As we complete our journey through Lent and follow Jesus to Jerusalem and the cross, I know a question many of us have is, “Why did Jesus have to die?” I used the following story in a sermon a few years ago. I believe it is a very good response to those who claim God couldn’t possibly care for us.
Billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Some of the groups near the front talked heatedly. “How can God judge us?” said one. “What does He know about suffering?” snapped a brunette as she jerked back a sleeve to reveal a tattooed number from a Nazi concentration camp. “We endured terror, beatings, torture, death!” In another group a black man lowered his collar. “What about this?” he demanded, showing an ugly rope burn. “Lynched for no crime but being black! We have suffocated in slave ships, been wrenched from loved ones, and toiled till death gave release.”
Far out across the plain were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering God permitted in the world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where there was no weeping, no fear, no hunger, no hatred! Indeed, what did God know about what humanity had been forced to endure in this world? “After all, God leads a pretty sheltered and distant life,” they proclaimed.
So each group sent a leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. There was a Jew, a black, an untouchable from India, an illegitimate, a person from Hiroshima, and one from a Siberian slave camp. In the center of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather simple: before God would be qualified to be their judge, God must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth -- as a man!
But because He was God, they set certain safeguards to be sure God could not use His divine powers to help Himself: Let Him be born a Jew. Let the legitimacy of His birth be doubted, so that none would know who his real father was. Let Him champion a cause so just, but so radical, that it would bring upon Him the hate, condemnation, and efforts of every major established religious authority to eliminate Him. Let Him try to describe what no man has ever seen, tasted, heard, or smelled -- let Him try to communicate God to humanity. Let Him be betrayed and deserted by His dearest friends. Let Him be indicted on false charges, tried before a prejudiced jury, and sentenced by a cowardly judge. Let Him experience what it is to be terribly alone and completely abandoned by every living thing. Let Him be tortured and let Him die! Let Him die a most humiliating death -- with common thieves.
As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the great throngs of people. But when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No one uttered another word. No one moved. For suddenly all knew... God had already served this sentence.
When we are facing trials or suffering let us remember that God knows our sorrows and Jesus bore the cross so that we would never have to experience distance from our Loving Creator, unless we insist on creating it. Also as we seek to follow Jesus through this season let us remember that our Lord calls us to reach out in love and remove those barriers of distance that prevent others from knowing God’s grace. Christ died for us and Christ rose, so that we may know how tremendous God’s love and grace are. As we journey through Holy Week, consider what each of the special days we celebrate adds to our understanding of God’s love.