Let’s suppose for a moment that you are the totally Holy God. You created this vast universe, chose a tiny planet, and made it habitable and beautiful. You populated that planet with plants and animals, and finally, some beings created in your own image. They were meant to love you and love each other purely, as you love them. Now, real love cannot be forced, so you gave these beings free-will. You wrote on their hearts what it means to love and honor you, themselves, and each other… and they have run amok.
As the one in charge of all things, what do you do?
Remember, this is your universe. You created all things with something pure and beautiful in mind, and these free-willed beings did not turn out pure and beautiful. Yes, some are much better compared to some of the others, but not compared to you. None of them come close to what you envisioned and required. You are utterly Holy. You decided that there is not a single sin that would ever be okay in your universe, that justice would always be served, so they owe a debt they can’t afford to pay. The only thing is, you love them more than they can possibly comprehend.
What will you do? Will you banish them from your presence forever? Or… could there be a way to take their penalty on yourself and give them a much bigger idea of your love at the same time?
Okay, come on back down to earth now. You are not God, and neither am I. Perhaps, though, this exercise can help us understand a tiny fraction of God’s dilemma.
Before I give away God’s solution, as if you haven’t heard, I feel the need to point something out. Everyone believes in miracles. Yes, everyone. We are here; that cannot be denied by any rational person. No matter what you believe about how that happened, it is a miracle. Whether you believe an infinitely powerful God created this universe and all life-forms, including mankind to inhabit that universe, or you believe all the matter there is somehow either always existed or the matter popped into existence, and formed itself into the working, functioning universe we live in, and some of that matter “came alive” and evolved over time into all the life-forms this world knows, either way it is a miracle too great for words.
Let us then skip the notion that things such as virgins giving birth, or men walking on water, or men being raised from the dead are impossible. Each of these miracles pales in comparison to the miracle of creation. Miracles happen. When you understand that, you will see a new universe of possibilities. I am not saying we should walk off a cliff expecting to float rather than fall. The law of gravity is still in place for us, just not for God.
As I said in a previous post, while there may be much about sin and judgement in the Bible, that is not its overall story. It is a love story, and the most meaningful demonstration of love is sacrifice.
God’s solution to our problem was to send his own Son to pay our debt. Now, timeout here. I know that a whole lot of folks start to fall asleep at the point where things start to sound too much like church. There are a lot of churches out there that can make God’s idea of atonement sound as significant as one blade of grass dying, and as much fun as watching dogs sleep. So, don’t hear my words right now: hear God’s message.
Jesus was born in a small occupied nation of the first century BC Roman Empire–to a virgin. We should recognize that miracle as possible, even if we don’t believe it. God could have chosen anywhere for his child to be born. His choice was the conquered and brutally oppressed nation of Israel.
Despite the impressions you may have gotten from hearing the Christmas story, Jesus did not come into this world with a silver spoon in his mouth. As a child he was hunted by the murderous tyrant King Herod the Great, who had heard the Old Testament prophecies of a savior who would be king. As an adult, the spiritual leaders of his own people would take exception to his popularity with the masses and try to undermine everything he was teaching them. When that failed, they plotted to kill him.
There are four biographies of Jesus at the beginning of the New Testament,: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They are called the Gospels, which in that day meant “good news”. There are a few chapters in Matthew and Luke telling how Jesus came into the world. Besides that, all four gospels focus on Jesus’ last three years.
The Gospels say that Jesus, with a group of friends by his side, went from town to town teaching the people about God, and healing the sick, and the lame. Blind men were receiving sight, paralyzed men were walking, dead men were raised, and the people were being told that God loved them. Though Jesus never softened the requirements of God’s law, he told the people of a Father God who longed to forgive them, not condemn them.
Modern day preachers can sometimes make Jesus sound weak and boring, but the Gospels tell a different story. In the Gospels, we hear of Jesus being followed around by huge crowds who press around him so tightly that he would sometimes speak to them from a boat offshore so he had room to breathe. He was dynamic, revolutionary, magnetic. The people of his time couldn’t get enough of him. At times, they wouldn’t even leave him to find something to eat for fear they might miss something important.
There was, however, one group of people who had heard enough from Jesus, the Pharisees. Jesus brought out their hypocrisy for all to see every time there was an exchange between himself and them. The Pharisees were considered the spiritual leaders of the people and enjoyed their exalted status so much that they planned to kill Jesus rather than listen to him, or allow others to.
What they didn’t know was that their plan would play into God’s plan perfectly.
Stay tuned. I promise we are getting there. A.J.