This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to preach at a local church. My topic was the Essence of Christmas. I used John 1:1-5 to show that God’s point of view of the Christmas story wasn’t about Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus in a stable surrounded by animals and shepherds. The essence of Christmas is that the God of the universe came to earth to be a man. He came to reconcile His creation (mankind) back to Himself.
Christmas wasn’t a simple birth; it was an invasion. Mankind was trapped on Earth while God was in heaven. We were separated by our enemy Satan, by our own sin, and the darkness of our lack of understanding. We were trapped behind enemy lines. So God invaded that territory to save us. The star that the magi followed that led them to Jesus was the burst of the first artillery shell. On a spiritual level this was God sending in the Marines, but His army had only one person. This invasion force was God Himself. The battle raged for 33 years and in the end His entire army was killed, but He won, and because of that we are free. Jesus Christ willingly went to the cross so he could reconcile mankind back to God.
God could have abandoned us to our fate. He could have left us alone to reap the fruit of our wrongdoing and die in our sins; that’s what we deserve. But He did not. Because of He loved us. He came after us. He pursued us even to the painful anguish of the cross, where He bore our sin, guilt, judgment, and death. It’s on this point that some people have a hard time with; “Why did Jesus have to die at all for us to be forgiven of our sins?” Why doesn’t God simply forgive us without the necessity of the cross?
In a 1955 article of “Christian Faith Today,” a cynic is quoted in saying “If we sin against one another, we are required to forgive one another. We are even warned of dire consequences if we refuse. Why can’t God practice what He preaches and be equally generous? Nobody’s death is necessary before we forgive each other. Why then does God make so much fuss about forgiving us and even declare it impossible without His Son’s sacrifice for sin? It sounds like a primitive superstition that modern people should long since have discarded.”
People who wonder why God can’t just forgive sin without Jesus needing to die on the cross have not considered the seriousness of sin and haven’t considered the majesty of God. The fact is that the comparison between our forgiveness and God’s is far from being exact. Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:12, 14-15;
12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
14 For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
15 But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.
In this passage, Jesus was teaching the impossibility of the unforgiving being forgiven, and so the obligation of the forgiven to forgive. To further this point of forgiveness, Jesus gives parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35. In both passages, Jesus was not drawing any parallel between God and us in relation to the basis of forgiveness. If we try to argue we forgive each other unconditionally, let God do the same thing. This reasoning is shallow, since it overlooks the elementary fact that we are not God.
We are private individuals and other people’s misdemeanors are personal injuries. God is not a private individual nor is sin just a personal injury. On the contrary, God is Himself the maker of the laws we break, and sin is rebellion against Him. The problem of forgiveness is the collision between divine perfection and human rebellion; between God as He is and us as we are. The obstacle to forgiveness is neither our sin alone nor our guilt alone, but the divine reaction in love and wrath toward guilty sinners.
At the cross in holy love God through Jesus Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience Himself. He bore the judgment we deserve in order to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the cross divine mercy and justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled. God’s holy love was satisfied.
The reason so many people have issue with the idea of us needing to be forgiven by God and that Jesus had to die on the cross and we need to accept this fact is that they don’t consider the seriousness of sin nor do they consider the majesty of God. In the next few weeks, I will review four basic biblical concepts to help us understand our need. The concepts are The Gravity of Sin, Human Moral Responsibility, True and False Guilt, and The Holiness and Wrath of God.
NOTES: Parts of this post have been taken from John Stott’s “The Cross of Christ.”