Guilt, Grace and Gratitude
Michele Morrison considers what the words “Jesus died for me” really mean
When you think of the cross, do you ever ask, “Why?” Was it really necessary for such a grotesque atrocity to be perpetrated on this obviously innocent victim? Easter is the time to consider such questions. So let’s see where they take us.
To call Jesus a victim reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of who Jesus is. Paul writes that Jesus “made himself nothing . . . humbled himself . . . became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-9). It was his choice, not his unlucky draw.
Everything Jesus said or did was deliberate. He turned his face to Jerusalem, fully aware of the consequences of such a move. There, he provoked the authorities in order to flag up key flaws in their thinking. In his mercy, he longed for them to see their sin and repent. Some understood (Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea) and turned to him; the others bayed for his blood, affronted and insulted, and turned on him.
Let’s pause here for a moment’s reflection. If Jesus were here today, calling into question your authority and integrity, would you see his point and repent, or would your self-defensive hackles be raised? Be honest. Be humble.
Jesus challenges each of us to recognise our need for him. He asks, “Are you relying for salvation on your works, position, authority, tradition – or on me?” Well?
“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Mark 14:38). Pause here. Watch and pray until you hear the Master’s voice.
The Master. Not the victim. But why would the Master choose to die?
“Very rarely,” writes Paul, “will anyone die for a righteous man . . . But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7-8).
Scripture says “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). All. Not just the murderer and the thief. All. You. And me. We are all guilty. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray . . . (Isaiah 53:6). Before a just and holy God, our sin is anathema. Sinners one and all, our guilt condemns us. And “the wages of sin is death”. The only way we can avoid eternal death is if a perfect sacrifice is offered as propitiation for our sin. We fall before the cross in desperate need of a saviour and redeemer.
This is the first G of the cross: Guilt.
Allow the Holy Spirit to search your heart. Be honest before God. Read Psalm 32: “When I kept silent . . .” Confess your sin to Jesus. Reflect on the suffering of your Saviour – for you.
Yes, your Saviour: here is the second G of the Cross: Grace. God saves us through his own righteousness. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22). It is a gift of God. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8).
Grace. “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense”. God’s favour to the undeserving. You and me. “God so loved the world . . . ” (John 3:16). He didn’t want his whole creation banished from his presence forever, but the price for sin had to be paid.
Jesus “sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” to pay the price of our sin. (Hebrews 7:27). He “died as a ransom to set them [us] free. . .” (Hebrews 9:15).
In Moses’ day, God gave the Israelites a way back from the inevitable consequences of disobeying the Law. Once a year, the chief priest entered the Holy of Holies and sprinkled the blood of a lamb without blemish onto the ‘Mercy Seat’ which sat above the Ark of the Covenant, in which rested the Ten Commandments. When God looked down from heaven, he saw the people’s sin against the Law through the atoning blood of the sacrifice, and he forgave for another year.
This provides a visual image of the work which Christ has done for us once and for all on the cross: the blood of the perfect sacrifice, sprinkled on us, paid the price for sin, so that when God looks on us, he sees us through the filtering blood of Jesus. The price has been paid. “It is finished,” Jesus declared triumphantly just before he died.
See Jesus on the cross for you. Jesus, who “being in very nature God . . . humbled himself . . .” (Philippians 2:6). That tortured body twisted in agony is a picture of love incarnate. “Greater love has no-one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus said. “You are my friends” (Jonh 15:13-14).
Wow. Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?
Consider: without the cross, there is no Easter. Without a full appreciation of our guilt and Jesus’ grace, we miss the full glory of Easter. From death to life he passed, and so do we when we believe in him. It is by grace we are saved. It costs us nothing, but it cost Jesus everything.
And that thought stirs an overwhelming sense of the final G of the cross: Gratitude.
When I accept, deep in my heart, that there is absolutely nothing I can do to save myself – no works, no acts of piety – but that only the death of the perfect Son of God can atone for my sin and redeem me from the grip of the enemy, I am humbled and filled with gratitude. Jesus chose to die for me. It was not the nails that held him to the tree, as the poster declares, but his love for you and me. It’s awesome.
When someone gives you a gift, you are grateful for the thought, time and money it cost the giver. Sometimes someone gives you that perfect gift, and you are overwhelmed with gratitude. Whatever it is, you display it prominently, use it often, rejoice in the gift and the giver. You bask in their love. You bubble with joy.
We should be basking and bubbling before Jesus every day, overwhelmed by his gift of eternal life.
Don’t take the cross for granted! Imagine the ugliness of Calvary, the horror of the hell to which Jesus descended for the ensuing three days. He went down, back bent double with the burden of a world’s sins. Pause and let your gratitude rise to your lips and overflow into praise.
Move on to Easter morning. As Jesus rises from the depths, shrugging off the horrific sin which so disfigured him, he reaches out an arm and embraces us, carrying us with him to heaven. My Jesus, My Saviour! He puts all other super heroes into the shade!
Why did Jesus go to the Cross? The amazing answer is simply love.
“To God be the glory, great things he has done, so loved he the world that he gave us his son . . .” How can any of us do anything less than love him for the rest of our days? How churlish not to bubble with excitement, to share the good news with everyone we know and love.
Sing his praises this Easter. Go through the Cross, step by step, so that your song takes on a deeper resonance. Feel the guilt; understand the grace; rejoice with gratitude.
Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed! Hallelujah!