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14th April, 2010

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The invaluable gift nobody wants

Almost two thousand years ago, "upon a lonely hill" in Jerusalem, the Savior of all mankind hung on a cross - lonely, naked, shredded, wracked with savage pain, surrounded by a jeering mob, and in the company of common criminals. The law of Moses had foreshadowed this day with its divinely-sanctioned sacrificial rites while the prophets had foretold it in allusive words. What took place at that pivotal moment was the most significant event in human history. In His suffering and death, Jesus Christ gave mankind the most valuable gift it could possibly ask for - complete atonement for sin and sinfulness. In that one all-powerful event the gift was made available to every evil human being for the propitiation of God's anger towards him, for redemption from death, for pardon for sin, for justification from guilt, for reconciliation with God, for transformation into a godly saint.

But who understood? Worse, who cared?

When the sun set that day upon a forever-changed world, virtually every individual continued, business as usual, in his godless ways, showing utter contempt for the gift he had just been offered. Who understood? Who cared? Paul had this to say about the events that transpired on Golgotha that day:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

This passage needs to be teased out a little. Remember, Jesus' suffering and death are fully sufficient to atone for human sin and sinfulness and to heal the sin-sick soul. This verse tells us that through Jesus' torment and crucifixion God provided for mankind's atonement while mankind was still in thrall to sin. But what do those words actually mean? That God atoned for sin before sin had been atoned for is obviously not the intent of the passage. To interpret the passage to mean merely that God atoned for sin when the world was in a sinful state - even though that's the "literal" meaning of the words - suggests a sense too trivial to warrant stating. In Scripture, big concepts are often expressed in just a few simple words; a huge part of the challenge for Bible students is to unpack the grand concepts contained in handfuls of words.

Stop and think. The idea conveyed in Jesus' offering of Himself "while we were yet sinners" must be an astounding concept inasmuch as we are told that it demonstrates the incomprehensible magnitude of God's love. The spotlight here must be on an aspect of human sinfulness that provides the darkest possible backdrop against which the brilliant light of the crucifixion can be seen. Sin, you see, is itself a broad concept with many aspects. One aspect of sin is its legal side - sinners would receive a guilty verdict if their deeds were paraded before a court of law. That is obviously

not the aspect of sin being emphasized here. It's time to cut to the chase. I propose that Paul is talking about sinfulness in the sense of the total lack of concern people have about their sinful condition. Much worse than simply being guilty of offending against God is the attitude of "who cares?"! If it's bad to be guilty, how much worse is it to have not the slightest concern about one's guilt nor a smidgeon of gratitude towards Jesus Christ for dealing with it.

While Jesus was hanging on the cross in excruciating agony, how many passersby, how many spectators, were thinking to themselves, "Wow, that shredded human shape hanging there dripping blood is in the process of dealing decisively with my sins so that I can have an intimate personal relationship with God in His eternal kingdom?" How many had (or, today, have) even the most rudimentary grasp of their own need for the most significant and valuable gift that God has offered them - atonement? Who cares? Many derided Jesus at that moment, making jokes about His inability to save Himself. They were blaspheming, without shame, the one who, at that very moment, abandoned and forlorn as nobody else has ever experienced, was paying the price for their evil deeds to be pardoned, for their wicked thoughts to be washed away, and for their guilty consciences to be cleansed. When He breathed His last, history's most significant event occurred - atonement had at last been provided for every sinner. To be sure, His disciples and mother grieved, but even they do not appear to have grasped the weight of the moment. Not one person dropped on his knees feeling either overwhelming shame or boundless gratitude. Perhaps not a single spectator thought of these words:

He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken (Is. 53:7-8).

God in the flesh died a slow, agonizing death for the purpose of atoning for human wickedness, of justifying sinners (you and me), thereby making eternal life in the kingdom of God possible. Nobody could give a hoot then; hardly anybody gives it a passing thought now. What a wonder that God in heaven did not clap His hands in disgust and let the universe and us human beings turn into thin cosmic soup. Thankfully the story is not over yet. Back then the grounds for our atonement were made available. The time is coming when God will open the eyes of all to see the infinite riches to be found in the gift they currently despise. Hasten the day.


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