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Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
and against the man that is my fellow
saith the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah 13:7, KJV

The Cross was Hell

Chapter 6

The Cross and Beauty

Master or Husband?   Jesus is More than a Name   God's Justice   Force Cannot Change the Human Heart   Bible Interpretation In the Light of the Cross   Love Versus Force, Lies vs. Truth   Love that Would Die for an Enemy   The Power of Love  

My friend Timmy is a big-boned, man's man about six foot seven inches tall. He is the most sensitive and intense Christian that I know. God had rescued him from a harsh, self-destructive life. Like Mary Magdalene, Timmy responded wholeheartedly to Jesus' restoring love. Timmy came from a rough background and felt comfortable talking with the gang members and drug addicts on the toughest streets of East L.A. His favorite topic was Jesus.

The Holy Spirit worked through Timmy in a powerful way. God used Timmy's commanding presence, intense love, and his firsthand street knowledge to draw many people to Jesus. The Holy Spirit would often give Timmy specific directions. He would go to a specific street corner and find people that were eager to hear about Jesus. Timmy's spirit would dance with exuberant joy each time someone accepted Jesus. His spirit soared higher than the strongest eagle can fly.

Like Mary Magdalene, Timmy fell back into the dark depths of sin. He says that he returned to the vomit. Recently, Timmy has been struggling to regain his close walk with God. From time to time the Holy Spirit has been using Timmy, but he still struggles to regain the intensity and warmth of his first love.

Doubts and anxieties about his salvation sometimes harass Timmy. One day, the dark shadows of doubt enshrouded him. He decided to drive up into the mountains. Timmy loves to commune with God in nature. The gentle flow of a mountain stream helps bring peace to his soul.

Timmy cried out loud to God, "Have I gone too far, am I lost forever? Lord, are You just going to use me for a while and then throw me away into hell?" God answered Timmy with a question, "Timmy, is your love greater than Mine?" Surprised, Timmy responded, "No Lord, You are the Master of love; my love could never be greater than Yours." God asked Timmy another question, "Timmy, would you throw me into hell?" Shocked at the idea, Timmy responded, "No Lord, I would never do that to You!" God said, "Then why do you think I would do that to you? Is your love greater than Mine?"

Our love is not greater than God's love. Through the revelation of the cross, our Father gently leads us away from a relationship based on misunderstanding and fearfulness, to one based on the beauty and attractiveness of his character of love. The King of the Universe, the Almighty Creator God wants a marriage-type relationship with us. In the past we have worshiped God as "Lord and Master." Now the Creator God yearns for a relationship with us where we relate to Him as a wife would to her husband.

Hosea 2:16, 17 "And it shall be, in that day," Says the Lord, "That you will call Me 'My Husband,' And no longer call Me 'My Master,' "For I will take from her mouth the names of the Baals, And they shall be remembered by their name no more." (NKJ)

Master or Husband?

Nearly two thousand years ago, God's bride, his special people Israel, rejected Him as her Husband in the person of Jesus. Israel was looking for someone to call My Master. Jesus Christ is the way the truth and the life. To reject the truth is to reject Christ.

All throughout their history the children of Israel desired and prayed to God for vengeance upon their enemies. Israel rejected their Messiah because he did not conform to their preconceived opinions and their desires for a powerful, forceful commander to lead their nation's armies to victory over, revenge upon, and annihilation of their enemies.

Most Israelites hated Rome. Many Jewish leaders argued that Jesus couldn't be the promised Messiah because he refused to take political leadership. Jesus' life and words contradicted their arguments. He showed them, and us that the only true way to conquer one's enemies is to love them. The Israelites' rejection of Jesus and hatred of Rome sowed evil seed that led to the eventual destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.

The special, chosen people, the organized church of Christ's time, desired a God that was a mixture of good and evil, love and hate, mercy and revenge. The religious leaders preferred and chose self-seeking Satan, in the person of Barabbas, over the humble, loving, and self-sacrificing Jesus.

If Israel had accepted Jesus and his principle of unselfish, unconditional love, the Israelites would have learned to love the Roman people. Rather than being destroyed in A.D. 70, Jerusalem would have been established forever. Through the awesome power of God's love, Israel could have conquered Rome and the world. If only Israel had accepted God's principle of self-sacrificing love! The world would be a much different and better place.

