Jesus, when stern Justice said,
“Man his life has forfeited,
Vengeance follows by decree,”
Cried, “Inflict it all on me.”
~ Joseph Hart
I’ve spilled quite a few bits of data on Luther and the Reformed tradition this spring, and I don’t regret it at all. In fact, I regret it so little that I’m about to sit here and do it one more time. Easter is this weekend, two days away by the time of this posting, and that means that we’re currently in the midst of an onslaught of philosophically deficient attacks on the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ from the History Channel. More than that, though, it means we’re approaching what is arguably the most important day of the year for the Church (the Church’s Christmas, if you will). As you think about and reflect on this wonderful, joyful, glorious Day, I want to encourage you to do one thing: take the Resurrection out of the clouds.
One of the most beautiful things about the Reformation was that it did just that. Luther and his intellectual and spiritual progeny brought not just the Gospel of the Bible, but vocation as well, out of the ivory tower of high medieval academia and monasticism and placed it right in front of the people—in their living rooms, their blacksmith shops, and their nurseries. The Gospel, for Luther (and the other Reformers), pervades every aspect of the Christian’s life on an individual level. The Gospel certainly has a collective aspect, but it has much more than that. Luther presses the individual aspects of the Gospel, saying in reference to Galatians 1:4 (“who gave Himself for our sins) that, “it is very hard for you, who regard yourself as unworthy of this grace, to say and believe from your heart that Christ was given for your many great sins. In general, therefore, and without the pronoun it is easy to praise and exalt the blessing of Christ extravagantly, namely, that Christ was given for sins, but for the sins of other men, who are worthy. But when it comes to applying this pronoun 'our,' there our weak nature and reason is thrown back; it does not dare approach God or promise itself that it is to receive such a great treasure freely.”
Here, Luther taps into something I always find myself guilty of around this time of year. As I sit in church on Good Friday and Easter Sunday, I think about the horror of the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection and how wonderfully majestic it all is, but that’s where I often leave it. I struggle to think through what Jesus’ dying and being raised means for me as an individual. Of course, He was “delivered over to death for our sins and raised to life for our justification,” but I always struggle to appropriate that pesky pronoun, “our.”
But Luther (and the Bible) won’t let us leave Christ’s death and resurrection outside of ourselves. In fact, Luther’s theology of Christ’s Passion forces us to reckon with our own sin as individuals. He says, “because, according to the Law, every thief should have been hanged, therefore, according to the Law of Moses, Christ Himself should have been hanged; for He bore the person of a sinner and a thief—and not of one but of all sinners and thieves. For we are sinners and thieves, and therefore we are worthy of death and eternal damnation. But Christ took all our sins upon Himself, and for the He died on the Cross.” When we behold Christ on the Cross on Good Friday, what else can we painfully acknowledge but that our own sins put him there? That my own sins, which I committed as an individual, put Him there?
Luther has forced us to deal with the individual implications of our individual sins only once we’ve done that can we experience the “highest comfort,” which is "to clothe and wrap Christ this way in my sins, your sins, and the sins of the entire world, and in this way to behold Him bearing all our sins.” He goes on, saying “this is the most joyous of all doctrines and the one that contains the most comfort. It teaches that we have the indescribable and inestimable mercy and love of God.” Why? Because you’re joined to Christ. Because individually, you’ve been united to Him and He’s taken all of your sin and shame, while you’ve been credited with His righteousness. What else could this be, but the indescribable and inestimable love of God? You, Christian, find your identity in what Christ did for you, because He loves you, this Easter weekend; praise God for that.