God’s Love and the Meaning of Jesus’ Death on the Cross
How is it that we can know God to be good, in this world – in His world – filled with such brokenness and anxiety and fear and sin and death? If we reflect on creation, and on the cross, we will discover the deep truth of God’s love.
The prophet Jeremiah writes, “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”
God remains always, and forever, Good.
And not only is God good, but we learn in the very beginning, that all He does – that all he creates — is Good. Again and again we hear that phrase, “and it was good.”
He created the heavens and the earth and the stars and the sun and the plants and the animals – and it was good. He made a man, Adam, and Adam was ok. But God looked at Adam, and He was like, “You know, I can do better than that.” And so he made Eve, a woman, and it was good. (just kidding, of course!) God did make humanity, male and female, in His own image, and it was very good, the Scriptures tell us.
God created us just like Himself – free, in order that we might be able to love – to love one another, and most importantly, to love God. And it was all very good.
We were created free – free to choose God, free to love God. Free to choose to be in relationship with God, or to turn from Him and do our own thing.
And we turned. And having turned we were stuck. Sin and death entered into God’s creation. We invited them in — and we were stuck… in both of them.
But the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. And God chose — in his perfect goodness — to come after us as it were, to come among us, to reach out His mighty hand, that He might save us from sin and death.
The Son of God took on our flesh. And though he did not sin, he took on every single consequence of our sin: the weakness and frailty, the suffering and shame, even the abandonment and despair – the feelings of isolation and separation from God that are a direct result of our sin – all these our Lord took on. And ultimately, on the cross, he took on death itself.
We chose sin, and so suffer all the consequences of that choice. Our Lord chose freely to enter into those consequences, to meet us in the muck and mire that we created for ourselves, in order that he might lead us out of them — in order to redeem us, and bring us back to Himself.
The Son of God died, that the sons of men might be raised up with him. God came all the way down to us, even into the depths of hell, that he might raise us back up, to the place he created us to be in the first place: into a loving relationship, a living union, with him.
When Jesus gasped those final words on the cross, “it is finished,” he was not talking about his own life. He was not saying, “Now I am going to die.” This work was not about him.
In order for us to understand the incredible goodness of God – and this incredible work Our Lord has done for us on the cross – we must consider the truth that Jesus did not have to die on the cross for our sins. It is tempting, in our familiarity with this story and Our Lord’s work of redemption, to think that God did what He did . . . because He had to; that the cross is a faraway act of God – faded into the mists of time – done simply because that’s what God does. But what he did 2000 years ago, he did for us today.
And to think that Jesus had no choice but to die on the cross, would completely miss the power and the point of his sacrifice. Jesus did not have to do this work.
He certainly did not have to suffer and die for his own sake: for the forgiveness of his own sins, for his own redemption, or his own salvation, for his own life. Very God of very God, he had no need for any of these.
He did not suffer and die for his own sake. Nor did he have to do it for our sake. But he chose to. He willed to. That is what makes it an act of love! He took on the fullness of the effects of sinful humanity, for OUR sake.
To us sinful human beings, Our Lord’s act of pure love is nearly incomprehensible, and yet it reveals the very purpose for which we were created. When we are hurt, or offended, or accused — rightly or wrongly of something — from the guy who cuts us off on the freeway, to the family member who hurts us, or the friend who betrays us, we are so easily moved to vengeance and retaliation.
But Jesus, to set things right, to “settle the score” as it were, pours himself out for our sake. The very same sin manifested in us and in his persecutors and murderers, is the very sin he has come to heal, and redeem… This incomprehensible act of self-giving sacrifice is not only the means of our salvation, it is also the picture of who we were created to be.
Had we lived this way from the beginning, freely offering ourselves in perfect love to the Father, we would have no need for this redemption. The cross is both the means and the ends of our salvation. It is at once, the way in which God has saved us from sin and death, and it is our destination as the people of God; to fully and freely offer ourselves in love to the Father, in the Son, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he was talking about the fullness of the redemptive work of God: God’s action of saving His creation – His people – saving us from the power of sin and death. That work was finally finished as Our Lord took his last breath on the tree, and gave up his Spirit.
His act of redeeming, of renewing His creation, was completed through his death.
And then, just as God rested on the seventh day after his work of creation, so too, God rested in the tomb after completing His work of NEW creation: restoring humanity to our intended place: forgiving our sins by his blood shed on the cross: entering into the darkness of death, and shining His divine light and life into every corner of darkness.
Out of love for us, he became as one of us, that we might become like him. He suffered and died that we might have life.
On the cross, God completed His work of New Creation.
And it was Good.