Here's the first question I received for our "You Asked for It" series: "Why did Jesus's death save us from sin?" The email went on to read: "I probably will never understand why God's beloved son had to die in the manner he did, unduly cruel."
An honest confession.
So why couldn't God just snap his finger and forgive humanity in a sweeping, forever gesture? Why the cross? Why the violence? Why this way?
If you were to come into my home and smash all my electronics, I can certainly choose to forgive it and not hold it against you. But even though I've forgiven it, someone will still have to pay for the cost of the damage. There is always a cost paid by someone for forgiveness. Justice demands a cost be paid.
If I sue you or press you for compensation, I am expecting you to pay the cost. However, if I forgive it, I am choosing to pay the cost of forgiving you. In other words, I'm the one who will have to clean it up, pay to recycle, and replace the electronics.
Well, that's what God has done.
Mercy is getting what we don't deserve. If I'm guilty of a crime but the judge sets me free, I didn't get what I deserve. Mercy is always demonstrated at the price of justice.
If I were to ask you to fill in this blank, what would you say? God is ___________. Most of us would probably say 'love'. But scripture also says God is just and righteous, that He is true and wise, etc. There are many attributes of God's nature, including love and justice. When we pick our favorite attribute and say God is ONLY __________, we are assuming God is looking at any given situation the way we would.
The cross holds a couple of attributes of God together: justice (which demands that sin and rebellion be dealt with) and mercy (which gives us what we don't deserve). Whenever there is true forgiveness, someone has to pay the price.
God paid it. His justice demands payment and his mercy paid it.
The Old Testament contains both stories of great faith and great failure (and the horrible consequences of sin and rebellion toward God). The sacrificial system was established to remind God's people of the horrific nature of sin and the devastation caused by it. Sacrificial acts at the temple were continually pointing the people toward the great mercy of God who could save them from their costly sin and rebellion. The death of the innocent was leading people to life. Sacrifice was an ugly reminder of the consequences of sin, but it was pointing us to Jesus all along.
Before you judge this as primitive thought, I should remind you that we live every day of our life because something died to make it possible (the animal and plant you eat, those who gave their life for our protection, martyrs of the faith who died to leave us a vibrant faith, and even the costly price paid by our parents and previous generations who made our life possible). It is the way of the world -- a world in rebellion against God (and He will make it right again One Day).
God answered this curse with Himself by stepping into our mess and paying the price His own justice demanded.
Remember the story when Abraham took his son Isaac on what was supposed to be a one-way hike up the mountain? As Abraham's knife came down, God intervened and said, "I will provide." And He did in Jesus.
We wrapped up this message on Sunday with communion, and I invited the people to "come squirming", to be uncomfortable with our costly sin. We may come to Jesus squirming, but we will leave satisfied and grateful.
[part 2 coming soon]