What Great Love!
When we began the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday, we prayed: “Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and contrite hearts that, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, we may receive from You full pardon and forgiveness.” We began our journey through Lent and to the Cross by confessing that God hates nothing and no one He has made, and we pleaded for His lovingkindness and mercy in granting us forgiveness.
Now we’ve arrived at the Cross of Christ. Today we pray that God would “graciously behold this [His] family, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing…to suffer death on the cross.” Yes, our whole human family needs the pardon and forgiveness that Jesus accomplishes on the Cross. And, yes, we in the Church, God’s family chosen and set apart in our Baptism, also need the forgiveness and life that Jesus gives today.
So, don’t pity Jesus! Don’t walk away today/tonight thinking, “Poor Jesus.” He does not want or need your pity. But He does want to give you His mercy. Yes, our human family, in its sinful, deadly rebellion against God, put the Lord of Life to death. But He willingly plunges Himself into the depths of our sin and death in order to bring us back to life with Him. He can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.” What great love our God has shown in His Son! “With His stripes we are healed.” They were the stripes that we, our sin, and our death inflicted upon Him, but He absorbed them willingly and without complaint. In turn He heals us from the wounds and the sores that the disease of sin and death works in us. What wondrous love!
Right before He went to the Cross, Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
So when you ponder the arrest and abuse of the all-powerful Creator of the world, when you ponder Peter’s three-fold denial of his ever faithful Lord, when you ponder the kangaroo court that lied about the Truth-made-flesh, when you see the Innocent One convicted as though guilty, think “What great love God has for me.” When you consider Pontius Pilate trying to get Jesus off the hook, but then caving to the whims of the angry mob, when you consider how Jesus the great Healer suffers the wounds of scourging, think to yourself, “What great love!” When you remember the soldiers stripping bare Him who covers Himself with light and with the deep as with a garment (Ps. 104:2, 6), think, “What great love!” When the angry shouts of “Crucify Him!” echo in your ears, especially knowing that you, a sinner, would have joined in, think, “What great love He has even for me!”
And what great love flows forth when He speaks from the Cross. First, He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34). Not only does He forgive those who condemned Him, pounded the nails and jeered at Him, but He also forgives you for all the sins in which you know not what you do.
As Jesus told the thief crucified with Him, “Today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43), you may rest assured that whatever you suffer in this life, your Crucified Lord promises that you will be with Him in paradise, even today. What great love!
What great love He showed to His Mother and the disciple whom He loved. Even in the midst of His excruciating pain and His struggle to breathe, the Lord “said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold your mother!’” (Jn. 19:26-27). In His great love, your Savior makes you part of the same family, His family of faith. May it be to us as the Lord has said.
Then He prayed “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Mt. 27:46; Ps. 22:1). Of course, being the Son of God He could not be separated from His Father and the Holy Spirit, but being true Man He certainly did experience the separation from God that we, His creatures, brought on ourselves. So, when we pray in our dark, forsaken loneliness, we can know that our Savior and God is there, in the lonely despair, “that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16). What great love!
When Jesus cried, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28), not only did He fulfill Scripture by consuming the sour vinegar of our sin and death, but He also showed how He hungered and thirsted for our righteousness. And we need not thirst for life, because the water that our crucified Lord gives becomes in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn. 4:14). What great love!
And what great love as our loving Lord of Life handed Himself over--voluntarily, willingly--into death. He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Lk. 23:46) and, “It is finished!” (Jn. 19:30). He trusted His Father to bring Him out of death and hell, and when He did arise, He brought us out of death to live with Him. So, it’s all finished—His forgiveness for your sins, His victory over death, His gift of life with God. What great love!
“God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-7).