“O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken"
By Johann Heermann, 1585-1647
1. O dearest Jesus, what law hast thou broken
That such sharp sentence should on Thee be spoken?
Of what great crime hast Thou to make confession, -- What dark transgression?
I think these words by Pastor James Preus beautifully summarize this stanza: "These words written in 1630 by German pastor Johann Heermann epitomize the astonishment of anyone who has heard of the abuse borne by Jesus as recorded in Scripture. From reading Heermann’s words, one gets the sense that Heermann actually witnessed the very crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus bore unbelievable abuse. Soldiers shoved a crown of thorns into his scalp, piercing skin until blood streamed down his face. They struck Jesus both with fists and objects. They scourged him! What does that mean? Scourging was a form of punishment carried out by the Romans, where the victim is beaten with a multi-lashed whip with pieces of bone or metal imbedded, intended to rip and tear skin and flesh. Everyone around Jesus mocked him as soldiers mercilessly urged him to the top of Golgotha to be crucified. Even in his last moments of breath they gave him nothing but vinegar to quench his thirst.
This is punishment. Cruel punishment! One must be guilty of a horrific crime to warrant such severe punishment. “What law hast thou broken?” the hymnist cries. The answer? None! Jesus broke no law. He never did anything wrong. Even the heathen governor Pilate proclaimed to those demanding Jesus’ crucifixion: “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death.” (Luke 23:22) This is an understatement! Jesus has no guilt deserving death! He has no guilt at all! Yet here he is being punished as if he were the worst kind of criminal, a thief, molester, and murderer."
The Bible makes it absolutely clear - Jesus is without spot or blemish, perfectly pure, without sin: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)
And yet, when one looks at the cross, you can't help but think that for someone to suffer in that way then they must have committed some dark transgression, some wickedness that they DESERVE to be punished for. There Jesus hangs, suffering not what He deserved, but for us and our transgressions.
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. - Isa. 53:4-6
This opening stanza wants us to consider horrific travesty of the scene and wants to lead us to understand why He would hang there and suffer such things.