In the last post we considered the threefold nature of a good gift: it is sacrificial, it is appropriate to the receiver, and it is surprising. We looked at the sacrificial nature of the cross of Christ, and how that makes it a powerful gift to us. In this post we will look at the appropriateness of the gift.
When I say appropriateness, I don’t mean that a good gift is merely inoffensive. I mean that it truly reflects an understanding of the receiver’s wants and needs and personhood. I think a lot of people lack passion in their faith because they have not realized how powerfully the gospel of Christ and Him crucified fulfills this part of the nature of a gift. When Jesus died for us, He gave us a gift that fulfilled our deepest and most urgent needs and desires. How so?
I am always saying that our greatest injury isn’t the evil that has been done to us, it is the evil we have chosen. If evil is done to me, I may be terribly harmed, and that is really bad. This is no attempt to downplay the wounds and scars we have from the evils we have suffered in life at all. We can be assured that God has tremendous compassion for our plight. However, when we choose evil, we become guilty and ashamed. We hide and lie. A karmic dynamic of belief enters, where we feel that we deserve the harm that we suffer because of our sin. When we sin, we wear the weight of it in our soul; our conscience afflicts us in our secret mind everywhere we are. When we tell people stories about the evil we have suffered, it curries sympathy and compassion. When we confess our guilt and shame, it brings judgment and revulsion and rejection. Suffering from evil done to us threatens our comfort and success and longevity, but suffering because of our sin threatens our acceptability, our ability to have relationship, and our very personhood. It is the difference between being a good person who was wronged, and being a bad person who was wronged. Everyone cheers when a bad person is wronged, because they are getting what should have been coming to them; and this is our great fear as sinners. We can believe that God will love us and comfort us when we have suffered evil at the hands of others or of fate, because in doing so he is upholding justice and displaying compassion and love. We have the feeling that even though we have been right, God is right to have sympathy and kindness towards us. However, it is hard to believe that God will love us and comfort us when we are the source of evil, because if He does it will be against justice and against compassion for those we have harmed. We may articulate other beliefs, but in our conscience we know that if God blesses us He blesses evil, and we know it must never happen. Mercy and grace are our greatest need, and the most difficult to truly believe.
The cross of Christ declares that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:8). While He was being murdered He loved and prayed for the forgiveness of His murderers, and this is just an example of His heart and attitude across the board. While we sin against Him, He reaches beyond our uncleanness and beyond our shame and fear and touches us with healing mercy. In fact, in Christ you can stop worrying about whether your problems are your fault or someone else’s fault, because the truth is it is probably a mix of both. He has already died for you, your faults have been absolved. He is just going to comfort you and help you and heal you regardless of your responsibility in your mess. However, a great deal of Christian thought seems utterly determined to make the cross out to be about more than simple forgiveness. The gospel must produce sanctification, or it must show us how to live sacrificially and incarnationally, or it must produce submissive obedience. It cannot really be about simple mercy and forgiveness, because that would be “easy-believism” or “hyper-grace” or whatever pejorative moniker the spirit of antichrist has dreamt up for the gospel this week. Why can’t we rest in the simplicity that the cross offers true and lasting mercy? Mercy is not simple, and there is nothing at all unimportant about the power of the forgiveness we have received in Christ. At the cross Jesus became just and the justifier; He has rolled away the stone of our reproach and shame and opened the door again to genuine intimacy for us with Himself and with others. The removal of our reproach is the big deal; other things grow from that soil, but make no mistake that the simple gospel of pure mercy is the good soil. The cross of Christ declares that we are greatly loved, not by merit, but by gift. Any other emphasis or message is not the message which the cross of Christ declares, but is some other message (John 10:1).
Which is all to say, God has big fluffy wonderful unending unkillable eternal love for you. He died for you and He rose from the dead for you. He is crazy about you and He has the power to back that up. You have been caught up into something much bigger and more wonderful than you know. He who is alone worthy in all of the universe has you in His heart and would rather die than live without you. And that is exactly what is playing out — He did die and He will live with you!