2 Co 5:14-21
Around 60 A.D, the Roman Empire had been in Great Britain for 17 years. The Emperor Claudius had invaded in 43 AD and had set in motion the process by which Rome tried to make Britain into a functioning province of the empire. As they always did, they sought to use local rulers in positions of power who were willing to cooperate with them.
However, not everyone was willing to go along with this plan. And as so often happened, after the initial shock of Roman military success in the invasion began to wear off, there was a revolt. This revolt, however, was unusual because it was led by a woman. The queen of the Iceni, Boudica led an uprising which began by attacking the Roman center of Colchester. They sacked this Roman colony where there was temple to the emperor Claudius. When the Roman ninth legion tried to relieve Colchester, Boudica and her forces routed them in battle.
Boudica had launched the revolt while the Roman governor Suetonius was conducting a military campaign on the island of Anglesey off the coast of Wales. Suetonius rushed back to what is today London. He realized that he didn’t have sufficient forces to hold the town, so he abandoned it and withdrew. Boudica’s army then took London and destroyed it.
The Romans’ position was precarious. Suetonius scraped together all the forces he could, but he was vastly outnumbered. However in a great tactical decision, he engaged Boudica in battle at a place where there was only a narrow clearing in the woods. At the Battle of Watling Street Boudica was prevented by the landscape from bringing all of her forces to bear at once against the Romans. And as a result, the superior discipline of the Roman legions was able to win a great victory.
We don’t know exactly what happened to Boudica, but apparently she was not captured and instead poisoned herself. Thousands of her followers were not so fortunate. The Romans did to them what they did to all rebels. They crucified them. And in this case the Romans did it along a road for mile and after mile. Tormented individuals, one after another, were left hanging on crosses as they endured a slow and painful death. When they had died their bodies were left on the crosses for birds to come and eat. One can imagine the flocks of birds that descended upon the thousands of dead in order to feed upon them. The macabre scene was left there as a reminder about what would happen to anyone else who chose to revolt against Rome.
I tell the story of Boudica and her revolt not because it was unusual. Instead it was typical in the way it took place. It was typical in that the Romans defeated the revolt – there was only one group that ever successfully threw off Roman rule and those were the German tribes on the east side of the Rhine River. And it was typical in that the result for those not killed in battle was crucifixion.
By outward appearances, Jesus Christ hanging on the cross on Good Friday was no different than those miles of crucified British rebels. After all, that is how the Jewish leaders presented him to Pontius Pilate – as a rebel. In Luke’s Gospel they bring him to Pilate and say, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” They were trying to say all the right things. For if there were two things you did not do under Roman rule they were, one, interfere with their reception of taxes and two, claim some kind of independent political power.
In all of the Gospel accounts of our Lord’s passion it becomes clear that Pilate knows this is not the real story. But Pilate too is man caught up in the workings of Roman imperial rule. He’s a second class ruler in a second class province. He serves at the whim of the emperor and he can’t afford any serious public disorder – especially not at the time of the Passover. The Jewish religious leaders know this and they push his buttons. They cry out in our Gospel lesson, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” And so Pilate acquiesces and sends Jesus to be crucified.
From outward appearances – if, as Paul says in our text, we regard Jesus according to the flesh – he is just one more rebel crushed under the might of the Roman empire. He is just one more tortured, pathetic figure dying on a Roman cross.
But the apostle tells us in our epistle lesson that we no longer look at him this way. We no longer look at him this way because we have heard the Gospel – we have heard the word of reconciliation that comes from God.
Paul tells us in our text tonight that Jesus Christ was not hanging on the cross because he was a rebel. Instead, he hung there because you are. You have followed in the footsteps of your father Adam instead of your heavenly Father. You have trespassed his command to have no other gods before him. You have not given him thanks. You have taken his Means of Grace for granted – if you weren’t here last night, what were you doing? You have despised the authorities placed over you or you have failed to carry out the responsibility God has given to you. You have hated. You have lusted. You have coveted. You are the one who has rebelled against God.
And in spite of this, in his love God wanted to reconcile you to himself. He wanted to reconcile you the rebel who had trespassed and sinned against him. He wanted to reconcile you, and yet he remains the holy and just God who punishes and destroys rebels who sin. So God the Father sent the Son into the world in the incarnation as the Word became flesh. He became flesh so that God could be in Christ reconciling the world to himself.
Our Lord Jesus was not a rebel. Instead he was the perfectly obedient Son who had walked the way from his baptism to the cross. He was without sin – he was the righteous One. And yet Paul tells us that in order to punish our sin and reconcile us: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Stop and ponder that statement for a moment: God made Christ to be sin. That’s what happened on the cross. The sinless One became sin because he took the place of sinners. God the Father poured out his just wrath and punishment against sin – and he did it against his own Son in our place. Jesus Christ called out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” as he experienced God’s damnation in our stead.
God did this to reconcile the world to himself, not counting our trespasses against us. As Paul says at the beginning of our text, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” Jesus Christ became sin for you. He died on the cross for you. He died for you. You haven be joined to him through baptism and therefore you have died. The punishment against your sin has been accomplished in Christ. And because he did this on Good Friday you now have peace with God; you have been reconciled to God.
Because God has joined you to Christ through the work of the Spirit, everything has changed. Paul says in our text, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Paul tells us that Jesus died for you, so that now you can live for him. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection everything has changed. The apostle tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Through baptism God has made you a new creation in Christ. The saving benefits of the cross have become yours. The Spirit made you one for whom Christ died so that you may live. And now you no longer are to live for yourself, but instead you live for Christ who loved you and gave himself up for you. No longer are you to regard things according to the flesh – from outward appearances.
On Good Friday we focus upon the sacrifice of Christ as he gave himself into death for us. And this should lead us to recognize that living for Christ will involve sacrifice for others. It will mean regarding sacrifice for others as a good thing because it is a Christ-like thing.
This makes no sense apart from Christ and what he did for us. It will never make sense to the world. For all the world saw on Good Friday was a rebel crushed by the Roman empire. All it saw was pathetic weakness, suffering and death.
But as Paul tells us in our text tonight, “Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” We have heard the Gospel, and so we know that the One on the cross has changed everything. We know that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them. We know that for our sake God made Christ to be sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. We know that Christ has died for all, therefore all have died; and that he died for us so that we who live might no longer live for ourselves but for him who for our sake died and was raised.