During Holy Week, I’ve been spending some time thinking about two concepts that many today see as diametrically opposed to one another; love and judgement.
One is seen as positive, affirming, kind and important to emphasise, while the other is portrayed as negative, comprehensively unaffirming, mean, and something to avoid talking about unless absolutely necessary.
Why do so many of us happily emphasise the former at the expense the latter?
Is it because we have too high an opinion of ourselves? Are we essentially good people who Christ died for not because we need to be saved from anything, but because Christ wanted to show us how much he loves us?
Relatedly, perhaps we’ve been infected with the worldly notion that because we’re all fundamentally good and decent people we can achieve anything we put our mind too – we have it in us to achieve great and wonderful things. Why therefore would God need to judge us?
Further still, maybe we don’t talk about it because the very thought that that we might be sinners deserving of judgement offends our self-esteem, making us feel uncomfortable or depressed.
Maybe the thought of thinking or talking about judgement comes across as far too uncouth or impolite for our western palates. That is, if thinking we deserve judgement ourselves is bad enough, telling others they too deserve it is totally unthinkable!
It’s important to say that in one sense these two concepts are widely different to one another. And yet, one of the amazing and beautiful things about the account of Jesus Christ crucifixion and resurrection, is how love and judgement meet, intermingle and cleave together so magnificently and perfectly.
And so, what I’m trying to say is this: If you want to know what love is, look to the cross (1 John 4:10).
Why can love be found at the cross? Because this is where Jesus willingly goes in our place (John 10:18), taking on the judgement that you and I deserve (Isaiah 53:6) for turning away from God and living our own way (Romans 3:12).
Many of us I’m sure have heard this phrase (‘if you want to know what love is, look to the cross’) or a variation of it before. However, have we really reflected on not only our deserving judgement and the fact Jesus took the place of the Christian, exchanging his righteousness for our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), but the means by which, and the implications of this remarkable exchange?
Have we for instance reflected on how costly this exchange was? This was no light thing for Jesus to undertake. Films like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ seek to portray the excruciating physical pain of Jesus’ death, and make no mistake, Jesus death by crucifixion was utterly brutal. And yet more terrifying, frightening and painful still was the pouring out of God’s wrath on Christ for our sin (Luke 22:42, Mark 15:34). Think about that – God’s righteous, undiluted anger and judgement for sin all concentrated on Christ. We can barely begin to comprehend it.
Never before or since has there been a costlier demonstration of love. Fellow Christian, Jesus literally endured the torment of hell for you and me, the hell you and I deserve. And only Jesus could have done this, God could not accept no other sacrifice (1 Peter 1:19), his perfect requirement for justice had to be satisfied (Romans 3:26).
When we bear all of this in mind, it makes no sense whatsoever to airbrush judgement out of the picture when talking about love as seen in the cross. In other words, to not acknowledge or talk of the judgement of the cross is to do nothing less than scandalously diminish the most clear and powerful demonstration of love the world has ever seen.
And so, I say again, want to see love? Then behold the cross in all its glory!
My prayer is that we’d encounter and embrace this love this Easter – epitomised by the cross and intertwined with righteous judgement. For when we do, we find not only love, but the opportunity to make it personal for ourselves today through faith in the Lordship of Christ and repentance from our sin. Through such faith and repentance, we can experience all the benefits of a relationship made possible by this sacrificial love now (such as growing to be more like Jesus) and into eternity as this relationship becomes fully realised.