Isaiah 52:13—53:12 & Romans 5:6-11
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 19, 2019
“God,” the Bible says, “proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
The proof of God’s love is that, when we had a terrible problem we could not solve, God in Christ came and solved it for us, at a terrible cost to Himself.
The problem is that justice and mercy pull in different directions. Justice is giving people what they deserve, and mercy is not giving people what they deserve. While justice and mercy are equally valuable, they are mutually incompatible – unless there is, in a miracle of love, a way to reconcile them.
Consider an inadequate illustration from everyday life. Suppose I am caught speeding way over the posted limit and am summoned to appear in court. Before the judge, I admit I am guilty, and acknowledge I deserve the fine. Now, the judge can respond in one of two ways. She can deal with me justly and command me to fork over several hundred dollars; or she can deal with me mercifully, and say, “Since you’re truly sorry and mean never to speed again, I’m going to dismiss you with just a warning.”
The judge is free to take either course; but the judge can’t take both at once. If she is just, she is not merciful; and if she is merciful, she is not just. The only way that the demands of justice and the demands of mercy can both be fulfilled is if the judge, out of a loving kindness I haven’t justified, is moved to enact grace, and declare, “Because you did a great wrong, I am going to levy the fine the law requires; but because I want to be better to you than you warrant and give you a gift to which you have no right, I am going to take out my checkbook and pay your penalty myself.” Then, and only then, would the demands for justice and those for mercy be satisfied together.
This analogy is inadequate to the depths of what was going on at Calvary, but it does give some sense of it. By our wrongdoing, we incurred a penalty that had to be paid and that would bankrupt our lives. Out of love, the Son of God took responsibility for paying the punishment we deserved, and substituted His life for ours. He stood in for us; and shed His blood and descended into the hell of God-forsakenness. At Calvary Jesus was, the Bible says, “made…to be sin” and He Himself absorbed the righteous wrath we had brought down upon us all by our evil-doing.
Though he did not know Jesus of Nazareth, Isaiah knew Him in His essence and mission. He described Jesus’ act of loving justice and mercy thus: “He has borne our infirmities…He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole.”
Because this Friday was so bad for Jesus, the future is so good for those who trust in what He did that dreadful day, who dare to believe that the hell he endured opens up Paradise for them, and brings into their earthly existence heaven’s life, enabling them to keep growing in joy, peace, power and, most of all, love – the same love that brought Jesus to the cross. Love is both the starting point of Good Friday and its destination point. Love is both the point of it all and the proof of it all.
Author and speaker Brennan Manning shares how, growing up, a neighborhood buddy named Ray was his best friend. The two of them did everything together: bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, attended the same school together, and so on. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together, and fought on the front lines together.
One day, while huddled in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and munched on a chocolate bar. Suddenly, a live grenade landed in their foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, tossed aside his chocolate and threw himself on the grenade. It exploded, killing Ray; but Ray’s body shielded Brennan from its impact, and Brennan’s life was spared.
Years later, after Brennan had entered the priesthood, he visited Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They were one evening enjoying some hot tea together when Brennan suddenly asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” At that question, Mrs. Brennan jumped up from the couch, shook her finger in his face, and cried out, “What more could my son have done for you?”
Brennan says that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He had a vision of himself standing within view of Calvary, and wondering whether God really loved him – when Jesus’ mother Mary jumped up, pointed to Calvary and cried out, “What more could my Son have done for you?”
The cross is God’s way of doing all He could for us. It is God’s way of giving us proof of His love.
If we would bear in mind that blood-darkened instrument of torture and murder, we would not question whether He cares about us, or doubt whether He always gives us every gift that is good for us to have at the moment– until that day when we have it all in heaven, when we experience the ultimate good, know infinite happiness, and enjoy perfect closeness with the One who has always loved us, and proved it this Friday.