Dear Fathers, Friends in Christ,
"And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow…" (Philippians 2:8-10).
It is an understatement to say that the Holy Week which begins this morning is the culmination of the Church’s official "Lenten course." For at least fifteen centuries that we can prove, the Church has ordered that we read these words of St. Paul on this Sunday, along with St. Matthew’s account of the Passion of the Son of God. We have come to the center of the Church’s teaching since the very beginning, from before the time of service books, to the central truth upon which all of Christianity depends—Jesus Christ died for our sins.
This truth, moreover, has an immediate practical application for every human being, since there are only two possible outcomes for every single human life, past, present, or future. There is salvation in Jesus Christ, eternal life with the Lord of all, at the very mention of whose name every knee should bow; or there is damnation, an eternity of death and separation from God in hell.
It is easy to mock old-fashioned "fire and brimstone" preachers, some of whom, indeed, seemed to know far more about hell than they did about the mercy of God or about the kingdom of heaven. But so many who call themselves Christians today have moved in the opposite direction, in an equally exaggerated and an equally distorted way. Polls show that many people do not believe in hell, or at least in the possibility of their having to endure the judgment of hell, whatever kind of life they are leading now. Famous evangelists play games with logic to argue that hell is empty, and tenured theologians revise the Scriptures to say that all men are saved, universally, regardless of what they believe or do in this world.
What these opinions, amateur and professional, have in common is that they are false. These opinions represent a false faith, a false Gospel, and a false doctrine of God. Most of all, what those who hold such opinions have in common is this—they do not bow their knee at the Name of Jesus Christ, to the glory of God the Father, at the Name that God in heaven has exalted above every other name.
A disbelief in hell is really a disbelief in Jesus Christ, who endured death and hell for our sake. When we say that hell is "no big deal," we trivialize the crucifixion that Jesus Christ suffered to keep us out of hell. We say of the lash, the nails, the lance, and the crown of thorns, "No big deal. I was going to heaven any way." We say that Jesus was stupid to go to so much bother, when his dying didn’t really matter anyway, since we didn’t need him to die for us that we might live.
But we must face the awful truth, in order to receive the beautiful truth. When the Name of Jesus is not exalted, God is not glorified, and we are damned. When we put anything in heaven, in earth, or under the earth above the Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins, we belong with the devil because we think and we live like the devil.
The good news and the beautiful truth, on the other hand, is this: that no one who exalts Jesus Christ will ever be lost to hell, to Satan, or to death. Every drop of blood that Jesus Christ shed on the cross is a testimony of life and love for every faithful person, offered before the Father in heaven, crying out for mercy and forgiveness. And the Father will deny his Son nothing in heaven or on earth. The Father will deny the Blood that his Son has shed nothing in time, space, or all of eternity. The glory of the Father is fully revealed and fully received in the agony of the Eternal-Son-made-man on the cross, where he pleads for the life of every one of us.
A true, life-giving faith in Jesus Christ consists not only in building our entire lives on the trust that his Blood is sufficient to redeem our lives. Such a faith also consists in our admission that any sin, any departure from the absolute will of God, is so terrible an offense against God’s goodness and majesty that we deserve to go to hell for it. We deserve to be on that cross, instead of Jesus Christ. We deserve to descend into hell, rather than the holy and innocent Son of God. And yet, despite what we deserve, the Son of God freely became man and freely died in our place. He took away what we deserve, not by magic, but by bloodshed, that we might share with him, and in him, what he deserves—the exaltation of eternal life, the perfect love of the Father for the Son, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost.
But in a fallen world, set against God, humiliation must always come before exaltation. Goodness, mercy, honour, and obedience to God are acts of war against the world, and the world strikes back with pride and contempt. We discover, moreover, just how vicious that pride and contempt can be, when we examine the transaction between Judas Iscariot and the priests and elders.
The ancient Church thought of Judas not just as a traitor, but as a universal example of faithlessness. To deny Jesus Christ, the rightful King of kings and Lord of lords, is to be a Judas, wherever or however we refuse to bow the knee. One must be faithful to Jesus Christ or one must be a Judas working with the murderers of Christ. There really is no "third category" of relation to the crucified Son of God.
Judas, after all, took thirty pieces of silver for Christ. He knew, and those who paid him knew, where that price came from. The Book of Exodus decrees: "If the ox shall push [that is, gore] a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned" (Exodus 21:32). Thus, thirty pieces of silver was the price of a slave, which Judas accepted for the infinitely valuable Son of God. This is contempt for Christ, even if Judas had second thoughts and tried to give the money back. He did not declare his faith in Christ. He did not offer to die with him. He only complained that he wanted a "do over," since betraying Christ made him "feel bad" about himself.
The elders and priests who laughed at Judas are also a universal example. They show us, whatever we claim about our religion, to what disgusting depths a contempt for the Blood of Jesus Christ can take a human being. They would not put the slave price that they had paid to Judas back into the Temple treasury because they applied this verse from Deuteronomy to our Lord: "Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these are abomination unto the LORD thy God" (Deuteronomy 23:18). A "dog" was a "male prostitute," but they counted Jesus Christ even lower than this.
How much lower? Their intention was to see Jesus Christ crucified by the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. And as educated men, they knew this Scripture:
And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).
They judged Jesus accursed of God and worthy of death. They held that his precious Body and Blood were a defilement upon the earth, to be disposed of as quickly as possible. And when Jesus was crucified according to their plan, they treated him in just this way, blasphemously claiming to have done their "Scriptural duty" against the Son of God.
The Son of God, who could create and uncreate worlds at a thought, allowed himself to be valued as a slave and treated as perverse, criminal, human garbage. These humiliations endured are what St. Paul means when he tells us that our Lord "humbled himself" for our sake and for the glory of his Father. Those words "he humbled himself" seem so mild and tame, and almost inconsequential, until we consider the details of what our Lord suffered. But Jesus Christ’s humility overthrows every throne but that of his Father in heaven, and subjects every kingdom, every nation, and every person to his rulership.
And so, during this week, lived as the epitome of our lives and of what we want out of our lives, we bend the knee to Jesus Christ with all the faithful, or we join Judas Iscariot and the crucifiers. God has asked of us the slightest of humiliations, to bend our knees before his Son, before he exalts us in the love of his Son. Nevertheless, we must never forget as we walk the way of the cross this week that God has asked of us only such humility as is right and proper from those who have received the benefits of Christ’s humiliation. We should be humble, since Jesus Christ has died for our sins, and he has endured the world’s contempt for our sake.
I wish you a very meaningful Holy week,
Father Ed Bakker,
Anglican Catholic Church / Original Province
Mission of Saint Aidan of Lindisfarne