and not just us, but the whole world, so much that God has sent the Son, not to condemn, but to save the world.
As we read in John 13, just last night, having loved his own who were in the world, Jesus loved them to the end. Jesus has saved us because we are unable to save ourselves, and he simply loves us too much to allow us to remain lost and condemned in our fallen human nature. Even when we take him, and betray him, and deny him, and revile him, and mistreat him, and kill him, he simply loves us too much to allow us to remain lost and condemned. He simply loves us too much to retaliate, and to seek retribution against us. Instead, God in Christ does a new thing! He takes death and makes it the gateway to eternal life in God’s kingdom where we belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him as our Lord in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. This is most certainly true.