Behold, my servant shall deal prudently, he shall be exalted and extolled, and be very high. As many were astonied at thee; his visage was so marred more than any man, and his form more than the sons of men: So shall he sprinkle many nations; the kings shall shut their mouths at him: for that which had not been told them shall they see; and that which they had not heard shall they consider.(Isaiah 52:13-15)
There are two Christian doctrines which utterly offend the sensibilities of modern man ; one is the Cross, and the other is the lake of fire. People stumble at the idea of a Holy God, smiting his Son in our place bruising him for iniquities, crushing him for our transgressions. How bad would we have to be to cause such extreme measures?
The same reasoning leads others to reject the idea of a God who would send sinners to a lake of fire to burn in conscious torment forever. Is sin really that bad? Does God hate it that much? Is God so high and so holy that to sin against him merits eternal damnation?
I have heard even recently vigorous objections to the teaching that Jesus’ death on the cross, was as a penal substitute for us. Rather than being an act of the devil, the cross was the work of God himself expressing his holy wrath against sin!
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief...(Isaiah 53:7b-10a)
The connection between these two classical christian teachings, the Cross of Jesus, and the Lake of Fire, is that both of them presuppose the wrath of a Holy God. This is the point of offense for many. They cannot see how the God of love can in any way be at the same time a God of wrath.
God is love, indeed, however that isn’t all the scriptures say about Him, for the scripture also says “God is Light, and in him is no darkness whatsoever…”. His love is Holy Love, ever desirous to give and forgive, and yet constantly opposed to all that is sinful and false.
The cross is the junction between Holy Love and Divine wrath, for there the Holy God fully expressed infinite and holy indignation against sin. There also the God of love fully expressed grace, bearing our sins in “his own body on the tree”.
Yes, sin is indeed that bad. It is that abhorrent, so utterly hateful, that the horrifying spectacle of the cross is the eternal demonstration of the Holy hatred of it.
His visage marred more than any man, his form more than the sons of men…
In reverent awe, we stand astonished, gazing at the figure on the tree. As an ox, he bears our unbearable burden, for he takes upon himself in that tortured,writhing form, the judgment that was so due us. As a lamb he submits wordlessly to our judgment.
On the tree, He quotes the 22nd Psalm in earnest, “My God,My God, why have you forsaken me?“. But the answer to the agonizing plea , is in the same Psalm,
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent. But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.(Psalm 22:1-3)
God forsook Jesus because God is holy and we are not. Jesus was substituting for us, becoming us before God, bearing all of our guilt. His abandonment by God should have been ours!
We can’t say anything, we hold our mouths, tears stream down our faces, for in the light of that tree, we can clearly see the Holy Hatred for what we have become, and what we have done.
The sun hides its light from the full wrath of God poured out, wrath that we fully deserved! The chastisement of our peace fell upon him…Look at the lengths God went to deal with sin!
How bad is sin? So bad, so ugly and abhorrent, so evil, hateful and awful, it took the Cross of Jesus to deal with it. Was the fall of man that extreme? Is God so Holy that to sin against Him necessitates eternal punishment? Calvary is the Divine expression that yes, sin necessitates such measures.