God in the Hands of Angry Sinners

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man – though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die.  But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  Since, therefore, we are now justified by His Blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through Whom we have now received our reconciliation.                                  Romans 5: 6-11

On Saturday, March 20, 2004’s Lethbridge Herald, Steve Bateman in his column on the Faith page, emphasized how The Passion of the Christ was incomplete.  As he put it:

The current debate over who crucified Christ illustrates the point perfectly.  Finally, the Jews did not crucify Christ; neither did the Romans, neither did all of us….Gibson didn’t crucify Jesus either.  So who did?
John Piper has it right when he reminds us that God the Father did.  We know this because the Christian Scriptures tell us in Romans 8:32: “..(God) did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all.”  And really that IS the whole point.

It is very true that the central character in the crucifixion of Jesus is God: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Isaiah was one who really put his finger on it when he prophesied in Chapter 53:

4 Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted…
6  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…
10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief;…

However it may be a bit difficult convincing anyone that this was an event untouched by human hands.  It is quite obvious that human hands were all over the event, and played very significant roles in what was happening.

To really understand what place humans had, we have to understand what need the crucifixion addresses.  The whole reason for Jesus’ death was because of sin.  But what is sin?  And why does St Paul in Romans 5 claim that “while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (v10)?  Enemies sounds strange in our ears, because most of us don’t think of ourselves as being that antagonistic toward God.  Apathetic, perhaps, but certainly not enemies!

Well, first of all, just what is sin?  John, in his first letter (1, 3:4) defines sin, not as some mistake, but as anti-law, or rebellion.  This is reflected when Adam and Eve sinned, obviously fully knowing what was right and wrong, but deliberately going ahead with what they felt was a better idea.  It happens to us too, when so often before we do something wrong the thought comes to mind that “this is wrong, I shouldn’t do it,” but we are determined to go ahead anyway.  Sometimes we resist God in a low key way, where we just make up our minds to do things the way we want to.  Other times we just simply don’t listen – we even go so far as to avoid any contact with God.  Our rebellion can even take a nasty turn as we scream out a challenge of God’s right to tell us what to do.

Listen to ourselves: “Oh, I know I shouldn’t do this, but…..”  “I know I’m supposed to, but…..”  We know when something is wrong, however once we hit the “but” in the sentence, we then turn toward whatever other direction is agreeable to us, as long as it is not God’s way.  Simply it boils down to arrogance and defiance – we are defiant against what God wills, despite how much it is beneficial to us.

And then there are the times when we challenge God’s intelligence, wisdom or love; “if God is so good…” and “If God is so loving…” and “if God really cares…” – about me, about the starving, about those who never heard, about – whatever is the challenge of the day.  This also is rebellion.

In fact there are times when we can really get angry at God, especially if we are very disturbed about some sort of injustice, particularly when it is toward ourselves.  If only we could have God under our thumb, just for once, then we would make Him understand, we would make Him know how it feels, we would make Him pay….

Look at what happens in the political arena.  God’s Word has some definite things to say in regard to morality, but there is such a defiance, almost glee, at making the Biblical viewpoint be ground into the dust.  In fact, many believe it to be a hate-crime to speak God’s Word in regard to homosexuality or to consider that God’s Word only has two genders.  The Scriptures becomes now a symbol of hate, rather than a symbol of God’s power, life and especially His love and forgiveness, which some then believe that they have the perfect right to hold the Bible in contempt..

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In the late 1700s, a key figure in the revival called the Great Awakening in New England was Jonathan Edwards, who’s sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” moved people to cry out in terror for their souls as he depicted the judgment and penalty of their sins.  Yet 1700 years before that sermon, God did the reverse: on Good Friday, it was God in the hands of angry sinners.

Intuitively mankind knew it had God under its control.  Now what would happen if we sensed that we finally had God under our thumb, and He was as submissive as a lamb to the slaughter?  Finally at long last, after how many thousands of years, finally we have God where we want Him.  Here is the opportunity to take out on God all the felt injustices accumulated over our lifetimes, over the centuries.  If Christians in many places of the world are cruelly treated; even how Christians in this country who stand up for God’s Word are often treated, how would mankind react if they finally got their hands on God Himself?!

True, not everybody was so directly involved in actually nailing the hands to the cross or in creating as much misery as possible for God. There was the apathy of Pilate like the apathy of those who won’t speak out to defend God’s way and Word.  They will succumb to the popular demand rather than stand against it.  They will allow themselves to become de-sensitized rather than be offended by such abuse.  Their rebellion is just as keen, because they are saying that God really just doesn’t matter as much as what humanity around them thinks.  They also want God out of the way, it’s just that they aren’t as vocal about it.

Those kinds of attitudes are all around us.  Sometimes even in us.  God had compelled this confrontation, and truly He is responsible for Jesus being crucified, but indeed it was you and me who nailed Him to the cross, it was indeed human hands that put Him there.  The nature of mankind’s sin stands fully revealed – God and man were involved in crucifying Jesus, He was abandoned by both God and man – God for a different purpose than mankind’s purpose, but both came out with Jesus’ Blood on their hands.

However, the thing that turns the whole event inside out is that God does have Jesus’ Blood on His hands!  That’s what turns this event from the explosive viciousness of human defiance into the wonder-filled drama of God’s salvation.  In fact, it is that very contrast that makes the event so amazing and St Paul’s words so profound: “While we were yet sinners – enemies – Christ died for us.”  Mankind was carrying out the murder of God, and God was using that very event to save His own murderers.

The movie The Passion of the Christ did an excellent job at demonstrating the stark contrast of these two facts. When the sin of mankind was laid bare, God did not reject His murderers, but instead paid their full penalty.  After disgorging themselves of the full venom of sin’s centuries old hatred, the message back was still, “But I have loved you even unto death.”  Mankind wants God to hate them, to truly be the Enemy that they are justified to fight, the Enemy they are entitled to kill; and yet God’s plain message comes back, “I love you; you are precious to Me.”

God the Father’s message was that He was willing to give up His own, only Son so that His murderers could stand free and clear, penalty paid, judgment satisfied.  So yes, God was pounding the nails into Jesus’ hands as Lord High Executioner.  Yet with every pound of the hammer, the message was “I love you, I love you, I love you this much; I want you to be with Me, I want you to have eternal life, I want you to have the riches of my blessings;  I paid this sin, I paid this sin, I paid it for you!”

As we stand there with hammer in hand, breathing heavily, surveying just how we had gotten God back, God was taking an awe-full chance: would the murderer be overwhelmed by the love that is returned?  Was it indeed worth the effort to let defiant humans do their worst so that God could show them the Gory of His love?  Would you have taken that chance and gone through that abuse and agony?  Yet Jesus did not turn away.  At any moment He could have said “STOP!” and yet He didn’t.  He believed that indeed you were worth the effort.

It’s the same attitude that brings Jesus here every time there is a worship service.  Jesus makes the effort to come – even if you don’t, He still makes the effort to be here.  And every time that Holy Communion is celebrated, He comes willing all over again to give Himself totally to you – He has come, He is willing, even if you don’t show up, He will still be here, week after week.  That’s how much He has loved you.  You may abuse and neglect Him, yet He is still willing to make the effort to be available to you.

“God in the hands of angry sinners” – Good Friday shows us what we are capable of when we have God under our thumb – but also what God is capable of in those very same circumstances.  What a demonstration of steadfast love is to be found here – right here – as this same Jesus is here in our midst right now.

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