Every year we commemorate Good Friday and Easter. We remember how much Jesus had suffered for humanity’s lawlessness (1Jo 2:2; 3:4). We feel the pains of Jesus as he suffered in the hands of the soldiers (Mar 15:15-20). When Jesus cried on the cross, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani”, we identify with his emotional pain of being abandoned by God (Mar 15:34). In reading the crucifixion narrative, we are stirred with gratitude for what Jesus did for us.
We are grateful because what happened on Good Friday is good for us. Christ died to save us from God’s wrath, directed against all lawlessness. We were ungodly and lawless when Christ died to save us (Rom 5:6-9). God did not wait until we deserved to be saved to save us. Christ died for us while we were still God’s enemies, under condemnation (Rom 5:10). God initiates the process of reconciliation through Christ’s death when humanity does not deserve it.
Why did God initiate the process of reconciliation? Most believers would agree that God initiates the process because we could not save ourselves. When lawlessness enters humanity in the Garden of Eden, humanity becomes less than the image of God (Gen 3:1-24). Physical death enters the human race. Humanity cannot do anything to reverse the entrance of death. Everyone born into this world is condemned to die (Rom 5:12-21). Even after we trust Christ Jesus for saving us from God’s wrath, believers still have to die physically regardless of how much progress they make in holiness in this life. All these show that we cannot restore the image of God through our effort.
The goodness of Good Friday is that believers have the hope to live even when they die physically. Christ died to pay the penalty of our lawlessness (Tit 2:14). When God raised Christ from the dead, Christ’s resurrected life was shared with all who trusted him to save them (Joh 11:25-26; Rom 6:5). Some blessed believers at the Second Coming of Christ will share Christ’s resurrected life through instantaneous transformation (1Co 15:51-55). Most believers will share Christ’s resurrected life through physical death and resurrection (1Co 15:42-45). Either way, when God transforms our mortality into immortality, God glorifies us by conforming us to “the image of the man of heaven” (Rom 8:29-30; 1Co 15:49).
While we understand that we cannot transform our mortality into immortality and need God to do it for us, this does not explain why God initiates the reconciliation process. Many believers will point to God’s love as the motivation behind God’s initiative (1Jo 3:1; 4:9-10). It is undeniable that God loves humanity. God came searching for Adam and Eve when they broke his law (Gen 3:8-9). Entering into humanity in the person of Jesus, God shows that he loves us enough to suffer for us (Joh 1:1-4, 14).
Why did God suffer for us? Asking this question is not to say that Christ’s death is unimportant or that God’s love is unnecessary. Both God’s love and Christ’s sacrifice are indispensable for his reason to initiate the process of reconciliation. The first clue to God’s reason to suffer for us is the outcome of reconciliation. The outcome is to conform all believers to the image of his Son (Rom 8:29).
We usually think of conforming in terms of Christ’s character. This way of thinking is incomplete because Christ models for us more than just his character. Christ also models for us in terms of his relationship with the Father. In John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly points to the intimate relationship between him and his Father. We will look at two instances.
In John 10:14-15, Jesus said that “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father”. This statement pictures an intimate relationship with the Father. Christ’s relationship with us is modeled after his relationship with the Father. Since we go to the Father through Christ, he shows us what God desires of us through his relationship with us. God desires intimacy with us.
In John 17:20-26, Jesus prayed for all who believed him through his disciples’ testimony. While Christ desires that the world may believe he came from the Father through his believers’ oneness, he prayed for all believers to be rooted in the oneness between the Father and him (Joh 17:20-21). Believers share in this oneness of the Father and Christ by Christ living in them. The statement, “I in them and you in me,” is not merely functional for unity and witnessing to the world but expresses the desire of the Father and Christ to have intimacy with us on earth (Joh 17:22-23).
This desire for intimacy with us is expressed by Christ’s request that his believers be with him where he is to see the glory that he had before the foundation of the world (Jon 17:24). This request is not for Christ to boast about his glory but to share his glory with us because we are in him. Since we couldn’t see Christ’s glory before the foundation of the world, Christ’s request to the Father demonstrates his desire for greater intimacy with us.
Christ also prays for us to have greater intimacy with the Father today. He promises the Father that he will continue to make the Father’s name known to the believers. This promise to the Father is for us to experience the Father’s intimate love for him (Jon 17:22-26). In this way, the Father can have greater intimacy with us through Christ.
Therefore Good Friday and Easter are not just about getting rid of our lawlessness but are about opening the door for the lawless children of Adam to have intimacy with the Father through Christ. God has to deal with the penalty of lawlessness, not just because he hates lawlessness but because God desires intimacy with us. What are the implications of this desire of God?
There are at least two implications. First, intimacy with God is purely by God’s grace. Before we believe, we need God’s grace to save us. After we believe, we need God’s grace to draw near to him continuously. God does not need us to be “perfect” Christians to draw near us. This implication brings us to the second.
Second, intimacy with God begins with humility, acknowledging that we need him. We must keep running to God with our weaknesses, temptations, failures, and lawless behaviour in confession and repentance. Whenever we repent, we realign ourselves with God. This realigning must go on until the day we die. Realignment requires humility but strengthens intimacy with God.
Cheng Eng Hwa