(from the Wednesday night Lent 2020 series: The Truth Opposed)
‘Do not test my patience!’ That warning hissed out of the snapping turtle’s gaping jaws. Keep stretching out your hand and feel the vice-grip bite.
‘Do not test my patience!’ Mom’s warning cut through children’s laughter. If the bedroom remains a mess, then expect no more television (and gaming) privileges.
‘Do not test my patience!’ The deputy’s cruiser perched in the highway median. Race over the speed limit and the strong arm of the law will stop you.
‘Do not test my patience!’ That warning is a dance of sorts, isn’t it? One side claims a right to step beyond set expectations without consequences. The other side can actually make threats happen. One side stands weak, the other holds power. So out comes the warning: ‘Do not test my patience!’ Do not try determining how long I will wait before I make my words a reality. Still, the powerless dare the powerful.
Throughout our midweek services we meet opponents of truth. Each adversary confronts undeniable truth, and still challenges supreme power. Proud hearts completely disregard the consequences that comes from the Powerful One. Instead, the arrogant dare God to take action: ‘He Saved Others, but Cannot Save Himself!’
At this moment, Jesus really does look quite powerless. Roman soldiers had forced their will on Jesus. Powerful hands pin down arms and legs as a hammer drives nails through hands and feet. Once finished, strong men pull on ropes, lifting the cross into place. Satisfied, they take a seat and start parceling out his clothing while also supervising the execution (Matthew 27:35-36). The sight is pretty clear: Jesus is not leaving alive. These mighty men have the power to make sure that happens. They feel confident in the control they have.
Those passing by the cross also feel pretty bold. They spit out insults, saying whatever they want without fear of repercussion. I mean, Jesus’ hand is nailed down; he will not you pop in the mouth. Jesus could rain down insults, but bystanders are not the ones dying; they are free to go home. They can throw stuff at Jesus and he cannot chase them. The One who claimed the ability to reconstruct the temple in three days does not look to have the power to come down from the cross (27:39-40).
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!” He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
What more proof do they need? The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders watched Jesus straighten out a man’s shriveled, crippled hand (Mark 3:1). A blind man now cured once stood in front of them. He does not know how his eyes work now, but he does know that Jesus fixed them; he keeps pointing these leaders at Jesus (John 9). Lazarus, dead for three days, wrapped in linens, most likely stinky by now, walks out of his tomb alive! (John 11:38-44) The chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders have witnessed this sheer power with their own eyes!
The truth smacks them in the face: Jesus has saved others! He has restored life and limb— and if he can do that, then Jesus can come down from the cross! If can leave the cross, then he is no mere mortal. Jesus is who he claims to be: Jesus is God.
As God, that ranks Jesus over humanity and sets every heart under his expectations. In spite of clear truth, mockers invite God’s judgment. They confront God’s infinite power and eternal presence and still dare him to execute his threats, to keep his Word. The smug little heart within taunts, ‘Prove it. I dare you.’
That attitude arrogantly believes that Jesus is this powerless wimp. That we mere mortals may freely break God’s commandments without any consequence. That God will not will punish us, he will not send us to hell. He’s bluffing. He will not do that.
That conclusion is based on what? Because those miracles do demonstrate Jesus’ power and Jesus does fit the description of God’s long-promised Son. The sinful heart does not submit to God. It will not accept God’s authority until God proves power by taking action. Sin dares God to come down from heaven and stop it.
What if Jesus did what the crowds dared? Nails pop out, ropes slip off, he steps down and stands before them? Be sure, Jesus could have come down from the cross. That action would prove him to be God— quite undeniably at that. Then what kind of Savior would wicked people meet? Not a Savior, but a wrathful Judge.
That is the reason Jesus remains on the cross. Mockers invite God’s judgment, but The Savior holds back God’s judgment. He Saved Others because He Did not Save Himself.
Yes, Jesus looks completely powerless. It appears the Romans can outmuscle him, that bystanders get away with insults, and religious leaders can twist God’s teachings without problem. Yet, look at the cross again. Jesus reveals real power in a different way, a way that even today’s society considers weak and helpless. God had every reason to step foot on Calvary and rain down judgment from on high. To silence every boastful mouth, to crush every proud heart. God does unleash his wrath, but it never touches you. It strikes Jesus instead. The Savior holds back God’s judgment.
God appointed him for this task. Remember those prophecies? The religious leaders did not. The prophet Isaiah said: Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:4-6). Jesus puts God’s Word into action— even when that Word demands his death. So, the King of Israel hangs. He hangs from the cross as the Savior God sent—and what Savior we have!
God is pleased with his life. He is pleased that Jesus never dared God to take action, but rather set himself under God’s commandments. He is pleased that Jesus never questioned God’s threats, but rather obeyed out of sheer love. He is pleased that Jesus never challenged God’s love for him, but rather considered each promise as good as kept. Jesus absorbs the full brunt of God’s fiery wrath, enduring the punishment we brought upon ourselves and paying it off in full. He Saved You by not Saving Himself. By his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).
Now risen and reigning in heaven, The Savior holds back God’s judgment. The last book of Scripture [Revelation] points ahead to Jesus’ final return. It does not describe Jesus as a fragile, forgettable baby or some nomadic carpenter. This is what it has to say: Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him (Revelation 1:7). All those who questioned his might will see it. Those who mocked his divinity will stand before it. Those who killed God out of life will not escape him. They will eternally regret their mockery.
Yet, for you this is a day of joyous relief. Like a seawall holding back crashing waves, the Savior holds back God’s judgment. The Father’s fiery eyes studies you and finds… nothing. No arrogant heart. No proud taunt. No daring God to strike. What the Father finds is the cross of Christ on your heart. He finds that Jesus has removed all boastful taunts— never to be seen again, never to be mentioned (or brought up) ever again. The Savior holds back God’s judgment forever.
For the past six Wednesdays we have met opponents of truth. Caiaphas. Pilate’s wife. The Jewish Sanhedrin. Judas Iscariot. Pilate’s soldiers. Crowds at the cross. All confront the undeniable truth that Jesus is the Son of God. Scripture makes it abundantly clear! In stubborn unbelief each adversary dares God to prove his might. He will.
He will punish every mocker who invites his judgment— but not you. This is the reason Jesus remains on the cross. The Savior holds back God’s judgment. He stands between us and God, absorbing our consequences and forming peace between us and God. Yes, Jesus could have saved himself, but in mercy chooses to save you (and me). He Saved You by not Saving Himself.