Nothing less than saving compassion. The love story of the cross.
Have you ever heard someone call a gift ‘free’ and wondered why they spoke of it that way? Really, aren’t all gifts free? Isn’t that the point?
At Easter we are confronted with the idea that we should accept two truths that sometimes feel equally strange to consider. One, we should accept that we are not the people we are meant to be. And two, Jesus Christ died for us, to make it possible to find the power to live close to God and more like the kind of people he wants us to be.
In my years as a Christian, one of the common reasons I’ve heard given for why people struggle to accept Jesus Christ is an aversion to the idea we are sinful. I’ve heard people say that it makes them feel less significant. The whole Christian faith is bound up with an understanding of forgiveness and grace. This is never earned and is always a gift that God gives to us.
As with many perplexing questions, I find the best place, as a Christian, to uncover an answer is in the Bible. Ephesians 2:8 makes it clear, it’s all about grace – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”. But, as sometimes tends to happen, people take hold of ideas and give them their own meaning. In the case of ‘free’, ‘no cost’ as it’s commonly understood, does not mean ‘no response’.
The love of God
There are many references to free, freedom or freewill in the Bible, but perhaps these three verses help most to understand what God means when it comes to the notion:
Matthew 10:8 says “Freely you have received; freely give.”
John 8:36 “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed”.
Romans 6:18 says “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”
To discover what the freedom that God brings to us means, we relate it to the love of God.
The fullest understanding of what grace means is caught up in our understanding of Easter. I see it every day when I meet people who feel that their lives count for nothing and that no matter how hard they try they feel failures. The grace of God made clear through the love of God is demonstrated as Jesus Christ dies for us and then in the power of resurrection we feel new and different people. When the Risen Christ spoke to Mary in the garden and he called her by name, she was immediately responsive to him because her name is what gave her dignity and purpose and Jesus identified with her in the deepest way possible.
At Wesley Mission I’m very conscious of the ‘Good News’ which reaches people at the parameters of life, many of whom feel ignored and rejected. When I talk about Easter I discover that in so many ways God is active in reaching out in forgiveness and love. One of his final words from the cross was to a criminal who acknowledged his own need of salvation and purpose. Nobody could be a better example of one who had nothing of his own to offer yet Jesus said to him “Today you will be with me in paradise”.
In the community that I lead here at Wesley Mission, we seek to understand God’s love and grace in terms of Word and deed. