Selected highlights from this sermon.
We all need to take some time and linger at Calvary. It’s on this dreadful hill that we see God’s glorious attributes converge. This event, filled with so much darkness, was turned into the brilliant light of salvation.
But many overlook the brutality of the crucifixion. Looking at Isaiah 53, we see the physical suffering of Jesus who was beaten so badly that He didn’t even look human. In this message, Pastor Lutzer shows us how Christ’s wounds, suffered at Golgotha, were part of God’s plan to pay for our redemption.
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Christianity is the only religion whose God has wounds. Today we begin a series of messages on the cross, specifically Cries from the Cross. We’re going to be considering the seven sayings of Jesus on the cross, but today, however, we have an introductory message on the wounds of Christ.
It was Karl Marx’s housekeeper who, when he was dying, said “What are your last words? Share them with me and then I will be able to disseminate them to your followers.” And he shooed her out of the room and said, “No, last words are for people who haven’t said enough in their lifetime.” But considering the fact that he was wrong about so many other things, we should not be surprised that he was wrong about this too. Last words are important and the people who have had the most to say have the most important things to say before they die.
But today “the wounds of Christ.” We begin this series with a great deal of reverence, and with a great deal of appreciation, and may I say, a great deal of mystery? Here we shall see the glorious attributes of God converge in an event like no other on this planet. Here we shall be overwhelmed with the purpose of God and the ways of God. And in this series of messages we will pursue an answer to this question. How could the disciples take this crime, this evil execution of their master, and how could they turn it into God-saving event par excellence, the very pivotal of that which God does to redeem humanity?
To put it differently, how could an event with so much darkness turn out to be an event with so much light? In this study we will encounter the greatness of God, but also the greatness of our sin. We will see His love. We will see His mercy. We will see His justice. It will all come together as we meditate and linger at Calvary. We’ll discover that at the cross it is there that our desire for salvation is satisfied, but at the same time we will see that all self-exaltation is undercut, and the ax is laid to the root of the tree.
My text for today is taken from Isaiah 53. I am reading from the NIV and I am picking it up at verse 4. Isaiah, it has been said, wrote this passage of Scripture as though he were sitting at the foot of the cross, and so it was. We read: “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him (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 (notice now today’s text) by his wounds we are healed.”
We, as evangelicals, like to emphasize the spiritual suffering of Christ, and we’re going to do that, especially when we get to that awesome remark, that awesome cry, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?”
But for today I think it would be very good if we were to spend a moment meditating on the physical suffering of Jesus. We know that He was taken to see Pilate, Herod and then back to Pilate, and the Bible says that Pilate scourged Him. You have to understand that His wrists were bound, and He was bound onto a column, and there He stood. And then He was whipped. The scourging thongs had little balls of metal at the end, or else bits and pieces of broken bone. And as His body was lacerated there were little beads of the blood that would come out on His back and His neck and His shoulders. And then those beads of blood would break as the lacerations continued as He was constantly being whipped and beaten.
His legs give way but because he is tied to the column He cannot fall down. He slumps but the beating continues, and then they take a crown of thorns. And they put it on His brow, and they mock Him, and blood spurts onto his neck and His face and is matted in His hair.
And then Jesus is asked to carry His cross, not the entire cross but probably the horizontal piece only. The vertical would have already been there at the hole waiting for Him at Calvary. And so He is asked to carry His cross and He puts this on His back, but because He is bound, and because He has been so marred, the Scripture says that He was unrecognizable as a man. He stumbles under the weight of the cross. The centurion is impatient, and so passing by is a North African by the name of Simon of Cyrene, and he’s pressed into service, and He carries the cross for Jesus, and they walk about one-third of a mile as Jesus repeatedly falls all the way to Calvary.
And then when they get there Jesus is laid down. He is being helped as He’s laid on the cross. And nails are taken, sharp square Roman nails, and through His palms the nails goes into the wood, first one side and then the other. And then His feet are given support, and they also probably are nailed. And then the cross is lifted up and it is put into the hole that is prepared for it.
