Crowds Change Nothing–Disciples Change the World
Dr. Jim Denison
Eugene Colvin was one of our church’s most popular members. Eugene struggled with cerebral palsy his entire life. He was in a wheelchair by the time I met him. But that chair could not contain his spirit or his joy. All of us remember his smile, his laugh, and his love for Jesus.
Eugene’s memorial service was this past Wednesday. Chris Elkins, one of Eugene’s dearest friends, delivered the message. He quoted Aaron Colvin, Eugene’s father, who once described what it was like to be the father of a son with physical challenges. Aaron said, “It’s like taking a trip to Italy and ending up in Holland. You didn’t plan to be in Holland. But you learn that there are good things about Holland, and you learn to appreciate them.”
Chris used that metaphor throughout Eugene’s service, with this point: we’re all in Holland. None of us intended the hard parts of our lives. We didn’t plan to have cancer, or financial struggles, or a divorce. We’re all in Holland, and need to make the best of it while we’re here. But one day we can live in Italy, if we have a ticket to go there.
So, how do you make the best of Holland? And how do you get to Italy? Not in the way you may think. Hold that thought, and take a trip to Holland with me.
The question of the cross
The date is Sunday, April 12, in the year AD 29. A trip which looked like it would arrive in Italy ended in Holland. Jesus could have entered Jerusalem unnoticed, mingling with the more than two million who jammed the city streets for the Passover. Better yet, he could have stayed in Galilee where the authorities would neither notice him nor care.
But he didn’t. His Triumphal Entry was the very best way to ensure that he enraged the religious leaders with the “blasphemy” of the adoring crowds; that he frightened the Roman authorities into thinking he would start an insurrection, and made himself a marked man. Palm Sunday forced Good Friday. In fact, it guaranteed it. So, why did Jesus do it?
Why did the Son of God exchange heaven for earth, a throne for thorns, a crown for a cross? Why did he ride a donkey to his death? You know the conventional answer: to pay for our sins. But why? Why did he have to pay for our sins?
Last week, a reader of my daily e-mail essays replied with this question: “Why the blood? Why didn’t our loving Father in heaven just forgive us? Why did he require a sacrifice? Why can’t we just pray to God and ask for forgiveness, and as our loving Creator, he grants it.
The requirement for blood sacrifice is his. I just don’t understand why an all-powerful God can’t directly forgive us. This is a question I have had for twenty-five years.” It’s an excellent question, indeed.
If I back into your car leaving church today, you can forgive me without requiring that someone die. If my children disobey me, I can forgive them without requiring a blood sacrifice. Why cannot the God who is love (1 John 4:8) do the same? Why did Jesus choose to ride into Jerusalem in a way which ensured that the authorities would arrest and execute him? Why did he have to die? Let’s work on this very important question for a moment.
Understand God’s dilemma
Since God is love, he wants a loving and personal relationship with us. But love is a choice, a decision. So God had to give us freedom of choice, so we could choose to love and worship him. Of course, we inevitably misuse this freedom, and sin results. Why is this such a problem?
Because God is also holy. In fact, the Bible calls him “holy, holy, holy” (Isaiah 6:3; Revelation 4:8). And a holy God simply cannot allow my sin into his perfect paradise.
One germ contaminates a sterile hospital room and threatens the patient. One speck of dirt is enough to infect a surgical wound; one malignant cell is enough to produce terminal cancer.
Sin separates us from a holy God, leading to spiritual death now, physical death eventually, and eternal death separated from God in hell. That’s why the Bible teaches that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Death, separation from God, is the inevitable consequence of sin, since God is holy.
So the sin which results from my misused free will must be removed before I can enter God’s perfect presence in paradise. But why cannot God simply do this for me, as a mother pulls muddy shoes off her toddler’s feet before letting him into the house?
Because God faces a dilemma you and I do not share. Since God is holy, he must also be just.
You and I can forgive those who injure us without requiring that the law be kept, its consequences fulfilled. I can back into your car, and you can choose not to call the police, fill out an accident report, and see to it that I receive a ticket and have to pay a fine. Such is the demand of justice, but you can choose to waive the law and simply forgive me.
God does not have that luxury. He cannot be completely holy without being also completely just. And justice requires that the law be kept, that its consequences be enforced. For him to be holy and just, the consequence of sin must be fulfilled. And that consequence, that result, is death–spiritual, physical, and eternal death. Complete separation from a holy God who lives in a perfect paradise.
There is seemingly no way out of this dilemma. God could remove our freedom, so we cannot sin; but then we could not worship and love him, defeating our purpose and reason for being. God could choose to allow us into paradise with our sins, but then he could not be holy. God could choose not to enforce the consequences of our sin, but then he could not be just.