It seems to me that as the tides of time crash against the shores of fickle and transient human memory, our memory of the significance of Jesus’ finished work on the cross can be slowly eroded away. We may speak of God’s wrath and grace, of the blood of Christ, of justification and the cross, knowing full well what they mean. But as time passes, the distractions of the world intrude our consciousnesses and the schemes of the devil attack us, our sensitivity to what these mean on a personal level may become dull. We can run the risk of reducing these words into mere theological terms to which we merely give mental assent without having due regard in our hearts to the weight of their meaning. Indeed, the grace we have received may not appear as precious to us as the hour when we first believed.
How then does the grace we received become sweet to us again? We must be reminded of the riches of God’s grace to us, which are magnified when we consider our complete and utter unworthiness to receive salvation, and the weight of Jesus’ sacrifice in paying the penalty for our sins.
The Gravity Of Our Sins
God is the Creator of all things, so utterly glorious, holy and awesome. As it says in Isaiah 6, He is seated upon His throne, high and lifted up, and the temple is filled by just the train of His robe. The angels say of Him “holy, holy, holy” – not once but thrice!
He is infinitely worthy of our praise, respect and adoration. Indeed, we were created to worship and glorify Him, to find our fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore in Him (Psalm 16:11) (i.e. human happiness finds its fulfilment in God). And therefore, we are so commanded: "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might" (Deuteronomy 6:5).
Yet, in Romans 1-8 Paul paints a chilling picture of who you and I really are (apart from God).
We are ungodly and unrighteous (Romans 1:18), by our unrighteousness we suppressed the plain and evident truth of the eternal power and divine nature of God which is revealed all things made since the creation of the world (Romans 1:19-20), we did not honour or give thanks to God (Romans 1:21), and we exchanged the glory of the immortal God, the Creator, for images of created things (Romans 1:22). We "were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice... full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness... gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Romans 1:28-31). We are "self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness" (Romans 2:8). We are "of the flesh, sold under sin" (Romans 7:14), "nothing good dwells in [us] in. [our] flesh" – we may have the desire to do what is good but not the ability to carry it out (Romans 7:18). This "flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law, indeed, it cannot" (Romans 8:7).
We do not love God, the Creator, with all our hearts, souls and might. Rather, we love and glorify the created things of this world (which cannot satisfy our souls) – and above all, we are "self-seeking" (Romans 2:8) thieves of the glory, respect and adoration that is rightfully due to God.
And God, being holy, just and righteous, cannot ignore this offence to His glory (indeed the offence is so great because of how infinitely worthy He is of our praise, honour and adoration), He cannot ignore the breaking of the Law which commands us to love Him with all our hearts, minds and might (Galatians 3:10). Those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth will receive "wrath and fury" (Romans 2:8) from God: God's righteous decree is that we "deserve to die" (Romans 1:32) for the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). And in such death there is "the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might" (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Here, you may pause and say, 'Surely, I do good things like being kind to others, helping old ladies cross the street, [insert any other good deed]... I can't be 'bad'. I don't deserve to die!' But the truth is: "None is righteous, no, not one; no one understand; no one seeks for God" (Romans 3:10-11), "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23).
So, in the court of law before God as judge, the reems of evidence and charges against us are so great that they are overflowing out of the courtroom doors. We stand utterly condemned, hopeless before God: we have no defence, we deserve death.
Jesus Paid The Penalty For Our Sins: The Love of God
Faced with unregenerate sinners, God was a gavel strike away from delivering the death sentence we so deserved. Our only way out was a great and undeserved mercy.
And so, "in this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
Propitiation means "to appease or satisfy". Someone had to satisfy the holy wrath of God and receive the death sentence for our sins. But the death sentence did not fall on us. Out of God's great love for us, He sent His one and only Son (John 3:16) to be the substitute for our sins for which we once stood condemned. Jesus, perfectly sinless, was made sin so that in Him we may become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21): our sin was imputed to Christ, and His righteousness imputed to us.