A doctor who studied the physical suffering of crucifixion says, “Inexpressible pain darts like lightning through His fingers, shoulders and into the brain. The most unbearable pain a man can experience is caused by wounding the great nerve centers. Each movement of the body revives this horrible pain.” And Jesus has to breathe in very short gasping breaths because His lungs are full of air, but He cannot empty His lungs, and so there He hangs for six hours.
We live in an age when beauty is magnified. In fact, I hope to preach an entire message just on the cult of beauty which is destroying the self-image of young people. But how did Jesus look? Did He look beautiful? Well, if your Bible is open to Isaiah 53, as I hope it is, notice what it says in the middle of verse 2. It says, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” So if beauty is where it’s at, Jesus wasn’t where it was at. You can see here the extent to which His whole visage, the Scripture says, was so marred more than that of any man. And now Jesus is hanging there and the blood is dripping onto the pavement, onto the dirt. And He hangs there and He will speak to us from the cross, as we shall see next week.
For today I want to zero in on the phrase that we read together—by His wounds we are healed. And in order for us to understand that I’d like to give you five facts regarding those wounds that become the means of our own healing and our deliverance.
First of all, number one, His wounds were inflicted by others. They were inflicted by others. You’ll notice that the text says that He was a man of sorrows (verse 3), despised and rejected by men. His enemies delighted in the fact that He was on the cross. What a jolt of self-confidence they received as they saw Him writhing there.
Oh, I know that the religious leaders were in on it. They despised Jesus. Let me explain to you why. We all derive our significance from something. Some people derive their significance from their wealth. Some derive it from whom they know. Some derive it by their position. And you had all of these people in positions of authority, and Jesus was undercutting them because the people were enthusiastic about Him, and they saw their significance diminished. And as a result there was only one thing to do, and that is to get rid of the man who was threatening them.
You say, “Oh, they crucified Jesus for theological reasons. He claimed to be the Son of God.” My dear friend, that was a smokescreen. Pilate says he knew that it was for envy that the people delivered Him. So He was crucified by His enemies. I would also say that some of those wounds were because of a friend by the name of Judas who betrayed Him.
Now, we have to pause for a moment and I realize that I am speaking to many people today who have wounds that have been given to them by enemies. Some of you also have wounds that have been given to you by friends. Some of you have had your childhood stolen because of abuse. Some of you have gone through experiences of betrayal and hurt and anger. And all those things are within you, and you know what it’s like to receive a wound from an enemy, and a wound from a friend. But I want you to know today, folks, that there is someone else involved in Christ’s wounds, and that is God. If He was afflicted by men, He was also afflicted by God. You’ll notice it says in verse 4 (We read it a moment ago.), “Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God.” Wow! Verse 10: “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him.”
I like the King James, I think, that says, “It pleased the Lord to crush Him.” You say, “Well, did God do the crucifixion? Did He do the dirty work?” No, but His evil men did it. His purposes were being carried out.
Those of you who attend here know that we often come across this anomaly, or I should say, a convergence of God’s purposes with man’s evil. We come across that in the Scriptures. That is to say that men carry out their evil designs, but even as they do that, it’s part of God’s picture. There is this convergence. That’s a good way to say it. We can’t understand it. We can talk about it. We can try to explain it, but it turns out to be a conundrum.
The reason I use that word is several months ago a woman in this church told me that I was a conundrum, and I had no idea what it meant. And so I got the dictionary out and I discovered that a conundrum is a riddle. And so I guess I am a riddle wrapped in an enigma, as the saying goes. (laughter)
I cannot tell you exactly how the sovereign purposes of God and the actions of evil men converge, but they sure do because He was smitten by God. God inflicted Christ there on the cross. And as we shall see in this series of messages, the first purpose of the cross is for God and not for us. You say, “Is that right?” That’s exactly what Paul taught in the book of Romans.
