The Pleasure of the Cross
Passion week is here. While I love Christmas and all its beauty and poignant truths, Easter is, by far, my favorite celebration. Easter is the crowning glory of Christmas, because at Easter, we celebrate the culmination of Jesus' purpose in coming to this earth in the first place. True, the story of a baby coming is a lot sweeter and happier to celebrate than a crucifixion. Yet, the crucifixion is what makes the birth of Christ have meaning. Have purpose. Have glory.
As I was thinking about these truths, the phrase, "It was the will of the Lord to crush him" kept popping into my head. This phrase comes from Isaiah 53, which foretells the coming of Christ and his fulfillment as the servant who would satisfy the purpose of God to redeem his people unto himself. Other translations use the word, "pleased": "it pleased the Lord to bruise him".
This phrase always seemed strange. Why would it make God happy or why would it be his will that his son would be maligned, mocked, mistreated, crucified?
In studying this passage, I was reminded about the character of God and how his purposes and plans far exceed anything my mind can conjure. In Scripture, we read about how God takes the treatment of his name, the exaltation of his glory and purpose very seriously (as he should!). For example, when Adam and Eve sinned, he did not just say, "Well, I love you, and I know you are sorry, so we'll just let it go this time." No. He had to reverence the glory of his name and character (otherwise he would not be a holy God!); therefore, that sin had to be punished. Sin and death came into the world, and mankind was separated from communion with God because of their sin. He had to revere to glory of his name.
But, in this, God also loved his creation. People were made in his image and he loved them. Over and over in Scripture, we read about how the "steadfast love of the Lord never ceases"; how he has made these people for himself, to have pleasure in; how he is willing and longing to forgive and redeem his people unto himself. How he rejoices and takes pleasure in his children.
And, in these words, we have clashing circumstances.
A holy, just God who cannot permit sin to enter his presence.
And his beloved people, condemned to eternal separation from their loving Creator because of their sin.
There's this wrestling, this war, this conflict, good versus evil. And, here's where Jesus comes into the picture. Jesus told us the greatest commandment was to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). So, then, if we can do this, will we then be reconciled to our Creator? In a way, the answer would seem, "yes!", but, then what happens when we sin again? Or take glory from his name by choosing to love ourselves? Or we permit sinful behaviors by saying, "it's okay- God loves me/you anyways?"
Then, we are back at square one all over again.
A holy, just God who must revere his name and his glory
A sinful, permissive people who have shamed to glory of their Creator
So now, we have to go back to this verse: "It was the will of the Lord to crush him" (Isaiah 53:10). Why?
Why would God send his beloved Son for a people who continuously shame, ignore, and willfully reject his name and his glory?
And, why would this be for his pleasure?
I can truthfully say it would not pleasure me to permit my son to die for some worthless person who trampled over my good name and made me look wretched!
Yet, this is what God did!
Here is where these two clashing things, namely, the glory of God's name and his love for sinful people, collide and are reconciled.
For in the crushing, the bruising, the maligning, the death of Christ, the glory of God's name was revered, and sinful people were made righteous.
"Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities [sins]; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. ...Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant [Jesus], make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities." (Isaiah 53:4-5,11)
The glory of God's name is revered and held holy and righteous by the perfect sacrifice of his Son, that by this death, the atonement of sinful people would be fulfilled, reconciling and making peace between sinful wretches who despise the name of God and their Creator, whose great love could not allow him to permit the sin of his beloved people in his presence.
This reconciliation process continues to amaze, confound, thrill, and crush me.
Charles Naylor puts it this way:
"Why did God thus deal with him (Jesus)? It was not because his Father-heart did not feel agony. It (the death of Christ) was the only means to an end, and love desired that end so much that it pleased him to make the great sacrifice; that out of it might come the infinite joy of the redemption of sinners."
Again. Mind. blown.
So, in this, we have a choice.
We have a choice to rejoice in the love of God, accepting the death of Christ as the payment for our sin, thus living reconciled to God through this death;
We can continue to live unreconciled, bringing shame to the name of Christ and God by rejecting the cross (our only means of reconciliation), and living lives of separation from the One who loves us so much he gave the ultimate sacrifice.
In the first choice, we recognize our unworthiness without Christ.
In the second choice, we try to prop ourselves up, thinking ourselves more worthy than we really are, thus besmirching and defiling our Holy Creator.
And, the choice we ultimately make is seen in how we will live our lives.
We will either live FOR the glory of his name, thereby choosing the path of reconciliation, and living to please, love, and honor God;
We will live for ourselves, rejecting the glory of his name, and living to please ourselves and our stained, spoiled, wretched names.
In I Corinthians 5, Paul emphasizes the importance of this reconciliation brought to us by Christ: "For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
This is why we celebrate Easter.
Because we who were woefully separated from our Beloved Creator, have now, through Christ's death on the Cross, been reconciled to God- not by anything we have done, but because of Christ.
"Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!" (I Corinthians 5:20)
Perhaps you have never made that choice to accept the love of Christ, his death, his life, this reconciliation he now offers to you. I implore you now- "be reconciled to God!"
Easter is not just a happy time, anticipating spring and the end of winter. No. It is so much more.
It is the celebration of we who were once far off in our sin and condemnation and wretchedness now being reconciled to our Beloved Creator because Christ was pleased to bear that curse for us. And God was pleased to have him crushed. For us.
So, now we live in rejoicing. In hope. In life. In him, who has made us worthy to be called sons and daughters of the King.
This celebration never gets old.
I would encourage you to spend some time meditating on Isaiah 53, as well as reading through the Crucifixion passages in the Gospels (Matthew 26-27; Mark 14-15; Luke 22-23; John 18-19).
I have also included a link to a song by Keith and Kristyn Getty and message excerpts by John Piper: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ytJymjk9xk8
"We are unworthy of Christ. ...The Son of God died; rebels lived. It wasn't fair. [This is why we must say], 'My worth is not in what I own... but in the costly wounds of love/ At the cross. Two wonders here that I confess; My worth and my unworthiness; my value fixed; my ransom paid/ At the Cross!'"