1John 3:14 “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us…”
1John 4:18 “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.”
The love of God is not primarily manifested in how big your pay cheque is. It is not proven by the blessing of a healthy body, a loving family, or by statements that make you feel good about yourself. The love of God is on display in the bloody crucifixion of Jesus Christ, more than it has ever been or will ever be in any other action or blessing of God. If you try to sanitize and make more palpable for sinners the cross of Jesus Christ and its purpose, you will tone down the love of God. His love is beyond human capability or imagination. Just as the wrath of God could melt this world like wax in ways that we could never contrive, the love of God is so vast and unfathomable that these lyrics are a very accurate estimation of it:
“Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
I have mentioned before that I believe the love of God has been trivialized, sentimentalized, presumed upon and a whole slew of other things it was never meant to be. “God loves you” has become a statement almost entirely void of power to the sinners ears, instead of the heart breaking, earth shattering, knee driving, repentance causing statement that it should be.
And why is this? Why does the love of God no longer make people fear and stand in utter amazement?
The reason is this: Christ crucified underneath the wrath of God on the behalf of wretched sinners has been downplayed, if not entirely removed from evangelism and congregations, and therefore the love of God has been stripped of its power. It is the greatest tragedy coming out of churches today. We think that people will view God as more loving if He just loves and accepts everyone the way they are, and we ignore that God has chosen to reveal His love by His Son satisfying divine justice while dying in pain and agonizing separation from the Father in the sinners’ place.
As much as I have laboured to explain that God is angry with sinners, I now want to express how much He loves them. And I pray, in the light of understanding our trespasses against God, His love would make us stand in awe in a way that it never has before. Words fall absurdly short, but here is my attempt to share truths about the nature of God’s love for sinners.
He Came Loving Sinners
One might think that God would come to save those who were keeping His rules as closely as possible. Or maybe He would have a special interest in those who said the longest and most frequent prayers. Seeing as He is God, and that He is perfectly holy and hates sin, you would not expect Him come and break bread with well known and well despised sinners would you?
The King of Heaven come to earth, should come expecting to be served, shouldn’t He? If He is God, why hasn’t He set up His throne to rule and reign? And seeing as He has so much power, shouldn’t He make Himself known to the public, as all powerful, great and mighty, miracle- working God?
Yet this Jesus sat himself at a table with tax collectors and sinners, and answered his sceptics: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” He repeatedly exposed the hypocrisy of the self righteous religious leaders, even going so far as to say “the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you (Matthew 21:31).” The same God who is so deeply offended by our sins can be found in the pages of scripture offering forgiveness to a woman five times divorced, a prostitute weeping at his feet, a criminal crucified beside him, and a close friend who betrayed and denied Him on the day of his death.
He is a God beyond our comprehension. How can He be so rightfully angry with us, and yet look at us with compassion? How does He endure such hostility from our hands and yet bid us come to Him?
Matthew 9:36 “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
John 7:37 “Jesus stood up and cried out, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink!’”
Philippians 2:6-8 “Though he was in the form of God, (he) did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
They expected Messiah to come set up His Kingdom. They expected Him to rule their enemies with a rod of iron. But the humble, meek, servant-King Jesus, is absolutely not what they were looking for! This “self-proclaimed” Son of God, who would dine with the wicked, was to them an abomination.
He Endured with Patience: Hostility, Abuse and Indifference From Men
Does God demand worship, obedience, honour, homage, and holiness from all people everywhere? Is He always angered by sin and just to punish? The answer is a definite yes. As mentioned before, people have tried to draw a line between the “God of the Old Testament” and Jesus Christ, but if you do that you destroy Christianity. With God there is “no variation or shadow due to change (James 1:17).”
The truth is, throughout the entire Bible God can be seen as incredibly angry and ready to punish, but also as extremely patient with sinners. Just look at these verses:
Psalm 145:8-9 “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
Psalm 103:9, 13-14 “He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever…As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”
The book of Romans explains that God patiently endured the sins of people in the Old Testament, at times not bringing immediate punishment upon them, because He was being merciful to them and waiting until the day when He would pour out that wrath on His own Son Jesus Christ.
Romans 3:23-25 “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
God has not changed. Jesus Christ perfectly displayed the divine forbearance of God, by physically coming here and enduring such hatred from us. To this day He is still “patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2Peter 3:9).”
Time and time again He watched people walk away preferring money over him, religious status over him, or even just wanting His miracles and benefits, but not caring about Him. He is the one who “endure(d)…from sinners such hostility against himself (Hebrew 12:3).” He kept Himself in the hands of wicked men who dragged Him “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” and yet He “opened not His mouth (Isaiah 53:8).” We may think, “Oh Lord! What could you be doing? Call down fire and destroy your enemies!” Or like Peter when Jesus told Him of the death that was to come, take the Lord “aside and be(gin) to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you (Matthew 16:22)!’”
And there should rightly be within us some kind of shock that the Messiah would come to live and die this way. It is difficult for us to reconcile infinite power and burning wrath, with the silence of Jesus Christ in the face of His mockers and executioners. In the event of the crucifixion His love and patience towards mankind is on display most painstakingly bright. They pressed a crown of thorns onto His head, stripped Him and gave Him a purple robe, mocking His Kingship. Ridiculing Him they “blindfolded him and kept asking him, ‘Prophesy! Who is it that struck you?’” They drove nails through His hands and feet, spat in His face and set up a sign “King of the Jews” at His cross, as if to say “What kind of pathetic King is this? Look at Him now.” “He saved others; He cannot save Himself (Matthew 27:42).”
Should not the ground have caved in on them all and swallowed them into the earth? But listen to these astonishing words, spoken by Jesus at His arrest: “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so (Matthew 26:55-56)?”
What is going on here? You see, the love of God and the crucifixion have become far too common to us! How can we not be amazed by His coming and by His death, when we rightly understand how Mighty and Holy He is, and how far His creation has fallen from glory? His willingness to live among sinners and die by their hands should leave us stunned. “Amazing love, how can it be? That thou my God should die for me!”