Last Sunday marked the beginning of the Second Week in Lent, also known as Reminiscere, and today, as we have the last two Wednesdays, we will again be hearing from Dr. Adolph Hoenecke (WELS). His topic this week is The Willingness of Jesus in His Passion.
Most men would need to be compelled, even physically forced, to endure the torments of false accusations, illegal trials, unjust verdicts, verbal abuse, physical torture, and a slow physical death by agonizing execution. This Jesus endured, and more. On behalf of mankind, He also suffered spiritual death, which is defined as separation from God, a separation from all Love and all Goodness. Such suffering is the suffering of Hell, for where there is no Love and no Goodness, there is only Hate and Evil. This is a fate which no man can be compelled to endure, but one which many will nevertheless suffer for eternity, a fate to which they will ultimately be dragged despite their objections, amidst their screams of terror, against their desperate clawing for escape. Such are the wages of sin. Such is what sinful men deserve. Of all men He alone being sinless before God, Jesus was the only man to have never deserved such wages. Yet He suffered them. Because He didn't deserve them, He, rather, suffered them willingly. He suffered them willingly out of a boundless love for mankind, in order that no one need suffer the wages of sin. Because Jesus Christ was our willing Substitute, we can be certain that He desires to deliver us from all such suffering. In the following sermon, Dr. Hoenecke explains.
A Sermon for Reminiscere
The Willingness of Jesus in His Passion
by Dr. Adolf Hoenecke1
- Text: Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns and torches and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. Then asked he them again, Whom seek ye? And they said, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus answered, I have told you that I am he: if therefore ye seek me, let these go their way: That the saying might be fulfilled, which he spake, Of them which thou gavest me have I lost none. Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it? Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was the high priest that same year. Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people. (John 18:3-14)
But simply bearing the wood of the cross was not bearing the cross in its fullest and deepest significance. This He did when He bore the torments on the cross, of which the Scriptures say: “Cursed is everyone that hangeth on ca tree” (Gal. 3:13). In this sense too, as we well know, Jesus bore the cross. And, praise be to God, we know this: That cross He also bore willingly. O friends in Christ, on the fact that Jesus suffered willingly truly depends all comfort for us sinners. Now, our Passion text shows us this willingness in the clearest light. On the basis of this text let us take as the subject of our Passion devotion:
- If we realize what made Jesus utterly willing to suffer as our Substitute,
Then all our doubts will be removed regarding His will to help us out of all our sufferings.
Let us, then, first of all, realize what made Jesus utterly willing to suffer as our Substitute. It is expressed very clearly and plainly. Our text states in a way that everyone can understand that Jesus was entirely willing and ready with all His heart to bear all His sufferings, and that as our Substitute.
At the close of our text we read: “And bound him.” How, we ask, did this come about? Did they really have such power over Jesus? Could they do this to Jesus simply because they so willed? By no means. Our dear Saviour Himself had said on one occasion: “No man taketh it (my life) from me, but I lay it clown of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again” (John 10:18).
Besides, how could the creature possibly exercise its power at will over its Creator (Rom. 9:20-21)? In many glorious miracles we have proof that all creation is subject to our Saviour Jesus as its Lord. It was He, the Son, who before the foundation of the world spoke together with the Father: “Let there be. And it was so” (Gen. 1). Afterwards, when he walked on earth in our human nature, He often spoke the same words: Let there be. And it was so. The water became wine (John 2:7-9); the raging sea became completely calm (Mark 4:37-39); the blind became seeing (Matt. 9:27-30; Mark 8:22-26); the deaf, hearing (Mark 7:31-35); the lepers, clean (Luke 17:14; Matt. 8:1-4); the dead, alive (Mark 5:41-42; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44).
We also have the proof before our very eyes in our Passion text. The Lord went to meet the mob that wanted to take Him captive and said: “Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward and fell to the ground” (vv. 4-6). Friends, there you behold the sinful creature, man, in his impotence before Him who is able to say of Himself: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18-20). How had these impotent men been able to bind Him, the omnipotent Lord? How was this whole impotent mob of enemies able to take Him captive, nail Him to the cross, and deliver Him into sufferings?
Now, fellow redeemed, without a doubt we believe in the majestic power of Jesus. But often enough, when we are called upon to give evidence of this faith, we fail. That was true of the beloved disciple in our story. Instead of believing, he drew the sword. However much his loyal love for Jesus may have been responsible for this, still the Peter with the sword in his hand cuts just as sorry a figure as does the Peter of the denying lips, later on (Matt. 26:69-75).
