This meditation was given by Douglas Yeo at the Boston Central Corps of the Salvation Army on Good Friday, March 29, 2002.
These words of John Bunyan, from his epic work, "The Pilgrim's Progress," present us with the paradox and mystery of the cross.
We live in a time which does not appreciate or value a sense of mystery. Our scientific, post-modern world would have us believe that everything can be analyzed, understood, reduced to a formula and replicated. If that cannot be done, then it must not truly exist. But that is foolishness. It is only pride which keeps us from appreciating mystery, and at times, the most courageous thing one can do is to utter the words, "I don't know. I don't understand." We who have been called by God to be His children are grateful to have our names written in the book of Life. But as we have seen and heard here on this Good Friday evening, our names were purchased at a great price. We all know the story, we've read it many times. But it would be naive of any of us to say we understood it, because the paradox is great.
The fullness of the sacrifice of Christ can only be grasped when we recognize the enormity of the condescension of God.
Samuel Crossman, who in the mid-seventeenth century penned some of the first hymns of the English Protestant church, recognized this in a stanza from his most famous hymn, "My Song is Love Unknown":
Therein is the recognition of the paradox of the death of Jesus. Who am I, that God would do such a thing for me?
We remember back to Abraham, the father of the people of God. We recall how he was told by God to do a monstrous thing - to murder his own son, Isaac. We do not lessen God's horrific demand by calling it a sacrifice. To murder ones own child is to violate the cardinal rule of parenting - I will love my child greater than I love myself.
Yet Abraham obeyed God. We do not know what thoughts went through his mind on the path up Mount Moriah. But we would do Abraham a great disservice if we assume his mind was one of vacant obedience.
Abraham and Isaac walked for days up to the mountain. Isaac asked of his father, "Where is the lamb for the sacrifice?" Confronting, minute by minute, the dreadful thing God had required of him, Abraham replied, "The Lord will provide." In faith, Abraham believed the ridiculous. What God demanded of him made no sense; it was "foolishness." What kind of God would demand the murder of ones own child?
At the moment when the knife was drawn and Abraham looked at his son, he was confronted with yet another paradox, one which we must confront as well: he knew that this was the hardest sacrifice that could be demanded of him, but that no sacrifice was too hard when God demanded it. So Abraham's hand came down to slay his son, only to have it stayed by the angel. And in the thicket was a ram. And the ram was sacrificed in the place of Isaac.
The ram's name was Jesus.
It is often said that God is not fair. Who would fault us, after considering Abraham's agonizing ordeal, if we wondered whether God was not engaging in a cruel game. Sacrifice one's own son? But we return to Crossman's question: "O Who am I? Who am I to decide whether or not God is fair? Who am I to determine what is right in His sight? Who am I to question His sense of justice? The psalmist informed Crossman, and us, when He wrote, "What is man, that Thou dost take thought of him?" (Psalm 8:4) As much as it flies in the face our our arrogant thought that we are masters of our own fate and that we know what is best for us, God stretches his hand across time to remind us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways." (Isaiah 55:8)
In the shadow of a holy God - the almighty creator of the universe, the father of all people, the one who gives us breath and our soul - we are but dust. Foul, dirty, sinful. There are no words to depict the depth of our wretchedness. But there is a word to describe a God who, across the great chasm of sin, has reached out to such a worm as you and I.
The word is "love."
And in the sacrifice of Jesus, love found no greater expression. John's first epistle tells us, "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins." (I John 4:10)
The mystery of Jesus is great. We cannot comprehend the possibility of his being fully God and fully man. To consider one seems to cast out the other. But the paradox of Christ's divinity and humanity is not for us to understand. It is for us to grasp in faith and, with gratitude, to offer up thanks to God for his miracle.
As the sacrificial ram in the thicket became the substitute for the blood of Isaac, so then Christ's blood became the substitute for ours. Bound on the altar as a holy, righteous God demanded our death as a just payment for sin, God stayed his own hand and cut the cords which bound us. In our place, his hand came down to slay His own Son. Tonight reminds us that God would have us watch the sacrifice of the ram in the thicket - Jesus - in order that we can comprehend the miracle of His grace in setting us free.
The cross on Calvary's hill had a sign upon it. It said, "This is Jesus, King of the Jews." But for the grace of God, the sign would have read very differently. It should have read, "This is Douglas Yeo, chief among sinners." And it should have had your name on it as well. Look at your hands. They bear not the mark of nails which God demanded be driven through your flesh. Another took that for you. The tomb was ours, yet another lay in it.
The paradox could not be more stark. Jesus told us, "Greater love hath no man than he lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13) But Jesus was not alone in doing that - it has been done heroically by many through the ages. Sacrificing oneself for others is a noble, honorable thing. But what Jesus did was not simply to lay down his life. What he did was to take upon himself our lives and our sin and to take for all of us the just punishment required to be meted out to us by a righteous God. We may well be called upon to give our lives as a substitutionary sacrifice for another. But we will never - ever - be called upon to take upon ourselves the sin of all mankind and to suffer an agony such as Jesus did in our place.
In the horror which was Calvary, there was sorrow, deceit, and mockery. To those who carried out the order to kill God's own Son, it was just another day at work. But at the moment Christ breathed his last, and, in the most literal sense, all hell broke loose, there was one who understood what the mob which yelled, "Crucify him!" completely missed. A pagan Roman centurian looked at the limp body of God incarnate and, in fear and trembling, said, "Truly this was the Son of God." The passion of Jesus concluded with those words of truth. The paradox: The Son of God was dead so we could live.
The dark day of Good Friday and the following Saturday weighed heavily on the earth. At the moment of Jesus' death, the earth shook, graves were opened, dead men were raised, and the veil of the temple - which separated mankind from God's presence in the Holy of Holies - was torn in two. God's justice had been done. The glory of Easter had been predicted but not expected. It was not until Christ revealed himself on that glorious day that God showed us the fullness of his mystery and the fullness of His love.
From sorrow, rest.
From death, life.
From weakness, strength.
From ugliness, beauty.
From a lie, Truth.
While we much prefer the happy celebration which is Christmas and the joyous day of Easter which follows in two day's time, it is today - the day on which we remember the sacrifice of Christ - which calls us to consider our response to God's love for us:
For my soul. For your soul. How will we respond to this immeasurable, unspeakable, incomprehensible gift?
Isaac Watts told us in his hymn, "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross." God's love to us demands a response commensurate with the gift we have received:
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?
His dying Crimson like a Robe,
spreads o'er his Body on the Tree,
Then I am dead to all the Globe,
And all the Globe is dead to me.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
My soul. My life. My all.
It is not too high a price to pay in gratitude for one who ". . . has given me rest by his sorrow, and life by his death."
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