Your Paradoxical Savior (October 21, 2018)
Your Paradoxical Savior
Every so often a big trial comes up and grabs our attention. Whether the person on trial is famous or the circumstances of the crime are unique, we all tune in. The evening news shows the day’s highlights and our news feeds fill up with the latest information. Of course, when there aren’t highlights or new information, there is the commentary. Around water coolers and dinner tables we discuss it all. Sometimes even long after the trial is over. The funny thing about all that commentary and discussion is that none of it matters for the trial. It doesn’t matter if we think the defense or the prosecution made a better argument. It doesn’t matter if after the trial we think the judge or jury got it right. The only thing that really matters is the verdict. If the verdict is innocent, this is all that matters. Let the voices say what they will. It doesn’t matter. The verdict has been made.
There was a lot of commentary and a lot of voices focusing on one trial in particular. It was definitely a very unique case. On the one side defendants were claiming that he was a king deserving exaltation and praise! On the other side, prosecutors shouted that he was a usurper and a fraud. Looking at him, you’d be on the side of the prosecution. “He had no beauty or majesty” (Is 53:2). “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain… he was despised, and [people] held him in low esteem” (Is 53:3). Yet if you read some of the reports of his coming and heard the announcements, you would be on the side of the defense. “He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (Is 52:13). “Rejoice greatly…. See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious” (Zech 9:9). One great prophet even said, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie” (Mk 1:7). Yet, there were other reports that seem to confuse this issue. And if you saw him yourself, well, it depends on when you saw him. At times he was doing great and powerful miracles; while other times he could be found washing the feet of his followers.
Which was he? A great king or lowly servant? When the gavel drops, does any of it really matter? The gavel falls. “Guilty!” is the verdict. He’s sentenced to death. A shock to some, a relief to others. I think you know that I am talking about Jesus. But am I talking about his trial and judgment before Pilate, or his judgment before the Father? We know that Pilate eventually sentenced Jesus to death. What was God the Father’s judgment of Jesus? Was Jesus guilty and deserving death? Or innocent and raised to life?
Before we answer that, let’s rewind back to another trial. In fact, it’s the trial that predicated all of this. There was a couple living in a land where they enjoyed a great number of freedoms. In fact, there was really only one law, one thing they were prohibited from doing. And this law came with a very specific punishment: the death penalty. The couple did it. They did the one thing they were prohibited from doing. Despite having immense freedom, that one thing was too tempting. The man and the woman ate from the tree they weren’t supposed to. The judge knew. The trial revealed all evidence against them. Their guilt was clear. The gavel came down, and their verdict was…. Guilty, but innocent. Deserving of death, yet they did not die.
It’s a paradox really. An inconsistency as it appears. God clearly said to the woman, Eve, “What is this YOU have done?” (Gen 3:13). He clearly says to the man, Adam, “Because YOU listened to your wife and [did this]” (Gen 3:17). And yet, when it came time to enact the judgment, the record says, “Innocent” and they are free to go.
There’s one more trial I want to bring up. And that’s your own. Just as our nation has laws and you are penalized for breaking one, so God also has laws for all people and there are penalties for breaking his law. Law #1 “You shall have no other gods.” Sounds easy enough for us in this room, right? Until you dig into this law a little deeper and realize, that the check I give each week in the offering, yes I give out of thanks to God. And yes, I’ve carefully thought through what to give to God, what I need to provide for my family. But I still struggle as I wrestle with trusting God above money. I still wrestle thinking, “a little more in my pocket would give me more peace of mind.” My peace of mind should not be dependent upon my money! But at times it is. Let’s look at another. Law #5 “You shall not murder.” Again, I think we would all agree and abide by that. But the lawgiver goes on to explain that “anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 Jn 3:15). You maybe know that. But even still, you and I try to defend ourselves saying, “Ok, sure, I’ve sinned against this commandment by hating, but at least I’m no murderer!” I’ve sinned to a lesser degree. No! It’s the same thing in God’s eyes. It’s all the same to our Judge. The one who hates his brother IS a murderer. Sin is sin. And when we count up all our sins, all our infractions against God’s law – very serious infractions deserving death – you and I are guilty a thousand times over. We are… all… guilty… a thousand times over. The gavel comes down on you as well. And what’s your verdict? Guilty! I just said it. But yet, innocent. Deserving of eternal death, yet you and I will never suffer that death.
