A Shocking Discovery
It began in Romans. It was Valentine’s Day, and I was immersed in the New Testament. I was so full of scriptures on the love of God, they seemed to be overflowing out my ears. Love, love, love, and more love; I was flying high in Romans 8. But at the beginning of the next chapter, my eyes screeched to a halt. Romans 9:3-4. Had I read it right? I scanned it again to make sure, and then once more, still shocked by the words. The apostle Paul, continuing after his glorious discourse of the 8th chapter, said this:
“. . . I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers . . . the people of Israel.” (Romans 9:3)
My reactions were threefold. Horror, admiration for the kind of love that could make such a statement, and finally, obsessive thought.
Think About It
Imagine, believers, what it would be like to be “cut off from Christ”. To no longer have the kind whispers of the Holy Spirit guiding you from the inside. To lose your covenant with God. Imagine being cursed, doomed, condemned; lost to Him forever. Imagine never being able to get Him to turn His face toward you, after being intimately acquainted with His love and irrevocable righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). 1 John 4:16 says that we have known and believed the love God has for us. We know it inside ourselves. Imagine losing that knowledge; that faith. To be nothing but an ache, never satisfied. To know that every unbeliever and backslidden Christian on earth has endless opportunities to run into the Father’s open arms—but not you.
The very thought makes me queasy. It is past my full comprehension. I wonder how Paul could care about his people so much that he would be willing to trade his salvation so they could have theirs. For my part, there is only one thing I would never let go of, even for the salvation of an entire nation: my covenant, salvation, relationship (whatever you want to call it) with God. I don’t want to admit it, but I just couldn’t. My life, body, relationships, or livelihood, maybe. I’d like to think that with the strength and courage of the Holy Spirit living in me, I could give all these up for love. But I could never give up God Himself. He is my one true addiction. I make no sense without Him. He is the author of every good thing I have become. Without Him, I am nothing. Without Him, there is no such thing as me.
I would like to point out that the tormented existence I’m describing will NEVER happen to you if you accept Christ into your heart. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your life is like or what you have done. You can always come to Jesus. He waits, arms wide open, to wash your filthy soul and stained reputation. He will clothe you in robes whiter than snow. He wants you even more than you want Him, and He will never stop seeking to adopt you as His own. God’s door is open, so that you and I can come running to Him. Seek the Lord while you can find Him, call on Him now while he is near, and you will not be put to shame (Isaiah 55:6, Psalm 25:3).
And if you already know Christ but find that you have strayed from His commandments, then remember that you can always return to His love. He is ever-forgiving and would never turn you away (John 6:37). His love is available to anyone who will take it. If you have accepted it, rejoice! You will never, ever have to sacrifice that relationship. The day will never come when you must choose between keeping your salvation, and giving a loved one theirs. It could be that you end up risking your life for such a thing, but not your salvation. Rebirth in Christ is yours forever. Paul mulled over the concept of exchanging his own salvation for that of his people, but he never had the option to do so.
Love Enters the Picture
In light of this, why is Paul’s remark even in the Bible? On the surface it seems irrelevant. But as we know that the Scripture is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16) and that every word of Paul’s letters was given him by the Holy Spirit, there has to be more to the story.
And there is. It is meant to point us towards Jesus. I had not meditated on this verse for five seconds before it occurred to me that the awful proposition of Romans 9:3 had already happened. Just once.
There was a man who loved God with everything he had. God favored him and called him His “beloved Son”, in whom He was “well pleased”. This man was connected to the Father in every possible way. In point of fact, He is in His very nature, God (Philippians 2:6). 1 John 4 states twice that “God is love”. Well, we call this man Jesus Christ, and He is love. Love is the very substance His spirit is made of. And it’s because He loved us that He chose to be separated from God on Calvary.
Peace With God
Let me explain. When I speak of a Christian’s “relationship” with God, here’s what I’m talking about.