You see, if I may put it this way, God had a problem. And the problem was that His righteousness needed to be appeased because He had done some things in the Old Testament that, on the surface, appeared to be compromising His justice, and He needed to straighten it out. You find in the Old Testament that people were being forgiven, and there was no sacrifice for sin. They were bringing animals, but the animals could not forgive them. And you get to David, who committed murder and adultery, and he cries up to God, and God forgives him. And catch this. There is no such thing even as a sacrifice in Old Testament times for murder and adultery. That’s why He says, “You desire sacrifice, but I can’t give it because there is none prescribed. You’re supposed to be put to death.” And here God comes along and wipes his slate clean. And you can look at it and say, “What? That’s not right! Where is God’s justice in this, pretending it didn’t happen?” The answer is, “No,” God says, “I am saving you on credit because the day is coming when Jesus will bear David’s sin,” so Jesus had to die to do that. Ours as well, but the Old Testament… You say, “Well, where is that in Romans?” In Romans 3 the Apostle Paul says, “God set forth Christ as a propitiation, as an atonement to declare the justice of God because of sins that were passed by in the Old Testament, that God might be just and the justifier of those who believed in Jesus.” So God says, “I need sacrifice whereby the sins of the Old Testament could actually be taken away, as well as sins that will be committed by a group of people who have not yet lived, namely us, and therefore to appease my justice, Christ must die.” It pleased God to smite Him.
His wounds were inflicted by others, by enemies, by a friend, but also by God. You have to hang onto that because in a few moments we’ll see that for some of you that’s going to bring some healing to your life.
Let’s have a second fact regarding His wounds. His wounds blessed others. I love this passage: “But He was wounded for our transgressions.” I took a red pencil and I underlined in my Bible that little word us in verse 5. “He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought me peace (that brought us peace) was upon Him and by His wounds we (we) are healed.” His wounds blessed us, my friend, today. You see, they purchased our forgiveness. It says the same thing in verse 6. And in verse 11 it talks about the wonder, the suffering of His soul. It brings satisfaction, and it brings peace. His wounds blessed us. Now, the thing is that as a result of that, the Father was satisfied, as we know, and we’ve been blessed.
I need to pause here and say that your wounds can bless someone else as well. You know, we always want to be healed from our wounds, and what we don’t understand is that there is such a thing as God using our wounds to His glory. But before I share that, there is something else that I must clarify.
You say, “Well, does this mean that Jesus Christ, when it says ‘By His wounds we are healed,” that He died for our physical bodies too?” And the answer is, “Of course, He died for our physical bodies.” He died to redeem us, body, soul and spirit. We were purchased by God, all of us; not just our souls, not just our spirits, but our bodies were purchased. We were bought by Christ in total, in completeness. You say, “Well does that mean then that we can have healing whenever we want it?” And the answer is no. You see, there are many people who take a correct premise, but they draw a wrong conclusion. The simple fact, my friend, is that when Jesus died on the cross He purchased all that we will ever need to take us into the presence of God. But He also, at that time, purchased our resurrection body which we do not yet have.
He also died that He might abolish death, but guess what. Unless Jesus Christ comes soon, many of us are going to die. Even faith healers die. And you must keep that in mind. It is wrong to say that we can be healed now whenever we want to be because if you say that, then we should be able to say we should be able to escape death too. In fact, my family had some friends who believed that. They believed that they were going to live until Jesus Christ returned, because they were going to be receiving physical healing. Moment by moment, day by day Christ was going to keep healing them. Well, both of them happened to die in a car accident. There are many different ways to die, aren’t there?
There is today a pervasive teaching, which you find particularly on the part of some TV teachers, that is just harmful to the Body of Christ. People are told that if you’re not healed, it’s because you don’t have faith. If you get healed, you thank the faith healer because he has the power to heal you. If you are not healed, it’s your fault because if you had believed you would have been healed. The pain that is caused, the sense of (what shall we say?) guilt that is caused by that wrong theology! Yes, it was all purchased, but it isn’t all ours today. There is a “not yet” in Scripture, and the “not yet” is when we stand in the presence of Christ. His wounds blessed others. By His stripes we are healed.
