Son of man must be delivered into the hands of
sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.
Did Jesus really have to die to pay for our sins?
In a recent T.V. special on comparative religion, a Jewish expert addressed this issue. According to him, Jesus’ death was entirely unnecessary. God is perfectly willing and able to forgive us if we are truly and sincerely repentant. No further accommodation or transaction is needed.
This sounds wonderful. But is this true?
The Bible says that God created us in His image. We may learn something about God’s heart by looking at our own hearts. Now, are we able to forgive, as the Jewish expert says that God forgives? Suppose that someone wrongs us, then comes back begging for forgiveness. Are we able to freely grant them pardon, with no conditions or complications?
Suppose you are caught in the midst of a war, and enemy soldiers come to your house. They take everything of value and burn your house to the ground, destroying your life’s work. They rape your wife, driving her insane. They torture and mutilate your son, bury him up to his neck, smear his head with peanut butter, and leave him for the rats to eat. They take your baby daughter and repeatedly hold her head under water, laughing at her screams, then toss her up in the air and spear her on a bayonet. Finally, they beat you until you are paralyzed for life, then toss you onto a pile of garbage.
After the war, the soldiers return and fall on their knees before you. “Forgive us”, they plead. “Our leaders lied to us. They taught us to hate you. They drugged us. We were so strung out when we came to your house we hardly knew what we were doing.”
Perhaps upon hearing the soldiers’ excuse you might be able to forgive. Perhaps you could understand and appreciate that the soldiers were only pawns, that they had been manipulated and deceived. If you were able to forgive, even in such horrible circumstances, it would be a wonderful thing. But even if you forgive others freely, your forgiveness is not free, for it costs you something. You must swallow the pain, you must live with the after-effects, you must carry with you the flashbacks, the nightmares, the echoes of screams. If you forgive, you even deny yourself the small satisfaction of revenge.
Just so God’s grace and forgiveness to us is free – but it was not free to Him. Jesus’ death is the physical expression of the price God has to pay, the pain He has to bear, every time He forgives us. For what pains God is not so much the outward action, but the inward heart which gave rise to the action. In our selfishness and callousness we wound the Father just as deeply as the chief priests’ and Pilate’s flunky soldiers wounded Jesus. It costs Him fully as much to forgive us as it cost Jesus to say as He hung dying, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.
We only imagine things are not so because we have become so desensitized to sin. We have not an inkling how deeply our sin violates God and His creation. Spiritually, our sin is just as horrific as the wartime scenario described above. At heart, their sin and ours is one and the same. Our hearts hold the same hate, the same ignorance, the same vindictiveness, the same perverse lusts, the same brutish insensitivity to others. We have been deceived by Satan just as thoroughly as the soldiers were deceived by their propaganda machine. To us their sin seems much more horrible, because we gauge good and evil by their outward effects. But God is not so, for He looks not at the outward, but at the heart.
We make many excuses to repudiate the blood of Jesus. We say, “Certainly we’ve done bad things, but what we’ve done isn’t so bad that a merciful God can’t overlook our failings.” We are wrong on two counts. First, what we have done IS so bad, that we cannot even begin to fathom how horrible it is. Second, God cannot overlook, He cannot wave His hand and let bygones be bygones. He may freely forgive us, but He Himself must bear the cost.
Some people imagine they disbelieve God simply because they have no evidence for His existence. This is only partially true. The only way that these people can go on living is by denying reality, by avoiding the cognizance of the enormity of their own sin. For once a self-awareness of sin is awakened, if there were no God to trust in nor Christ to redeem us, there would be no choice but suicide. Judas found this out the hard way.
Copyright © 2002 CrossPollen
Last Revised: April 27, 2002
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