But we Christians often present just as sorry a sight. The sword of Christ, which Christ has enjoined us to take, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God – this sword we are not very ready to draw against Christ's enemies and ours. But we are more eager to take the sword of Peter which, we know, the Lord plainly forbids His followers. For the Lord says: “Put up thy sword into the sheath.”
But just now we are concerned, not so much about the rule for conduct that Jesus gives Peter and us in these words, but about the statement that He wanted to make concerning Himself. He means: I want no help against bonds and sufferings. I could – thus the Saviour adds in the other Gospels – avail myself of an entirely different kind of help: upon My plea the Father would send Me legions of angels (Matt. 26:51-53), if I desired to be rescued, if I desired to remain untouched by bonds, torments, and death. But shall I not drink the cup which My Father hath given me? I will not be hindered from doing that.
After this declaration by Jesus, our text records, “The band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus and bound him” (v. 12). That sounds very much like an everyday happening, like a very ordinary earthly event. But we must look beyond the words, and then we see, to a certain extent, the miracle of the Saviour’s glory as revealed in His Passion. Behold! The same Jesus who shortly before had revealed His majesty by casting His enemies to the ground with His: “I am he,” and had said: “No man taketh my life from me” (John 10:15-18) – the same Jesus surrendered Himself to His enemies, and with the words: “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” He deliberately refrained from exercising the might of His divine majesty upon His enemies. He did so with the explanation: “I refuse to be hindered from hearing and enduring My sufferings.” He made Himself the weak, impotent One whom weak, impotent sinners could bind and lead away in fetters.
Mark it, fellow redeemed, not because He was weak, but because it was His will to be weak, because He was willing to suffer, therefore He arrived at the condition described at the end of our text: “And bound him.”
Precisely as our Substitute He wanted to suffer willingly. As our Substitute – the Lord confirms this very emphatically in our text. “Whom seek ye?” the Lord asked the mob which wanted to take Him captive. They answered: “Jesus of Nazareth.” And the Lord said: “I am he,” the One who was to bear that name, the Nazarene, and who was to be what the name implies, the lowly, the humbled one. “I am he.” The Lord had a right to speak thus. He was even now the Humbled One. Though He was in the form of God, He had already emptied Himself and had taken upon Himself the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7). For this was a deep humiliation for Him that these godless men came to lay hands on Him, the Holy One, and came out against Him with staves and swords, as though He were a murderer, a robber, or some other kind of criminal! But He was to humble Himself to much greater depths; and it was His will to do so. As we heard, He was ready to drink the cup, and that means: the death of hell.
But not for His own sake was He determined to do this. Why then? Here it is in our text: So that He might drink the cup, He was captured and taken to Caiaphas. This was the man who had said: “It is expedient that one man should die for the people” (v. 14). His thought was this: It is better that one man die than that all should die. “And,” says God’s Word, “this he spake not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation” (John 11:51). When he spoke, therefore, he had to prophesy as one commissioned by God; he had to proclaim God’s counsel of grace.
This counsel was that Jesus should die for the people. He, the One, was to die that all might not die. According to God’s will, He, the only innocent One, was to take the place of all guilty men and to suffer their death. In other words: as their Substitute. And that is what Jesus is determined to be. “I am he,” He said. “Lead me away; I am the One who is to be humbled, even unto a criminal death. That is the cup which My Father giveth Me; I will take that cup.” Truly, in this way He plainly declares His willingness to suffer, to suffer as our Substitute.
But, we ask, what made Him willing to take such a heavy burden upon Himself? Friends, we are sinners; and the wages of sin is death. This is the judgment which God’s righteousness had to pass on all sinners. Now, if we were dealt with according to that judgment, what a terrible thing it would be for us! Suppose we are entering our last hour. Fear grips our hearts. In our dying anguish God is holding to our lips the cup of His wrath. The curse of the Law comes ringing into our ears; a voice of thunder proclaims to our terrified hearts: “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Ah, that would be a bitter end!
And now we enter the judgment. Then God stands before you and says: Open the book, that we may see what manner of man he was, and whether he continued in all those things which I commanded him to do. Thereupon the record is read aloud: You have not kept a single commandment. The verdict follows: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them” (Deut. 27:26). And: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matt. 25:41). This is the terror of all terrors! And then you must go down, down into eternal fire, into eternal, indescribable misery, into never-ending torments, into wailing and lamenting without end. O horror of horrors! What an evil fate!