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ . . .” (Romans 5:1)
Think about it. We. Have. Peace. With. God. That means two things: we are (or can choose to be) at peace with the Creator of the universe; and the Creator of the universe is at peace with us. This is huge. It’s what both God and mankind have craved since the third chapter of Genesis. No matter what happens, I can count on peace with God. I can count on His listening ear, on His lavish and gentle hand in my life. No force in existence has the power or the right to steal my peace. If I have peace with God, then I can have peace about everything and in every situation.
The Price of Peace
Back to Christ’s separation from God. I believe this is a key piece to the “punishment that brought us peace”. In the past, I tended to only consider the punishment Jesus took for us through the crucifixion. But on Valentine’s Day, the very worst torture Christ ever suffered was revealed to me; something worse than just dying in the flesh. He was cut off from God. Since Christ is God, the sensation must have been akin to that of sawing off His head with His own hands. (Even this description is inadequate. How much more pain can God feel than the sensations of human imagination?) Part of the eternal relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Christ found Himself forsaken. He was severed from the presence of the Father, away from His sight and His love. I finally understood the meaning of Christ’s words on the cross, words that had confused me all my life. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Christ, laden with all the filth of the ages—every sin of the past; every sin of the future, was exactly what Paul described. Cursed. Cut off from God. He, love personified, became sin (2 Corinthians 5:21, Galatians 3:13). God couldn’t look at Him. He turned His face away from His Son.
You are Never Forsaken
At that moment, Jesus was taking our place, our punishment. So the pain became not ours to bear—it became His. He was the one who cried, the one who suffered, the one the Father turned his back on. It was supposed to be us—that was supposed to be our cry! We are the ones worthy to be forsaken. But in that great exchange, He cried our cry for us. So you will never ever have to say “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
The Lord wants His children to know that our greatest fear, alienation from Him, was destroyed on the cross. When human beings are estranged from God, we become nothing more than bleeding mutations; helpless. Jesus cried out, but there was no help for Him. Remember, He endured that so we would never have to. Bottom line? God will NEVER forsake you (Matthew 28:20). He got punishment. We got peace. Don’t ever let yourself think that God is turning His face away from you. He has never and will never turn away from His children. He will always listen to you, always watch over you, and always be there for you.
This belongs to us. The Bible says so. The war between Heaven and earth is over.
Love Brings Freedom
I often call my salvation my “peace with God”. And I often call that peace freedom. I suppose you’ve heard the phrase “freedom isn’t free”? It’s true. Freedom always costs something. As far as I have been able to discern, true freedom has only ever been purchased with blood. And mine was bought with the blood of Jesus. You see, to make peace with God after all that mankind has been guilty of, somebody had to be punished. The problem is that even if we got what we deserved and the entire earth was nothing more than a heap of ash in outer space, we would still have unpaid debts of sin. We overdrew our accounts, and it was going to take nothing short of the perfect blood of Jesus, God in the flesh, to wash the evil away. Even more important than that, however, is John 3:16: “. . . God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son . . .” It’s obvious that God’s reason for sending His Son, our Prince of Peace, the author of our freedom, is because of love. His will is for no one to perish (2Peter 3:9). He wanted to defeat our sin with forgiveness, not wrath. So God the Father chose to punish his own Son. Jesus: fully man, fully God, fully obedient to the Father. His pure, sinless blood paid the price of punishment God’s glory required on our behalf.
We couldn’t do the good we knew we ought to. We couldn’t sort out the chaos we’d created. We couldn’t fix what we’d broken, return what we’d stolen, or unlock the shackles we had made ourselves. So He did it for us. After all that, still we were precious to Him. We will always be precious to Him. To Jesus, we are more valuable than His own life. That . . . is love.
Our Happy Ending
“Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6, emphasis added)
And what happened after all this? We were made the righteousness of God in Christ. We wear His cleanness like a robe (2 Corinthians 5:21, Isaiah 61:10). And, thank God, “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever” (Isaiah 32:17). Peace Forever. It’s one of the titles of history’s great love story—that between God and man, wherein sin was defeated and love prevailed.
Many thanks to sassycare for her sterling advice, edits, and expansions.
Featured photo is taken from http://theprayingwoman.com/2015/02/23/10-simple-steps-to-healing/healing/