Let me ask you another question. What about your wounds? Can they bless others? Absolutely! You know, there’s a play by Thornton Wilder entitled The Angel that Troubled the Waters. And in this play, based on the book of John, chapter 5, you remember at the Pool of Bethesda there was a legend that an angel came and troubled the water, and whosoever (the person) then after the troubling stepped in, was healed. You remember that story. And the play is based on it, and there was a physician who struggled with melancholy, and he wanted to get in on the healing, so he’d always show up and he’d always wait for the troubling of the water. And one day the angel showed up, and he thought to himself, “I’m the first one who is going to step in,” but the angel said, “No, Physician draw back.” And then the angel said this to him. He said, “It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble in the hearts of those who listen to you.” And the angel says, “Not even angels can do what one human being, broken on the wheel of life, can do.”
I say today to those of you who are brokenhearted, whose whole focus is for healing, so to speak… Could I say it again? Not even an angel can do what one human being, broken on the wheel of life, is able to do. And then someone else steps into the pool in the play, and when he comes out, he says to the physician, “Would you come home with me because I have a son who lives in darkness, and he has deep dark thoughts and I cannot help him, but I know that you will. And I have a daughter who, ever since she lost her child, is sitting in the shadows. You come and speak. My children will not listen to me, but they will listen to you.” My dear friend, I want you to know that your wounds can bless others.
Let’s go to a third fact regarding the wounds of Jesus, and that is His wounds identified Him. They identified Him. By the way, Jesus was very open about His wounds. He didn’t try to keep them hidden. He knew that healing has to take place in the sunlight, and not in darkness. One day after the resurrection, Thomas, who was not feeling very evangelical… When the others say, “We have seen the Lord,” he says… (chuckles) You know, actually it was a lawyer’s dream. Imagine ten men all agreeing with their story. How often do you get that in a court of law?
Thomas is unimpressed. He’s this practical man here. And he says, “Except I shall see in His hands the print of the nails, and unless I shall see the wound in the side, call me a disciple if you want, but I will not believe.” And then Jesus appears, and you know the story. “Thomas, reach hither thy finger and behold my hands. And reach hither thy hand and thrust it into my side. And be not faithless but believing.” And what does Thomas say? He says, “My Lord and my God!” His wounds identified Him, and someday when Jesus Christ comes, the Scripture says in Zechariah… How do we believe that the Jewish people who were living at that period of time are going to recognize Him to be the Messiah? It says in Zechariah, chapter 12, verse 10, “They shall look on Him whom they have pierced, and they will see the wounds of Christ and say, ‘He was the Messiah, the One who died two thousand years ago.’” His wounds identify Him.
Most people know that Martin Luther’s first name is Martin. (chuckles) I guess that’s very basic isn’t it? But what they don’t know is why his parents named him Martin. The reason is because he was born on St. Martin’s Day. Maybe the reason that Luther struggled so much with the devil is not only because he did struggle and the devil is real, but there may be another reason why Luther seems to be preoccupied with the devil. And it may be because there is a legend, and it is only a legend, that St. Martin had an aberration of Jesus appear to him. But St. Martin knew what many people today do not know, namely that the devil sometimes takes up the form of Jesus to deceive people. If you are a Protestant, he’ll come to you like Jesus. If you are a Catholic, he’ll come to you like Mary, so he understood that. That is, St. Martin did.
And the legend goes that as this aberration came, St. Martin knew that he might be deceived, and so what he did is he glanced at the hands to see nail prints. And just as he glanced the aberration left, and St. Martin never did know whether he was visited by God or the devil. But I want you to know today that St. Martin was on to something.
There are all kinds of Jesuses out there today. There’s the cosmic Jesus. There’s the Jesus who loves everyone. There’s the Jesus who doesn’t judge anybody. There’s the Jesus that people manufacture in their minds. Years ago there was a book entitled, Jesus, the Businessman, and another book, Jesus, the Revolutionary. My dear friend, with all of these Jesuses, could I give you some advice? Look for nail prints.
Years ago when I was growing up in church we sang a song that I don’t think we sing anymore. In fact, I couldn’t even think of the name of the song, though after the service I’ll find out that some of you remember the name. But I think the chorus used to go,
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
As redeemed by His side I shall stand.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the prints of the nails in His hands.
