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Lent 3 2020
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
March 20, 2022
Text and Audio: immanuelhamiltonchurch.com click “sermons”
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
I enjoy word puzzles. My daughter Heather got me started on Wordle a month or so ago and now I work it every morning. It is a once-a-day puzzle website that gives you six chances to find a five letter word. I had 100% streak going until the other day when I had found __ATCH. Problem is that there are too many words that can fit; batch, hatch, latch, match, catch, patch, and I ran out of options and missed the correct word, watch. Normally I can use my reasoning skills to eliminate certain combinations and find the answer. That’s the fun of the puzzle; using your reason to try to figure out the answer.
Reason is good to use for puzzles, but it does not work so well with Jesus. Jesus does not act reasonably. Reasonable people give you what you deserve. Your boss is a reasonable person and pays you what you earn. Your teacher is a reasonable person who gives you the grade you deserve. Jesus is not reasonable; He suffers what you deserve and gives you what you don’t deserve. Your reason wants to make God an angry, judgmental God. A God who you need to appease or He will send you to hell. Your reason desperately wants you to be a part of saving yourself. But Jesus is not reasonable.
The hymn, “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken”, is a wonderfully poignant hymn which delves into the depths of God’s love for you in Jesus. It was first published in German in 1630 written by a Lutheran pastor Johann Heerman. It is based on Augustine’s Meditations, Chapter VII, entitled, “An Acknowledgment that sinful Man was the Cause of Christ’s Sufferings.”
Born in 1585, Heerman himself knew suffering. All of his siblings died in childhood. Heerman was a sickly child and his mother prayed that if he survived she would pay for him to study at the university. Over the years Heerman had reoccurring, significant illnesses. Once, while fairly ill, he was ordained and appointed as assistant pastor in Köben in modern day Poland. The senior pastor died a few days later leaving the church to be served by sickly Heerman. The plague came to Köben in 1613, a terrible fire in 1616 and then Heerman’s first wife died childless in 1617. Heerman fell into a long-term illness and infection in 1623. After writing this hymn in 1630 came the 30 years’ war. Köben was plundered in 1632, 1633, 1634 and 1642; Heerman lost everything several times. He died in 1647.
Heerman was not a strong, independent, man. He suffered from many illness and tragedies and plagues and war. He was often weak and needy. His poetic rendering of this hymn reflects a deep trust in Jesus whose love is beyond comprehension. This hymn, entitled Herzliebster Jesu in German was translated into our English version by Catherine Winkworth in 1863. Let us examine it, verse by verse.
Verse 1. If you happened upon Jesus on the cross, your first logical question would be, “What did this man do to deserve crucifixion? What law did he break? Crucifixion is such a cruel way to put someone to death it begs the question, “What did this man do to deserve to die in such a horrible way?”
Crucifixion is horrible to observe by design. The pain is disfiguring as one hangs naked, impaled on nails praying to die so the excruciating agony and humiliation ends. But death may not come for two or three days after your body is completely exhausted. The Romans really knew what they are doing when it came to executions. Hanging you from your wrists nailed to the cross forces you have to breathe backwards, laboring to exhale. Hanging like that, you would fairly quickly suffocate from exhaustion. But the Romans wanted to make an example of those being crucified so they would nail your feet to the cross also and maybe put a small seat under your backside so you could push up on your nailed feet to catch another painful breath and extend the slow, horrifying process. The idea being, that if you saw a person being crucified you would say to yourself, “however I die, please don’t let it be like that.”
Verse 2 Jesus was not just crucified, but first they beat Him and whipped Him and crowned Him with thorns and made him carry His cross out of the city to Calvary. They offered Him an awful mix of vinegar and gall to drink. It is a horror to observe.
Verse 3 Encountering Jesus on the cross you ponder what is the cause of such plagues on this Jesus? Why is He suffering here? But then it hits you like a brutal punch in the gut. You know what this is about. The Holy Spirit enlightens you through the Word of God and then the horror of the “Why?” dawns on you with a storm of guilt. Literally from the German, Ah, my sins have struck you; I, my Lord Jesus, have caused what you are suffering.
