God put human salvation ahead of the security of his own Son

Father John A. Kiley

Although St. Peter made himself scarce during the hours of Christ’s passion and death, he soon became keenly and sadly aware of the humiliation and suffering that Jesus experienced during his final hours. In the days after Pentecost, St. Peter scolds in no uncertain terms the crowd who had just witnessed the cure of a crippled beggar at the entrance to the Temple. The apostle shakes an angry fist at the assembled throng and reproaches them for their disregard of Christ: “…you handed over and denied him in Pilate’s presence when he had decided to release him. You denied the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. The author of life you put to death…(Acts 3:14-15).”
Jesus himself during his intimate conversations with the apostles after his resurrection would further make clear that the Messiah’s suffering and death, as horrible as they were, were integral to God’s plan of salvation: “And he said to them, “Thus it is written that the Christ would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Jn24:48).
So, St. Peter unhappily learned what Jesus always recognized, that suffering and death were integral to God the Father’s plan for the redemption and salvation of sinful mankind. The apostle concludes his chastisement of the crowds: “God has thus brought to fulfillment what he had announced beforehand through the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer” (Acts 3:19). Good Friday was no accident; Calvary was all part of God’s plan. Much later on, a letter from St. John would convey the same lesson, that Christ’s wretched passion and miserable death were the price paid for the healing and justification of all mankind: “He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world” (1Jn2:3).
Every sincere believer is happily mindful that God is a vigilant Father, alert to all creation. Jesus himself testifies, “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted” (Mt.10:29). So if God holds a tender spot in his heart for the birds of the air, why would ever plan that his own Divine Son should experience the humiliation of rejection by his own people, the agony of torture at pagan hands, and the disgrace of burial in a borrowed grave? Saints and scholars have pondered the enigma of Golgotha for over two thousand years. Their conclusion is twofold: The cruel death of Jesus Christ reveals God’s horror of sin and God’s love for humankind.
Today’s society can justly boast its attention to the environment, its advances in medicine, its marvels at communication and the broader inter-action of world societies. Yet abortion is legally protected and often encouraged. Traditional marriage and sexuality have been twisted beyond recognition. Drug misuse and gun violence plague all communities. Public entertainment is often lewd and pornography is a click away. Corruption among the mighty and exploitation of the lowly continues. God’s disgust with such perversity today and like evils of former days is so intense that only the miserable death of his innocent son is dramatic enough to call humanity to account. The unjust and unspeakable demise of the innocent Jesus Christ could alone deliver the depth of God’s abhorrence with humanity’s sinful ways.
Alas, today’s society, having long ago lost its sense of sin, delights in decadence and, having severed its Christian roots, is no longer sickened by the wickedness of sin nor even by the death of Christ the Redeemer. Yet there happily is another side to this story. The death of Christ indeed dramatically underlines the repugnance God the Father has for all sin. Only the public execution of his own Son comes near displaying God’s disgust with human evil. Yet the final sufferings and public execution of Jesus Christ also shows to what lengths God the Father will go to illustrate his love for even the worst sinner. If it would take Christ’s wretched death to touch the heart of the world’s sinners, then God the Father would be willing to take that chance. On Calvary, God the Father put the salvation of human offenders ahead of the dignity and security of his own Son. Well does St. John’s first letter teach: “He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world” (1Jn2:3). Indeed, the extent of the Father’s love for mankind could not be more graphic and, all being well, more persuasive.