His wounds identify Him.
You know, that might be your identity too. The Apostle Paul says, “I bear in my body the wounds of Jesus, the sufferings of Jesus,” because of what the Apostle Paul endured. And then He endured so much and God said, “You haven’t endured enough yet. In addition to all of the sufferings that you have, I’m going to give you a thorn in the flesh so that you really endure more.” Why? It’s because his sufferings became the badge of authenticity. And is not that true of us as well? There are some of you who have suffered, maybe because of some disability, maybe because of something that has happened to you, some person who has taken advantage of you. And as you have grown on in the Lord, it has given you such a sense of authenticity and integrity and believability because your wounds become the means by which you have been identified as a follower of Jesus Christ.
Let me give you a fourth fact regarding the wounds of Christ, and that is His wounds became scars. They became scars. Take your Bible and turn to Revelation, chapter 5 for just a moment, where we see the wounds of Jesus but in an entirely different context. John is looking into heaven, and he’s having this awesome vision. And I wish I could comment on the scroll, but you know that this scroll, in effect, is God’s program for the rest of the age. And it says in verse 6 of chapter 5: “Then I saw the lamb looking (notice now) as if it had been slain standing in the center of the throne encircled by the four living creatures and the elders.” No more blood. No more open wounds, but scars, recognizing that the healing has taken place. And I want you to know today that someday (and many of you are in the process here) your own wounds will become scars and you’ll look back and say, “The healing has happened.”
Now, I know there are some people who constantly like to keep a wound open. What they do is they keep peeling back the scab the minute it begins to heal to see how the healing is going. And they keep that wound constantly open and they will not allow it to heal. My dear friend, it’s one thing to have wounds, but would you let your wounds heal? The wounds of Jesus are given to us as the means of healing. He offers up His wounds to us for our own healing and for our own health. So His wounds became scars.
Number five, His scars are the proof of triumph. I pick it up now in verse 12 of chapter 5 of Revelation. “In a loud voice they sang, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise.’” Someone has said that the only reminder of sin in heaven will probably be the wounds of Jesus. And when you and I see Him, what will He look like? If He looks like a Lamb, we’ll notice that it was the Lamb that was slain. He will look as if He was slain. And if we see Him physically, we expect to see nail prints. We expect to see the wounds as a reminder of what He did for us, the stripes and the wounds by which we are healed.
Now, the question is, “How do we access the healing of Christ that comes to us from His wounds?” There are three words that come to me, and these three words grow under the cross. They grow out of what we just said.
The first word is the word of forgiveness. The first word is that of forgiveness. I speak to those of you who will not forgive yourselves, those of you who live with self-condemnation, those of you who are awash with regret, those of you who think that you have sinned too deeply and too often for God to forgive you. I speak to you today and say that it is no credit for Christ to withhold your confession. There are some people who say, “Well, God is so mad at me, I don’t want to come into His presence.” No, my friend. I want you to know that you insult Him because you are driven away from Him by your guilt rather than close to Him because of it. You come to the One who died. You come to the One who made provision. Don’t hang onto it as some work that you must accomplish that sense of guilt. I really do believe that Bonhoeffer was right when he said, “There are some people for whom guilt is an idol that they must hang onto.”
Well, you come to the cross. You are forgiven by God. Then you ask other people to forgive you for the wrong that you have done, and then you choose to forgive those who have wronged you, even if they don’t ask forgiveness and you can’t be reconciled to them. And maybe we don’t want to call this forgiveness, but there is a sense in which we open our lives to God and we give Him our bitterness and our anger, and all of the hurt that is within us so that it can get out of us and so, just as Jesus died on the cross at the hands of angry people, so we, too, accept now the forgiveness that was purchased through that horrid event.
And so the first word is forgiveness. When did Jesus’ wounds, so to speak, begin to heal figuratively speaking? I think it’s when He was on the cross and He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” which is the text for our next message in this series.
