Alleluia, Christ is risen! I listened to a podcast recently that made a terrific point. The speaker said that if you are going to make a significant change, especially one that is difficult, then you need a big enough “Why?” For example you are far more likely to lose weight if the doctor tells you that you will die in 30 days if you don’t, as opposed to just wanting your jeans to fit better.
As I was thinking about that point, and we entered the season of Lent, it made me wonder, what was Jesus’ “Why?” If you have seen the movie “The Passion of the Christ” or if you have read historical accounts of a Roman crucifixion then you can get a glimpse of how big His “Why?” had to be to willingly face such torment. As He said, He could have called on a host of angels and prevented the entire event but you will recall when He was in the garden, on the night before His crucifixion, the tension that He was under was so great that the capillaries in His head burst and He literally sweated blood. So what could possibly compel Him to accept what He knew that He was called to do? What was Jesus’ “Why?”
As I was researching the possible answer to that question I came across an on line book by a famous Baptist preacher named John Piper. He has written a book entitled 50 Reasons Why Jesus Had to Die. I found it very informative so let’s do a countdown and start with reason number 50……kidding!
Actually I think that you can summarize Jesus “Why?” in just 2 major reasons. I want to look at them because my hope is that as we look more closely at Jesus’ “Why?” our own “Why?” will come into clearer focus. This in turn will help us develop deeper convictions as followers of Christ.
The first reason is that Jesus did what He did and suffered what He suffered was FOR HIS FATHER. Jesus’ love for the Father was so great, and His unity with the Father was so complete, that He accepted whatever the Father’s will for Him would be. Even if it meant, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, that it was the will of the LORD to crush Him and to put Him to grief (Is 53:10). That is how strong His love was for His Father.
Thus Jesus proved His love for His Father through His obedience to Him. But I fear that this connection between love and obedience has all but been lost in much of modern Christianity. We either have a false narrative that we obey God so that He will bless us, i.e. sew a seed and God will give you health and prosperity. Or we have an even worse narrative that since God has accepted us that our obedience is irrelevant. We think we can live however we want to live. But Jesus irrevocably links love and obedience when He says, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments.”The “Why?” for Jesus was His love of the Father as evidenced in His obedience and that “Why?” can be our motivation as well.
Jesus did what He did for the Father to honor Him. He did this by upholding and revealing Him as a merciful, holy and righteous God. This is from Romans 3 in the New Living Translation. “For all have sinned; all fall short of the God’s glorious standard. Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us.”
Here was the dilemma. If God did not have patience and mercy then He would have righteously wiped out His people when they built the first golden calf and that would have been the end of the story. We as their spiritual ancestors would not be here to praise Him. And yet if God declares, as He does, that the wages of sin is death but winks at sin and does not keep His word then He is neither holy nor righteous. We would then be free us to create a god in our own image. Perhaps a heavenly Mr. Rogers, who likes us just the way we are, and we would be walking in darkness.
So how does God both display mercy andrighteousness? He shows His mercy for us by having His Son take upon Him our chastisement. In this way God is glorified for being both merciful AND just, a God in whom we can trust. Jesus’ “Why?” was to honor His Father. That too can be our “Why?” for taking up our cross and following Him.
Jesus did what He did for the Father to glorify Him by winning back for His Father all that had been lost to sin and death. Most folks know and have meditated on John 3:16 but how many have done so on John 3:17? “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”The Greek word used here for world is “kosmos” which scholars tell us not only includes humanity but all that has been created. It was not just the souls of men that were decimated by the fall but all of creation was made subject to sins’ futility. So Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God and defeats sin and the grave through His death and resurrection and this begins the making of all things new. The culmination of which, according to the Revelation to St. John, is a new heaven and a new earth.
Frankly it is this vision of the restoration of all things that gets my engines going. I can look at the state of our nation and get discouraged. I can even look at the state of the Church on earth and get discouraged. And when I used to believe that heaven was just going to be an unending choir practice, I would think to myself, “Well isn’t that special?” But the idea of a new heaven and a new earth and of all things being restored as God intended them to be, that becomes a “Why?” that is big enough to get my full intention. God is glorified in a “Why?” this big.
