Question #1) Jesus’ death was almost 2000 years before I was born. What does Jesus’ death have to do with the sins I committed so long after His death?
Question #2) Why is God so bloodthirsty? Why does He require a blood sacrifice for sin? Why can’t God in His mercy and omnipotence simply grant forgiveness and absolution, if we are truly sorry and ask Him for forgiveness?
Jesus died for the sins of the world, then why can’t He just forgive everybody?
Why won’t everybody be saved?
Like most spiritual questions, these questions have no “correct” answers. For we can only conceptualize spiritual reality in terms of concrete, physical examples (which is why Jesus consistently taught using parables and analogies, e.g. John 3:8-12). Since these physical conceptualizations are not unique, the answers they express are not unique. Furthermore, the conceptualizations are always approximate, so the answers are approximate.
Bearing this in mind, I shall pose three paradoxes, whose explanations furnish answers (not the ONLY answers, and not COMPLETE answers, but answers nonetheless) to the three questions.
Paradox #1) On the Cross, Christ suffered for our sins once for all (1 Peter 3:18) -- yet Christ still suffers from our sins (2 Cor. 1:5).
In fact, Jesus Christ suffers as much from our sins today as He did 2000 years from the sins of those who killed Him.
When the chief priests, the Pharisees, the people, and the Romans were all participating in Jesus’ murder, what hurt Him most was not what they were doing to His body, but what was in their hearts. The Bible says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7; see also John 2:24-25)
Jesus still hurts when He sees the wickedness in our hearts. When we harbor hatred and jealousy and pride and lust in your heart, then our hearts are just as hideous to Him as the hearts of His torturers. When you say something nasty to your brother or neighbor, then you are slapping Jesus in the face. When you envy someone who is more popular or smarter or better-looking, then you are striking the whip across His back. When you put another down as worse than you are, then You are driving a nail into His hand. When you indulge in pornography, you are thrusting a spear into His side.
Jesus also suffers when we fail to do what He is asking us to do (Matthew 21:41-45). He suffers when He calls you to give money to the poor, but instead you spend it on yourself. He suffers when He asks you to reach out to the unloved and unlovely, but instead you run away as Jonah fled to Tarshish. He suffers when you just follow the crowd, while He is calling you to follow Him.
How could any believer in Jesus imagine that He no longer suffers? How could He possibly just kick back and idly watch us destroy ourselves and others, like we watch dramas on T.V.? Do you think He no longer has feelings, He being the One who cared enough for us to die for us?
But if Jesus still suffers, then what was the point of His sufferings on the Cross? The Cross graphically represents Jesus’ ultimate, unshakeable commitment, that no matter what awful things you’ve done, no matter how badly you sin, no matter how horribly you hurt Him, STILL He is committed to forgiving you, STILL He is willing to bear upon Himself the consequences of your sin.
Jesus’ sufferings on the Cross were the tip of the iceberg. The Cross was visible for our benefit – but His deepest sufferings were and are spiritual and invisible.
we know it still pains You every time we sin. We are cut to the heart,
we are deeply sorry. Only the grace of Your Spirit can enable us
to avoid sin. Lord, we invite Your grace to reign in our lives.
Paradox #2) God freely offers forgiveness -- yet forgiveness is not free.
We may understand this paradox when we understand how God made us in His image. To some extent, He reacts as we react, He feels as we feel. Of course we shouldn’t take this too far, but at least it can get us started when we’re trying to understand God.
Have you ever tried to forgive someone who really hurt you very, very badly? It’s hard -- it’s the hardest thing in the world. If you are really and truly able to forgive him completely, then it costs you a lot. You yourself must swallow the pain and the hurt of his abuse. You must even deny yourself the pleasure of revenge.
We never forgive anyone “freely”. If we stop blaming others, if we quit holding it against them, if we no longer consider them responsible, it means that we are willing to bear the cost ourselves.