The first word is the one of forgiveness. Don’t hurry over that word. Accept it. There’s a second word, and that is the word for love. You see, we can put it this way. Forgiveness cleanses the wound, but it does not yet ensure that healing will take place. The healing is the power of love. See, love is the salve that takes our wounds and heals them. And it’s a reminder of the fact that God loves us in our woundedness. God loves us despite the struggles. God loves us despite the sin. I hate to say it this way, but I must be clear. God loves us despite the evil that is still in our hearts that He is working in us to get rid of. He loves us because He loves us. Can you accept that, my friend? It’s hard for us to accept. It’s hard for me to accept. It’s hard for me to believe that God would love me like that, but He does.
I think that Richard Foster had a point when he said, “Today the heart of God is an open wound of love. He aches over our distance and our preoccupation. He mourns that we do not draw near to Him. He grieves that we have forgotten Him. He weeps over our obsession with muchness and manyness. He longs for our presence. Can you let God love you today? Can you let Him love you? Do you believe that you are individually perfectly loved?
There’s a third word that flows from the cross, and that is the word providence. You know, the ancients used to speak about providential affliction. We don’t use that terminology today because we’ve gone away from a biblical understanding of providence. Providential affliction! That’s what Jesus endured on the cross. And if you are writing and taking notes, not only should you put the word providence there, but then put a slash and put the word thanksgiving, because if you believe that even your wounds and your circumstances are a part of the larger picture of God, then you can say, “Thank You, Lord, for all that You will do through me as a result of this.” We do not give thanks for evil, but we give thanks in the midst of evil because we see God even at crosses. And as a result of that we say to ourselves, “God has not forsaken me because of what has happened. I can become a part of God’s picture, and am a part of God’s picture, and I accept my wounds as that which God shall bless and heal.”
You know, of course, we live at a time when there are many different religions out there. There are many different options, many different opportunities. And they can all be investigated, and I offer Jesus to you today for many, many, many reasons. But one more to add to your list is the fact that He is the only God with wounds.
It is said that in Africa there was a fire in a hut, and the whole family burned and died except a child. Someone in the middle of the night ran into that burning hut and took this baby boy and rescued him. And the next day the elders of the city gathered together and wondered who should take care of this lone child, this orphan. The child was honored because it was thought that maybe he was a special child in light of the fact that someone rescued him from the fire. And a wise man said, “Well, I think he should live with me.” And a rich man said, “I think that he’d be better off with me.” And they were discussing this when into the circle came a young man who argued that he had prior claim to the child because he showed them his hands, burned the night before in that fire as he rescued the boy.
Sometimes it is difficult with words to convey what is in my heart to yours, but I do want to convey this to you, my dear friend. Jesus has prior claim. He has prior claim because of His wounds. There is no other God who entered into this world who struggled with us in our difficulties. There is no other God who experienced death on the cross as the Son of God, as the second member of the Trinity. There is no such thing because He is a God who got involved in our predicament, and a God with wounds.
The other gods were strong, but Thou was weak.
They rode but Thou did stumble to Thy throne.
But to our wounds only God’s wounds can speak,
And not a God has wounds but Thou alone.
Let us pray.
Our Father, I want to thank You today that Jesus was bound for me. I thank You that He endured 39 lashes across His bare body for me. I thank You today that the thorns that made blood spurt was for me. I thank You that He was betrayed for me. I thank You that He went to Calvary for me. I thank You that He endured what I shall never have to endure, paving the way to say, “Come with Me, and I’ll help you all the way home.”
For those who have never come to trust Christ, I pray that You might work in their hearts to bring them to saving faith. For those who know You, oh Father, may they rush into Your presence, to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to lay down bitterness, to be healed, for it is by Your stripes, by Your wounds, that we are healed.
Now you talk to God. If you’ve never received Christ as Savior you can do that in the quietness of your heart, even now. Cry out to Him and say, “Lord, save me.”
If you know Him, draw near to Him and tell Him that you are going to spend an awful lot of time in His presence this afternoon, tomorrow, until at last your wounds become scars.
Oh Father, whatever work You have begun, don’t end it until it is completed. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.
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