“The joy being set before Him, He endured the cross.”
When the Divine Word offered Himself to redeem mankind, there were before Him two ways of redemption – the one of joy and glory, the other of pains and insults. It was His will, not only by His coming to deliver man from eternal death, but also to call forth the love of all the hearts of men, and therefore He rejected the way of joy and glory and chose that of pains and insults.
In order that He might satisfy the Divine justice for us and at the same time inflame us with His holy love, He was willing to endure this burden of all our sins, that, dying upon a cross, He might obtain for us grace and the life of the blessed. This is what Isaias intended to express when he said, “He Himself hath borne our pains and carried our sorrows.”
Of this there were to express figures in the Old Testament: the first was the annual ceremony of the scapegoat, which the high priest represented as bearing all the sins of the people; and therefore, all, loading it with curses, drove it into the desert, to be the object of the wrath of God. This goat was a figure of our Redeemer, who was willing to load Himself with all the curses deserved by us for our sins, being made a curse for us in order that He might obtain for us the Divine blessing.
Therefore, the Apostle wrote in another place, “He made Him to be sin for us, who knew not sin, that we might be made the justice of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). That is, as St. Ambrose and St. Anselm explain it, He made Him to be sin who was Innocence itself – that is, He presented Himself to God as if He had been sin itself. In a word, He took upon Himself the character of a sinner and endured the pains due to us sinners, in order to render us just before God.
The second type of the sacrifice which Jesus Christ offered to the eternal Father for us upon the Cross was that brazen serpent of the Old Law which was fixed to a tree, by looking upon which the Jews who were bitten by fiery serpents were healed. Accordingly, St. John writes: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that every one who believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 4:14).
We may here notice that in the Book of Wisdom the shameful death of Jesus Christ is clearly foretold. Although the words of the passage referred to may apply to the death of every just man, yet, say Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Jerome and many other holy Fathers, they principally refer to the death of Christ. It is said: “If He is the true Son of God, He will defend Him, and will deliver Him from the hands of his enemies” (Wisdom 2:18).
These words exactly correspond with what the Hebrews said when Jesus was upon the Cross: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him; for He said, I am the Son of God” (Matt. 27:43). The Wise Man goes on to say, “Let us try Him with insults and torments,” that is, those of the cross, “and let us prove His patience; let us condemn Him to the most shameful death.”
The Hebrews chose the death of the cross for Jesus Christ because it is shameful, in order that His name might be forever infamous and no more held in remembrance, according to the other text of Jeremias: “Let us put wood on His bread, and cut Him off from the land of the living, and let His name be remembered no more” (Jer. 11:19). How, then, can the Hebrews of the present day say that it is false that Christ was the promised Messiah because His life was ended by a most shameful death, when the prophets themselves foretold that He should die with a most dishonorable death?
And Jesus accepted such a death. He died to pay the price of our sins: And therefore, as in the case of sinners, He desired to be circumcised, to be redeemed with a price when He was presented in the temple, to receive the baptism of repentance from the Baptist and lastly, in His Passion, to be nailed upon the Cross to atone for our guilty wanderings, to atone for our avarice by being stripped of His garments, for our pride by the insults He endured, for our desires of power by submitting Himself to the executioner, for our evil thoughts by His crown of thorns, for our intemperance by the gall He tasted, and by the pangs of His Body for our sensual delights.
Therefore, we ought continually, with tears of tenderness, to thank the eternal Father for having given His innocent Son to death, to deliver us from eternal death: “He sparred not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all; and how shall He not also with Him give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Thus said St. Paul, and thus Jesus Himself said in the Gospel of St. John: “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
On this account, Holy Church exclaims on Holy Saturday, “Oh, wonderful is it which Thy love has done for us! O Inestimable Gift of Love, that to redeem a servant, Thou shouldest give Thy Son.” O infinite mercy, O infinite love of our God! O Holy Faith! How can he who believes and confesses this live without burning with holy love for God, who is so loving and so worthy of love?
This article is taken from a chapter in The Soul Sanctified which is available from TAN Books.