 God's incredibly difficult challenge, throughout history, has been to reveal his glorious character of love to his chosen people without alienating them. God faces the same challenge today! We view God through our sin-warped eyes. We want to live in our sins and yet be forgiven and resurrected with a Christ-like character. We still hate our enemies. I have heard Christians shriek with demonic joy when CNN showed live coverage of missiles and bombs killing Iraqi soldiers fleeing the battlefield. These Christians don't know Jesus.

Jesus is More than a Name

Imagine that two identical, beautiful beings, clothed in brilliant white light are sitting in your living room. Both claim to be Jesus. Both can work mighty miracles. One of them is Jesus, while the other is Satan, impersonating Jesus. With powerful, musical voices, both speak lovely truths from the Holy Scriptures.

Do you know Jesus' character and the principles of the Bible well enough to be able to distinguish between them? What questions would you ask? Remember that when it suited him, Satan would at times quote the Scriptures. At other times he would mix just a little error with the truth. Keep in mind that Satan's deceptions will be so subtle that if it were possible, the very elect would be deceived (Matthew 24:24). I invite you to get to know Jesus' character and personality better so that you can discern the imposter. Satan will impersonate Jesus in a forceful way.

John 5:43  "I have come in My Father's name [Character of love], and you do not receive Me. If another shall come in his own name [Mixed character of love and force] , him you will receive" (MKJV).

Some people desire a strong, vengeful God, who will quickly and forcefully put an end to sin and sinners. These people desire and will follow the imposter. Some want God to punish the wicked people who have caused righteous people so much grief and sorrow. How much value do we place on a sinner's soul? Our heavenly Father loves the vilest sinner to the very depths of his infinitely deep heart. Jesus' sacrifice proves that.

Only by meditating on and studying God's sacrifice on the cross of Calvary can we begin to understand the truly infinite worth of each individual human being. We grieve our Father's heart when we think and pray out of harmony with the truth for our time, his glorious character of love as revealed by his Son Jesus.

Let us truly pray, "in Jesus' name," by praying for our enemies. Let us pray and act in harmony with the brilliant light of God's love, his law of love that has remained unchanged from the deepest eternity. Then God's work of redeeming precious souls from sin and selfishness will yield a fruitful harvest.

 God loves his enemies. He wants us to do the same. However, God's love is also just. God's mercy does not cancel out his justice. But remember, God's justice has little or nothing in common with human justice.

God's Justice

Let the wicked leave their way of life and change their way of thinking. Let them turn to the Lord, our God; he is merciful and quick to forgive. "My thoughts," says the Lord, "are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours." (Isaiah 55:7,8, TEV)

Man's idea of justice is an "eye for an eye" and a "tooth for a tooth." But God became a man in order to suffer the full consequences of our sins so that we would not have to. That ought to make it very clear that God's idea of justice and ours are so different as to be pretty much opposite.

If God hadn't forgiven sinners, we'd all be dead. Jesus' sacrifice proves that God had already forgiven us. Jesus didn't die in order to convince the Father to forgive us, but because he already had. Jesus' sacrifice convinces us that God forgives our sins. Remember, Jesus took our punishment.

Zechariah 13:7 "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the LORD of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered" (KJV). Our heavenly Father is a God of terrible majesty and justice. Consider Calvary. In his wrath against sin, God unsheathed his sword of justice. With that sharp sword, God the Father pierced the heart of his Son, Jesus!

This is the same sword that God uses against all his enemies. God's sword of wrath is to allow the sinner, or in this case the sinless Sin-Bearer, to experience the horror of the full weight, the burning guilt, shame, condemnation, fiery indignation, and wrath of sin. The unrepentant sinner at the final judgment will experience his own guilt. Jesus experienced the total sin and guilt of the whole world. Indeed, that is a terrible sword!

The unrepentant sinner, warped and degraded by sin and guilt, would find the presence of Christ unbearable. To such a person the presence of Jesus would not be Heaven, but hell. Our God is a consuming fire. To the completely selfish person, the presence of our perfectly unselfish and loving Jesus would ignite their guilty conscience to burn with a white-hot flame. This is no arbitrary law of God. No. It is the inevitable consequence of hanging on to sin and guilt. In Heaven, Satan had claimed that God's law was arbitrary and unnecessary. On earth, Satan continues to tell these same lies. Some Christians have been duped into helping promote Satan's lies in the name of God's grace.

In order to uphold, to fulfill, to magnify God's law of love, Jesus Christ must accomplish the seemingly impossible. He must demonstrate two apparently opposite and contrary things.

1. He must demonstrate God's unchangeable, self-sacrificing, unconditional, infinite law of love, which describes his character, the foundation of his government.

