There is a weight to sin that the eye cannot see and the mind cannot imagine. It is so burdensome that it cannot be upheld by even the strength of mountains. It brings with it a veil of murky darkness that chokes the soul, murders joy, and smothers hope.
Like spiritual cement shoes, this weight, encumbering all of human life on planet earth, drags its victims into grave waters of eternal separation from the presence of Holy God.
And although sin was not native to Him but was instead laid upon His almighty shoulders so that our own frail forms might not be destroyed, it was this sort of burden with which the Son of God contended on a lonely, dark night in a grove of olive trees.
“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and He said to His disciples, ‘Sit here, while I go over there and pray.’ And taking with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me’” (Matthew 26:36-38 ESV).
Looking around at those who knew Him best, their having lived and worked by His side for the last few years, His tender heart reached out for their love, knowing all the while that, in the end, He would walk this path alone. “Pray,” He encouraged these friends and followers. “Pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:40b ESV).
His heart and mind were bursting with anguish, not only because of the physical travail that He was about to face, but also from the fact of the horror of sin and its terrible price… and not least because of the personal betrayal of one whom the Savior had loved as a friend.
“…Being in an agony He prayed…earnestly; and His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44 ESV).
It is almost unthinkable that an “innocent” would endure the punishment of the guilty. And as much as it moves us to applaud a noble sacrifice, we mustn’t forget that Jesus was and is the only real innocent that has ever lived – He is the only One Who could ever truthfully make such a claim. Nor can we forget the nearly bottomless depth of the guilt of mankind: how he turned his back on his Creator at the dawn of time and unleashed hordes of evils that have beset the Cosmos since. Are we deserving of abandonment? Yes. Are we deserving of judgment? Yes. It could hardly have been expected that if God were like man, that at the point of our rebellion (and even more so for our persistence in it), He would have done anything other than shrug His shoulders, wash His hands of us, and walk away. Yet, this Innocent walked directly into the face of hate, betrayal, and death knowing the awful price that only His blood could pay.
But our astonishment must still increase even more. His heart reached up to His Father, staggering under the utter atrocity of our guilt and shame, and doubtlessly recoiled from the approach of the most terrible of all consequences – that of separation from the Father.
“Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me. Nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42 ESV).
And later, as the wrath of divine judgment poised over the spectacle of His gasping body, nailed cruelly to a tree that He had created, the sun itself was darkened as if the face of the Father Himself was forced to turn away.
“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour… Jesus cried out in a loud voice…. ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Luke 23:44, Matthew 27:46 ESV). “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them… (because God) made Him to be sin Who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:19a, 21 ESV).
The holy indignation of the Father, having judged once and for all the rebellion of the works of His hands, was satisfied. Holiness can’t ignore sinfulness, but with Jesus’ laying down His own life, holiness could be vindicated and the eternal consequence of sinfulness destroyed. Mercy could enter the wide gap separating mankind and his Maker, bridging the nearly immeasurable distance with the outstretched arms of the Lamb of God.
The crucifixion is ugly… but it is also beautiful. For against the backdrop of incredible horrors and atrocious hate is the portrait of grace in motion. Nails didn’t hold our Savior on the cross; the grace of God did. And it is this grace that extends to us today the only hope that our woefully broken planet has. And just as that grace poured into the ugliness of human sin a glimpse of infinite beauty as people reviled Him, despised Him, abused Him, and killed Him, that same grace lives today still as it reaches out through hearts won over by His faithful mercy.
As the winds of mercy blow by you this Lenten season, breathe deeply the daily kindnesses of your Father in heaven, and breathe out the praise of God as well as loving kindnesses towards all you meet.
Thom Mollohan leads Pathway Community Church in Gallipolis and may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.