Midweek 5 | Isaiah 53 and Matthew 27
“The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” – Isaiah 53:6
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:54)
Martin Luther wrote,
“The right way to reach a true knowledge of Christ’s sufferings is to perceive and understand not only what He suffered, but how it was His heart and will to suffer. For whoever looks upon Christ’s sufferings without seeing His heart and will therein must be filled with fear rather than joy, but if we can truly see His heart and will in it, it gives true comfort, trust, and joy in Christ.” (W.A. 17.II.173 ff.)
Here we see laid bare the problem that some have with the cross. They fail to see the heart and will of Christ. Our focus should not be on the agony and pain that our Lord endured. The focus should be, as it is in the Bible, on our Lord’s free and loving desire to bear our sins in His own body to death on the cross.
“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6)
The LORD has laid our iniquity on him. Jesus was not forced. He was not coerced. As the hymn goes:
“The prince of Life from heaven Himself has freely given to shame and blows and bitter death.”
Jesus goes freely for you, and He gives Himself freely to you. If you would only have Him. Of course, that means gazing upon Him not just on Easter, but now in His Passion. If you want something nicer, something kinder, something gentler, then Satan has an exciting array of guilt-free alternatives. And he will gladly hold your hand on the broad, easy path that leads away from the cross, and away from Christ. But if you would be saved, the cross is a stumbling block that must be overcome. Or, better, the cross, and the scandal of Jesus’ death must overcome you.
Thus the centurion saw what happened, and he praised God. Seeing the kind of death that Jesus died, the centurion praised God. This is not the sentiment of a military leader, looking upon the men he sacrificed for victory; Rather, this was God’s sacrifice to win him.
So he gets neither gloomy nor triumphant. He is not filled with terror, horror, or guilt, nor is he self-satisfied. After sinking his spear into Jesus’ side and setting free the water and the blood, he praises God saying, “Truly This was the Son of God.” And that, for him, is something to praise God about. For if Jesus Christ is the righteous Son of God, if the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all, then our iniquity is no longer ours.
Jesus, then, is more than a martyr. His death is more than noble. There is joy at His death, not because He stood up for a cause or was brave, or even because He did the right thing. Rather, there is joy in His death because this is the atoning sacrifice for all the world and is the heart and will of the Father. This is not simply the death of an innocent man who loved His brothers. This is the great injustice and intervention of God Himself. God lays down His life for His enemies. If soldiers and centurions did such a thing, we would call them traitors.
Gathered about the cross that Good Friday, the centurion and the repentant thief might be the only ones who get it. The majority there, even the inner circle of disciples, all beat their breasts and mourn over the sad fact of these three crucifixions. They see no glory, no power, no love of God; just one more human tragedy to add to the long and grown list of human tragedies.
But the centurion, seeing the kind of death Jesus died, by the grace of God, recognizes who Jesus is. He rejoices and praises God because the death of Jesus Christ is substitutionary. Jesus takes our place. “The LORD has laid on Him, the iniquity of us all.” It was not a soldier’s death or a martyr’s death. It was sin’s death, and if Jesus seems a bit like a traitor covered in shame, then so be it. For He has opened heaven to traitors. The centurion recognizes that Jesus has died in his place, that Jesus has substituted His perfect life and death for his terrible life and death. The centurion realizes that he could not have obtained this in any other way. In his sins, he was God’s sworn and eternal enemy, but Jesus died to make him the God’s friend. So he praises Him.
And so do we. For we too have been born anew in the water and the blood set free by his spear; we too have been made the friends and children of God. For surely this Jesus is a righteous Man for us, and by His righteousness we are declared righteous. Surely He is the Son of God, who makes us His brothers. Surely His death is our salvation and His resurrection is the inauguration, the beginning, the breaking out of our own future resurrections. The Son of Man has been lifted up on the cruel killing scaffold, and it is the tree of life. This has drawn us to Him. And so it is a good day, the best day, the day the Lord has made, the day He made us His.
Praise God, Jesus has died to make us free. Praise god, He did not shrink from His mission, but loved us to the end. Praise God, He is not dead. He lives, and we too live in Him. Our “Hallelujahs” draw night. Easter is coming.
*The majority of this sermon has been adapted from a homily for Holy Wednesday published in Thy Kingdom Come: Lent and Easter Sermons, by Rev. David H. Petersen.