2. He must also demonstrate the inevitable, destructive, and everlasting consequences of sin.

Only as the eternal Son of God could Jesus reveal the height and depth of God's law of unselfish, unconditional love! Only as the Son of Man could he reveal the dense darkness and depth of sin! Behold the Man! Behold our God! Behold Jesus on the cross!

Force Cannot Change the Human Heart

Only by love is love awakened. God does not use, and does not need to use force, fear, or coercion. Indeed God cannot use force to make us love Him. Sowing seeds of fear cannot yield a harvest of love.

Fear and coercion produce resistance and hatred. For God to try to force or coerce us into loving Him would, in principle, would be analogous to rape. These are not our heavenly Father's methods. God relies on the beauty of his character of love to win our hearts.

His kingdom is ruled and guided by love. Our Father has one mighty weapon, namely the presentation of the principle of unselfish, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. It just happens to be the most powerful weapon in the universe! Remember, God wants us to love Him.

Love and freedom are inseparable. If anyone's mind were ever forced or coerced our Father's kingdom would not have the harmony that he desires. Heaven's foundation would not be secure. People would doubt the goodness of the King. Sooner or later heaven's harmony would disintegrate in discord and open rebellion.

As many an earthly tyrant could testify, fear and force can never bring true loyalty! During WWII, Hitler was the undisputed leader of Germany. He was an absolute dictator. Yet many of the top leaders wanted to assassinate Hitler. Force cannot win loyalty. A true king leads by serving. Nor can money, material rewards, nor the promise of streets of gold win or change our hearts. Only love can win our hearts. Only God's perfect love can win our complete loyalty.

Our Father's love is holy and pure. It is untainted by unwise human ideas. Ephesians 1:7,8 "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace which He made to abound toward us in all wisdom and prudence" (NKJ). God, in His prudence, decided that His grace could overcome our rebellion and sin. God's grace is the outpouring of His love through Jesus Christ, His Son. 1John 3:16 "This is how we know what love is: Christ gave his life for us. We too, then, ought to give our lives for our brothers and sisters!" (TEV).

In order to see the full contrast between the Prince of light and the prince of darkness we must distinguish which character attributes belong to which prince. Lucifer has made this as difficult as he possibly can. In Heaven, Lucifer subtly sowed the seeds of discontent. He then presented himself as trying to reconcile the discontented angels and the heavenly Father. Satan was a liar from the beginning.

Continuing the same policy today, Satan lies about the character of our heavenly Father. Some of his lies are very subtle and are very difficult to discern. Matthew24:24, 25 "For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform great miraculous signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God's chosen ones. See, I have warned you" (NLT).

Where he can get away with it, though, his lies are blasphemously blatant. Even insurance companies have policies that call certain natural disasters, such as lightning and earthquakes, "Acts of God."

Bible Interpretation In the Light of the Cross

However, Satan has focused his greatest attacks on the Christian church. Praise our heavenly Father, for he has given us a way to sort out truth from error. Many of you might be thinking, "Yes, praise God for the Bible." Yes, indeed, the Bible is the book of truth. Yet, every denomination interprets the Bible differently. Has God left us without a standard to determine which interpretation is correct? No! Praise God for the cross of Calvary! 1Corinthians 3:11 "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (NKJ).

In the light of the cross, God's vengeance and wrath are far different from sinful man's anger and desire for revenge. God's wrath is the granting of a solemn freedom, the freedom to choose Satan and his principles of selfishness, sin, and death. God's wrath against ungrateful, unrepentant sinners is to hand them over to Satan, their chosen master, who is called Abaddon, or Apollyon, the Destroyer. They are Satan's rightful prey. God must reluctantly withdraw his protection. To force his protective presence on those who have rejected him would make God a dictator. It would lend credence to Satan's charges against God.

Can you imagine how difficult it is for our loving heavenly Father to hand over his incurably rebellious children to the Destroyer? The final instance of this principle occurs as God's "strange act," Isaiah 28:21 (KJV). It takes place at the end of the seventh millennium, the millennium of rest. The relationship between the Father and his Son Jesus on the cross of Calvary gives us, with painful clarity, a preview to God's "strange act."

 Remember that God does not change. Malachi 3:6 "For I am the LORD, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed" (KJV). James 1:17 "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (KJV).

Everything that God feels, thinks, says, and does is based on principle. His principles never change. The foundation principle of God's government, indeed his very character, is self-sacrificing love. God is never confused between what is good and what is evil. Our Creator God never bases his actions on the principles of Satan, the Destroyer. Never.

