“But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
We love stories of noble sacrifice. A mother running into a burning building to save her infant child. A few brave soldiers staging a futile rearguard action to buy time for escaping women and children. A secret service agent leaping in front of the President to save a life. These actions exhort us to greater deeds of noble sacrifice ourselves.
That’s not what we’re singing of today. Sacrifical deeds for the innocent, the important, the worthy, the valuable. We’re way beyond that kind of charitable activity. We’re into the unknown, the incredible, the indescribable, the incomprehensible.
We’re in the realm of a story like this: a murderer who tortures and abuses, caught and bound to a chair, about to receive the lethal injection that will finally bring even a modicum of justice—and tremulous voice carries through: “Wait! Kill me instead!” And the command is from the lips of one of his bleeding, barely living victims. Not noble, in our eyes. Pathological, maybe. Pathetic.
Pathetic because there is nothing noble about the murderer. No smidge of repentant humility. No remorse. No turning over a new leaf. No hope that the criminal will become a better member of society through his reformed behavior. If you killed the victim and let the murderer free, he goes and murders some more. This just seems wrong.
Jesus died. And Paul still zealously rejected Christianity. Paul even progressed into persecution—murder?—of those who believed in this Messiah.
Until our eyes, like Paul’s, are opened to the incredible depth of how sinful we are, and how Christ died for us while we were sinners, our Christianity will be of a noble, understandable, wonderful sacrifice.
When our eyes are opened, we see it is more. We cry out, with this song, “How can it be, you first loved me?” How can it be that Jesus died for those who continued to sin, that love reached out for the unlovely? Rejected, despised by the very ones who needed him most.
When you come to your end, when your bridges are burned, when you sit in the wreckage of what your very best efforts result in, you are ready for this love. Almighty Love. The upside-down, incomprehensible, radical love of God in Jesus Christ. May the gospel continue to breathe life into your every breath in the wonder of our indescribable Savior.