We often need perspective to really appreciate something. Something once bland becomes exciting. Something worthless suddenly becomes a great treasure. Something cliché transforms into something powerful. It’s amazing how children will do that to you. The older my daughter gets, the more neurotic I become about her safety, her well-being, her future. I can’t imagine life without her energetic feet running around our house and her cheeky and teethy grin meeting me at the front door as her button nose squishes against the glass. Those are priceless moments. I want the best for her. I love her. We feel that way about our children. We want to protect them and love them and bless them and prepare them for all of life’s adventures. And I imagine this feeling only grows stronger over time.
And so we come to John 3:16 – For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. It’s probably the most well-known verse in all the Bible, and it’s powerful. Or is it? Some of my worst nightmares involve tragedies involving my daughter too horrible to describe, but it’s usually an accident or the result of some bad person trying to pry her from me…or worse. And yet Christ’s hands and feet being nailed to a cross was no accident and no one was prying Jesus’ life out of God’s hands. Luke tells us that this was all part of God’s plan (Acts 2:23) and it pleased God to crush his ONLY son (Isaiah 53:10). It’s jaw-dropping because we struggle to understand a love like that. The Father had no other children to turn to and find comfort in, and though Jesus had known his death was coming, the intensity at the cross was so powerful and concentrated that he couldn’t stay calm or cool or muster up a celebratory attitude over the defeat of sin that was occurring. All he could do is cry out to His Father in great anguish, echoing David’s words from Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” We’d be tempted to think that it was the pain of the nails that undid Jesus. But no. We may think we can rationalize that Jesus was in distress because of the scorn of Roman soldiers and Pharisees coupled with the abandonment of his disciples. But no. It was much worse than that. Much much worse. It was the perfect love and unbroken fellowship between Jesus and His Father, shared for all eternity, that was suddenly and amazingly shattered as God poured out His mountain-shaking, all-consuming, blazing fury for our sin upon His own Son. It should make us pause and think, do we really understand the uncompromising, blazing holiness of God that He would do such a thing? It should make us pause and think, what love is this that a Father would actually be pleased to crush His son on a wooden stake in order to punish sins Christ played no part in. It was our sin that Christ took on. What mercy is this? What happened on the cross is 1,000 times worse than my worst nightmare of my daughter. I can’t possibly fathom doing something like that to her for the sake of others, and I’ve only known her 2 years.
But that’s who God is. That is His love. The Righteous One dying for the unrighteous ones. The lamb of God, crushed and bloody, for you and me. The pleasure of God to wipe out our sin by smiting His own son. Perhaps “the love of God” is a phrase that doesn’t ignite your soul, or maybe it’s a concept that you think more closely resembles the way we love to look at wildlife and or the way we love to care for our garden. Maybe it’s a nice, clean, sweet love that doesn’t interfere and merely wishes well. God’s love, however, is fierce and it was demonstrated through bloody hands and broken bones. Praise God that He loved us so much that He gave up His only son. His love is intense, it’s unbelievable, and it’s no cliché.