I struggled with the cross after Jonathan died. I understood the exchange of our sins for Christ's perfection, but I suddenly wondered why salvation required such a brutal answer as crucifixion.
Jonathan's death stirred up in me the desire to run the world differently.
God was already showing me how good could come out of the evil of my son's death, but plain and simple, I wanted another way for God to bring life and hope to others. He is God, after all. Couldn't He come up with another way to change lives? As I grieved and wrestled with anger, a friend challenged me to take a walk around the cross. Look at it from all angles and hone in on the perspectives of those involved in the crucifixion story. In the process of studying scripture, God also took me on a journey through my own salvation story.
Passages from scripture really spoke to me. Like Jesus saying, "Forgive them, Father, for they don't know what they are doing." And the Centurion keeping watch at the cross who said,"Surely this must be the son of God." These phrases remind me of my own rebellion of God. Recognition of God's ultimate forgiveness, and that God is who He says He is.
From the moment I accepted Jesus as my Savior, I lived my life trying to follow what I knew of the character of God. He is forgiving, generous, patient, loving, and even has a sense of humor. By pursuing me, God convinced me that I would never know a better kind of love than His. Yes, God is all those things and so much more. He is also sovereign, judgmental, jealous, and wrathful, and those attributes are the ones I wrestle with mightily. "For the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23a, ESV).
There are no exceptions to the consequence for sin, but God made a way for me to tap into eternity with Him. He requires a spotless lamb (Jesus) to make me clean enough to ever be accepted by Him. Romans 6:23 continues, "But the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." The cross was necessary to bridge the gap between my sinful nature and God's perfection. As a result of that free gift, my life, desires, and outlook drastically changed. Jonathan's death, it turned out, did not alter God's love for me.
When Jonathan died, my faith walk wasn't perfect, but being a "good" mom felt like it deserved a positive outcome for my children. Living life in my early twenties, God showed me through scripture, that trying to do things to be good enough is seeking salvation by doing good works (Ephesians 2:8-9) These days are different because I see that type of thinking results in Jesus not needing death on the cross. And, it leaves me trying to be spotless on my own without God's intervention. Been there, done that. It was exhausting and kept me in a state of constant turmoil.
At the heart of my rescue story is the recognition that, in my sinful nature, I do not have a clue about what "good" really means. Jesus challenged my sin-tainted definition of what is good. "And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone." (Mark 10:17-18, ESV). While I knew in my head Christians were not immune to the evils of this world, there was still an undercurrent of grumbling in my heart. And when Jonathan died I asked, Why did my son suffer? How does Jonathan's death work anything for good in God's plan?
The Lord answered my question about the necessity of the cross at the first Christmas Eve service after Jonathan's death. God said to my heart, "It is not enough that Jesus came as a little baby. We don't need a perfect example, we need a Savior." Jesus came as a baby, grew up among us, performed miracles, and provided good principles to live by. Yet the cross was not negotiable. Without Jesus' death on the cross, I would be left trying to measure up to the laws of God without grace.
Jonathan did not have to die so that others could find hope. Yet God knew the choice Jonathan would make, and the path of devastation his decision would leave. Jonathan's choice does not hinder God's ability to bring good out of things that are evil. I cannot compare either my sinful nature or the goodness of anyone else with Christ's sacrifice. Jesus was spotless, and without blemish. The whole purpose of His coming was to stand in the gap of what I can never be spotless enough to achieve.
The Centurion, the one standing as witness to the crucifixion of Christ, received God's message of grace into his very heart. He realized there is more to life than our suffering and attempting to be good enough. Jesus didn't curse His accusers, He forgave them, and as a result, the Centurion declared Jesus as the Son of God. This recognition came before the Centurion fully understood his need for the crucified Savior, and all because of God's plan and presence in it.
God has spoken to my heart as well, and these are the truths I now know deep within myself:
The cross was necessary to redeem us.
Without the cross, there is no victory over death.
My son's death is not the end of my story because Jesus redeemed the grave and gives
power to all who believe.
My son was worth saving. I am worth saving. You are worth saving.
Like it or not, there will always be a gap between my understanding of God's sovereignty
and humankind's free will. At the heart of my wrestling is the realization that He will never
answer to me. I answer to Him.
The cross was necessary because I could never be spotless, and my children can never be,
I now celebrate numerous transformed lives because Jonathan's life mattered to God, and He utilizes our story to encourage others not to give up. Jesus came for me, not when I had my act together, but when I didn't even know that I needed Him. My son's death does not limit God's power. Life is still full and possible because Jesus chose the cross.
The cross was necessary for the salvation of many.
FOR FURTHER THOUGHT
Open each day like it is a gift filled with joy that transcends your understanding. God does things that don't make sense to human understanding because He is sovereign. God rescued you, not as the helpless baby Jesus in the manger, but as Christ, the Savior on the cross.
Have you ever walked around the cross? Take time this Easter to read each of the gospel accounts of the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus.
The Gospel Accounts of the events leading up to the cross through the resurrection are found in:
Put yourself in the characters involved. What do you see differently through each person's view of the cross?
Journal any new insights God reveals as you place yourself in the crucifixion story. If you feel called, share them with me on the blog comments.
Gracious Savior, I need you. Amid painful suffering, I know You are truly the Son of God! Amen.