daily biblical sermons


UNDERSTANDING WHY THE MESSIAH HAD TO BE KILLED
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Saturday, 25th Week of the Year, September 30, 2017
Zechariah 2:5-9, 14-15, Jeremiah 31, Luke 9:43-45


Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.

 

"While they were all marveling at everything he did, he said to his disciples, ‘Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.' But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying" (Luke 9:43-45).


Once again Jesus predicts his passion, and once again his disciples do not understand. St. Luke tells us that they did not understand because it was concealed from them. God concealed this saying's meaning from them so that they would not grasp its meaning.


But why did they not understand such a simple prediction that Jesus would be "delivered into the hands of men"? This simply means that he would be captured and put to death, which we know from his many other passion predictions. Why was this simple point so hard for them to understand?


It was because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah who would save Israel, and they couldn't see how his saving Israel and his being killed could fit together. Their idea of the Messiah had nothing to do with his being beaten and crucified. And today St. Luke tells us that God himself kept them from understanding this matter. It would only be fully understood after Pentecost.


After Jesus' death and Resurrection, their understanding begins to open up. The risen Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus. They didn't recognize him, and he asked them, "Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:26). His death was necessary, because this was the way that God would save the world through him. Christ's death was the key to God's salvation of all who would believe in him.


Christ's death is to be understood within the context of the Jewish sacrificial system. He makes himself a lamb of sacrifice to die for our sins. "Christ died for our sins" (1 Corinthians 15:3). As the lamb is killed as the sinner's substitute in reparation and vicarious punishment for his sins, so Christ is killed as our substitute in reparation and vicarious punishment for the sins of the world. Since our sins have really been punished in Christ's flesh on the cross, as St. Paul tells us (Romans 8:3), an all-just God can justly forgive them and declare us acquitted, forgiven, and righteous. In other words, an all-just God can now justly justify us, because our sins have been justly punished and paid for in Christ's flesh on the cross.


But for Christ's death to be applied personally to me, I must believe in him. Therefore I am justified not by my works, but by my faith in Christ, which enables God to credit Christ's sacrifice for my sins to my account. My faith connects me personally to Christ's work of atonement and reparation for human sin, and so I am justified, that is, declared and made righteous by God.


So it is Christ, not I, who works, but I am justified by his work by putting my faith in him. My faith includes my genuine repentance and abandonment of my sins. So it is through my faith, not through my works, that I am justified, as St. Paul clearly says, "To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5 NKJV).


This is a key verse that clearly says that the righteousness that comes to us through Christ's death is not the result of any work that we do, but rather is the result of believing in the one who justifies the ungodly. By believing in him, our faith is reckoned to us for righteousness. Christ justifies ungodly sinners who lack good works not by their good works, which they lack as sinners standing before God seeking forgiveness, but by Christ's death on the cross that vicariously suffered their just punishment for their sins for them; and this justification is reckoned to all who put their faith in him. Hence "to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5 NKJV). So it is our faith, not our works, that justifies us.


What kind of works is St. Paul thinking of here that don't justify us? He is thinking of good works in general, any and all good works, moral as well as ceremonial, all the things which the law of God commands us to do.


Earlier St. Paul said, "By the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight" (Romans 3:20 NKJV). By saying "no flesh" he includes Gentiles as well as Jews. So "deeds of the law" must also include general good works that are in accord with God's universal moral law as well as the ceremonial Jewish law (circumcision and dietary laws) or else it would not apply to the Gentiles.


In Romans, St. Paul has moved beyond the problem of arguing that the Gentiles don't have to observe the Jewish ceremonial law of circumcision, diet, and sacrifices. He has now broadened out and realizes that Christ's death is such a fundamental event that it alone atones and makes full reparation for all human sin. Hence he now realizes that we are only justified by Christ's death, not by any good works of our own of any kind whatsoever (whether moral or ceremonial), as commanded by the law of God. Therefore he proclaims that we are justified by faith, which connects us to Christ's work on the cross, not by any works of our own.


This is really a tremendous discovery by St. Paul, and it revolutionizes our understanding of Christianity. This insight of his that no work of our own of any kind, whether moral or ceremonial, can justify us has often been obscured in the history of the Church and not been sufficiently emphasized or even properly understood; and so every time it is rediscovered, the power of the gospel for salvation is rediscovered, and preachers once again begin to preach this good news, this gospel, with new and fresh power and to great effect. This good news, this gospel, that they preach causes a great awakening wherever the meaning of Jesus' death is discovered anew. Then people once again, as in the apostolic age, feel - and rightly so - that they really have a powerful, meaningful, and tremendously important message to preach, a message of salvation for all peoples everywhere through faith in Jesus Christ.


A recovery of this message cannot but help revive the mission of the Church. And mission certainly needs to be revived and rediscovered in its true depth in our day, when it too often seems to be in danger of being reduced to merely interreligious dialogue and social and economic aid to the poor.


So this is how Jesus can be the Messiah and also be "delivered into the hands of men" (Luke 9:44). It is precisely by being "delivered into the hands of men" that he fulfills his messianic ministry and mission to save all who put their faith in him.


One, then, who is justified by his faith in Christ, not by his works, will, if genuinely justified, immediately begin to live a new life of good works as a new creature in Christ (Ephesians 2:10) and thereby grow in sanctification.

 

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