Last night we experienced a somber Good Friday service at Pantego Bible Church. The readings, the music, the "portraits of the Passion" were incredible. I preached from Matthew 27:43. While Jesus was being crucified, the chief priests, the elders and the teachers of the Law hurled insults at Jesus. You get the sense that each was digging deeper than the last to see if they could cut deeper than the rest. Suddenly, one of the bystanders yelled up at Jesus, “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if He wants Him, for He said, ‘I am the Son of God'."
Interesting thought...Let God rescue Him now if He wants Him. Certainly the Father loves the Son, right? At Jesus' baptism, the heavens opened up and a voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” [Matthew 17:5]. Several times in Jesus' ministry, He said "The Father loves the Son." There's no question that the Father in heaven loved the Son that He sent. God loved His Son. No doubt, He wanted His Son.
So, where was the Father when the Son was being crucified?
Each of my children has had the experience of being bullied at school. I don't think they come from weak stock; It's just a fact of life. When they tell their account of being pushed, verbally attacked or slighted, my fatherly instinct engages. I want to sign up to be a school volunteer so I can find the schoolyard bully and have a private conversation with him or her in the broom closet at recess. It's in my nature to protect my children. Sure, I've unintentionally hurt them through my words, neglect or rough house wrestling in the living room floor. But, I would never choose to harm them. They are my children whom I love.
So, where was the Father when the Son was being crucified? What of God's fatherly instinct to save His Son?
The answer comes in Isaiah 53. We should really read the whole passage to appreciate its message. But, verses 4-6 are particularly helpful to the question at hand:
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Notice that Christ was "stricken by God" and "pierced for our transgressions" and "the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." That sounds like the Father was a part of the Calvary crucifixion! Indeed, it's true. Verse 10 confirms it: "it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer." It was God's plan, God's prescription, God's delight. It was the will of the Father to crush the Son.
Such a thought is so foreign to our parental predisposition that we are tempted to think so hard on the matter in order to change our theology. What does Isaiah mean that "it was the Lord's will to crush him?!" That can't be so. I must rescue the Father from this apparent accusation for the Father can't intend to injure the Son!
I recently read the following excerpt from one writer's attempt to protect the dignity of God in the death of Jesus:
The fact is: the cross isn't a form of cosmic child abuse—a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed [as the doctrine of penal substitution makes it out to be]. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement 'God is love'. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus' own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil. [from The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke].
What Chalke is saying is this: If Jesus had to die for someone else's sin, that would amount to "cosmic child abuse" on His Father's part. Not only that, it would violate Jesus' own command to love. So, to take God off the hook, let's pretend that Jesus lived and died to teach us about commitment and life and suffering and perseverance. Let's pretend that it was an accident. Let's pretend that God was caught off guard--minding the store in some other place on the planet and could not rescue His Son. Moreover, let's not worry about the unaddressed problem of sin if Jesus simply died as a martyr. And, as we do, we can throw away the portions of Scripture that contradict our theory--passages that say such things as "it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer."
Truth is, for Christ to die for anything less than the glory of God and the redemption of humankind would be child abuse! And, the greatest act of love is shown in the Savior's death for unworthy people. John writes, "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins." [By the way, this affirms the doctrine of penal substitution that Chalke prefers not to talk about]
Jesus didn’t live and die just to show us how to love, win over Satan and follow hard after God. Rather, the only way that God could uphold His holiness and work out His redemptive purposes was for a perfect sacrifice to be offered for the sins of the world to bridge the gap between sinners and God. And, God’s commitment to His own glory was so great, and His love for us so deep, that it was the Father’s will to crush the Son. That's what makes the cross wonderful and Good Friday "good."