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Sacrifice of Isaac-Caravaggio (Uffizi) Public Domain

I was raised in a Christian home but, in my teen years, I became quite skeptical of Christian claims, the good book, and especially of God Himself. Looking back, I cannot say I really doubted the existence of God, but I did not feel I liked Him all that much, or at least not the warped picture of God I held at that time. I can honestly say I did not know who I was angry with, because I really did not know Him as I do now. I did not see Him as a Father, but as a judge, not as a friend, but as rather a powerful bully.

I kind of enjoyed doubting God, finding supposed problems in scripture, mulling over the deep and good reasons why we should not have to believe in God or, if He did exist, reasons to doubt He was good. It is strange to recall that all the while I doubted God’s goodness, I rather imagined my doubts were hurting His feelings. Yet, if I had been truly convinced that God was NOT good, and did not care for me, why would I suppose I could hurt His feelings? Illogical, as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock might remark. Yes, perhaps, but it fits what we know about human nature: we are far more likely to test the forbearance of those whose goodness and love we are at some level fairly sure of. For example, people who are truly abused as children seem to spend their lives trying to earn that parent’s approval and love, while dearly loved children may take their parent’s love for granted, and sometimes are the very ones who break their parent’s heart with exaggerated accusations of indifference or abuse.

Anyway, I’m sure I vexed my mother with my doubts, and for reasons that I’m not sure I understand even now, I enjoyed throwing up unanswerable (I thought) scriptural problems to her. One Bible passage I loved to “hate” was in Genesis 22 where Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac on an altar. “What?!” I can hear myself say, “This supposedly good God is asking this man, whom He supposedly loves soooo much, to kill his only son (with a knife!!!) and then offer him up as a burnt offering on an alter? You have got to be kidding! This is sadistic! Sick! What kind of a monster God would even ask such a thing???! What if He asks you to kill me? Would you do it??” (Oh, so dramatic!) And so forth … My poor longsuffering mother didn’t seem to have a good answer to that one at all, so I thought I “had her.” (Yes, I’m embarrassed I was such a brat, but I’m trying to make a point here.) Okay, so maybe I had to endure my mother’s curse of “hope you have one just like you,” but I inwardly laughed in the face of danger and continued for a time in my folly. (These parental “curses” cannot truly inspire fear until one is in a position to fully understand the implications of such things – when one has teenagers of one’s own – and then, of course, it is forever too late. And those curses are completely self-defeating for the parent, because should your child actually have a difficult child, you’ll suffer right along with them. But I digress…) It is funny to me now, this passage of scripture, once proof enough for me of God’s basic barbarity. To me now it is an awesome and wonderful picture of God’s love for us.

When we think in terms of the sacrifice made for us nearly 2,000 years ago, we naturally think in terms of the sacrifice made by the Son. Braveheart. He gave his life for you and me, and the enormity of that fact should never be obscured by the passage of time or by our familiarity with the event.

With that object in view, please allow yourself to consider this – who would YOU die for? Your neighbor? Your hairdresser? A stranger? Maybe, but human nature being what it is, it seems an unlikely scenario. Add to that the torture angle. Not only must you die but prior to that you will be whipped, publicly humiliated, beaten, stripped naked, and cruel men are going to hammer huge spikes into your wrists and feet and hang you on a cross where you will die an agonizingly slow death. Even a very courageous person would likely blanch at the thought, and some folks are under the bed just thinking about it. Would you endure such abuse even for a very good friend? Your husband or wife? Certainly, many have endured torture and even death for God or country, friends or familial love, but such self-sacrifice is rare enough to be quite remarkable.

But wait. We should then consider how many would die for the likes of someone like serial killer John Wayne Gacy? North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un? Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev? And yet, we know Jesus died for all of them as well as you and me. In the Bible, the book of Romans speaks to this very issue in Chapter 5:6-8:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His great love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

While we were helpless, ungodly, and sinners when Christ chose to give His life on our behalf. Not mere “strangers;” we were ENEMIES of God. Such a strong term, Joy! Enemies?? Look around you. Ask yourself why so many of those who say they “disbelieve” in the God of the Bible are not neutral towards Him at all, but actively detest Him! Did you ever wonder why that is? Why do so many detest a person they supposedly do not believe in, or say is a fairytale? We don’t hate the Big Bad Wolf, do we? Or Cruella De vil? That’s because we know they are not real. According to the Bible, though, even if one has no emotion of animus toward God, we all are born enemies of God just by being part of the rebellious race of mankind. But, Jesus Christ, who loves us, bore the agony of the cross for our reconciliation. Such an act of gracious heroism is rare indeed and is confounding in our vengeance-oriented society. Human beings generally don’t get mad at those who hurt or oppose us – we get even. Some even view self-sacrifice as foolishness.

