(continued…) Genesis 6:5-6: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time, and the Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” Already, a mere five chapters after the story of the creation of the world, God was suffering over his creation. So God decided to end it all with a flood, but, the story goes on to say, ‘Noah had found favor with the Lord.’ So God decided to try again. But again, it was a disappointment, as God’s children continued to sin and turn away from God and hurt each other. And like any earthly parent, God grieved over the suffering of his children.
In Hosea chapter 11 we are told that God’s anger was again aroused: “My people are determined to turn away from me, and I am ready to put an end to all their plans.” But then God said, “How can I do that? How can I give them up? My heart is changed within me and my compassion is aroused.” And so God decided that he will not carry out his fierce anger against them, but would let them survive. But God would continue to suffer on account of them. And to illustrate his suffering love, God told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute and to love her and to stay with her no matter what. Hosea did marry the prostitute and she continued to do what prostitutes do. Nevertheless, Hosea remained faithful to her, and as you can imagine, he suffered on account of her unfaithfulness. She abandoned her family, wrecked her life, and ended up as a slave. Even then Hosea was faithful, and he bought her from the slave market and took her home. Again she left. It was an ongoing soap opera and public scandal for that man whom God had called to be a preacher. Hosea’s suffering love in the face of his wife’s unfaithfulness became a living illustration of God’s suffering love in the face of his people’s unfaithfulness.
Perhaps you know how painful it is to watch someone you love ruin their life with reckless behavior as they reject your love and concern. The verses from Hosea and Genesis are just two of many from the Old Testament, and the same theme carries on into the New Testament. In Matthew 23:37 Jesus said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who God sends to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks, but you were not willing.”
What does all this have to do with Jesus on the cross? Jesus was the eternal Son of God who had come to earth as a person. He, with the Father in heaven, had suffered through all the centuries of man’s disobedience and rebellion. When he suffered and died for us on the cross, those physical sufferings were simply making visible and clear the pain and anguish that had always been going on in the heart of God since he first created Adam and Eve. Yes, that anguish of body and those physical wounds on Good Friday were only for a day for Jesus, but they bore witness to a suffering in the heart of God that continues to this day. What does it mean that Jesus died on the cross for our sins? It means that he carried our sorrows, says Isaiah 53:4.
Every once in a while we see on the news the story of yet another college student who died after a night of drinking. We see on the television the anguish of the parents who lost a son or a daughter for whom they had such high hopes. ‘He was so talented,’ they say, ‘so gifted;’ or, ‘she had such a bright future ahead of her.’ They probably had reason to worry even before their child’s death, perhaps already having had dozens of sleepless nights, or even years of anguish. The child was out having fun. The parents were carrying the sorrows that he or she had caused. They were suffering over the loss of the child’s potential and future. The child did not even know enough yet to know what they were throwing away. This is the story of many parents and their children, and so it is when we disobey God. God does forgive our sins, but not without carrying our sorrow in his own heart.
The priest in the story I began with was right about only one aspect of his suffering. He had suffered more days of physical pain that Jesus; but he had not, like Jesus, suffered in his heart for thousands of years over the sin and sufferings of billions of his children.
The cross shows us what has always been going on in the heart of God.
Rembrandt’s Raising of the Cross 1633
Rembrandt painted himself in the center of the painting (with beret) illustrating that he, like all sinners, was responsible for Christ’s suffering and death.
Hosea 1:2-3 — When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness, because the land is guilty of the vilest adultery in departing from the Lord.” So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.
Hosea 3:1-5 — The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another and is an adulteress. Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods…” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver… Then I told her, “You are to live with me many days; you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man, and I will live with you.” For the Israelites will live many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred stones, without ephod or idol. Afterward the Israelites will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king. They will come trembling to the Lord and to his blessings in the last days.
Hosea 11:8-9 — (God said), “How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel?… My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. “
Isaiah 53:4a — Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…
Dear God, you have overwhelmed me with many adversities and have enabled me to clearly see your wrath. But cease now in afflicting me, O Lord, for you have troubled me enough, and have sufficiently pressed, burdened and humiliated me. Graciously turn to me again in mercy, and show me how gentle you are, so that you may bring comfort to my troubled heart. Amen. –Martin Luther