I have been following a horrific story in the press over the last few weeks. A man in Wales has been sentenced to 8 years for spiking his baby’s milk with methadone. Read the full details here. God forgive me, but my first instinct is to hunt this animal down and make him suffer. I know from personal experience that his life in prison is going to be filled with paranoia and misery as he becomes a target for any and all who will be out to get him at the first opportunity. Prizes are won in prison for a high-profile scalp like his. Who would not react with horror and revulsion that somebody could treat their child in such a terrible way?
Then it got me thinking about the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ and how people respond to that. People like Steve Chalke who find the thought of Christ bearing the full wrath of God as so distasteful that they discard the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. People like Richard Dawkins who describes God as ‘a bully and a child abuser’ and citing the cross and God commanding Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as examples of this. What are we to say to such charges? Was the crucifixion really an act of cruel child abuse? What earthly Father would allow his child to suffer in that way, never mind send him to be tormented and murdered?
Thankfully, those who know the scriptures are fully aware that these objections to not stand up to any sort of scrutiny for 2 main of reasons:
1. Jesus Christ was not forced to go to the cross at Calvary. He chose to go in full realisation of the terrible price he was going to pay to satisfy the just and settled anger (which is the true meaning of the word “wrath”) of God the Father. Hebrews 10:5-10 lays this out for us. In these verses we see the divine hand of the trinity in the sacrificial work of Jesus. The three wills of Father, Son & Holy Spirit working together in perfect unity to redeem His fallen sheep. John 10:11, 17-18 are even more specific when Jesus informs his disciples that:
‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.) The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’ (NIV)
1 Peter 2:21-25 is even clearer that the work of the cross was not forced upon the Son by a cruel Father. In that text we read how, ‘He (Jesus) entrusted himself to him who judges justly (the Father).‘ The death of Jesus was not a whim. It was part of a predetermined plan set out in eternity past to secure believers an eternal and secure future. God did not leave his son to die on the cross. God himself was present in that divine act, giving himself for the rescue of sinful humanity.
2. The second reason is down to a misunderstanding of the cross ‘event’ as I call it. What looks like a crushing defeat when Jesus dies in such cruel and humiliating circumstances is, in reality, a monumental victory against the forces of evil. The death of Jesus was not a tragedy to be lamented but an epoch shaping, history defining moment when God reveals Hos own Glory in this ultimate act of selfless, purposeful, willing, knowing humiliation. This was an act of love on such a scale that words fail me how it can be thought of as abuse in human terms. As one commentator puts it: ‘God loves us more than he loves himself.’ As for Abraham & Isaac, well, whatever the difficulties, he was not asked to do anything that God himself was not fully prepared to do, and indeed went on to do more fully in Christ.
‘This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.’ (1 Jn. 3:16a)
We Worship a great God and we are privileged to be the bearers of good and glorious news, however sinners want to spin it.