Posts tagged ‘Passion of Christ’

The Greatest Show On Earth

20150329_100138This past weekend at the church where I serve, we presented our annual Palm Sunday pageant depicting the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a lot of work for all involved, but I always come out of the pageant with a deep sense of satisfaction and awe, for I have the privilege of working with amazing people who have amazing gifts and know how to use them in amazing ways.  I am deeply thankful for the people with whom I get to work.  They are a blessing to me.

In one way, our pageant can be characterized as a spectacle. It has moving music featuring a live orchestra and choir, well-choreographed lights, lots of actors, and a graphic enough depiction of Christ’s death that we make available an alternative worship service for small children who may be unsettled by what they see. But, of course, it isn’t the spectacle of our Palm Sunday pageant that makes it valuable and powerful. It’s the message. There is simply no better message than the gospel message – that Christ was crucified for sinners. Our prayer is that this message – as it is presented in the pageant – leads hearts to repentance and faith, even as God has promised in His Word.

In Luke’s account of Jesus’ crucifixion, there is an interesting reaction to His death from the bystanders: “All the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). The word for “spectacle” in Greek is theoria, related to our English word “theatre.” This is a most appropriate word because crucifixions were indeed gory theatre. If someone was an enemy of the Roman State, the governing officials, though they could have executed such a person in other, more efficient and less gruesome ways, chose crucifixion. Why? Because crucifixion served as a public, humiliating spectacle. In fact, most criminals were crucified naked so as to shamefully expose them. Jesus is no exception. His crucifixion is meant to be theatre. It is meant to be spectacle. It is meant to be theoria, just as Luke says.

But in the middle of this spectacle, something unexpected happens.

When the crowds see the darkness that covers the land, when they hear the news that the curtain of Jerusalem’s temple has been torn in two, when they hear Jesus commend Himself into His Father’s hands, and when they are startled by the testimony of one of Jesus’ executioners saying, “Certainly this man was innocent” (cf. Luke 23:44-47), they “return home beating their breasts.” In Jewish piety, this is a sign of repentance (e.g., Luke 18:13). What begins as theatre and spectacle becomes a life-changing event that testifies to the truth of Jesus’ identity and to the promise of God’s salvation.

At many churches this Holy Week, there will be a certain amount of spectacle. There will be Maundy Thursday services that conclude dramatically with a reading of Psalm 22 and a stripping of the church’s altar to remind us of Christ’s humiliation on the cross. There will be moving Good Friday Tenebrae services that turn sanctuaries black with darkness to remind worshipers of the darkness of sin and of Jesus’ death. And, of course, there will be energetic Easter services, complete with Easter lilies, rafter-shaking music, and the historic, thrilling Easter greeting, “Christ is risen!” to which the congregation will respond, “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” Yes, there will be plenty of spectacle this week. And this, I would note, is great. I love the spectacle of this time of year.

My prayer, however, is that even as spectacle may be an inevitable and helpful part of Holy Week, we remember that it is not all of Holy Week. For the spectacle is meant to point to something better – and to Someone greater. The spectacle is meant to point us to the cross – and to the One who died on it. And Jesus is more than a spectacle. He is your Savior. That’s what those bystanders at Jesus’ cross discovered as they beat their breasts. And that’s what we are called to believe.

March 30, 2015 at 5:15 am 3 comments

Pondering Christ’s Passion

It is a traditional devotional practice during the season of Lent for Christians to take some time to reflect on Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross.  As we are in the midst of this special season, I thought it would be appropriate to share with you some selections from Martin Luther’s Meditation on Christ’s Passion from 1519.  This meditation was one of Luther’s favorites.  At one point he called it his “very best book.”  Indeed, it is a brilliant reflection as Luther focuses with laser like clarity on Christ’s sacrifice.

As you read these words, I would encourage you to notice the way in which Luther draws a sharp distinction between God’s Law and God’s Gospel.  God’s Law is expressed in a way that is harsh and inescapable.  Luther’s expression and condemnation of our sinfulness might sound shocking, but it is certainly Scriptural.  But Luther does not leave us in despair.  With the heart of a pastor, he points us to the sacrifice of Christ and gloriously sets forth for us how it is all-sufficient for our sin.

And so I invite you to ponder now on Christ’s holy Passion.  May this reflection be a blessing to you.

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, St. 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, etc.

We must give ourselves wholly to this matter, for the main benefit of Christ’s passion is that man sees into his own true self and that he be terrified and crushed by this. Unless we seek that knowledge, we do not derive much benefit from Christ’s passion.

After man has thus become aware of his sin and is terrified in his heart, he must watch that sin does not remain in his conscience, for this would lead to sheer despair. Just as our knowledge of sin flowed from Christ and was acknowledged by us, so we must pour this sin back on him and free our conscience of it. Therefore beware, lest you do as those perverse people who torture their hearts with their sins and strive to do the impossible, namely, get rid of their sins by running from one good work or penance to another, or by working their way out of this by means of indulgences. Unfortunately such false confidence in penance and pilgrimages is widespread.

You cast your sins from yourself and onto Christ when you firmly believe that his wounds and sufferings are your sins, to be borne and paid for by him, as we read in Isaiah 53:6, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” St. Peter says, “in his body has he borne our sins on the wood of the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). St. Paul says, “God has made him a sinner for us, so that through him we would be made just” (2 Corinthians 5:21). You must stake everything on these and similar verses. The more your conscience torments you, the more tenaciously must you cling to them. If you do not do that, but presume to still your conscience with your contrition and penance, you will never obtain peace of mind, but will have to despair in the end. If we allow sin to remain in our conscience and try to deal with it there, or if we look at sin in our heart, it will be much too strong for us and will live on forever. But if we behold it resting on Christ and see it overcome by his resurrection, and then boldly believe this, even it is dead and nullified. Sin cannot remain on Christ, since it is swallowed up by his resurrection. Now you see no wounds, no pain in him, and no sign of sin. Thus St. Paul declares that “Christ died for our sin and rose for our justification” (Romans 4:25). That is to say, in his suffering Christ makes our sin known and thus destroys it, but through his resurrection he justifies us and delivers us from all sin, if we believe this.

Luther’s Works: American Edition, Volume 42, pages 8-12

March 11, 2010 at 4:45 am 1 comment


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