2Corinthians 6:14, 15 Do not keep company with those who have not faith: for what is there in common between righteousness and evil, or between light and dark? And what agreement is there between Christ and the Evil One? or what part has one who has faith with one who has not? (BBE)

Love Versus Force, Lies vs. Truth

Satan uses lies and deceit. He destroys and kills. Does God use the same methods that Satan does? Paul told us no. What does the apostle John say? 1John1:5 "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (KJV). Paul again asserts that God must be faithful to himself. 2Timothy 2:13 "If we are faithless, he remains faithful-for he cannot deny himself" (RSV). God is light. Light brings life. Darkness brings death. God has no darkness in Him.

We see then, that our heavenly Father rules the universe based on principles, motives, and actions that are different, distinct, and totally opposite to Satan's principles, motives, and actions. God's government is based on benevolent love.

Our Father delights in creating, giving life, sustaining life, loving others, and being loved in return. Satan's government is based on lies, selfishness, greed, fear, hope of reward, punishment, destruction, and murder. Satan delights in promoting rebellion, sin, suffering, and death. Satan delights in killing God's beloved creatures.

Our loving heavenly Father never cooperates with Satan in his acts of destruction! God never uses the same methods that Satan does! Satan and those who subscribe to the principles of his government seek to exalt themselves by any means. Not so in God's government. The end result that God seeks is a totally free society of intelligent, loving beings living in peace and harmony.

Only by love is love awakened. That is the message of the cross of Christ. God poured out his love through his Son, Jesus. We can only love God because he first loved us. Fear, even the mortifying fear of an eternally burning hell, cannot produce love. Hope of reward, even the hope of walking streets of gold and eating from the tree of life cannot produce love. Love cannot be bought.

In his infinite wisdom, God has designed the human heart with the capacity to love and to be loved. Having designed the human heart in this way, God cannot use the threat of an eternally burning hell, or the hope of Heaven to draw us into a love relationship with Him. Jesus showed us that the door to eternal life is only opened by the mighty power of self-sacrificing love that places the value of others above one's own existence. This is the message of the cross.

Precious soul, Jesus invites you to behold, to meditate on the height and depth of his self-sacrificing, infinite love for you. Choose to allow the Holy Spirit to begin to write God's law of love in your heart. Eternal life begins on earth, here, and now, the moment that you begin to respond to the awesome beauty of God's character, his principle, his law, of unconditional, self-sacrificing love.

That response to God's love is called faith. It is the only kind of faith that will save. Pray with me. "Heavenly Father, I bow before You in awe of the mighty power of Your self-sacrificing love! Oh Father, soften my sin-hardened, selfish heart; pour your love into my heart until love for you and your children fills me, leaving no room for bitter self-centeredness. Thank you, Father, for answering my prayer in the name of Jesus, amen."

Love that Would Die for an Enemy

Our God is not like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, kind, and full of goodness and light during the day of the proclamation of the gospel, but turning into a destructive monster, throwing sinners into the fires of hell when the night of human probation closes! The Roman god Janus is portrayed as a two-faced god. Our Father is not like that. The King of the Universe does not have multiple personalities. God's love and kindness flow out from his heart equally to the good and bad alike.

Matthew 5:39, 44-48 But I say to you, Do not make use of force against an evil man; but to him who gives you a blow on the right side of your face let the left be turned. (BBE)  But I tell you to love your enemies and pray for anyone who mistreats you. Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both good and bad people. And he sends rain for the ones who do right and for the ones who do wrong. If you love only those people who love you, will God reward you for that? Even tax collectors love their friends. If you greet only your friends, what's so great about that? Don't even unbelievers do that? But you must always act like your Father in heaven. (CEV)

"But I tell you to love your enemies...Then you will be acting like your Father in heaven." God loves his enemies. God is no respecter of persons. God loves the sinner and the righteous equally. God is love. God does not change. When the sinner crosses the point of no return, God's love for him remains unchanged. It is the sinner's heart that has closed itself to God's love, but God loves him still. In the Bible Jesus clearly revealed God's love for a sinful, rebellious, and dying world, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (KJV). Paul restated the same everlasting principle.

Romans 5: 6-8 For when we were still without strength, at the right time Christ gave his life for evildoers. Now it is hard for anyone to give his life even for an upright man, though it might be that for a good man someone would give his life. But God has made clear his love to us, in that, when we were still sinners, Christ gave his life for us. (BBE)

God loves sinners. The deeper their darkness and rebellion, the stronger his yearning to rescue them. Perhaps the most striking example of God's love for his enemies is Jesus' treatment of Judas.