This is profoundly convicting. What did Jesus do to deserve this kind of suffering and death? Nothing. You deserve this kind of death because of your sins. It is horrible that Jesus is dying because of your sins but it is also quite marvelous that Jesus dies for your sins.
Verse 4 How wonderful is this punishment! The good shepherd suffers for the sheep. The lord, the righteous, pays the debt for his servants.
Verse 5 Jesus, the pious one dies, who walks right and true, the wicked live who rebel against God
Man deserves death and has escaped. God is caught.
The horror that you experience because of what is happening to Jesus on account of your sin now turns to stunning marvel as you ponder the unbelievable, amazing depth of Jesus’ love for you.
Verse 6 Your sin is total and complete. There was no spot in me by sin untainted. Nothing good could be found in me. I should have gone to hell to atone for my sin.
Verse 7 Jesus’ love is so marvelous, so wonderful, so deep as to be unfathomable. This love brings Him to the cross to suffer and die. I live in the world with pleasure and delights and Jesus must suffer. It is beyond reason. It does not make sense. Jesus is the servant king who pays the price of your sin.
Verse 8 You are the great King, O Jesus, how can I spread your faithfulness. No human heart can think of what to give you.
Verse 9 I cannot comprehend the height, depth and breadth of your mercy. I have nothing with which to compare it. How can I pay you back for your loving work?
Verse 10 I cannot pay you back, but there is something else that pleases you: when I subdue and tame the lusts of the flesh; lest they kindle my heart again with old sins. Verse 11 That would please the Lord, but I cannot do it. So I fasten my desires to the cross. Give me your spirit to govern me, to lead me to good. Awash in the love and mercy of Christ I want to do better. I want to be faithful -- but I am so weak. Verse 12 So then Jesus I ponder your mercy, what you have done for me. I count the world for nothing. I will strive to do your will.
Verse 13 Living in your mercy, O Lord, with the power of the Holy Spirit I will dare everything in your honor; disregarding any cross, or disgrace or plagues, or persecution. I will not worry about the pangs of death. This is what St. Paul calls for you to do in Romans 12:1 (ESV) 1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
But who am I kidding. For all my good intentions I can accomplish nothing of real value. For as much as I promise to be good I am still tainted by sin. And yet… Verse 14 All my feeble efforts. Lord, you accept because of your mercy. You will not put me to shame. This life is a struggle against sin and I will not be able to defeat it. But you, Lord Jesus, have already defeated it. In your unfathomable love you have paid for my sin and set me free. You have promised me eternal life. Verse 15 One day I will be before your throne in heaven. The crown of honor will be on my head. The great multitude of the Saints will sing to you and I will be with them, singing your praises. Jesus’ mercy and love overwhelm any sense of logic and reason that you might have. Jesus does not make sense. He is not rational. He is not reasonable. He is not logical. Jesus is not a puzzle for you to figure out. Jesus does not act like a regular person because He is not a regular person. He is God in flesh, and He is a God of love, and God’s love is beyond comprehension. This can make people uncomfortable. You are used to the ways of the world where you get what you deserve but God does things in ways that you cannot understand. God gives you what you can never deserve. You want to pretend that you are strong and independent. You want to project the image that you are tough and free. It hurts your heart to admit that you are weak and needy. It is humiliating to admit that you are in bondage to sin and cannot free yourself. It is crushing to admit that you cannot break free from your sinful nature. It is so tempting to redefine sin and justify yourself. Over the years many things have changed, but the horrifying truth that Jesus was crucified because of your sins is still true. Also, the marvel that Jesus did it for you, in love, to forgive your sins still remains the truth. And the end of the story remains the same. As a forgiven follower of Jesus, baptized into the Kingdom of God, you are destined to spend eternity with the Lord Jesus in the Heavenly City of New Jerusalem. Jesus paid the price for you. Amen.