There is something, though, I believe would get me willingly up on that cross and, if you are a parent, maybe you can identify. A simple choice might do it… Mom or dad, either you or your daughter are going up on that cross; you or your son. We are either going to strip, beat, and torture your daughter and drive those nails into her flesh, OR you can go in her place — which will it be? Parental love is so strong that, even from here, I can hear you say, “Take ME! I’ll go. Do what you want to me but leave my daughter alone! Don’t touch my son!”

I was reminded of this truth in an article in the Chicago Tribune which began with these words, “A 14-year old high school student convicted of plotting to kill his mother was released Monday into the custody of the mother who said, ‘I love my son, and I have nothing to fear. He told me he was sorry,’” That really says it, doesn’t it? Her trust in her son may be foolish, but it gives powerful testimony to the unshakeable and sacrificial love of a parent.

That is the great love the Son has for us. It seems hard for us to accept His love at face value, but He loves us that much! As much as you love your son as much as you’d die for your daughter. Torture and death on our behalf is the noble gift of the Son; to pay your ransom, to win your life and freedom.

But, what of the Father? How did He show His love for us? Think about this: You’d go up on that cross for your son or daughter. For whom, though, would you GIVE your child whom you love so much? On whose behalf would I send my daughter to her death? Whose life and security would I purchase with the well-being of my own son? NO ONE’S. Yes, so great is the Father’s love for me and you friend, He gave His only Son. From a parent’s eye view, an unbelievable sacrifice.

1 John 4:10 says,

In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

This is the connection we should draw from Genesis where Abraham is asked to make the supreme sacrifice. This example is given so we can, perhaps, conceive of the great sacrifice God made on our behalf and thus to comprehend the depth of God’s love for us.

I don’t write this primarily to those who know God’s love and already have become convinced by their relationship to Him that He loves and cares for them. I speak to those who are vastly unsure of God’s love, who had been in cults or abusive churches, and the only emotion they feel from God is anger or disapproval, and the emotion they have for God is FEAR, and probably guilt as well. I don’t say there is no such thing as a healthy fear of the Lord, one that brings us to a place of recognizing our need for forgiveness and a savior. But, if your fear does not lead to conversion, but an endless striving or, if conversion does not ease your fears, you’ve gotten the wrong message about God’s love and grace. Paid in full is the message of the cross.

Some have missed the message of grace because religious traditions have gotten in the way. Yes, they have been taught about the sacrifice of Christ, but the simplicity of the gospel had been obscured or even supplanted by religious add-ons. We need to throw off those chains. His death brings us life. His suffering gives us peace. His mediation offers us complete reconciliation.

As difficult as it can be to understand God’s nature, it can be even harder to comprehend his love for us. We’re not worthy, and we know it! And by nature, we don’t love God, and we know that too. Some people seem to be stuck in a kind of adolescent rebellion phase, angry at God without perhaps even knowing why. Stuck fast, and unwilling and unable to move to true discovery of God, leading to true peace. Why is it some people do come to a place of loving God, while others’ hearts remain shut tight against Him?

Others are stuck “outside” for another reason. They do not understand the gospel and are trying to win God’s favor by being “nice,” or performing good works in hope of earning God’s love and mercy. But you cannot earn God’s love and you don’t have to!  He’s already proved His love by offering His Son on your behalf. What you need is to experience God’s amazing grace. The word grace means undeserved kindness! That’s what God wants to shower upon you – kindness upon kindness that you do not deserve. All you need to do is receive it. Receive the Son who died to ransom you.

As many as received him, to them He gave the power to become sons of God (John 1:11- 12).Ω

Love to all,

Joy sig

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