Precious Sorrow, Beautiful Catastrophe – 4) Payment
You can give without loving,
but you cannot love without giving.
Back in the days of the Great Depression a Missouri man named John Griffith was the controller of a great railroad drawbridge across the Mississippi River. One day in the summer of 1937 he decided to take his eight-year-old son Greg with him to work. At noon, John Griffith put the bridge up to allow ships to pass and sat on the observation deck with his son to eat lunch. Time passed quickly. Suddenly he was startled by the shrieking of a train whistle in the distance. He quickly looked at his watch and noticed it was 1:07 - the Memphis Express, with four hundred passengers on board, was roaring toward the raised bridge! He leaped from the observation deck and ran back to the control tower. Just before throwing the master lever he glanced down for any ships below.
A sight caught his eye that caused his heart to leap into his throat. Greg had slipped from the observation deck and fell into the massive gears that operate the bridge. His left leg was caught in the cogs of the two main gears! Desperately John's mind whirled to devise a rescue plan. As soon as he thought of a possibility, he knew there was no way it could be done. Again, with alarming closeness, the train whistle shrieked in the air. He could hear the clicking of the locomotive wheels over the tracks. That was his son down there - yet there were four hundred passengers on the train.
John knew what he had to do, so he buried his head in his left arm and pushed the master switch forward. That great massive bridge lowered into place just as the Memphis Express began to roar across the river. When John Griffith lifted his head with his face smeared with tears, he looked into the passing windows of the train. There were businessmen casually reading their afternoon papers, finely dressed ladies in the dining car sipping coffee, and children pushing long spoons into their dishes of ice cream. No one looked at the control house, and no one looked at the great gearbox. With wrenching agony, John Griffith cried out at the steel train: "I sacrificed my son for you people! Don't you care?" The train rushed by, but nobody heard the father's words.13
The Blessing of Death
When God promised Adam and Eve, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Genesis 2:24), He was making no idle threat. When they ate the fruit, they died spiritually and physically. They died spiritually - their souls were now separated from union with the Eternal One, and physically - their souls would be separated from their bodies. Adam and Eve committed a great crime against their creator, but because their fall was externally encouraged and not spawned from within themselves, mankind had a chance to be redeemed where Satan could not.
If mankind had sinned and God did not impose this penalty of death, humanity would have forever remained in a growing state of sin, with no hope of re-entering a relationship with a Holy God. Death was, therefore, a blessing that enabled God to make a fresh start with each new generation before it was too far carried along in sin for Him to appeal to their conscience. It was in this way that death bought time for God to progressively unveil His character until the world was ready for a more full disclosure of his person - the Christ.
If man had remained in his state of innocence and never sinned, he would have grown in the knowledge and blessing of God's goodness and power, but never known God as the redeemer. The height of man's fall was great, having sold himself and all of his descendants into subservience to the one he obeyed, Satan. Man now lived in a marketplace where his only prerogative was to choose sin, one way or the other. However, the depth of God's love was greater, for despite the fact that man's transgression was against the Holy One Himself, God pursued man and provided the appropriate payment for his sin.
The concept of redemption (purchasing some-thing out of a marketplace) and the substitutionary sacrifice are sister principles. The sacrifice of an innocent substitute is simply what God deems to be the appropriate payment to buy a person out of the slave market of sin. "The wages of sin is death"(Romans 3:23), so the substitute was the way in which God temporarily transferred His judgement of death to another.
The first example of a lamb being recognized as an appropriate substitute comes in the story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham had been tested by God with this request, "Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about" (Genesis 22:1,2). There is no record here of Abraham arguing with God about this matter, as he had previously been known to do (Genesis 18:16-33). He simply took his son and started a three-day walk to the mountain. As they started to ascend the mountain, Isaac asked his father, "The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering" (Genesis 22:7).
Abraham's answer to this question demonstrates the reason he did not argue with God about his son's death, for he clearly understood God's character and His passion to bring redemption. Abraham replied, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8). God did provide Abraham with a substitute ram and Abraham responded in joy by calling the place "The Lord Will Provide" (Genesis 22:14). This mountain Abraham was tested on is known as Mount Moriah and is the very location where Solomon built the first temple, thus providing a place where all the people of Israel benefited from the sacrifice of many lambs. It is also the very place where God took the son whom He loved (Mark 1:11), and presented him as a "the Lamb of God" (John 1:29), pinned on the alter of the cross for the sins of the whole world (1John 2:2).
