Readings; 1 John 3v16-the end and John 10, 11-18
The other night at Deanery Chapter we had a guest speaker called Tim Bull who shared with us about his Ph.D thesis on genetics. Doesn’t sound riveting I guess but it was a very lively and informative discussion – and particularly blessed because not once all evening did anyone mention a church roof or money!
In the course of that discussion we (naturally) ended up talking about Jesus as the perfect ‘second Adam’ who lived a life that was good in the sense that word is used in Genesis 1 – good as in perfect, functioning as it was intended to. We also concluded (or at least I did) that the death of Jesus is part of the perfection of his life. His brokenness is an integral part of his wholeness – as Tim Bull pointed out, the risen Christ didn’t have scars on his body from the cross, he still had open wounds. Clearly God’s idea of perfection and ours are sometimes different. The cross, including all the suffering, the blood and the torture, is part of the perfect life lived by Jesus. His body, though broken, still lived the perfect sinless life.
I mention this because I think we need to ensure we move away from 2 pervading current ideas. One, that the death of Jesus on the cross was in some way an accident that God had to redeem, to sort out or fix up, and two, that the death of Christ on the cross is in some weird sense the actions of a cruel and vicious God, deliberately and vindictively harming his son.
In fact the cross was always part of the plan, and it was always an expression of love. That’s the heart of both our readings today, and it must be the heart of Easter, the heart of the gospel.
In his self-referential teaching on the Good Shepherd in John 10, Jesus sums it up nicely; ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again’. Some people – even some Christians, will tell you that the cross as a sacrifice cannot be the action of a loving God, but here we have it in Scripture that the death as Resurrection of the Son are intimately linked to the love of the Father. No the vindictiveness of a cruel God.
John 10 verse 18 tells us that Jesus, though he was in anguish, proactively chose the path of the cross because that is what his heavenly Father asked him to do.
1John 3v16 echoes those words of Jesus “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.”
Jesus speaks quite openly and candidly about his death; it is not an accident. God is in control the entire time – he simply chose not to indicate as such, until ‘it is finished’ and the empty tomb leave Satan defeated.
It has been very moving this week to read of the huge amount of money donated to the online fundraising page of Claire Squires since she collapsed and died approaching the end of the London marathon last weekend. When she started the race the total was round £400. Now it is nearly £1million. A clear understanding seems to have developed among the public that Claire sacrificed herself to the benefit of her chosen charity – the Samaritans, and so to mark respect for her, people have donated to them in her memory. In the end, her death, though tragic, will lead to an improvement in life for many.
But Claire’s death was accidental, unplanned, unexpected. She did not begin the marathon knowing she wouldn’t finish. It is however true that she willingly chose to do it. Willingly is an important word when it comes to this question of whether God the Father is cruel and heartless to sacrifice his son. If Christ were not willing, then the answer might well be yes, God is cruel and heartless to put his own Son through that ordeal. But Jesus was willing – just as so often he was willing to heal, deliver love and include people during his life, in his death he was willing because he knew all along that it was the ultimate act of love.
The ultimate, in the sense of the one that cannot be bettered. Claire Squires’ fundraising total continues to go up, the contributions brought on through the outpouring of grief and admiration have considerably bettered her initial fundraising efforts.
But it doesn’t matter how much we praise Jesus, how much we worship him, thank him, love him and serve him; what he achieved on the cross can’t get any better. It doesn’t need to, as it was a once for all sacrifice. It was an event in history that has eternal consequences.
Salvation from sin, and the opportunity therefore to be in the presence of God, to know intimately his love for us and his guidance and direction for our lives.
One thing we can learn from Claire Squires is the importance of self giving in the service of others. The money she aimed to raise was not for her it was for the Samaritans. As Christians who are engaging in the transformation, under the authority and in the power of God, of our community, we need to keep foremost in our minds the fact that this is not for us, it is for God. A man’s chief end is to glorify God, says the Westminster catechism. Our life as Christians is meant to point to God, just as Jesus’ life and death and resurrection did.
In closing let us return to the Good Shepherd, who told his disciples ‘ I have other sheep, I must bring them into the sheepfold’. Even as we focus on the fact that all this is for God, it is also for others, those who do not yet know him; the purpose of receiving God’s love is to share it.
Who will you share it with today, tomorrow, this week?