Worse Than You Know, More Loved Than You Imagined
Here, on Good Friday, we’ve come to think about the gospel. We’ve come to think about the accomplishment that Jesus made on that dark Friday so many years ago now.
And what I invite us to consider this morning is the way in which the death of Jesus Christ on the cross displays two important truths for us. It displays both the immensity and even the horror of the sin that needed to be paid for on the cross, but it also even more clearly shows us the mercy and grace of Jesus who willingly took that punishment on to Himself for us.
And it’s so important for us to look to the cross and see both of these truths at the same time. Otherwise, we’ll get lopsided.
Some people do a really good job of seeing their sin. They know they are sinners, they feel the weight of their sin all the time, and it presses on them. In this kind of group are Christians who have the idea that feeling a level of low-grade guilt all the time is a sign of godliness. It’s important for them to feel perpetually bad for something all the time.
And on the more extreme end of this scale are those who are so convinced that their sin is such a big deal that they can’t imagine for a second that anything, not even the death of Jesus, could overcome it.
But then there’s the opposite end of the spectrum: those who take it for granted that Jesus loves them. Of course Jesus would love them.
The poster in their kindergarten class told them they were special, and they’ve believed it ever since. The love of Jesus on the cross doesn’t shock them because, deep down, they feel like they deserve it.
And the cross corrects both of these imbalances. The cross shows us that our own wickedness is a way bigger deal than we think, and that we deserve God’s love far less than we think. And then it shows us that the grace and love of God towards is in Christ is even bigger than all of our wickedness put together. However deep we’ve sunk, the grace of God in Christ is deeper still.
We are worse than we think, and we are far more loved than we could ever imagine.
Let’s consider how Isaiah 53, which we’ve heard read and read together, points to these realities.
On the one hand, we see the reality of our sorrows, transgressions, and iniquities in what they did to Jesus. Jesus was smitten by God for them, and afflicted, as verse 4 days.
He was pierced, as verse 5 says. We know these words were carried out very literally in the form of nails through hands and wrists.
He was crushed, as verse 5 also says. Jesus’ body was sorely damaged by the whipping and the torture he endured, but these words also speak to the crushing of his soul as He bore the weight of God’s judgement and displeasure against our sin.
He was chastised and wounded as verse 5 goes on to say. Oppressed and afflicted and judged, as verse 7 and 8 say. Crushed, and put to grief, as verse 10 describe.
And all of this because, verse 6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.”
Just think about that. Our rebellion against the living God is nothing to take lightly. I’ve heard so many people joke that “that’s my rebellious streak coming out.” And that’s just horrifying.
Us turning aside from God to do whatever we want to do is such an awful business, such a massive crime, that the only way to deal with it was to have the most perfect and worthy person in the universe be destroyed in the most painful way imaginable.
Remember that the next time you’re feeling pretty good about yourself. Remember that the next time you feel like you deserve better.
A number of years ago, Carl Henry was being interviewed. In his day, Carl Henry was one of the brightest and most prominent theologians in the world, and his interviewee asked him, “Dr. Henry, you have been at the center of attention in evangelicalism for over a half century. How have you stayed humble?” And his reply was simple: “It is hard to be prideful when you’re standing at the foot of the cross.” [https://rts.edu/resources/fighting-for-joy-growing-in-humility-knowing-christ-and-the-peace-that-passes-understanding-a-study-of-philippians-19-complete-my-joy-with-humility/]
There it is. And it’s there in the lyrics to the song we heard earlier: “You who think of sin but lightly, nor suppose the evil great, here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load: He’s the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man and Son of God.”
By showing us what it took to save us, the cross shows us clearly who we were before we were saved and who we would even be today apart from that salvation.
But that’s far from the complete story. Because Jesus did die to save us! And so the very same place where we see what we truly deserve, we see Jesus taking what we deserve onto Himself to pay for it in our place. And so the cross gives us an even deeper, and even stronger, and even greater picture of the boundless grace, mercy and love of Christ.
Just think of what we’ve just seen. Just think about what our wickedness, our rebellion deserves. And now consider that Jesus willingly laid down His life to take that instead of you.
And if you know Jesus, if you have repented and trusted in Him, then I invite you to make those words personal this morning.
“Surely he has borne [my] griefs, and carried [my] sorrows… He was pierced for [my] transgressions; he was crushed for [my] iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought [me] peace, and with his wounds [I am] healed… the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of [me]” (Isaiah 53:4-6)
“Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make [you] to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear [your] iniquit[y]. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of [you], and makes intercession for [you]” (Isaiah 53:11–12).
Jesus saw His people, and He knew what His people deserved, and He loved His people, and He stepped in to bear the judgement for His people instead of them. And if you know Jesus, that’s for you this morning. He saw you, He knew what you deserved, and He loved you, and He stepped in to bear the judgement for you instead of you.
And He did it before we were even born, and He did it knowing perfectly everything we’d ever do. He knew every ugly thought you’ve had, every vain glance in a mirror, every smug remark about another one of His children, every private moment, every public blunder. He saw it all, and He loved you still, and He said, “Let the stroke of justice fall on me instead of them.”
We will never, ever, ever be able to fathom or imagine a greater love than this.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6–8).
And form here I would so love to go on to speak about all of the benefits, all of the changes, all of the blessings that come into our life as we embrace and believe this truth. In truth, that’s what ever single Sunday here is about.
Our whole life as Christians, our whole life together as a church, is about unpacking and learning how to live inside the benefits and the implications of the love of Christ for us.
But for today, being Good Friday, we want to simply focus on the fact that it happened. There was a real day, almost exactly 2,000 years ago, when a real man in a real place breathing real air was stretched out and nailed to a piece of wood. And for the next several dark hours he hung there, suffering intense physical pain and intense emotional and social shame.
But as Isaiah 53:10 reminds us, his soul made an offering for guilt. As that real man hung on a real cross, His physical sufferings pointed to the deeper reality that in His soul, He was bearing the judgement of God for your sin. And He really did that.
And then this man, before breathing His last, said “It is finished.” And He meant it, and it’s true. And I invite you believe that today. Believe that if you’ve believed it for as long as you can remember, and believe that if you are believing it for the first time.
Believe that, apart from Jesus, you are worse than you know. And believe that, in Jesus, you are more loved, and more safe, and more blessed, than you can imagine.