You’re in a conversation and someone says “Why would God punish Jesus for what I did? It’s barbaric and abusive for God to require a blood sacrifice from his own son for sins Jesus didn’t even commit. It sounds like cosmic child abuse.”
What would you say?
Imagine your house was burglarized and after catching the thief and obtaining a confession, the authorities deliver him to a magistrate. On the day of sentencing, as the guilty man awaits his deserved fate, the judge unexpectedly summons one of your innocent neighbors and sentences them to jail to serve the penalty that the thief deserved. Would it be fair to punish one man for the crimes of another? If it’s not, how can we call God loving and just if he punished his son Jesus for our sins?
To many, this sounds entirely unfair and they’re right. While they’re absolutely correct about the cruel injustice Jesus suffered on the cross, they’re mistaken about the identity of Jesus, the nature of his sacrifice, and the love of God. The next time someone says the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross sounds like cosmic child abuse, here are three things to remember.
Number one. Jesus was not a mere human. While it would be unfair to punish one man for the crimes of another, Jesus was not a mere man. Instead the New Testament gospels and letters describe Jesus as God incarnate. Jesus repeatedly identified himself as God, even calling himself “I am”, the name God used when identifying himself to Moses in the Old Testament. Jesus also spoke and taught with the authority of God and demonstrated his divine power to create, forgive, judge and grant eternal life. That’s why Paul described Jesus as the image of the invisible God “for by him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities, all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16) Jesus even demonstrated he was God by rising from the grave and ascending into heaven. While Jesus raised other humans from death, like the widow’s son, Jjairus’ daughter and Lazarus, these humans eventually died again. Only Jesus rose from the grave and ascended into heaven, never to die again. His resurrection and ascension demonstrate he is more than a mere human.
God, according to Christianity, is triune in nature – one being and three persons: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This truth is important because it’s impossible to understand what Jesus did for us on the cross if we mistake Jesus for a mere man.
Number two. Jesus went to the cross voluntarily. God did not force Jesus to suffer the penalty for other humans. Instead, Jesus voluntarily took the form of a human and chose the path of the cross. Paul wrote that Jesus “emptied himself, taking the form of a bond servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:7-8) Jesus, as a member of the triune Godhead, voluntarily submitted to the divine plan to rescue us. God did not inflict this plan on Jesus. Instead, all three members of the Godhead acted in perfect unison to accomplish for us what we could not accomplish for ourselves. As Paul puts it “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” (2 Cor 5:19) God knew what he was doing when he took the form of a bond servant and reconciled the world to himself. This was not an act of cruelty; it was an act of love motivated by mercy and grounded in grace.
Number three. The sacrifice of Jesus is not an act of abuse but a gift of God. When Jesus submitted to the cross, he displayed God’s concern and compassion for us. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom 5:8) God was not acting abusively toward Jesus; he was acting lovingly toward us.
Let’s return to that courtroom where the thief who burglarized your home is about to be sentenced. This time the judge, rather than summoning your innocent neighbor, steps down from the bench and approaches the burglar. He tells the thief that he, the judge, will serve the penalty the thief deserves. Then he hugs the pardoned man and tells him he is free to go. This version of the sentencing hearing sounds even crazier than the first but it’s not crazy because it’s unfair, it’s crazy because from the thief’s perspective, it’s too good to be true. That, my friends, is what God did for us on the cross. Our situation is much like that of the thief. We’re fallen human creatures standing before a perfect, holy creator. We have repeatedly broken the moral law in one way or the other, in small missteps or in broader leaps. We deserve to be punished for our crimes but our judge, the creator of the universe, is willing to step down from the bench in the form of a bond servant to pardon us, taking the punishment we deserve on himself. That’s not an example of cosmic child abuse; it’s a gracious gift from God.
So the next time someone says the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross sounds like cosmic child abuse, remember these three things. Number one: Jesus was not a mere human. Number two: Jesus went to the cross voluntarily. And number three: the sacrifice of Jesus is not an act of abuse but a gift of God.