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Essay: An unfathomable love

Jesus on the Cross

CHRIS GILBERT reflects on the meaning of Easter…

When Jesus accepted crucifixion on a Roman gallows, his decision was a culmination of a love first revealed when Father, Son and Holy Spirit agreed to make mankind in their image.

The Biblical story up to this moment of execution reveals our triune God at work creating, sustaining, ruling over, rescuing and continuing this work of bringing creation to its ultimate completion as the eternal Kingdom of God. Scripture makes it clear even now, Father, Son and Spirit are not done with this world, nor with us.

Jesus on the Cross

Easter, says Chris Gilbert, is an “exclamation mark of the Triune God revealing an unchanging love for the world: meaning both human race and all of creation”. PICTURE: Art Stocker/Shutterstock

So Easter, the tipping point to completion, is packed with meaning. It’s not an isolated event on its own, but the exclamation mark of the Triune God revealing an unchanging love for the world: meaning both human race and all of creation. The force of it is in the work of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, divine yet human, born a man yet died without sin.

His is a long and patient suffering of human enmity, while demonstrating the mercy and justice of God which we see revealed throughout Biblical history.

“Easter…is packed with meaning. It’s not an isolated event on its own, but the exclamation mark of the Triune God revealing an unchanging love for the world: meaning both human race and all of creation. The force of it is in the work of Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man, divine yet human, born a man yet died without sin.”

This suffering of Jesus began at the beginning of time.
Consider how the crucifixion reveals God’s anticipation of the rebellion of Adam’s race. What betrayal of love takes place as they are enchanted with the idea that they could be like God without reference to their Creator. A spell that keeps shattering the peace of our world today.

We so easily focus on the consequence for fallen humans, and their offspring down through the Biblical record, but often overlook that from the beginning (Genesis chapter three), there was going to be a cost to God’s mysterious Deliverer, born of a woman who would crush the head of the deceiver.

Consider too that Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, is the one by whom and for whom all things were created, and in whom all things will be reconciled. The apostles John, Paul and Peter give us this perspective that Jesus’ journey and his passion for His creation began at creation.

When ancient Israel was almost completely destroyed, its capital city razed, its population brutalised in a situation like that Ukrainians and Burmese are experiencing, and its survivors exiled to Babylon, Jeremiah gave us words in the Book of Lamentations that should give us pause this Easter: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

In context, it’s like a line from a survivor of a multiple person car fatality of teenage joyriders. She realises in survival she has a second chance to honour her parents who love her and had often warned her. She learns compassion for their pain in this event, pain she and her friends had inflicted. The sorrow of Jeremiah, a survivor, is not only for his people but for God’s sorrow in it all. How had it come to this?

As a man the suffering of Jesus becomes for us more poignant.
Consider Jesus of Nazareth, born to experience this world like we do. Even the gifts of the magi hinted that He must live in the shadow of the cross on which He must die. That shadow was also literal since He’d have seen many crucified Jews along the roads of Roman-occupied Palestine.

At age 12, the boy Jesus is already understanding who He is and what His purpose is from the Hebrew Scriptures. He’s becoming aware of the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 53, the extraordinary image of the sacrificial servant of God. He, the sinless one, was to be crushed by the will of God, for the sin of the human race, to lead many into the eternal Kingdom of God. This, He learned from the psalms and the prophets by the Spirit of God, was His own destiny to fulfil.

Every deliverer God had given to ancient Israel pointed in some way to what He, Jesus, the ultimate deliverer, would need to endure. So many of the prophets, His messengers, were persecuted or executed. Early in His ministry He had to deal with the beheading of His cousin, John the Baptist, knowing His own fate would be less swift.

Every person He healed, every person raised from death, every demon possessed person He freed, every disciple He called, every Pharisee that dogged His every move, every Herod whose jealousies He had to anticipate in His movements – each reminded Him of His destiny.  For all these and the generations of the faithful and the faithless before and after His time; for all of us to know the blessing of God’s grace and forgiveness – He knew we needed Him, and He kept His nerve.

In each of these interactions, He is reminded that real blessing could only come to the world through His willingness to take responsibility for us and die in our place. Without that, we would remain trapped in our sin and its natural ending, death.

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He bore our shame and our guilt as the only true human being who loved and trusted the Father absolutely. When the forces of evil took Him and gloated over His humiliating death, they had taken the wrong man. Justice had been meted out on the guiltless one. The Father would honour His perfect Son and raise Him up indestructible. Because of His guiltless human life, He has the power to give us eternal life. And His betrayal and execution by force and by travesty of law on a Roman cross was the moment it was done.

As we meditate upon Jesus on Good Friday, we remember His love displayed is literally unfathomable. It’s not just for us now, but for all people for all time. Because had He not done this, creation itself would have no future. But He did. It’s for this staggering steadfast love which mere words can’t capture in any fullness that we worship Him as Lord and Saviour.

Because of Him, we can worship the Father as Creator and Sustainer, and the Holy Spirit as the one who makes us able to love Him back. Hanging there as He was about to experience death in His mortal body, He declared that redemption was now complete. His identification with us in love was complete. And so at the cross His work was indeed finished. The old was over, the new has come.

One 20th century theologian put it this way:
For the world was ended long ago,
and we all live today,
like children of a second birth
after the judgement day – CH Dodd

What can this mean for us this Easter? Look at His long suffering in His work of completing creation. Can we learn from Him such patience in completing our tasks?  Can we learn from Him compassion for the people we are responsible for? Can we learn from Him how to serve others, and forgive their sin, rather than to judge and dominate them?

When we allow our hearts to be warmed and even melted by His overwhelming lovingkindness toward us, then we discover His Spirit empowers us with what is necessary in reflecting his great love to the people we live and work with. To the deficits of love we know we carry, he says, “Come to Me…Ask, and it shall be given to you”.

Chris Gilbert’s work with Indigenous Australians, professionals in New York City and Boston, Tamil Indians in their home state, and former Soviet state students and teachers in Lithuania has equipped him for his current role as associate lecturer teaching Christian formation to religiously diverse international students at Excelsia College in Sydney. He and his wife Jo live at Point Clare on the Central Coast of New South Wales. 



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