From the previous chapter’s observations, we can see that we are in a desperate situation. “I agree that these are objective observations,” you may say, “but why do we have to talk about them? Why do not we just pretend that they do not exist so that we can live on?” Yes, forgetting is what we should do if there is no solution; but fortunately, in this chapter, I want to share with you the “good news:” We do have a solution, a miraculous medicine capable of curing the disease of sin that is destroying us.
Sin inflates one’s ego until it explodes. Sin invites us to live as if today has no bearing on tomorrow. Sin whispers in our ears, suggesting that we should enjoy the present, regardless of the ensuing consequences. Sin elevates people to the clouds and then smashes them down to the pits.
The Bible, on the other hand, lets us know our true situation so that we can step higher. The Bible is a spiritual X-ray, allowing us to look through our outside appearance to show us the sickness within. According to the Bible, the source of the disease is sin; the symptoms are wars and conflicts. If it is not cured, we will all have to die and face eternal death in hell.
What then is the medicine? The Bible advises that this medicine is God’s love, available in concentrated form of the blood of Jesus Christ on the Cross. On the prescription, the Bible says very clearly that we only need to take this medicine once, because once is all that is needed.
Probably, the word that has been the most abused and distorted is “love.” A young man may learn the phrase “I love you” in many languages so that he can say it to girls from other countries, even if he has no feelings for them. Musicians may write love songs just to earn money.
People have become as weary of the term “love” as they are of a politician’s campaign promises. They want to see actions proving love before believing in the expressed love.
This is a practical attitude, and therefore to understand God’s love for us, let us try to understand what He has done for us. Only when the meaning of His sacrifice is understood will we understand the meaning of His love.
As we discussed previously, God is just, cannot accept sin, and therefore must punish us. However, God is also loving, and thus does not want to see us destroyed forever. Torn between His hatred of sin and love of people, God is in a very awkward situation: forgiveness or punishment. Or does He have any other satisfactory solutions?
Imagine that you are a very righteous judge, and that you have a law that convicted murderers should be either condemned to a life sentence or be fined one million dollars. One day, your son whom you love dearly is caught killing someone. What should you do? If you forgive him because he is your son, then you are not an impartial judge. On the other hand, if you throw your son into jail for the rest of his life, then although you may be just, it is hard to see your love for him.
There is one other thing that you can do, but it demands a sacrifice from you. You can fine your son one million dollars, and then you sell all your property in order to pay for it.
This is what God did for us. On the cross, the Father-God faced the Son-Human that he loved, but was full of sin. The sentence handed down pleased the law because if the “wages of sin is death”91, then death there should be. The sentence handed down also demonstrates love, because God did not let us die, but sent His son Jesus to the world to die for all of us.
The disciple John wrote, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”92 In the letter sent to the church in Galatians, Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”93
Jesus’ death, therefore, was not an accident, or an unfortunate incident, as many people believe. He died not to give us an example of someone who sacrificed for his ideals. He was not a reluctant victim of the circumstances, dying without yet achieving his mission. His death was not an obstacle preventing him from reaching his goal. Instead it was the goal of his life.
While he lived, Jesus often talked about his death, although nobody understood. After Peter called him “the anointed one,” “he then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”94 At other times, he talked about his death as something prophesized in the Old Testament,95 and that it was necessary to reconcile humanity with God. He referred to it as the result of God’s commitment to human. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.”96
There were people who, when dying, regretted that their lives were too short to achieve their goals. But Jesus, before his last breath, said, “It is finished.”97 Thirty years was sufficient for him, because, as he said, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”98
Because Jesus was the only absolutely sinless man, only he could die for all our sins. If he were sinful, he would have to die for his own sin. Ironically, because he was absolutely sinless, his death brought him extreme pain beyond human imagination.
Like God, Jesus, with his absolute lack of sin, despised sin. Just think of something that scares you the most, a stinky worm for example. Jesus’ hatred of sin must be a millions times greater than your feeling. Yet on the cross, not only did he have to face sin, but he died for us as a sinner, with all the sins of the world on his shoulders.
