I already published a quick post this morning, but I have to add this as well.
Last night and this morning both, I told God that while I understand the cross mentally and theologically, I do not feel it like I have heard others feel it. I believe that a greater depth of feeling would strengthen me in both loving and following Jesus. I could use a jump start in my faith at this time.
My wife and I are moving our bedroom from one room in our house to another for complicated reasons. In the process, I am greatly reducing my bookshelf space. After choosing the books I definitely want to keep, I had space for all but one book. almost three inches thick. To keep it meant taking several others out. My wife helped me choose a small amount of extra space, but I while I had it out, I decided to browse the book. It is called A Heritage of Great Evangelical Teaching, and it has excerpts from Martin Luther, John Wesley, Dwight Mood, Charles Spurgeon, and others (1996, Thomas Nelson, Inc.).
I opened it randomly, this 3-inch thick book, to page 116, where an article called “A Meditation on Christ’s Passion” begins.
This sort of thing is not coincidence, it is a God incident. Unlike some, I do believe in coincidences, but it is important never to miss a God incident.
The article is by Martin Luther. I do not know what you think of Martin Luther, but if you read only his writings from 1517 to 1525, you would love him. If you read only his writings from the 1540’s, you would find him the most hateful of persons and a scoundrel. This writing is surely from the 1520’s because it is kind toward the Jews. There is a footnote acknowledging Luther’s changing attitude toward the Jews during his lifetime, from evangelist to a Hitler-esque hate.
Leaving that behind, here are some of the words God gave me in answer to my prayers.
“They contemplate Christ’s passion aright who view it with a terror-stricken heart and a despairing conscience. This terror must be felt as you witness the stern wrath and the unchanging earnestness with which God looks upon sin and sinners, so much so that he was unwilling to release sinners even for his only and dearest Son without his payment of the severest penalty for them. Thus, he says in Isaiah 53:8, “I have chastised him for the transgressions of my people.” If the dearest child is punished thus, what will be the fate of sinners? It must be an inexpressible and unbearable earnestness that forces such a great and infinite person to suffer and die to appease it. And if you seriously consider that it is God’s very own Son, the eternal Wisdom of the Father, who suffers, you will be terrified indeed. The more you think about it, the more intensely will you be frightened.
“You must get this thought through your head and not doubt that you are the one who is torturing Christ thus, for your sins have surely wrought this. In Acts 2:36-37 Saint Peter frightened the Jews like a peal of thunder when he said to all of them, “You crucified him.” Consequently three thousand alarmed and terrified Jews asked the apostles on that one day, “O dear brethren, what shall we do now?” Therefore, when you see the nails piercing Christ’s hands, you can be certain that it is your work. When you behold his crown of thorns, you may rest assured that these are your evil thoughts.
“For every nail that pierces Christ, more than one hundred thousand should in justice pierce you, yes, they should prick you forever and ever more painfully! When Christ is tortured by nails penetrating his hands and feet, you should eternally suffer the pain they inflict and the pain of even more cruel nails, which will in truth be the lot of those who do not avail themselves of Christ’s passion. This earnest mirror, Christ, will not lie or trifle, and whatever it points out will come to pass in full measure.
“Saint Bernard [of Clairvaux] was so terrified by this that he declared, ‘I regarded myself secure: I was not aware of the eternal sentence that had been passed on me in heaven until I saw that God’s only Son had compassion upon me and offered to bear this sentence for me. Alas, if the situation is that serious, I should not make light of it or feel secure.'”
Those are powerful nails. I must be honest and confess that I do not believe that the sufferings of Christ prove that sinners should be tortured eternally. I consider it an outrageous and evil thought that sinners should be punished eternally for temporal sin. Immortality is a reward for the righteous (Rom. 2:6-7; Gal. 6:8-9). Only God is inherently immortal (1 Tim. 6:16), and he gives immortality to the righteous, not to the unrighteous. The doctrine of the immortal soul is not in the Bible but comes from Greek philosophy. God does indeed punish the unrighteous after death as indicated in the parable of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man and as warned when Jesus said that God can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. Those who refuse to believe in Jesus will “perish” rather than “have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). They shall “reap corruption” who live according to the flesh rather than reaping eternal life as those who will who sow to the Spirit and do not grow weary of doing good (Gal. 6:8-9).
That said, every other point by Martin Luther is powerful for me, and I will continue to meditate on it. I have known these facts before, but now I will drive them into my heart that the feeling of my heart may match the knowledge in my head. May God give me grace, and I give him praise for his quick response to my prayer and even more so for sending his Son to suffer what I was worthy to suffer. I praise him too for forgiving me for being the cause of the Son’s anguish and the Father’s greatest sorrow.
One More Paragraph from Martin Luther
From the same chapter of the same book, page 118.
“For the evildoers, the Jews, whom God judged and has driven out, were only the servants of your sin; you are actually the one, who, as we said, by his sin killed and crucified God’s Son.”