We are approaching Good Friday. As we consider the cross of the Lord Jesus we know beyond question that He loves us. “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Gal 2:20). “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” (1 John 3:16) Rightly we will celebrate that glorious truth- it truly is marvellous and wonderful and my Saviour’s love for me shall indeed be my song forever.
And yet there is a parallel reality that can easily be overlooked. Jesus didn’t simply die because He loved me. He dies because He loved and was obedient to His Heavenly Father. I was struck by that when I was preaching Ephesians 5 a few weeks back. Ephesians 5:2 is striking in the way that it combines His love for us and obedience to His Father- “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” This is even more evident as you look at the Gospel narratives. Near the start of Jesus’ public ministry He says these words- “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34). As Jesus ministry continues it becomes evident that the work of the Father is wrapped up with his death on the cross. In John’s Gospel particularly the chief reason that Jesus completes this work is because it will bring glory to the Father- “It was for this very reason that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” (John 12:28); “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.” (John 17:1). And, of course, the agony of Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane brings out the same concern for His Father- “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). I always find it moving to see those times in the Gospels when Jesus resolutely sets out to Jerusalem knowing what awaited Him. And it is easy to focus on the fact that He is motivated to do that by love for me. But a true reflection of the New Testament will have in mind that He is motivated by a desire to obey, please and glorify the Father that He loves. And this is wonderfully good news for several reasons:
Jesus kept the commandments fully
“You shall have no gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3). If we regard Jesus’ death on the cross as solely or primarily motivated by love for us, there is a danger that He is in breach of this commandment. And if Jesus didn’t keep the law fully then He can’t adequately pay for our sins. But praise God- we see in Jesus’ death on the Cross that nothing was a greater concern for Him than God. As such He can fully pay for our sins.
Jesus is a wonderful example of being God centred
Of course Jesus’ death is more than an example for us but it is used as an example throughout the New Testament (Mark 8:34, Philippians 2:5-11; 1 Peter 2:21; 1 John 3:16). Surely it is the finest picture for us of a radical commitment to God’s glory even in the midst of suffering looks like. The opening stanza of Jesus’ prayer on the night before He dies in John 17 is theologically dense but one thing is clear- Jesus wants the Father to be glorified and will do this by finishing the work He has been given. Now if we know anything about the grace of our God then surely we will share this desire. More than that, it is possible for us to live in this way. In Hebrews 9:14 we discover that it is the eternal Spirit who enables Christ to offer himself unblemished to God. And- praise God- we are now indwelt by that same Spirit. We will keep in step with that Spirit as we walk in sacrificial cross-shaped commitment to pleasing and glorifying God.
Jesus’ love for His Father and for us are not at odds
I think we are reticent to reflect on Jesus’ love for His Father. It is certainly not a big theme of many of the songs about the cross that we sing. Perhaps that is because it feels a but abstract- or maybe because we have a sneaking worry that if Jesus’ goes to the cross out of love for His Father it somehow diminishes His love for us. Perhaps there will be a moment when in choosing to love the Father He will choose not to love us? Often as humans we have to make this calculation (think of a married couple working out where to spend their first Christmas together!)- whose good am I going to choose? And yet the wonderful thing about the Cross is that Jesus’ love for His Father and us combine perfectly. How does the cross show Jesus’ love for us? It tells us that he is willing to face agonising death in order to win eternal life for us. And what is eternal life? It is knowing (and glorifying God) according to John 17:3. And this is our highest good- this is the relationship for which we were made and that will give us eternal satisfaction. In other words Jesus’ death achieves both the greatest good for us and the greatest glory for God all at the same time. Isn’t that truly marvellous and wonderful?
The death of Jesus on the cross really is like a diamond. As you turn it round and it catches the light at a different angle it yields a fresh beauty. Can I suggest that if the image of Calvary has become a bit stale to you that this can be a helpful meditation. As we see Jesus heading towards Jerusalem, praying in Gethsemane, allowing Himself to be arrested and enduring the agony and shame of execution we see the most stunning example of commitment and obedience to God that the world has ever known. And that is simply one of the reasons why Jesus is worth praising for all eternity.