When humans decided to execute the only Son of the living God, they perpetrated a terrible crime. And a terrible crime is deserving of severe judgement.
Let us not diminish the terribleness of this crime by saying that actually it was God’s plan that Jesus should die, making it seem that humans were merely God’s agents in God’s plan, and that Jesus’ crucifixion is somehow okay or even good. From every angle, Christ’s death was a dreadful crime against God.
And let us also not stand back and say that we were not somehow involved in his murder. Of course we were not present and active on that terrible day. But it is not just those individuals who were responsible for Jesus’ death. It is the sin of all of us – those before Jesus’ time, those during his time, and those who came after him. Jesus carried the sins of the whole world, including mine and including yours: “[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). We must each accept our part in his death.
How do we make sense of this crime and of God’s response to it?
In Mark 12, Matthew 21 and Luke 20 Jesus tells a parable that bears an eerie resemblance to his own death. A landowner builds a beautiful vineyard. He really invests in setting it up. Then he rents out his land to some farmers, to tenants, while he went away on a journey. At harvest time, the landowner sends his representative to collect rent, but the tenants are happy to use the land but unwilling to acknowledge the landowner’s rights. They treat the representative badly and send him back with nothing. So the landowner sends another representative, but this one they assault. For a third time the landowner sends his representative and this time the tenants kill him. The landowner continues to send many representatives, but all are ill-treated, assaulted or killed. Eventually the landowner decides to send his only son, his beloved, thinking that surely they will respect and listen to him. Alas, they beat and kill the son also. This terrible and personal assault is too much for the landowner. He comes in person and destroys the tenants and gives the vineyard away to others.
The parallels are striking, aren’t they? God delegates the care of the garden to Adam. God commissions humanity to rule over the world, taking care of it on his behalf. Humans are happy to use and exploit God’s blessings, but all too often we do not pay homage to God, we do not acknowledge the source of the blessing, we carry on as if God did not exist. God sends prophets as ambassadors to speak God’s mind, God’s heart. But all too often, the prophets were reviled, ignored or even killed. But God persists over hundreds and hundreds of years to get God’s message across to us.
Eventually, some two thousand years ago, God sends the Son, the one and only, the Beloved. Surely we will listen to God incarnate? Surely we will respect the Son of God? Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows, however, the extent to which Jesus’ message was not heard. He was attacked, criticised and ridiculed. On several occasions people plotted or attempted to kill him. His message was twisted and distorted. And precious few recognised and accepted him for who he was – God’s son.
And then we killed him. We killed the Son of God. We killed the second person of the Trinity.
How will God respond?
Perhaps God will respond with Divine Wrath. Perhaps God will wipe humanity from the face of the earth; burn up the earth; obliterate all trace of the creation.
And rightly so, don’t you think? What else could be an appropriate response to a crime as massive as the murder of God? I don’t think any of us could deny that that would be an appropriate and fully justified response. Divine retribution. Divine judgement.
I have a 15 year old son – my only child. Occasionally, in a darker mood, I find myself imagining what I’d do if someone hurt him. I think I’d go insane – I cannot imagine how I would hold on to my mind. I think I would become a raging homicidal monster. I’d like to think I might be heroic and forgive. But I don’t think I am that hero.
How our murder of Jesus must have hurt and enraged God. And how terrible that rage would be for us if God chose to vent it. We have seen God’s wrath at times in the Old Testament, but I imagine those times would pale in comparison to this.
God’s wrath does not descend. There are no fiery balls falling from the sky. No shattering earthquakes. No volcanic eruptions. No lakes of burning sulphur. No tsunamis.
Indeed, there was no response at all. On the second day after the crucifixion, the Saturday, the cosmos held its breath, waiting. What would God do? Waiting… waiting… no response. It was as if God was grappling, as Christ had grappled in the garden of Gethsemane. God, grappling with emotion, God weighing up the options, God deciding whether or not to live out what Jesus had told in that parable. Holy Saturday is the day we wait on God, to see how God will respond. We wait, silent, by Jesus’ grave.
And on the third day, the Sunday, early in the morning, Jesus comes back. He comes back! The Son, whom we killed, is returned to us. He returns with words of grace and peace, with words of encouragement, with words of salvation. We move past Lent and Good Friday and Holy Saturday, and encounter a glorious Easter Morning!
How is that possible? How is it that God, the triune God, would return to us after we had murdered the Son? How is it that the parable of wrath and judgement is not fulfilled? How is it that we are not forever Godforsaken?
Jesus’ resurrection is evidence of God’s forgiveness!
God’s grappling on Holy Saturday between divine wrath and divine forgiveness resolves into forgiveness. As we have seen so often before over the past 34 reflections, God’s inclination is towards love, towards forgiveness. God remains true to God’s heart, which is full of love. Even in the face of the greatest crime against the very being of a God, God chooses to forgive. God chooses love over wrath.
And the most powerful way that God can demonstrate forgiveness of our choice to kill the Son is to return the Son. The resurrection is divine forgiveness.
Jesus’ resurrection does not make the cross something wonderful or beautiful or glorious. Rather, Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God’s love is wonderful, beautiful and glorious!
There has been no greater demonstration of love than the resurrection. God created out of an abundance of free love. The incarnation demonstrated the selflessness of divine love desiring intimacy with humanity. The cross is a sign of divine love willing to risk everything in the hope of salvation. But the resurrection is the decision of God to forgive and reconcile in the wake of the ultimate betrayal. The ultimate sin requires ultimate forgiveness; ultimate forgiveness requires ultimate love.
If ever you are in doubt of God’s willingness to forgive your sin, look to the resurrection. If ever you need assurance that God has not forsaken you, look to the resurrrection. If ever you doubt God’s love, look to the resurrection. The resurrection is divine forgiveness.
Meditation for the Day
Put yourself in God’s shoes on Easter Friday. What would you have done? Consider the resurrection. Consider its message. Consider the resurrection as divine forgiveness. What is God saying to you?
Prayer for the Day
God of infinite love and mercy, I give you heartfelt thanks and worship for the great gift of your return to us after we had murdered your only begotten Son. Thank you for that ultimate forgiveness. Empower me to honour your gift in how I live my life.