2 Corinthians 5:14-21
"Jesus loves me! This I know, for the Bible tells me so." This is a very popular hymn for children. It's a wonderful hymn. It teaches me that Jesus loves me. How do I know? The Bible tells me so! Where in the Bible does it say that Jesus loves me? Right here, what we just heard from John's Gospel and St. Paul's Epistle, and from the Prophet Isaiah. Jesus Christ willingly suffered and died for the sins of the whole world!
Jesus did it willingly. With a word he could have cast his attackers aside and escaped the cross, as he demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane. Yet Jesus willingly, like a lamb to the slaughter bore the suffering, pain, and death of the cross. And he bore it all, because he loves you, just as the children sing. See how he loves you! He loves you even to die for you, to take the blame for you, to be punished in your place! On Jesus was poured God the Father's wrath against all sin. And Jesus drank that cup to the dregs and stayed God's vengeance.
Yet it would be false to portray Christ's passion as God the Father hating all mankind and Jesus letting the Father take his anger out on him. Indeed sin makes God angry. God is righteous. Sin is evil. But our sin makes Jesus angry too. Yet in the passion of Christ we see the love of the entire Holy Trinity for the entire human race. God loves you! The Bible says so. God the Father could not bare to cast off the entire human race. He created us out of love for us. And so out of love for us he sent his only begotten Son to take our place under his wrath, to take away our sins with his blood. See how much God loves you!
Love is an abused word. People use the word to describe their dreams, their wants, and yes even their lusts. To our culture love is a good feeling, like sitting next to the pretty girl in class, having a great time with a really neat person, or that feeling when you think your heart is going to explode when your children giggle and play together. But love isn't simply an emotion. Love is action. Often times love doesn't feel good. In fact, quite frankly, sometimes love hurts a lot.
See how God loves you. That Bible passage nearly every Christian knows by heart, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) So often this verse is portrayed to show how much God loves the world. "God loves the world soooooooo much." But the word "so" in this passage doesn't mean "so much" but rather, "in this way." God loves you in this way: that he sent his only begotten Son to die for you. There's a difference. St. John isn't simply telling us how much God loves us. Christ's death on the cross isn't simply an example of God's love. Christ's death on the cross saves you. God loved you. He saw you damned to hell. His love could not bear it. He sent his very Son, whom he's loved from eternity to bear your punishment. This is his love in action.
In Christ's passion tonight you see God's love. Not a fluffy happy feeling. Action. St. John writes, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." (1 John 4:10) And St. Paul writes, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
Listen to how the hymnist beautifully portrays the Father's love for you, "'Go forth, My Son,' the Father said, 'And free My children from their dread Of guilt and condemnation. The wrath and stripes are hard to bear, but by Your passion they will share The fruit of Your salvation.'" The Father sends his Son to die! This is love. The Son goes willingly to slaughter! This is love.
This love of God scandalizes and horrifies the unbelieving world. The hymnist again beautifully portrays our awe at this love, "O wondrous Love, what have you done! The Father offers up His Son, Desiring our salvation. O Love, how strong You are to save! You lay the one into the grave Who built the earth's foundation."
God's heart felt desire is for you to live forever with him. He loves you. And to obtain that desire, he sends his Son to bear the sins of the world, to suffer a criminals death, to suffer your death. Jesus Christ loves the Father and is obedient. Yet also out of love for you does he go silently to his shearers. And yet through pain and mockery, even the kiss of death Jesus drinks his fill of love. "Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied." (Is. 53:11) Christ's love is satisfied even in death seeing you the fruit of his passion saved.
God desires so much to save you he would do anything to do so. And we see him sacrifice his Son! And here we see, there was no other way. There was no other way for us to be redeemed and saved. There was no other way than for Christ to drink this cup of wrath. If there were another way, then certainly God would have spared his Son, whom he loved.
And so there is only one way for you to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, in his passion for your sins, in this the Father's love. You cannot save yourself by your good works. You won't earn God's favor by volunteering or donating or being an all around nice person. (Of course when done in faith, this pleases our Father in heaven). But you will not earn salvation by your works. If you could, God would have spared his Son the pain to save you. He would have taken the cup away from him when Jesus asked him to in the garden. But there was no other way to save you. And so you can only be saved through faith in Jesus, not by your works.
Likewise, your sins cannot condemn you. If God put them on Christ, the lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, well, then, your sins are not on you. Are they? If God poured his wrath against all sin upon Jesus, why do you seek to take these sins from him? Thou shalt not steal! Your sins do not belong to you. They are Jesus'. And he has done away with them. If the Father puts them on Jesus, do not put them back on yourself. It is impossible for your sins to condemn you when you have faith in the one who has taken them away.
In Jesus' passion we not only see God's love in action, but we see the benefit of God's love. As we sang last Sunday in the hymn, Jesus, I Will Ponder Now, "If for me He slays His Son, God must have compassion!" Indeed God does have compassion. He has compassion on you! God loves you. Jesus loves you. And this love does not fail. Your sins cannot remove this love. This love secures for you eternal life. In Christ's suffering you see your suffering released. In the accusations against him you see yourself declared innocent. In his mocking you see God's affection for you. In Jesus' death you see your life secured. In Christ's suffering and death you see God's love overpowering all your enemies and winning for you eternal mutual love with God forever. Let us all confess this Good Friday, "Jesus loves me, this I know!" Amen.