As I prepare my children to head off into the world on their own, I will sometimes ask them: What would you do in this situation? For instance:
- What would you do if you were at school, and a parent forgot to pick you up? (Not that this would happen, of course!)
- What would you do if someone offers you a smoke at school?
- What would you do if you got lost while in a store?
- What would you do if you were out with one of your brothers, and he got injured?
As we get older, though, I think that we start to imagine that we know more of these answers. Once we become independent, we have to resolve situations on our own, fend for ourselves, and start to figure out how to handle a variety of problems. We run into problems, make mistakes, and try to do better the next time. After a while, we [should] get reasonably good at handling routine issues that are part of our regular lives.
At some point, we may even think that we know the right decisions that others should make, as well. We read about a crime, and decide what the punishment should be. We hear about a political dilemma, and have all of the answers. We watch a TV show, video, or sports event, and start shouting at the participants about what they should do. (The latter is especially ironic when the actual event is fictional, or is taking place hundreds of miles away, and no one involved can hear us except our [now-annoyed] family.)
Sometimes, though, others make decisions differently than we would. A president may pardon someone that we are “sure” is guilty. The verdict in a trial may go the opposite way that we think it should (whether on a technicality, because of additional facts that we didn’t know about, or just a bad decision). A coach may choose to not run up the score on a rival team, even when we really don’t like the losing team and want to see them lose big. (Or, another coach may run up the score on our team.) These things grate on our sense of fairness and “right vs. wrong”.
One of the best decisions ever was probably one of the most contrary to our innate sense of justice. A group of individuals rebelled against a righteous authority, and lived a selfish life of doing whatever they wanted. This group intentionally disobeyed – often repeatedly – and essentially walked away from doing what was best for their society, and for themselves.
This authority (which you probably recognize here as God, Himself) not only offered to take back those who deserved punishment; He was willing to bring them back into His family. As part of His family, they would talk with Him, eat with Him, and enjoy an inheritance.
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 NASB
However, God is holy. He cannot simply ignore sin. It would go against His very nature to just say that sin is “ok”. This presented a cosmic paradox (at least as it might seem to our finite minds), but God found a solution:
whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:25-26 NASB
(If you like to study the details, see all of Romans 3:21-26, or just read the entire book of Romans. However, I encourage you to take your time, use your preferred Bible translation, and – if necessary – talk through the details with someone who has studied this in more detail. It’s great stuff, but can seem a little complicated on the first read.)
The only way for sin to be paid for was for the debt to be covered – for justice to be done. No fallen person qualified to pay that debt (having incurred their own looming penalty). This was more than anyone could be asked to do. However, Jesus (both God and human) volunteered – in love – to stand in. He lived a perfect life and owed nothing, but accepted death – the penalty of sin – for the sentence that we deserved.
This created an solution, where God would remain simultaneously true to both the love and justice that are inherent to His holy nature:
- He showed love to us and provided a way to restore our relationship with Him, even when 1) we destroyed that relationship, and 2) we had no way to fix it. In the passage above, note how God “passed over” sins committed prior to Jesus’ sacrifice, knowing that His plan would come to fruition in due time.
- He maintained the requirements of justice, by making a way for the penalty to be paid for our crimes. His solution did not ignore the horrible thing that is sin, or pretend that it was ok. In fact, sin’s ugliness was quite visible as Jesus intentionally carried its penalty on the cross.
I think that this is pretty incredible. It is true justice – not just the “getting back” that humans sometimes seek. It is true love – nothing like the deflections and denials of sin’s impact that we may find around us today.
Take some time to soak this in. If you misunderstood why Jesus had to die for humankind’s sins, read through the book of Romans (in the Bible) in its entirely…maybe a couple of times).
And, if you are still facing the eternal consequences of your own sins, please take Jesus up on his offer. You won’t cause Him to die again – He already did that. Instead, you will be respecting His sacrifice by receiving it for the reason that He gave it.