Imagine that you are confined with thousands of stinky worms in an small place and multiply your feelings millions upon millions of times. Then you may understand partially, only partially, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
But that’s not all. Not only did Jesus have to carry all the sin he despised, God punished him by cutting off the relationship with him. In the previous chapter, we said that, because of our sin, God had to cut off his relationship with us, causing the lack of meaning in our lives and the death of our souls. In carrying our sin, Jesus had to suffer the same punishment. Not groaning because of the pain in his body, not complaining because of the sin he had to carry, but on the cross Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”99
Having lost our intimate fellowship with God long ago, it is hard for us to appreciate this cry. For the second generation Vietnamese who have grown up overseas, it is hard understand their parents’ saying that living outside of Vietnam is a sad experience. The more intimate our relationship with our country, the more we appreciate the sadness of having to live outside of it. The more we realize that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, having a ultimate relationship with Him even before the creation of the world and considering Him above everything else, the more we can have some hope of understanding partially, again only partially, the pain that Jesus had to suffer on the cross when his Father looked away from him.
If we only look at the physical pain, we can say that Jesus did not suffer the worst death possible. Some deaths can be more cruel and painful than his death on the cross. Only when we look beyond outward appearances, can we appreciate the painful death that Jesus suffered for us.
While the person who suffered was Jesus, we cannot overlook the suffering of the loving God. Is there any mother who punishes her son without a twinge of pain in her gut?
In the last days of the Vietnam War, I saw many painful scenes. One of these heart-breaking images showed a mother tearfully pushing her child to an airplane so that he could be taken away to freedom. I cried along with her and I felt her pain when I imagined this mother saying “Farewell” to her child, knowing that she would most likely never see her child again. What probably comforted her was her belief that her child’s future would be brighter than if he stayed back in Vietnam. If she did not have such hope, she would not have pushed her child onto that airplane.
Two thousand years ago, God said “Goodbye” to his Son. But unlike the unfortunate Vietnamese mother, He sent His son not for a brighter future, but to die painfully and in disgrace between two robbers, carrying the sins of the whole world. More than anyone else, He knew this, because that was His plan before He laid the foundations of the world. Yet He still sent His Son.
If we cannot understand the extent of the pain that both God and Jesus had to suffer, at least we must understand this: that Jesus volunteered to die for us. It doesn’t matter how much pain he suffered; if he was forced and reluctant, then he would not truly have loved us.
God, the creator, the Almighty, cannot be forced to do anything by anyone. “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”100
As for Jesus, his will and his Father’s will were one. He said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… and I lay down my life for the sheep.”101 “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.”102
Both are of the same mind, the same determination to save the world. They came out of the love for humanity, an unbounded love, not only expressed by words.
Somebody once classified three types of love: if-love, because-love, and despite-love.
If-love is the kind of love we receive when we satisfy a certain condition. “If you graduate, then I will marry you.” “If you behave, then Daddy will love you.” This is the kind of love with conditions, the lowest kind of love, based entirely on the selfishness of the lover. When conditions are not satisfied, love disappears, and many times turns into hatred. When satisfied, this kind of love never stops demanding. If a girl says, “I won’t marry you until you graduate,” then in the future, she might demand a beautiful house before continuing in marriage.
The because-love is more practical, not based on future conditions, but on the present. “Because you are beautiful, I love you.” In this kind of love, the person being loved must satisfy a minimum requirement for love. Unfortunately, similarly to the if-love, the because-love is entirely selfish and fragile, like all materials in life. As Jesus taught, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them.”103 We all have because-love because we all are selfish.
The last kind of love is the despite-love. This is unselfish, most noble, absolutely unconditional, and independent of the person being loved. We hardly find this despite-love in this world. The previous two kinds of love that surround us leave us wishing for an opportunity to taste the despite-love just once. The tremendous message of the Bible is that we can find this kind of despite-love from God. The Bible doesn’t say, “God will love you if you live a moral life,” or “God loves you because you tithed to him.” In contrast, it says, “Despite the fact that we are sinful, rebelling against God, only deserving eternal death in hell, God loves us.” The Apostle Paul pens, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”104
This kind of love was not only expressed in words, but was proved in action that required the ultimate sacrifice. This is true love, and this is the Gospel, or the good news I want to bring to you. I can summarize it simply by quoting John. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”105