We are Expensive Merchandise
God provided the world a perfect lamb in the body of Jesus Christ, but we must not to trivialize the selfless decision Jesus had to make. With all the love for life any human could feel, Christ willingly offered himself up for the day of slaughter.
In the Charles Dickens classic, "Tale of Two Cities", Sidney Carton drugs his friend Charles Darnay in order that he might replace him and die in Charles' place at the guillotine. The switch was successful and Charles lives because of the incredible likeness of the two men, but the exchange would have never happened if it were not for Sidney's great love. Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)
One of the differences between Sidney Carton and Jesus Christ is whom they died for. "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:7,8).
Another difference between these two men is that Sidney would have eventually died, regardless of his decision in this matter. In fact, life for every man leads to the unavoidable process of death. We are born only to die, but Jesus never sinned and so would never have to face sin's penalty of death. Jesus never had to die, but he opted to die to be our substitute so that by his death, death itself would be put to death and we would be set free to live with God. "For if by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ." (Romans 5:17)
Why would God be disposed to pay such a fantastic ransom on our behalf? He did it because we are His children. One of the Hebrew words for redemption in the Old Testament is Ga'al, which means to act on the behalf of a relative in trouble or in danger. For instance: if someone is under the power of another and he is unable to win his own release, a third party, a relative, may appear and effect his release.
Redemption in the Old Testament was an intimate act of service carried out on behalf of a family member, but nowhere does it give an illustration of one man laying down his life to save another. This new picture of redemption was reserved for Jesus Christ. For God is our Heavenly Father and the price He was willing to pay for our life was the life of His own dear son.
It could be said that infinite love could only be demonstrated through an ultimate sacrifice. But this selfless act still begs the question . . . couldn't there have been another way of forgiving our sins without Jesus having to suffer and die?
A lamb was used in the Old Testament sacrificial system because this animal epitomized innocence. However, the sacrifice of an animal is inadmissible to God because it's the wrong kind of currency. The judgement of man's sin was man's death and so the ransom for mankind could only be the substitute of an innocent man. This creates a catch 22 situation because the substitute of a man would also be ineffective, for every person is steeped in sin (Romans 6:23). Where on this world could you ever find an innocent man?
The answer to this dilemma is found in the way sin is transmitted from one generation to the next. Some Christian scholars argue that each of us receives our sin nature from the seed of our fathers. It was the virgin birth, therefore, the one seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) which provided the only person who was sinless from birth and qualified to be our perfect substitute. "For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1Corinthians 15:21,22).
So Christ is both our brother who comes to rescue us, and the lamb that is the full and perfect payment for our redemption.
Questioning the Commitment
The cross gives us an amazing glimpse of the love of God that finds no equal in any other religion, myth or anecdote. However, philosophers throughout the ages have questioned the credibility of this love by challenging Christianity with the paradox of the existence of evil and the benevolence of God. In other words - How could God let bad things happen to good people?
The first error in this question is that it presupposes that man deserves to be taken care of by God without any moral obligation to God. Scripture speaks of how man participated in a rebellion against his Heavenly Father, and continues to despise God's authority to this day. It was our own sin that brought misery to this world, as we rejected our Maker for a life of affliction and hardship. The only moral obligation God has toward humanity is to allow mankind to experience "the mess" we created. Humanity should be grateful that God never chose to wipe us off the face of the earth.
The second problem with this argument is the assumption that God does not anguish over the pain we experience in this life. The cross gives a different message. God's compassion for our plight was so great that He entered into our world and endured all the hate, and misery, and death this world could hold for a man. In doing so, He bridged a chasm between heaven and earth for any that would turn back to Him. "This is how God showed his love among us; He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love; not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1John 4:9,10)
Bruce Paul is a Christian business man, father of three, lay apologist, and freelance writer. He is a principle of Faith-Friends, a new portal concept to promote local Christian ministries and Christian business people in the marketplace, one community at a time. http://www.faith-friends.com/
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