The Reason for God

Timothy Keller

Chapter 12 The (True) Story of the Cross

"I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and a divine teacher. His death on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it, my heart could not accept." Gandhi, An Autobiography. "I would catch a glimpse of the cross - an suddenly my heart would stand still. In an instinctive, intuitive way I understood that something more important, more tumultuous, more passionate, was at issue here than our good causes, however noble they might be ... I should have worn it ... it should have been my uniform, my language, my life. I shall have no excuse; I can't say I didn't know. I knew from the beginning, and I turned away." Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus Rediscovered
  • Though we are not handling "objections" a common one asks Why did Jesus have to die?
    • Couldn't God just forgive everyone? Or just those who are sorry for their wrongs?
    • Why does Christianity focus on Christ's death more than on His teaching?

There are two major reasons:

  • Reason ONE: Real Forgiveness Is Costly Suffering
    • When someone wrongs you, there is an indelible sense a debt has been incurred. There are only two options here.
    • Make the perpetrator suffer for what they have done.
      • This risks impacting you as much as the offender and may initiate retaliation.
    • Forgive - refuse to make them pay.
      • But doing so can be agony itself. Some say it feels like a kind of "death" itself.
    • Forgiveness leads to resurrection, not a living death of bitterness and cynicism.
      • As long as you withhold forgiveness, you will be controlled by the offender.
      • And yes, they should be held accountable - but only after being forgiven.
    • Keller tells of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and The Cost of Discipleship (1937)
      • "My brother's burden which I must bear is not only his outward lot, his natural characteristics and gifts, but quite literally his sin. And the only way to bear that sin is by forgiving it in the power of the cross of Christ in which I now share . . . Forgiveness is the Christ-like suffering which it is the Christian's duty to bear." In living out what Jesus had done for him, Bonhoeffer was free to do the same for others! He was, of course, executed by the Nazi's just prior to the end of the war.
    • The forgiveness of God
      • When the evil is serious, forgiveness means bearing the cost - absorbing the debt yourself.
      • Should it surprise us then that when God determined to forgive us, he went to the cross himself in the person of Jesus?
      • He did not inflict the pain on someone else.
      • Human forgiveness works this way because we unavoidably reflect the image of our Creator.
      • Imagine the difference between someone taking their own life as a token of their love for you vs. someone losing their life in an effort to save yours.
      • We recognize the sacrifice where there is something to sacrifice for.
  • Reason TWO: Real Love is a Personal Exchange.
    • In the real world, it is impossible to love someone with a problem or need without in some sense sharing or changing places with them.
    • All real life-changing love involves some form of this kind of exchange.
      • Consider the person who hides the innocent target of the secret police. The victim's safety comes only as a result of the protector's endangerment.
      • Consider parenting: You must pour yourself into your children - your freedom must be limited so that theirs can grow. (You must decrease so that they may increase!)
      • You must enter into the dependence they have so that they can ultimately enjoy the freedom you have.
    • John Stott in "The Cross of Christ" writes that substitution is at the heart of the Christian message.
      • "The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We . . . put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God . . . puts himself where we deserve to be."
    • So how can God be a God of love if He does not become personally involved in suffering? The answer is twofold:
      • First, God can't.
      • Second, only one world religion even claims that God does.

The fact that Jesus had to die for me humbled me out of my pride.
The fact that Jesus was glad to die for me assured me out of my fear.

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