The other side of Christmas

Some of you will remember that at Christmas last year (2006) I wrote a 6-part series on Christmas and the wrath of God. And it turns out that we should be rejoicing at Christmas because of the wrath of God and what that child that no one seemed to be waiting for mean when you put them together.

Listen: in spite of neo-puritanical objections that Easter is a pagan holiday, this is where the filling gets put into that apple pie. This is where the real choice meat gets put into the stew. Because while the child who should have been served by angels allowed Himself to be made in the form of a servant is good news, what happens here on Good Friday is even better.

We could recount it from the Gospels, or watch Mel Gibson’s snuff picture on the subject, but I have a different idea. Paul says this in Col 2:
    See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him [that is, Christ] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Listen: this beautiful child who was born to a carpenter and his wife waited until the time was right. (Rom 5:6) He told men who God was, and what God wanted, and some thought that meant He [this Jesus] was going to establish the throne of David immediately and start handing down the Law, opening up the wine press where the grapes of wrath are stored, and da-da-da-dada-da-da His terrible swift sword (in the Aramaic original, of course, which didn’t rhyme like that).

But that’s not what Jesus came to do at all. Not that first time. Jesus came to do something necessary for that ultimate goal to be achieved: in Him, the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands was nailed to the cross. And in having that debt cancelled, Christ put the “rulers and principalities” to shame in a public way – by triumphing over them.

In a way, I wish I had started this earlier so that we could talk about why the matter of legal demands is relevant to us sophisticated TV-watchers and iPod listeners, but that would just bog down the point here.

On that feast day of the Jews, when Jesus hung on the Cross and died, something was happening which is unimaginable: the sins of men, item by item, were punished and paid in full by that one man who was innocent of any guilt.

But what seems to me to be the most serious aspect of the cross is this: Christ did not die just for Sin. That is, Christ did not die just to give us a new nature or a new attitude. Christ died for our sins. He died for the record of our trespasses. He died for that “slip of the tongue” yesterday when I said the F-word out of anger; he died for the furtive looks of lust; he died for every lie, one by one. He didn’t just die for a metaphysical state: He died for what is done, what really happens in this world.

Listen: Easter is not about eggs or bunnies or whether there’s a supernatural piece of the Trinity in your wafer. The death of Christ is about the things that we do which make us enemies with God, and the lengths to which God has already been willing to go to make a clear offer of forgiveness and then actually forgive those who repent and believe.

Stop pretending you “get” this stuff. You don’t get it. Personally, I confess: I don’t get it. If I did, I’d go out of my way more often to act like someone for whom God has spilled His own blood. Jesus bore the wrath of God not just for the state of the fallen world but for the sins of the world, the list of things which we all have done which is long and petty and sad and personal.

If you read this, and hear it today, Christ did this for those who will believe. Believe it – do better than I do with it and repent. Become a disciple not in some monastic or liturgical way: be baptized and proclaim His death, and then we can talk about what happens on Sunday in no uncertain or indecisive terms.

This weekend, if you have never done it before, be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day. And if you have done it before, welcome the strangers and tell them about the love you received when Christ died for your sins.