 Matthew 26:47-50 And as He was yet speaking, behold, Judas came, one of the Twelve. And with him came a great crowd with swords and clubs, being sent from the chief priests and elders of the people. And he who betrayed Him gave them a sign, saying, Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one, lay hold on Him. And coming up to Jesus immediately, he said, Hail, Master! And he kissed Him. And Jesus said to him, Friend, why are you here? Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. (MKJV)

Jesus called Judas, the betrayer, friend. In this world, trust and friendship must be earned. Jesus showed us that in the kingdom of Heaven, friendship is a gift that is freely given to all, even to the man who betrayed Him to death. Jesus did not condemn or in any way punish Judas. Jesus loved Judas and called him friend.

The Power of Love

If we wish to enter the kingdom of Heaven, we too must give others our friendship as a gift. We mustn't demand that people earn our friendship. We will get hurt and meet with disappointment. But never more that Jesus did!

The sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross reveals the strength, the depth, and the power of God's love. Behold the Son of God. Part of Jesus' suffering on the cross came from his knowledge of the malignant power of sin. He knew that through constant exposure to it, humanity had become ignorant of its destructive power. We are Jesus' brothers and sisters. He loves us. He doesn't want to see sin destroy our souls.

For months, I struggled and prayed daily, asking God, "How did Jesus become our Sin-bearer?" It took time, but the Holy Spirit, through scripture, showed me that the answer must be understood through his love. The stronger, deeper, and purer the love for a family member, the more intense the anguish when watching them slip away into death. Jesus' love for us was, is, and will always be infinitely deep, strong, and pure. It was Jesus' incredible love that opened his heart to the depths of suffering. That is how he became our Sin Bearer.

The interaction between the Father and the Son on the cross illustrates how God brings an end to sin. Christ felt the despair and agony that the unrepentant sinners will feel when they irrevocably harden their hearts against God's mercy. On the cross, Christ felt the same destructive anguish and guilt that sinners resurrected in the second resurrection will feel when they face their life's record in contrast with the record of Christ's life and death.

Christ asserts that which you sow you will also reap. God's justice is like the cycle of the seasons. Rain falls, enters the river, flows to the ocean, evaporates, and forms clouds, and falls as rain again. What goes around, comes around. Be sure your sins will find you out. The wages of sin is death. Sin is more destructive than most realize. But familiarity breeds contempt. As humans, we have gotten used to, familiar with sin. We deceive ourselves supposing that sin is not really that bad. It is that bad. In fact, it's even worse. Sin is horrendously self-destructive. If God the Father hadn't stepped in to shield Lucifer and his angels from the natural consequences of sin, they would have self-destructed long ago. After the sabbath millennium of rest, the wicked angels and unbelieving humans will experience the full destructive power of sin.

God will perform this strange act by allowing his beloved children to step beyond his shielding love and experience the natural results of their determined, rebellious, and self-destructive course of sin. They will reap what they have sown. They have rejected the law of life. The lost have formed habits, thought patterns, feelings, and actions that have resulted in a character that cannot survive. They have chosen the law of sin and death. God visits his wrath on rebels by allowing each lost angel and person to judge himself.

God is loving and wise. From the depths of eternity he saw the natural consequences of rebellion against his law of life. Christ on the cross of Calvary shows us the root cause and the horrible end results of the malignant cancer of sin. At the same time he provides and shows us how to apply the only cure for the plague of sin. Only when we rest on God's love as Christ did, can our Father rescue us from sin and death.

The wrath of God, his law, and justice must be studied in the beautiful light that streams from the cross of Calvary. If there is any apparent contradiction, discrepancy, or tension between the cross of Calvary and our understanding of any idea, doctrine or teaching, principle or story in the Old or New Testament, we must change our understanding of these until there is perfect harmony between them and the truth of the love of God as displayed by Jesus on the cross.

God has not destroyed Satan and his sympathizers. God does not destroy, compel, nor coerce anyone. The continued existence of sin for six thousand years is strong evidence for God's patience, mercy, wisdom, and hatred of force and coercion. Force is contrary to, and in fact, the opposite of, his glorious character of love. God has written, with his own finger, on stone tablets, the foundation principles of his government and his glorious character of love. The life and death of Christ exemplified, honored, and expanded our understanding of the Ten Commandments. His throne, his authority rest upon our understanding of his goodness, mercy, and love. The demonstration of these principles is God's mighty weapon, his sword of truth. God's unselfish love is the very foundation of his throne.

 


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