The Cross was God’s visible statement of How deeply our sin hurts God, and how much it costs Him to forgive us every time we sin.
It was not just God’s Son who suffered at the Cross. God Himself also suffered terribly. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Did you ever have such a close connection with someone that you literally felt their pain when they suffered? This is why mothers go beserk when their babies cry, and will do anything to stop them from crying. Well, God has an even closer connection with Jesus. We can scarcely begin to understand what torture God went through as His Son hung dying.
We simply fail to understand how deeply our sin hurts God. Just like the people of Los Angeles are so used to breathing polluted air that they no longer even notice how brown the air is, so we are so used to living in a world full of sin that we simply take it for granted. If we came into a world without sin, it would seem strange and uncomfortable to us. But God lives where the air is fresh. For Him to breathe the polluted atmosphere of sin is torture – and because He loves us, it is torture as well for Him to see us breathing polluted filth.
I remember seeing a Jewish clergyman discussing this issue on TV. He clearly considered the Christian view of God as rather barbaric. In his view, all we need to do is come to God with a truly repentant heart, and He will cleanse our hearts and forgive us. He seems to have forgotten that the Jewish religion is steeped in sacrifice, and that the Law of Moses commanded that sacrifices be offered for sins small and great. Under Moses’ law, God forgave sin – but at the cost of an animal’s life. When that animal suffered, God suffered. That living animal was a special, unique, incredible creation of God, made by His loving hands. Do you think it was a lark for Him to see a precious life snuffed out, the dead carcass cut up like so much raw material, and the remains tossed out as garbage? The sacrificial animal was a visible demonstration to us how much sin violates God’s creation, and ultimately God Himself. In sacrifice, and especially Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, we see how much it costs Him to forgive us “freely”.
Thank you, God, for paying the price for us. Pour out Your spirit
upon us, so that we may forgive others as You forgave us.
Paradox #3) Jesus died for the sins of all -- yet not all are saved from sin.
This paradox may be explained by the following story. Suppose you own a restaurant in a typical American city. Now, if you put your trash out in the dumpster, the Sanitation Department will take it away. Trash removal is a “free” service the city offers, and you don’t need to pay extra for it. (for the purpose of this story, please forget about taxes!). Suppose though that you never take out the trash. Instead, you let it pile up in the kitchen. One day the health inspector comes and says, “You’ve gotta close down this joint, you’re violating the health code.” “What’s wrong?”, you cry. “Look at all this rotting garbage!”, he replies. “You don’t understand”, you plead. I can take the trash out anytime, and the city will take it away. It’s a free service.” “Hey, bud”, says the inspector, “All I know is the garbage is here, this place is a mess, and I’m closing you down.”
Some people think, “Salvation is free. Jesus freely forgives me of my sin, so I don’t need to give up anything to receive His salvation.” So they don’t take their garbage out. How sadly mistaken they are!
Many people don’t understand the connection between SIN and SELF. SIN is the garbage, SELF is the garbage can. You can’t put SIN out on the curb without putting SELF out as well. You need to give SELF into Jesus’ hands, and allow Him to clean you out and give you a new SELF.
What does putting SELF into Jesus’ hands entail? Nothing short of total self-surrender. We must come before God in absolute sincerity, saying “”Search me, O God, and know my heart : try me, and know my thoughts. See if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24). Then we must wait in His presence for Him to tell us what He wants to remove from our hearts and lives.
Some may say, “If salvation involves giving up self, then salvation is not free.” These people do not realize that SELF itself is as worthless as a bucketful of trash. SELF only acquires value when the Lord places something valuable within. Those who place a high value on SELF shall never be willing to give it up. They can never be saved (Mark 8:35).
Prayer: Jesus, I want to take my trash out -- all of it. I am placing my whole self in Your hands, to do with me what You want. I trust that You will empty my trash and give me back a new self, a new heart which is cleansed from sin.
Copyright © 2002 CrossPollen
Last Revised: April 27, 2002
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