daily biblical sermons

What Jesus did on the cross is the central and most important act of his earthly ministry – it is how he saved us
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Sunday, the 25th Sunday of the Year, September 19, 2021
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20, Psalm 53, James 3:16-4:3, Mark 9:30-37

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“They [Jesus and the twelve apostles] went on from there and passed through Galilee. And he [Jesus] would not have any one know it; for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him; and when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand this saying, and they were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:30-32).



Jesus is journeying through Galilee with his twelve apostles, but this time he doesn’t want to attract crowds, because he is privately instructing his inner circle on some of the most important aspects of his life, teaching, and work. The most important of all is that which we read in today’s gospel, that “the Son of man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him, and when he is killed, after three days he will rise” (Mark 9:31).



It is clear, however, that Jesus’ twelve apostles did not understand this teaching, as St. Mark points out, “But they did not understand this saying, and they were afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32).



What was there that they did not understand about this teaching of Jesus that he would be killed and on the third day rise from the dead? They all knew what being killed meant. And I suppose they could easily imagine what rising from the dead might be. So why did they fail to understand Jesus? What was it that they didn’t understand?



What they didn’t understand was how this doctrine about his death and resurrection could possibly fit into his being the Messiah, for they believed that Jesus the Messiah would set up a temporal earthly kingdom like other kingdoms and be the king, with his twelve apostles as his advisors and ministers of state. How on earth could this king be killed and then rise from the dead? How does that fit into his being the Messiah? This is why the apostles could not understand Jesus’ teaching about his death, because they couldn’t fit it together with his being the Messiah.



This shows that although Jesus’ twelve apostles now believed that he was the Messiah, they had no idea whatsoever what he would do as the Messiah and how he would save people. They did not realize that he would save them by his death. So, we see how ignorant they are at this point in Jesus’ ministry. They are so ignorant that they do not understand that the most important thing that Jesus did and the very reason why he came into the world was to be killed as a criminal on a cross.



This is how he was to be the Messiah and save all that believe in him. So how does this fit into his being the Messiah? This fits in because by being killed he saved all who would believe in him. This is how he would take our sins away, how he would wash them away in his own blood as it flowed out of his body on the cross. In the cross is our salvation. By his cross he has redeemed the world.



As the epistle to the Hebrews says, he came into the world so that “by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone” (Hebrews 2:9). This is how he would be the Messiah. But how is it that his tasting death helped everyone else so that he had to taste death for everyone? He had to taste death for everyone, because by his death he saved everyone who would accept him with faith. This is because his death was a vicarious death, that is, a punishment for other people’s crimes and sins. Everyone who was crucified was being punished for crimes that they had committed. Jesus was crucified between two thieves who were being punished on the cross for their robberies. What was Jesus being punished for? He had no sins. In the plan of God, who worked all things out so that he would be killed in this way, he was crucified in punishment for our sins, and all that put their faith in him are considered by God to have had their sins fully and justly punished in his death on the cross.



We who have faith in him are freed by God from our sins. Christ paid the price for them. He suffered our death sentence for our sins for us, in our place, as our substitute. His blood flowing from his body on the cross washes us clean from our sins, because our sins are punished in the shedding of his blood unto death.



So, when we put our faith in him, what does God do to us? He justifies us. That means that he declares and thereby makes us ungodly sinners righteous. This is why St. Paul writes, “In him [Christ] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7). His blood shed on the cross washes us clean from our sins, because by the shedding of his blood on the cross Christ suffers our death penalty for our sins for us. This is why Jesus at the Last Supper could say over the cup of wine, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28).



How is Christ’s blood poured out for the forgiveness of our sins? What is the connection between Christ’s blood being poured out and our sins being forgiven? The connection is what Isaiah prophesied, “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5), because “all we like sheep have gone astray” (Isaiah 53:6). Therefore “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6b). Christ’s blood, which we drank in the Eucharist, washes us clean from our sins, because our sins were placed on him, and he was put to death as a criminal in punishment for our sins, which God put on him for the purpose of being punished in him.



This proves that God is righteous in justifying us ungodly sinners who don’t deserve to be treated as righteous, because we have so many sins. So how can God be just and yet justify sinners? He could do it because he justified us in a just way, not simply waving his hand and dismissing our sins, but forgiving them by making sure that they are fully paid for and justly punished. The unique thing, though, is that they were not punished in us, but in our substitute whom God gave us for this purpose, namely the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, in his death on the cross.



This “was to prove at the present time that he himself [God] is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26). So, God is righteous and just in justifying us ungodly sinners and in forgiving our sins, because they were all duly and justly punished in the flesh of his Son on the cross (Romans 8:3).



That is why we speak of “the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). This is how Christ the Messiah redeemed us from our sins, from eternal death that we deserve in all justice for them and from the clutches of Satan into whose hands we had fallen because of our sins. He redeemed us by his being put to death as a criminal for our sins on the cross.



“The immense importance of our Lord’s death and resurrection comes out strongly in this fresh announcement which He makes. It is not for nothing that He reminds us again that he must die. He would have us know that His death was the great end for which he came into the world. He would remind us that by that death the great problem was to be solved – how God could be just, and yet justify sinners” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900).



“He [Jesus] did not come upon earth merely to teach, and preach, and work miracles. He came to make satisfaction for sin, by His own blood and suffering on the cross. Let us never forget this. The incarnation, and example, and words of Christ, are all of deep importance. But the grand object which demands our notice in the history of His earthly ministry, is His death on Calvary” (JC Ryle).



In his cross is our salvation. By his cross he has redeemed the world.

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