Advent: December 18th
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)
There is a story I once heard of a king who lived a long time ago who ruled over a kingdom during a time of great drought and famine. To prevent crime from rising, the king passed a law requiring that anyone caught stealing food or water would be flogged with one-hundred lashes. Before long, the first criminal was caught and brought before the king so that the flogging might be carried out. But when the criminal was brought before the king, to his shock--it was his mother!
The king did not want to dismiss her, lest he appear to the people as unjust, but neither could he bring himself to flog his own dear mother. Thus, after a few moments of thought, the king stepped down from his throne, laid aside his robe, stretched himself across his mother’s back, and then proclaimed: “Let the flogging begin!”
This time of year, we love taking in all the wonderful sights and sounds of the holiday season. We love the wonder and magic of the Christmas spirit, making s’mores by the fire and sipping on hot chocolate. We enjoy hanging our stockings by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will appear. We love snuggling in bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads. Through it all, it can be easy to forget what Christmas is really all about. Yet, on the night of Jesus’ betrayal, as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane with great stress, he prayed to his Father, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come” (John 12:27). Jesus was born in Bethlehem, lain in a manger, nursed at Mary’s breast, and raised as the son of a carpenter, for the very purpose of being beaten, flogged, crucified, and driven through with a Roman spear.
But why? As Isaiah states it: “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” The Bible makes clear that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s holy and righteous standard (Rom 3:23). Not one of us can honestly say we have all perfectly kept every one of the Ten Commandments. Who has not lied? Who has never disrespected or disobeyed their parents? Who has never used God’s name in vain? Yet, we are told in scripture that the wages of sin is eternal death in hell (Rom 6:23). In other words, because of our sins, because we have committed cosmic treason against our Creator, we deserve to be sent to hell eternally. This is what sin earns us, these are our wages, our just dessert.
Then how does anyone get to heaven and avoid hell. The Bible tells us that “God made him [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). Jesus, who was perfectly sinless, stood in the place of sinners and absorbed the wrath of God on our behalf, on behalf of those who place their faith in Christ. Jesus allowed himself to be treated and punished by God the Father as though he were sinful, even though he was not, so that we would be treated by God the Father as though we are righteous even though we are not. Jesus was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities,” and through his suffering “brought us peace” with God. Jesus stepped down from his throne, set aside his robe, laid across the backs of his people and exclaimed: “Let the flogging begin!” This is what we celebrate during Advent.
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