From the Vault: A Father's Day Sermon

Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there.  Here's the transcript from a Father's Day sermon I gave four years ago.


Sermon Transcript: The Story of the Loving Father Who Bruised, Condemned, and Abandoned His Perfect Son (And Why This is Good News for Us All)

Who killed Jesus? Who killed Jesus?

This provocative question was much discussed a few years back, when Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” was released. The movie, which is a brutally realistic portrayal of Jesus’ last days on earth, was controversial at the time because it portrayed the Jewish people as a bloodthirsty mob dead-set on executing Jesus, thus resurrecting old accusations that the Jews were responsible for the death of the Savior and Lord of the Christian religion.

Much of that debate was unnecessarily confrontational. But the original question – who killed Jesus – is a fair one to ask. So I ask you: who killed Jesus?

Do the Jewish masses bear responsibility for giving their once-popular itinerant rabbi up to be condemned? When given the chance to spare Jesus from death, they instead asked for the release of a revolutionary murder, Barabbas. What their reasons were, I cannot say I totally know: was it mob mentality, disappointment that this alleged savior wasn't taking on their Roman oppressors, or religious fervor that a mere man would claim to be divine? They played their part in ramrodding Jesus through a dubious legal proceeding.

What about Pontius Pilate? That Jesus claimed to be King of the Jews and Son of God didn't evoke any feelings in him; he seemed quite puzzled about why the Jews were all in a froth about this plain-looking carpenter. But he had his chances to do right, and instead protected his reputation (and perhaps his personal safety) by doing as the feverish mob desired.

What about the Roman soldiers who carried out this gruesome form of capital punishment? They were the ones who nailed Jesus to the cross and lifted Him up to die a very public and humiliating death. They seemed to relish the ease by which they were bullying around this alleged man of miracles. Surely they played a significant role in the death of Jesus.

People who are familiar with the gospel message will say that we all are at fault. Everyone knows that Jesus died for the sins of the world, so it was really our sins that sent Jesus to the cross. Do we in our sinfulness have Jesus' blood on our hands?

So who killed Jesus? Was it the Jews? Pontius Pilate? The Roman soldiers? Sinful humanity? All of the above? I know the answer to this question. Who killed Jesus? God did. God did. And it pleased Him.

This is the story of the loving Father who bruised, condemned, and abandoned His perfect Son, and who did it with pleasure. And it is a story that is good news – the best news – for us all.

In order to understand anything about the Christian faith, about the Christian narrative, about the Christian journey, it is necessary to sit for a minute in two great tensions.

First, God delights in His Son. And yet He takes pleasure in crushing Him and putting Him to grief.

Second, God is perfectly holy, holiness cannot co-exist with sin, and we are as a human race utterly sinful. And yet God is for us, loves us, chases us down with His goodness and mercy.

We will resolve these two tensions soon. But I want you to sit with me for a minute in these two tensions.

First, God delights in His Son, and yet He takes pleasure in crushing Him and putting Him to grief.

God delights in His Son because He sees in His Son the perfect reflection of His own perfection. Consider that when we look at our own children and see them excel in ways we once excelled, it fills us with pride and joy and happiness. How much more does God delight in His perfect Son.

Actually, three ways more. The Son is far more like the Father than our children are like ourselves. The Father is a far greater being to emulate than we are. And the areas in which the Son reflects the Father are far more worthy of taking pride in. So if our hearts swell with pleasure when we see our own children reflecting our good traits, how much more does the perfect Father delight in the perfect Son.

And yet. And yet, the relationship between the perfect Father and the perfect Son contains an episode in which the Father takes pleasure in crushing His Son and putting Him to grief. [Read Isaiah 53:10.]

Not only does this divine relationship contain this shocking episode, but it is a defining episode in the relationship. It is not subsidiary to the more important parts of the relationship, not secondary to other more crucial roles the Father and the Son play. No, it is at the core of what the Father and the Son are all about.

