For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:10
The Nature of a Gift
When you want to show someone a very great love and affection, you give them a very costly gift. This is why wedding rings have gold and diamonds instead of plastic and aluminum. This is why David refused to make an offering to God with free oxen (2 Samuel 24:24). We try to hide when we give gifts at Christmas that were gifts to us the Christmas before – because it means it cost us nothing.
When you want to show someone love, you also want to give a gift that reflects an understanding of who they are and what they really like. In a famous episode of the Simpsons, Homer gave Marge a bowling ball fit perfectly for his own fingers and engraved with his name. Ha ha! This is not the kind of costly and appropriate gift I am talking about. The best gifts are truly selfless, truly costly, and truly reflect an understanding of what the recipient of the gift wants and needs. This selflessness is incomplete if the gift is merely costly. It shows that the gift is born of intimacy if it reflects the receiver’s wants and needs rather than the giver’s wants and needs.
The very best gifts are also a surprise! There is a tension in this idea of a surprising gift, because it is difficult to find a gift which is both what the receiver likes and surprises them. It is only possible if there is a deep reflective affectionate understanding of who the receiver is so that the giver can predict both what they would be surprised at and what they would really like.
So the Father loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. This is a gift which fits all the criteria for being a wonderful gift: it is costly, appropriate, and surprising.
The Costliness of the Gift
The costliness of the gift of our redemption may seem obvious. However, it is not enough to say that the costliness is that Jesus died. Two robbers died on either side of Him, on crosses no less, but no one thinks of their deaths as costly gifts to us. There is something entirely unique about Jesus’ death. When Peter gave his first sermon at Pentecost, the people were cut to the heart:
36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Why were they cut to the heart? They hadn’t just mistakenly sentenced just any random person to death. That alone would have been a very piercing guilt. They had crucified the actual Messiah – the One predicted by Jewish law, practice, and prophecy for millennia. They had crucified the One whom the Old Testament scriptures declared to be even more than a messiah: He was Lord. They realized they had crucified the One man in all of history who was both Messiah and God in the flesh. This was His great great value and it was their very great guilt.
If my son died because he was a drug dealer and a murderer, and had been killed in the midst of his evil, I would grieve very very greatly. But truly, if he was a great artist or doctor or writer or father/husband and was killed for no reason, I would mourn all the more — not just because of his innocence but because of the great worth of his life. And O the great great worth of the life of Jesus Christ! He was much better than the greatest doctor or statesman or philosopher or theologian! All wise, seeking the good of others, completely dedicated to truly doing God’s will, He was constantly going out of His way to do miracles for the good of others. He did not break the bruised reeds, and the forgotten riff-raff and the despised sinners gathered to Him like moths to a flame. This is the One whom the Father gave — the One who always listened to Him and obeyed His will. He sent His only begotten Son, perfect in all His ways, the one and only Messiah, the fulfillment of all Jewish prophecy, and gave Him. He was utterly wonderful and utterly unique and He was killed as if it were nothing.
I have trouble believing that my life is worth His life. I am lazy, unbelieving, selfish, mean, self-indulgent, lustful, and generally sinful. Yet this is the gift I have been given! I am undone!
Of course, the cross of Christ declares a very costly gift. Jesus didn’t just give up His dreams of being a bohemian poet or musician so he could be a farmer to support His family. I suppose that would be a very great sacrifice. He didn’t just give up his excellent and well-paying job. He sacrificed His very life. These words “sent” (1 John 4:10) and “gave” (John 3:16) are gentle ways of saying something very incredible. He gave up everything to the point of being crucified, for the love us.
5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Here is the stunning thing about all of this: He wanted to do this for us! The Father was pleased to crush Him and put Him to grief, to render Him as a guilt offering (Isaiah 53:10). That is strange but for one thing: as a very great show of love for us, God Himself showed forth a very great and sacrificial gift. The greatness of the sacrifice is part of our assurance that we are very greatly loved.
(Next time – the appropriateness of the gift)