While we were still weak, while we were ungodly, while we were still undeserving sinners, while we were hostile, God-hating enemies of God: Christ died for us so that we could be reconciled to God although we deserved to spend an eternity away from Him in eternal destruction (Romans 5:6-11, 2 Thessalonians 1:9). One would rarely die for a righteous person, they might dare to even die to a good person. But out of God's great love for us, by grace (free gift), He sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the unrighteous, for the wicked, so that we could be with God and have the fullness of joy in Him.
What great love and grace is this: God sent His one and only Beloved Son to suffer the greatest pain in the world in place of His unworthy enemy, who deserved divine punishment not divine sacrifice, so that they could have the best thing in this world (God), all for free (to be received by faith: Romans 3:25)! It is not a representation of our worth, but a reflection of how infinitely wonderful God is.
Jesus Paid The Penalty For Our Sins: The Love Of Christ
At the same time, we should consider Jesus: Through Him, the world was created; He is the radiance of the glory of God, the exact imprint of His nature, He upholds the universe by the word of His power (i.e. we exist because He allows it!) (Hebrews 1:2-3) and He is the King of the world (Isaiah 9:6-7). He is God Incarnate, glorious beyond compare!
Yet, for a little while, He was made lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:7), He became fully man (while also fully God the Son). He was in every respect tempted like man (Hebrews 4:15) yet knew no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was the King, yet own people didn't receive Him (John 1:11). One of His disciples, who He spent every day of 3 years with, betrayed Him for a mere 30 pieces of silver (Matthew 26:14-16). In His time of greatest need, His friends abandoned Him and denied Him (Mark 14:50, 66-70).
He could have appealed to His Father, and gotten out of it all, but didn't, to fulfil the Scriptures (Matthew 26:52-54). He was put on a sham trial for false charges of blasphemy. Many false testimonies and witnesses were hurled against Him (Matthew 26:59-60) – but Pilate found He had done no evil (Matthew 27:23). Despite this, His people demanded that He be crucified (for no reason at all!) (Matthew 27:18, 22-23) in the place of a murderer (Mark 15:7).
On the road to Calvary, he was mocked, beaten, humiliated (Matthew 27:29-31). In agony, He cried: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). The fact that in the Garden, when Jesus was faced with the reality that He would go to the cross, His soul was very sorrowful, even to death, that He prayed three times for the Father to let the cup pass from Him (Matthew 26:37-44) reveals just how heart-wrenchingly painful and difficult it was to swallow the bitter cup of God's wrath.
The truth of the matter is this: all of what Jesus suffered on the cross was what we fully deserved. He drank the bitter cup reserved for us. On the cross, Jesus "loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20) – yes – He loved you and me personally. Indeed, "greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13).
What great love and grace is this! In the season of Lent (and beyond), spend some time each day to rest in the greatness of this stupendous truth: Although totally glorious and innocent, Jesus, the Son of God, took on the greatest punishment in the world (separation from God) on our behalf. Even though we were His enemies, He laid down His life for us.
Dear Heavenly Father,
We confess that we are despicable sinners who are totally unworthy of your love and grace and totally deserving of your holy wrath.
In spite of this Lord, in your great love, you showed us such undeserved grace.
You sent your one and only Son to the cross, to take on the punishment for our sins, and He, loving us, laid down His life for us.
While we were once your enemies, we are now your children. For this, we are so thankful.
For your name's sake, please help us know how great this love is, that surpasses all understanding, how great was the sacrifice of Christ in going to the cross, and be gripped by the grace upon grace which we have received in Christ.
Please help us hold fast to your Word each and every day; and please help us respond in a manner worthy of the Gospel.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.
SUGGESTED FAST: SOCIAL NETWORKING AND INTERNET As we continue in the season of Lent, think about exchanging the time you would normally scroll through social media or browse the internet for a time of intentional prayer, Bible reading or worship. Consider staying off certain platforms at certain points of each day or for the entire week, deleting the apps off your device or blocking those websites as you fast.