In our western-minded Christian churches we are saturated with the fact that Jesus loves us. We are brought up singing, “Jesus loves me this I know…” and by the time we are teenagers, we can recite John 3:16 by heart, although we may know no other scripture. The truth of the matter is Jesus does love us. So much so, He willingly gave His life for us (Ephesians 5:25). In the book of Matthew the Bible gives a poignant example of Jesus’ love. He laments over the Jewish people who had rejected God’s message over and over, and ultimately rejected Jesus. Christ said He longed to “gather them under his wings as a hen gathers her chicks” (Matthew 23:37). What a beautiful picture of how Jesus longs to demonstrate His love, even to those who aren’t willing.
In what is called “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer,” He prays specifically for His followers, both present disciples and for future believers. Jesus asks his Father to sanctify believers, He says He wants His followers to be with Him where He is, to see His glory, and Jesus said to His Father that He will “continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them” (John 17:19,24,26). Surely Christ would not pray these things without a devout love for us.
In fact, the New Testament draws many parallels between the marriage of a man and woman and the relationship between Christ and His church, even calling the church His “bride” (Revelation 21:2). The institution of marriage is to be a reflection of the unity and intimacy between Christians and Christ. Thus, husbands are called to love their wives just as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25).
Certainly Jesus willingly went to the cross because of His love for believers, but to put a period at the end of that sentence would not be telling the whole story. At the center of the gospel is the lesson that Jesus’ atoning death could have never been applied to us if not for the fact that in spilling His own blood, Jesus became the only satisfactory sacrifice for sin (Romans 3:25).
Some versions of the Bible use the word “propitiation” in Romans 3:25, which simply means “to satisfy, or placate.” In other words, because God is completely just, someone had to pay the penalty for sin, otherwise God would not be just. We know the penalty for sin is death (Romans 6:23) and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9:22).
We see thousands of years pass in the history of Israel from the pages of the Old Testament where animal after animal had to be killed to atone for sin. But this atonement was only a temporary covering, a partial appeasement. It was impossible for the blood of animals to take away sins permanently (Hebrews 10:4, 11). The slaughter of these animals were only a “shadow” of Christ’s sacrifice, a partial, foggy, dim picture. They pointed to what would serve as the one and final sacrifice for sin for all time (Hebrews 10:10, 12).
This is why the Apostle Paul, in Romans 3:26 tells us God sent Jesus to the cross to demonstrate His (God’s) righteousness. God had been passing over man’s sin without the proper penalty being paid. God the Father demonstrates His grace, longsuffering, love, and mercy many times over in the history of Israel, but He did not demonstrate justice until Christ paid the penalty for sin. So, we see how the cross reaches back to atone for the sins until the time of Genesis and stretches forward to atone for all sins in the future.
We must never forget how offensive and filthy and abhorrent sin is to a completely and utterly holy God, and this God does not take sin lightly. God the Father could have, and had every right to, exercise His justice when Adam and Eve first disobeyed by cutting off the human race at that point. Or just as easily He could have every human being who has ever broken His law by committing sin spend eternity in Hell. But God, not willing that we should perish, sent His Son as our substitute (John 3:17).
Pastor John Piper has said, “God is most glorified in us when we are most glorified in Him.” What he means by this is simply put: there is no conflict between our joy and God’s glory. Many people, when speaking of God seeking His own glory, think it sounds egotistical. However, they ignorantly speak, because they don’t understand the more glory God gets, the more joy we get. The two are not mutually exclusive. Believers were created for God’s glory (Isaiah 43:7). We know this cannot mean God created us to get more glory than He presently has, since all of His attributes are eternally and completely perfect. We were created to display God’s glory, and in likeness – the cross displayed God’s righteousness, or justice. When God’s children display His glory, when we do what we were created to do, we are in perfect harmony with God. This can do nothing other than bring us unbridled joy. In likeness, when God displayed His justice through the cross, we gain confidence that God is who He says He is: righteous, just, consistent, merciful and loving. And in these facts we can find rest, comfort, and peace of mind.