It is not fashionable in polite Christian circles to talk about judgement. That, we are told, implies a God who is capable of wrath. In which case, one wonders what Good Friday is actually about? We know God is love, men say, and therefore He does not require a propitiation. God is love, says the Bible ,and therefore he provides a propitiation. To take away the notion that Christ is the propitiation for our sins is to empty the Bible of its import, and to rob Christ’s stoning sacrifice of meaning. As one author put it many years ago:
Nobody has any right to borrow the words ‘God is love’ from an apostle, and then to put them in circulation after carefully emptying them of their apostolic import. . . . But this is what they do who appeal to love against propitiation. To take the condemnation out of the Cross is to take the nerve out of the Gospel . . . Its whole virtue, its consistency with God’s character, its aptness to man’s need, its real dimensions as a revelation of love, depend ultimately on this, that mercy comes to us in it through judgment. (James Denney, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians, Expositor’s Bible, Hodder, 1894, p. 221f.)
The notion that God reacts to wickedness by in effect saying: ‘Oh well, don’t worry, I will love you and forgive you anyway’, belittles His love for us. What Father could be indifferent to the suffering of a child? Like the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal, God watches for us far off, ready to embrace us – but first we must repent. That is what God is looking for. But the evil that sin has done needs to be redeemed, as we do, and so we get the supreme sacrifice this day marks.
On the first Good Friday, Jesus fulfilled the words of the prophet:
He was wounded for our transgressions
and bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that brought us peace
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned every one to his own way;
And YHWH has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Our sins were laid upon Him. As St. Paul told the Corinthians: For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.The author of Hebrews says: Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. St Peter tells us: For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit. He died for our sins.
There are many theories of the atonement, but only we moderns have managed to pretend we don’t need it. It is sin which angers God, and in His love for us He sent Christ to bear our sins. Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s justice. ‘One died for all, therefore all died,’ he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5.14; and thus, seven verses later, ‘God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin,’ he concluded seven verses later, ‘so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (5.21). And it is within that argument that we find the still deeper truth, which is again rooted in the Old Testament: that the Messiah through whom all this would be accomplished would be the very embodiment of YHWH himself. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5.19).
Theories of the atonement may vary, but they have been there from the beginning. It is sin which arouses God’s wrath, and we have sinned. We can (and do) argue over who was saved in this way`, but I prefer the plain reading – Christ died for us all. He suffered there for you and for me – for all who will receive Him. Those who chose not to receve Him, well, they make their choice and must abide by it.
Good Friday is our day of Judgement before the Last. We who were lost are found, we who deserve naught but chastisement receive mercy, we are redeemed in that precious blood. We gaze with awe upon the Cross through which we have received salvation.