So the first big “Why?” that led Jesus to do what He did was FOR HIS FATHER. To love, to honor and to glorify Him.
The second big “Why?” is FOR US. He did it for us. It says in Romans. “that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Jesus faced the cross for more than the individualized salvation of a few but so that He could present to God His Church. As we are told in 1 Peter, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession….” He went to the cross thinking of His Bride the Church, and what a comfort it is to know that we are His, and as we are told in Roman, that nothing can separate us from His love. As John Piper put it, “He paid the highest price possible to give us the greatest gift possible.”
Jesus did what He did for us in order to defeat our enemies. It says in Colossians “God disarmed the evil rulers and authorities. He shamed them publically by his victory over them on the cross of Christ.” The King James correctly refers to the “evil rulers and authorities”as “principalities and powers” because in this context St. Paul is referring to spiritual powers. The paraphrase The Message puts it this way about Jesus publically shaming them. It says, “He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority on the cross and marched them naked through the streets.” Naked demons! There’s a visual for you! The truth is that He not only defeated them He shamed them.
When it comes to this topic of evil powers we need some caution, as there are two extremes to be avoided. I have known some who see demons in their cornflakes and so EVERTHING is a spiritual battle to them. That hardly leads to a Christian life that is characterized by the righteousness, peace, and joy of the kingdom of God. On the other hand far too many give no heed at all to the reality that while they are ultimately defeated, we continue to wrestle against principalities and powers in heavenly places as St. Paul teaches in Ephesians 6. Ignoring that reality can make you a casualty of this ongoing spiritual battle.
Understanding the larger picture of the spiritual battle gives the Church the wisdom to know that evils in our world are not going to be ultimately addressed by passing another law or taking away rights that come from God. Understanding that spiritual problems need spiritual solutions keeps us from putting our trust in princes. What will heal our nation is not a donkey or an elephant. What will heal our nation is a Lamb. Fr. Chris and I were talking the other day about the wisdom of the British who during WWII had CS Lewis give lectures over the BBC raido to the entire nation on Mere Christianity. They did not fail to fight evil with the Gospel.
Jesus also did what He did for us to make us heirs of God. This is from Galatians 4. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent for his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who are under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons. And because we are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba, Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son and if a son, then an heir through God.”
One of the joys that I have had as a parish priest is attending a few adoptions. Typically the judge makes it abundantly clear to the parents and to the child about to be adopted that there will be no legal difference whatsoever between the natural children and the adopted children once the adoption has gone through.
And that was the understanding of the biblical writers who speak of our spiritual adoption. The Bible says that we can’t even imagine all that God has in store for us and so it boggles the mind to believe that Jesus did what He did to make us equal heirs with Himself. And whatever that inheritance looks like I’m pretty sure it will make winning the Power Ball seem like a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
So the first “Why?” that was big enough for Jesus to face crucifixion is FOR HIS FATHER and the second “Why?” is FOR US. I’ve left out 48 other reasons but I hope that you are getting the point. You could actually sum it up by saying that His “Why?” is because He loved His Father with all of His heart and soul and mind, and He loved us as Himself. Sound familiar?
Understanding more clearly why our Master did what He did, in turn leaves each of us a question. What is our “Why?” Are you going through life on automatic pilot or is your life ordered by godly convictions? Does your “Why?” only consist of the things of this world which Jesus says are only temporary,“where moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.” Or does your “Why?” include seeking first the kingdom of God so that your treasures are being stored in heaven?
If your “Why?” consists only of the things of this life then you need to know that you are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This Resurrected Jesus is coming again to judge the living and the dead and to inaugurate a new heaven and a new earth and the former things will pass away. So I plead with you today. If you have never done so or if you need to do it again, as you come forward to receive Jesus veiled in this bread and wine, cast yourself on His mercy. Ask for His forgiveness and submit yourself to His Lordship. This will bring true purpose to your life as you become a part of His plans for the world to come.
Jesus told His disciples “He who perseveres to the end shall be saved”and then He modeled for them the “Whys” that are big enough to ensure that they will finish the course. We would be wise to be like the disciples and follow in our risen Lord’s footsteps and in this way walk in the power of His resurrection. And persevering to the end we shall all be saved. Alleluia, Christ is risen. Amen.