Well now, our compassionate Father had exactly the same idea of a good lot for us. He wanted this for us with all His heart. Therefore He said to the Son: You can procure this for them. But then you must step into their place. And behold! Such was the mind of Jesus in the matter that He did not consider His own advantage, but that of others. He did not consider how He might “have it good,” but thought only of us, how we might “have it good”; have a blessed death; stand in the judgment; enter into eternal life. He wanted to make this good fortune our own; He wanted to bring it about that we might enjoy such a pleasant lot and might not have to drink the cup of wrath, but be spared.
Therefore He drank the cup. So that we might not remain fettered prisoners consigned to hell, but might depart as free men, He let Himself be bound for judgment and condemnation. So that we might not die, but have life, He gave Himself into death. For us, then, He was seeking something glorious, something inexpressibly good. And what was He seeking for Himself? Nothing but the joy of knowing that through Him we would be made happy.
And this was His aim, though we in our sinfulness surely are not worthy of any favor from Him. He sought nothing but the honor of delivering us, and yet we in our sins are the vilest of creatures. There is only one thing which explains the willingness of Jesus to suffer for us. It is His love, a love that is unmerited, based on nothing in us; it is love that is unconditional, burning with a warmth and fervor unknown to man. Oh, how great His love must be, since even in prophecy He says: “I come: in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do Thy will, O my God” (Ps. 40:7-8). How Jesus must love sinners, with a love that passes understanding, since He was ready to take the cup of the Father and was ready to suffer for us, when we in our love of sin and our attachment to sin are the most repulsive creatures! And He exulted in doing it! How could such love fill the heart of Jesus? That we shall never be able to fathom. But it is enough for us to know that His love made Him willing to suffer for us as our Substitute.
With that knowledge all our doubts are removed as to Jesus’ will to deliver us out of all our sufferings. There is salvation in none other but Jesus. There is only one Helper against the woes of sin: Jesus.
Varied, indeed, are the woes which sin sends pouring over us, like a stream out of an inexhaustible fountain. The worst of all these is a bad conscience. We know ourselves as damned before God. With all the wealth we may have, we cannot find any joy; in all our troubles we can find no comfort. We must be afraid in life and in death. We are alarmed that we must bear life and its burdens so long, and yet we feel a still greater alarm at the prospect of its ending. Great is the woe of a bad conscience.
We can alleviate many another evil by our own efforts, but not this one. Try as you will, you will only make things worse. You can never satisfy a greedy heart, no matter how much you give it; it always wants more. So, too, you will never quiet an aroused, bad conscience, do what you will. Always a voice tells us: It is not enough; the guilt still remains. Here no confessing that you have done wrong will help. No giving and sacrificing will help. Judas did all those things, but his heart did not find peace; his conscience fairly screamed his guilt.
Only one thing will help. That is Jesus. What we need is that He come to our aid; that He bestow His help on us. But is it His will to do so? May we confidently hope for that?
This very confidence that Jesus will really take his part – this the poor sinner lacks at first, that is, if he has really become a poor sinner. If he is really plunged into deep remorse over his sin; if he truly realizes what a shameful and disgraceful sight he presents because of his sin; if he is alarmed over the filth in his own heart; if he stands aghast at his uncleanness, reproaches himself for his unworthiness, abhors himself for his damnableness – then, Christian friends, Jesus’ Person tends to appear to him as the One who is holy, One to whom sin and the sinners’ uncleanness must be an abomination. If Jesus in true, heartfelt love would only have pity on him in his great distress – oh, how he wishes for that! Even the thought of such a possibility is enough to give him a measure of comfort. But then the doubt always recurs: How can that possibly be? You hate and loathe yourself because of your sins. How could Jesus help feeling the same way?
And yet, fellow sinners, there is no doubt that Jesus, impelled by the most fervent love, actually wants to take our part and wants to deliver us from all of sin’s woes, here and hereafter.
Friends in Christ, let us imagine this case: A man has become heavily indebted, and that through his own fault. He knows a rich man who could help him, but he cannot summon the courage to appeal to the man of wealth. But then he hears that the rich man, strange to say, has already expressed his great sympathy over the self-incurred misery of this man and has already deposited money with a number of his creditors. He had done so with the remark that he was happy to be able to furnish the money. This amount would go to discharge the debt the moment that the financially distressed man applied for his aid, as the man of wealth fondly hoped he would. Now don’t you think that such knowledge would give the debt-ridden man courage to appeal to the rich man for aid?