If you did not grow up in the church or were not inoculated by the general knowledge of the Christian faith in modern American society, you might find Christianity very, very odd, for it speaks of a perfect Father who delights in His perfect Son because that perfect Son reflects Himself perfectly, and yet that perfect Father also delights in bruising that perfect Son, bruising Him and condemning Him and abandoning Him. How does this make sense? There is tension here.

Second, God is perfectly holy, holiness cannot co-exist with sin, we are as a human race utterly sinful, and yet God is for us, loves us, chases us down with His goodness and mercy.

This one takes a little bit more explanation to get into, because we have become so casual about sin that the dissonance of God’s holiness and our sinfulness doesn’t have the same bite as it once did. But mark my words, if you came face to face with the Almighty, I don’t care how moral or upstanding or compassionate you are, you will come undone in the recognition of your sinfulness in the presence of perfect holiness.

Over and over again, we see in the Bible people having divine encounters and coming undone as they realize how incompatible their depravity is in the midst of such holiness. Recall Isaiah seeing the angels worshipping God and crying out, “woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” Or remember when Peter, the fisherman, goes fishing with Jesus, and Jesus helps him catch a huge catch of fish, and Peter realizes he is in the presence of more than just a really insightful teacher, he is in the presence of the divine, and he cries out in response, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”

Our sinfulness is completely incompatible with God’s holiness. He cannot stand for our depravity, and we cannot stand In His holy presence.

And yet, it is the same sinful mankind that God says He loves with an everlasting love. It is the same wandering and defiant sheep for whom God says He will chase us down with His mercy and His everlasting love. How is this possible? How can a holy God love a sinful people? There is tension here.

And so here we are, sitting and perhaps squirming as we consider these two great unresolved tensions. God delights in His Son, and yet He takes pleasure in crushing Him and putting Him to grief. God is perfectly holy, holiness cannot co-exist with sin, we are as a human race utterly sinful, and yet God is for us, loves us, chases us down with His goodness and mercy.

The redemption story is like a gripping movie in which you are literally hurting to get to the end so that everything that is awry can get tied up neatly. Or a great symphony with two themes, grand but dissonant, just begging for resolution in the end. How does this all get resolved? How can this all get resolved?

The resolution is the loving Father bruising, condemning, and abandoning His perfect Son, and taking pleasure in it.

I think I speak for all parents when I say that if I had to take a child of mine and bruise, condemn, and abandon him, I would reply, “Which child are we talking about?”

Seriously though, think of how gut-wrenching this is. The Father harms the Son. [Read Isaiah 52:14.] This is hard enough. But then the Father condemns the Son. [Read Isaiah 53:4.] This would hurt me even more. And finally, the Father abandons the Son. [Read Isaiah 53:8.] This I could not do.

Why? How? Why would the Father do this to the Son He loves? And how could He take pleasure in it?

This is the climax of the redemption story. Consider what the Son is going through in this most explosive moment. He has faithfully and perfectly submitted His living to His Father, and now He is faithfully and perfectly submitting His dying to His Father.

But wait, it is even more terrible than that. Martyrs for the Christian faith have been observed experiencing the most otherworldly peace and happiness on the very brink of death. While they are suffering the ultimate loss, and have perhaps suffered great bodily and emotional harm in the run-up, they are comforted by the presence of God and the promise of seeing Him face to face very soon.

Not with the Son at the climax of the redemption story. For part of His journey is not only to suffer according to the Father’s will, and to die according to the Father’s will, but to be abandoned by the Father in the very moment of maximum anguish.

On the cross, Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” How lonely an end to a life lived in full submission to His Heavenly Father, to be bruised, condemned, and abandoned by that same Father.

The Son, once so popular He could hardly have a private moment, is now all alone. His closest friends have renounced Him, His rabid followers have forsaken Him. [Read Isaiah 53:3.] The sun has set by noon, so even light has deserted Him. And, as He hangs on that cross, His life is leaving Him.

But the hardest abandonment of them all is the abandonment of His loving Father. “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

Why indeed? Why does the loving Father, who glories in His perfect Son, bruise and condemn and abandon that very Son? And why does He take pleasure in it?

