Sunday, 4 April 2010

Without the Shedding of Blood, No Forgiveness: Love's Imperative

Alone, in a garden damp and dim, see there beneath the olive trees a bent and wearied Jesus. He has not come away from the city shuffle for restoration, for rest. His knees press the dark earth; his head is bowed. He falls on his face - Why? Just a day ago, they hailed him king and strewed palm leaves in his path.

Only a Father's ear is bent to listen to his bewildering grief. Hear the gentle voice of the One who once said "Let there be..." and there was - world, light, and life. His words now are pleading. "O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39)

Why is he there - Son of the Living God - weak and heavy-hearted and alone?

With what strange purpose has he come?

But a word, a look, an outstretched arm, and every enemy of God is annihilated. As God, must not his power be absolute? Then why this bending, this pleading, this humiliation?

"Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
'Put your sword back in its place,' Jesus said to him, '...Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?'" (Matthew 26:50-53)

We all know how the story ends. (Or is it the end?) Some of us have celebrated today the triumph of an empty tomb, a risen Saviour. It is enough for us to know that He is alive now, that we are free. We face indignantly those who will ask their questions and examine skeptically such a gift.

But what does it all mean, really? Almighty God with his face in the dust; the King of Kings beaten and bleeding-? And now...God communicated with no miracles, no thunderings, but a book?

We speak of a God whose power knows no limits, and we are quick to remind skeptics that in the past, some have had demonstration of the vast might of our God. Where is it all now? Why doesn't He rise up and destroy His many enemies?

Ah, friends, here is Love. Here is a God of mercy, whose Lordship over you and me is not maintained by power, but by the undeniable claims of inexorable Love. Those who question him are not struck down, punished, destroyed. Instead, he speaks gently, simply. He uses not the language of the heavens, incomprehensible to the human ear, but communicates his vast mind through the imperfections and approximations of words and sentences. He will convince by Truth rather than power. "Come now, let us reason together," says the Lord..." (Isaiah 1:18)

This is not the Almighty we have imagined, but God reasonable and knowable. "No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you." (John 15:15)

There is much chatter these days about Jesus the Teacher, who came to tell us a better way to live. This is not what the Bible says. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners". (1 Timothy 1:15)

Why did Jesus have to die? He begged his father for "another way" - why was there none found?

"...without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins." (Hebrews 9:22)

But again, why?

"Sin, when it is finished, brings forth death..." (James 1:15)

"For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life." (Leviticus 17:11)

Sin is, by its very nature, destructive. That is what makes it sin. When destruction is chosen, it has power. By the choice of our first parents, our world has for a long time been under the destructive power of sin. In vain we have devised programs and plans to deal with power it has over us. Time and again, we have found ourselves defeated, on every level. Do you, like me, ever wonder why?

It was the strength of that first choice that made sin so powerful. Unlike the rest of God's wonderful creation, we humans were not spoken into existence. The Creator formed us with his own hands, and breathed into us the breath of his own life. We are something more special than we imagine. We are made like God. Like Him, we are creators. To us has been entrusted an awe-ful choice: Love or Self. Without such a choice, we could not share God's ability to love. But our choice is dangerous and powerful because it has been entrusted to us by an omnipotent God. A choice for self allows destruction a rightful place in our world - a place sanctioned by God when he offered us the power and the freedom. Our decision to satisfy self gives evil a moral right over us - we've chosen it, havent' we?

But Adam and Eve didn't make an informed choice. Isn't this what you wanted to say? They were innocents, tricked by the enemy of God; an enemy who deceived even angels with his beauty and power. The Bible warns us about his devices, but it refuses to leave the blame fully with him. "Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire." James 1:14 Temptation comes, not from without, but from within; from what we desire. I am not talking about the manifestation of desire, like wanting chocolate, but the deep choices we make that decide whether or not we will give in to a "want".

The only way for God to not snatch back the choice he had already given was for him to accept the destruction himself in order to offer them a new choice - an informed choice.

Jesus was not murdered. He was not overcome. He came to die. His death was a choice. Even the cross did not kill him - he yielded up his own spirit. "Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!' And having said this he breathed his last." (Luke 23:46)

The God of the Universe has been affronted by an enemy who gathers support with the lie that divinity is rooted in power. God's inherent right to rule has been called into question, and a mutiny begun in the heart of his precious project - a world of people who are able to choose between Love and self. He hurls no lightning-bolts in responding to the assault, and to the underlying question: Is he only God because his power is Supreme? Could another be God if the position were wrangled from his grasp? Patiently, painstakingly, he answers by folding his great power, and hiding his vast beauty. His right to be God is founded firmly on the inherent, inarguable supremacy Love.

So Jesus takes on humanity and subjects himself to the humiliation of death. So God reasons with men and reveals himself to sin-impaired intellect in a book. He is worthy to be worshipped not because his power is unassailable (though it is), nor because his beauty is captivating (though it is) - but because the goodness of Love is undeniable. Whether with the right of monarchy or with strength of dictatorship or with common understanding of democracy, the Living God is Ruler by every right because He is Love.

Isn't the beauty of Love fully displayed in the death of Jesus Christ? Isn't its immutable strength made known in his rising again? Who can fail to be convinced that Love is better, greater, more worthy to rule than anything that relies on mere power?

He reigns!

"'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 4:6)

Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85:10)

1 comment:

kittykat said...

Hallelujah! He reigns!