It happens all the time. We hear something on the news that is shocking. Then we hear it again. And again. Three weeks later the same event that initially shocked us makes us roll our eyes and say “This, again?” Whether it be the Gosnell murders or news of the 336 million abortions in China since 1971, eventually it all fades. It becomes normalized, though it shouldn’t. We become inoculated and desensitized, though we shouldn’t. As tragic as this is, I fear that something worse happens when we lose sight of the awe and wonder of the gospel. When we lose sight of Good News.
Most of us remember a day where we felt the weight of our sin, even those of us who grew up in church. We can look back and see ourselves literally doubled over and crying because we just can’t bear it. Even more so, because we can’t understand why a righteous and holy God would love a person so wrecked by and infected with sin. It is then that we truly see how scandalous the gospel is. Because God didn’t do what was fair. Was He unjust? No. But fair would have us all spending eternity in hell for our sin, for our willful participation in cosmic treason against King Jesus. But for some baffling reason, He chose to extend grace and show mercy to His betrayers.
He was mocked, beaten, tortured, and whipped. He died the most agonizing death possible, asking His Father to forgive His murderers even as He choked on His own blood as He gasped for air, tearing the flesh of His hands and feet where the nails held Him to the cross as he pushed down on those spikes to lift His body just enough to take a breath.
John Piper is right when he points out that there are many reasons Jesus came to die, but one that we can’t ignore, and that may even connect all the others together, is that He died instead of His enemies. He died in the place of His betrayers. The Theological term for this is Penal Substitutionary Atonement. All that means is that Christ substituted Himself on the cross to take the punishment we deserve for our sins, thereby cancelling any record of debt that stood against us. He lived a life we could never life, died the death we deserve, and rose again so we could live in Him.
The most scandalous event in the whole of creation and in all of time and space, and it becomes old news. We hear it so much that it stops breaking our hearts. It stops making us weep.
Eventually it becomes this happy message about how much God loves us, which is true, and not enough about how holy, righteous, and perfect He is. It becomes a message about how we’re all ok now that we have been justified, but it’s rare that we really point out how desperately we need the gospel to save us from our sin right now as Christians.
When people do point this out, we throw out verses about not being condemned and that we shouldn’t judge each other, ignoring the context of those verses. We push back because we don’t want to change, we don’t want to see our sin, and we don’t want to see the scandal of the gospel afresh and be driven to tears. We want to stay happy and pursue the American dream.
We don’t want conviction; we want comfort. We don’t want to be made holy or set apart; we want to have enough Jesus to save us without being inconvenienced. We shrink back at the thought of being seen as politically incorrect or intolerant; but Christ called us to stand boldly, full of grace and truth. We cower from persecution, even if it is only perceived persecution; but when Christ calls us unto Himself, He bids us “come and die.” In the end, we don’t want Jesus, at least not completely. We want our idols, too.
And that is what makes this gospel of grace so scandalous. God knows this. He knows the wickedness and selfishness and idolatry that plague the human heart, even the redeemed human heart. Yet He still chose the cross. He chose to love a faithless people, and to be both the initiator of this new covenantal relationship as well as the One who brings about its completion, because He knew we could never do either.
And this shocking news becomes normal. That Hosea would pursue Gomer becomes commonplace. That Christ would pursue a faithless, wandering Bride becomes normal. The sad thing is that when the gospel becomes normalized we miss both the weight of God’s glory and the beauty of His love.
God, break our hearts again. Show us the splendor of your glory and the majesty of your love again. Awaken us to your beauty and grace. Take our affections off our idols and replace them with a greater affection for You.