This is the climax of the redemption story. This is the resolution of those two great tensions I spoke of earlier. God is not uncaring of His Son, and He is not uncaring of the offensivness of our sin and the judgment our sin warrants. He does not compromise, and He is not painted into corner. Rather, He has made a glorious way to reconcile these two great tensions, and so God is glorified, and this brings Him great delight.

The message of the cross, of a perfect Son being bruised, condemned, and abandoned to redeem sinful man, brings pleasure to God because it simultaneously upholds three things that are supremely important to Him.

First, it upholds His glory by punishing sin commensurate to the punishment that it warrants. [Read Isaiah 53:5-6.]

Second, it upholds His delight in His Son, because by this great transaction – the perfect Son submitting to death, even to death on a cross, in order to redeem sinful and imperfect men and women – the Son assumes His rightful place in glory, that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord, to the glory (and might I add, delight) of God the Father. The bruising, condemning, and abandoning of the perfect Son by the loving Father? That is temporary. The glory that it results in? That is permanent. [Read Isaiah 52:13.]

Third, it upholds God’s great love for us without compromising His glory and holiness. [Read Isaiah 53:11-12.] Where we could not make a way back to God, He has made a way for us. And He did it not because He was boxed in, not because He softened up, not because He was convinced otherwise.

He did it in love and for pleasure. This is profoundly good news for us: the loving Father delights in the bruising, condemning, and abandoning of His perfect Son not only because it upholds the Father’s glory and holiness, not only because it honors and exalts the perfect Son, but because the Father loves us, and so the climax of the redemption story brings Him pleasure because He has made a glorious way to bring us back into right relationship with Him.

I do not claim to know why this is. It is not because we are inherently lovely; our depravity, in light of God’s holiness, eliminates that as a reason. It is not because God is somehow insecure or lonely or needy. He is perfectly satisfied in Himself and in the perfect image that His Son represents.

I do not know why God loves us. But I do know that He does. And the proof is the pleasure He takes in bruising, condemning, and abandoning His perfect Son.

God loves us. And He does with a ferocity, a tenderness, a longsuffering, a chasing down that, well, how can we not be overcome, cleansed, transformed by such a love?

In his book, “Pleasures of God: Meditations on God’s Delight in Being God,” which has been a foundational book for my spiritual journey and a repeated influence on today’s sermon, John Piper talks about the parable of the Prodigal Son, in which the son who shamed his father and left home returns, and the father, seeing his son return from afar, races out to greet him. This is what Piper writes. [Read excerpt from Piper book.]

Today is Father’s Day. It is a day we celebrate fathers. Across the country, we seek to honor and edify our fathers in a special way. We may even take a moment to contemplate fatherhood at a deeper level: our own fathering of our own kids, and our own fathers and their role in our lives. All well and good.

But I am here to tell you that every day is Father’s Day, in the sense that every day is a day in which our Heavenly Father loves you. He is perfectly holy and you are not. But He has done something so glorious that it brings Him great pleasure. He has bruised, condemned, and abandoned His perfect Son, to redeem you to Himself and into relationship with Him.

The Son in whom He delights was pierced and crushed, the iniquity of us all placed upon Him, such that at the moment of greatest anguish and sorrow, instead of divine comfort and fervent hope, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”

That perfect Son is now seated in glory. The two great tensions of the redemption story have been marvelously resolved. God delights in His Son, and yet He takes pleasure in crushing Him and putting Him to grief. God is perfectly holy, holiness cannot coexist with sin, and we are as a human race utterly sinful, and yet God is for us, loves us, chases us down with His goodness and mercy.

The bruising, condemning, and abandoning of the perfect Son by the loving Father has made this all possible. The tensions are resolved, and the loving Father is unimaginably delighted. His holiness is upheld, His Son is rightly honored, and His people, who He loves enough to chase down, have been successfully and irreversibly redeemed.

All that is left is for us to accept, to bask in such a love, and to multiply our delight and God’s by playing our role in telling others of such a loving Father. Amen.
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