Our Gibbeted Christ

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Ever since our rebellion against God in the Garden, the human race has been locked up in the chains of fear, guilt, and shame. We were promised one thing, and we have received another. We planted what we thought were the seeds of our own deification, but when the crop came up, it was nothing but milkweed, thistles, thorns, and brambles. As Bunyan once recounted something similar, when Faithful was telling Christian about his encounter with an old man who promised him many carnal dainties.

“Then it came burning hot into my mind, that, whatever he said, and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house he would sell me for a slave.”

The Pilgrim’s Progress

So I mentioned the three different kinds of chains—whether or fear, guilt or shame. All descendants of Adam and Eve know something of each, but different personalities and different cultures struggle more with one of them over the others. For some, it is overwhelmingly fear—as in animistic cultures. For others it is guilt, which is the peculiar condition of the West. And for still others farther east, it is shame, as can be seen in “honor cultures.” And because all of us bear the image of God, and all of us are sinners, we all know what it is to fear, what it means to be guilty, and how it feels to bow the head in dishonor.

This evening we have gathered to commemorate the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who was sent into the world in order to die. And He was sent in order to die so that by that death, He might strike these chains off our wrists. In order to understand this, we have to come to grips with the fact that the death of Jesus was a vicarious, substitutionary death. He became the propitiation for our sins, as the Scripture repeatedly declares (Rom. 3:25; 1 John 2:2; 4:10). All of this means that all the consequences of our rebellion—including fear, guilt, and shame—were poured out over Him. These burdens were laid across His shoulders so that He might die with them there, carry them all to the depths of Hades with Him, and then to come back from the dead without them. That is the message. That is why the death of Christ is such good news.

If your sins are now in the depths of the sea, it is because Christ took them there. If the consequences of your sin are now on the deep ocean floor, it is because Christ sank with them to that point, and there abandoned them.

Christ began His ministry through being baptized by John the Baptist. But that baptism was a baptism of repentance (Luke 3:3). Christ had no sin and hence did not need to repent, an incongruity that John the Baptist noted (Matt. 3:14). Christ did this because it was His mission to identify with sinners. And He identified with all of it, every aspect of it apart from the sinning itself (Heb. 4:15). So consider His vicarious passion and death, and how He encountered each of these three things.  

We certainly see the fear—and yet without sin. This means He faced that fear, which was certainly present, with steadfast courage. “Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me” (Matthew 26:38). In John 16:21, He uses the word anguish in His comparison. And what are we told about His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane? “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44). “Who in the days of his flesh, when he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared” (Hebrews 5:7). In that He feared . . . and so obviously, He feared God above all. But He knew the acrid taste of fear on His tongue. He faced it, embraced it, and conquered it.  

What about guilt? “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus Christ was never a sinner, but for our sakes, the guilt of sin was imputed to Him. That means that the guilt of our sin, the guilt of your sin and mine, was assigned to Him by His own Father, and then the wrath of God over that sin was poured out upon Him. This is what the word propitiation means. Because our guilt was imputed to Him—justly, because He is the new Adam of a new human race—the fist of God struck a blow of holy hatred against sin, and Christ was the one who took the blow. When God struck Christ so that He died, He also struck you, and me, so that we too died. And when He raised us in Christ, we came back to life, without the guilt. Therefore, walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4).

Perhaps you are wondering about the shame. Again, look to Christ. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Perhaps we have seen too many silver cross necklaces, or crosses on steeples, and we have forgotten what an obscenity it was to be flogged and crucified. Preaching a crucified Messiah was a scandal, an offense, a blasphemy. The law even said that anyone hanged on a tree was cursed (Gal. 3:13). This is what we embrace when we preach the cross. “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:6–11 (KJV)

So are you fearful? Are you guilty? Are you disgraced and ashamed? Then look to Christ, our gibbeted Christ, and in evangelical faith, say farewell to all of that.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.