Now then, you, the poor sinner, are the man in debt, but Jesus is the rich man of the kind heart. How can you still doubt whether Jesus really loves you enough to give you the hope: ‘In heartfelt love He has accepted me in such a way that I will confidently run into His arms, although I must despise and reject myself.’ Jesus says: Why do you, poor sinner, still torment yourself with doubts? I have loved you, yes, you, in all your repulsiveness, the extent of which even you have not grasped – I have loved you long ago, so much that I bled for you on the cross. It was for you, who are utterly unworthy and damnable, for you that My heart glowed with such a fervent love that I gladly – Oh, mark it! – most gladly, with all My heart, offered up My blood for your good. In such love I purchased you; in love I won you; in love I redeemed you. And now you ask whether I will accept you, My treasure won at such great price? It was for this very purpose that I suffered; for this purpose I, purely out of love, took death upon Myself for you: that I might give you life.
Surely, in the face of this all doubts must vanish. Can there still be room for doubt now? Even though we have sinned most grievously against His love, after He had once accepted us; even though we have denied like Peter, still doubt must vanish. Even in the hours of bitterest remorse and the most severe self-accusations, yes, in the last hour, when the unfaithfulness of an entire lifetime rests upon us with the weight of mountains – still doubt must vanish. Jesus will accept us, will make His salvation and His help avail for us, will help us out of sin, death, and wrath, and will lead us to life and peace. Before the certainty that Jesus in heartfelt, burning love offered His life for you who deserved the curse – before that all doubt must give way. All doubt melts away before the truth: As damnable as we acknowledge ourselves to be, He in heartfelt love still acknowledges us as those whom He wants to help, and He receives us for salvation and our life.
Oh, if only we would really seek Him! Do you all do it, fellow Christians? Suppose that Jesus Himself should ask: Whom seek ye? Can you answer: Thee, dear Lord, Thee who hast humbled Thyself for us that Thou mightest exalt us? Try to imagine this question as one that actually comes to you from Jesus’ lips. You realize that He knows your thoughts; He knows the real condition of your heart. You can conceal nothing from Him. If you are seeking something besides Him, He knows it. What will your answer be when He asks: Whom seekest thou? Sadly I wonder whether many do not have to answer: “To be truthful and sincere, I must admit that I seek everything, only not Thee.”
It is most important to achieve certainty on the question: Whom seek ye? Now is still the time of grace, but that time is running out. Now Jesus is still beckoning us: I am He, the Saviour; come unto me, thou sinner, I will give thee rest. He that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out. Seek Me while I may be found.
But he who would seek Him after the time of grace has run out will not find Him. When this life is gone with all those things with which thousands defraud themselves, when they have gone their way in wretched poverty, finally crying under the pressure of their sin, crying: Woe is me! – then it is too late.
Jesus is compelled to say of such men: Oh, I was seeking your highest good when I died on the cross. How I loved you throughout your lives and wanted to see your lot fall in pleasant places, but you would not let Me lead you out of your ill-fated delusions. Following the lusts of your foolish hearts, you kept Me from providing a happier fate for you. Now you have prepared eternal woes for yourselves.
Therefore seek Jesus while He may be found. And thanks to His love, He may always be found here on earth, as long as we seek Him with hearts hungering for salvation. God grant that we continue thus to our end.
- Hoenecke, A. (1957). Glorified in His Passion (W. Franzmann, Trans.) Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House. (Original work published in German, 1910.). pp. 30-43.
Note: Dr. Adolf Hoenecke (1835-1908) is among the most important theologians of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). He, along with Johannes Bading (d. 1913), led the WELS out of pietistic indifferentism and unionism into strong confessional Lutheranism, was one of the founders of the the old Synodical Conference, and is credited with being the first German Lutheran to author a complete Lutheran Dogmatics in America – Evangelical Lutheran Dogmatics – recently translated into English and available from Northwestern Publishing House. For more information about Dr. Hoenecke, a fairly detailed biography written by Professor August Pieper in 1935, can be found at the following link: The Significance of Dr. Adolf Hoenecke for the Wisconsin Synod and American Lutheranism