It’s all a paradox, a seeming inconsistency until you connect your verdict with the verdict that Jesus received. You were guilty, and yet declared innocent and are freed to go, live, eternally. All because Jesus, who was innocent, was declared guilty and suffered death, eternal death, a thousand times over for you. “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is 53:5-6). Your verdict is innocent, because of your Paradoxical Savior.
Your Paradoxical Savior is dying to live with you. Someone had to die. You heard the law. You heard the penalty. If you eat, you will die. If you sin, you will die. Ever since the fall into sin, someone had to die. God does not tolerate sin and he’s serious about that. So, he couldn’t just dismiss it. Someone had to die. Adam did indeed die, just as God said he would, but his death was not for his sin. He died physically, yes, but he died trusting in God’s promise of life. The death for sin was deferred down the line. Not Adam. Not Seth. Not Noah, or Abraham, or Isaac, but Christ. The death for sin was deferred through history until the death of Jesus – the death that was unlike any other.
If death should have passed over anyone, it should have passed over Jesus. He was the only one who didn’t need to die. The holy and eternal God who was innocent of all charges and rightfully could have removed himself from the situation entirely. Yet he loved you. He took on human life so that he could die for you. Sinful and helpless as you and I are. As fully deserving and rightly judged guilty of sin and worthy of death as you and I are. God loved you and was determined to live with you forever. So, instead of rightly passing the verdict of guilt onto you, he took it onto himself. He hung on the cross and died for you. It sounds ridiculous, like something out of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” – but even those deaths were simply faked, at least to begin with. But Jesus truly died, because someone had to. There had to be death for sin or God would not keep his word and he would be a liar. He died for your sin. He died so he could live with you.
I think sometimes we minimize the death of Jesus. Not intentionally. Not saying it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t like a death that we will one day face. But we perhaps minimize the kind of death he died or the suffering he endured. And that’s because, when we look at death, we see it as we ought. Physical death, but at the same time a gateway to heaven. Jesus’ death was different. His death on the cross was by no means limited to the physical agony of that death. Psalm 22 and Jesus’ words from the cross all serve to show that his suffering reached the very depths of his soul. “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted within me. My mouth is dried up… you lay me in the dust of death” (Ps 22:14-15). Have you ever been forsaken by God? Really forsaken, not just feeling that way or wondering what God’s plans are, but truly forsaken? When you reach out to him in prayer, do you find nothing but the stone-cold wall of his back turned, like Jesus did. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Ps 22:1). On the cross Jesus suffered hell. The suffering of your guilty verdict and my guilty verdict.
And yet, despite the physical, emotional, and spiritual torment he suffered, there was joy. Because in suffering, your Savior was able to rejoice with you! “It was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,” in doing this, “he WILL see his offspring… he WILL see the light of life and be satisfied” (Is 53:10-11). You know that when all the suffering for your sins was complete and he said, “It is finished,” when he let out his last gasp and truly died, there was life. Not only life for him – God raising him to life showing that he had accepted his sacrifice as full atonement – but also life for you, his offspring. As news of this Paradoxical Savior, spreads throughout the world and throughout history, he brings many more to life. When you are standing on trial before the judge, although all evidence would convict you of guilt, your trial is wrapped up in Jesus’ trial. He took your guilt verdict, so that you could be free of all charges.
The cost was high. He paid a high price for you, giving up his honor, glory and authority for a time. But by giving up everything, he gained much more. He gained you. He paid your bond to release you from the prison of sin and death. He gave up his honor and glory so that you could be glorified! He gave up his place in heaven so that you could have yours. And in giving up everything for you, he not only gained you, he also received back all his honor, all his glory, and all authority over life and death and over every power of this world. Praise and glory be to our Paradoxical Savior who took on your guilt so that he could declare you innocent.
Conversations may still arise. People in your life may talk and make you feel undeserving of your innocence. Your guilty conscience may send whispers through your mind convincing you that you deserve the guilty verdict. But it doesn’t matter. The gavel has already come down on you. The verdict has been spoken. The case is closed. “By knowledge of him my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities” (Is 53:11). Despite any evidence or any commentary that might suggest otherwise, when your life is wrapped up in his trial, you are innocent!