Monday, February 20, 2012

Autopsy of a Mediator

We are looking for a cause of death.

In Gethsemane, Jesus was "sore amazed" because he saw the approach of a horror. The sight of it was killing him then and there. Thus, we are not looking for a cause of fear only, as have the classical and modern critics of Jesus, but a cause of death. The usual explanations of Jesus' behavior concerning fear rather than death are indequate.
We are conducting an autopsy in Gethsemane. Every autopsy comes to one and the same conclusion: sin is the cause of death.

Faint Ideas

It is hard for us to understand Jesus in Gethsemane because of how little sin means to us.

We see sin for its symptoms and consequences, not for its sinfulness. To us, sin is not a terror, horror, or living nightmare. We do not grieve as for a dead person over our sin because we have only a faint idea of sin.

Also faint is our idea of how close sin came to Jesus. In Gethsemane, the atonement is under way. Paul says, “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”[1] What does this mean, to “be” sin for us? In what sense did that happen? How far does that go?

Jesus, Our Mediator

Besides being our Surety,[2] Jesus is our Mediator. The qualification of a mediator is sympathy. To bring alienated parties together, the mediator must understand each party. The mediator is neither of the parties. He does not live their lives. By sympathy, though, he feels what it is like to be them.

Jesus is sympathetic. “We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[3]  “In all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.”[4]

Sympathy for Sinners

This was the sympathy of Jesus for sinners in Gethsemane: without sinning, he could feel what it is to be a sinner.

It takes a holy person to feel sin. Sinners cannot feel it.[5] A holy person has no sin of his own, but if a holy person were sympathetic, he could feel a sinner’s sin. He would be the only person who ever did. Sinners, because of sin, cannot feel what it is to be a sinner; but Jesus felt it because he was holy, He did not share our faint ideas of sin, and He was sympathetically touched by our sin.

Francis Pieper says,

We can understand the meaning of Christ’s being forsaken by God only if we fully accept the central Scripture truth of Christ’s substitution for us. Christ in Himself indeed was no sinner. The transfer of our sin to Him was a purely juridical divine act: “God made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). But this divine juridical act of God penetrated to the very heart and conscience of the suffering Christ. When Christ was forsaken of God, He felt the sin and guilt of all men in His soul as His own sin and guilt. This is clearly brought out in the Old Testament prophesy in which Christ speaks of His own sin and guilt in the words: “O God, Thou knowest My foolishness; and My sins are not hid from Thee (Ps. 69:5). With our sin and guilt, Christ also felt God’s wrath, that is, God’s verdict of condemnation and rejection, in His soul, just as if He had personally committed all sins of mankind.[6]

Sin Itself

I am not speaking of sins, but sin. This is the sinfulness of me, my nature, my slavery to sin, my bondage to it, the root within me, the perversion, the rottenness, the corruption, the twistedness. It is as if muscles in a body were maggot-ridden because the muscles themselves are maggots. Who can picture it? What likeness shall we use?[7]

We cannot see sin straight on. We apprehend it only somewhat, and only by similes and metaphors. But Jesus saw sin straight on and coming at him. This was the ekthambeo, the attacking horror that made him “sore amazed.” This was the cause of death.

Lethal Conflict

When Jesus felt what it is like to have my sin nature that contains all the hellishness of hell, while himself still being holy, the conflict was lethal. He was substituting for me not only in reckoning, but in his soul.

When he felt sin, he was troubled, disabled, feeble, astonished, dazed, having no soundness within. The ademoneo of Gethsemane was his being glutted into a severe depression by overfilling his mind with my nature, and feeling my nature as if it were his. The perilupos of Gethsemane was my sin passing over, under, around, and through Jesus’ conscience.

The angel strengthened Jesus to suffer my nature more so that He could enter an agonia of being like me. The angel’s touch in Gethsemane was the opposite of the myrrh foisted at Jesus on Golgotha. While myrrh would have doped away the pain, the angel strengthened Jesus to suffer me more.

Heroic Contrition

This Socrates never faced. He may have faced his own corruption somewhat by simile and metaphor, but he never faced straight on the attack of mine. I have my hero, the man Christ Jesus, the Only Begotten of the Father. He left his throne and his kingly crown when He came to earth for me. He devoted his sacred soul as my substitute on the books of reckoning and in experience. He felt the wrath of God on my account as if He deserved it, my sin as if it were his guilt, while still knowing that He did not deserve it. This is part of his innocent suffering and death.

180. Did Christ suffer only in body?

     No; His greatest suffering was the dreadful agony of His soul on account of our sins.[8]

Jesus was sorrowful unto death. This was sorrow for sin, the sorrow that we sinners ought to have. This is contrition: that Christ, without guilt of his own, was contrite for us over ours.

He was broken. He was poor in spirit. His soul was ground to powder by his sense of sin. Christ has done everything for us that we ought to have done. This is so not only in keeping the law. It is so of confession, contrition, repentance, the obedience of faith, and every stage of a sinner’s return to God.

Jesus, having done all that we should do, credits these merits to us. Having suffered the writing of our sin to his account, He writes his righteousness to ours. By the Gospel we know this justification. By his working in us, we experience his life, his confession, contrition, repentance, and obedience of faith. These merits are always his. We experience by faith his merits as his gifts to us.


1.  2 Cor 5:21.
2.  Jesus is our Surety. The qualification of a surety is that he must be worth enough to pay another’s debt. When parents co-sign a note at the bank for their children to buy a house, they act as sureties. The bank accepts the signature of the parents to back up a loan to the children because the parents are "worth" enough to cover their children’s debt.
     For Jesus to "be" sin for us, there was a reckoning. Our sin was reckoned to Jesus. The reckoning wrote our sin to his account, and that precipitated the penalty of sin onto him.
     Reckoning and penalty. Debt and payment. For Jesus to "be" sin for us goes that far, and that is far enough to kill. Did it go any farther?
3.  Hebrews 4:15.
4.  Hebrews 2:17-18.
5.  This is explored in relation to the Holy Spirit in The Spirit's Humility toward Sinners.
6.  Francis Pieper, Christian Dogmatics, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1951), vol II., p. 310.
7.  A. W. Pink says:
     Sin assumes many garbs, but when it appears in its nakedness, it is seen as a black and misshapen monster. How God Himself views it may be learned from the various similitudes used by the Holy Spirit to set forth its ugliness and loathsomeness. He has compared it with the greatest deformities and the most filthy and repulsive objects to be met with in this world. Sin is likened to:
     1.    the scum of a seething pot in which is a detestable carcass (Ezek. 24:10-12)
     2.    the blood and pollution of a newborn child, before it is washed and clothed (Ezek 16:4,6)
     3.    a dead and rotting body (Rom. 7:24)
     4.    the noisome stench and poisonous fumes which issue from the mouth of an open sepulcher (Rom. 3:13)
     5.    the lusts of the devil (John 8:44)
     6.    putrefying sores (Isa. 1:5-6)
     7.    a menstruous cloth (Isa. 3:22; Lam. 1:17)
     8.    a canker, or gangrene (II Tim. 2:17)
     9.    the dung of filthy creatures (Phil. 3:8)
   10.    the vomit of a dog and the wallowing of a sow in the stinking mire (II Peter 2:22)
Such comparisons show us something of the vileness and horribleness of sin, yet in reality it is beyond all comparison.
A. W. Pink, Gleanings from Scripture: Man’s Total Depravity, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p. 107.
8.  H. U. Sverdrup, Explanation of Luther's Small Catechism, (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1900), p 68. Abridged Edition, translated from Norwegian by E. G. Lund, based on Erick Pontoppidan.


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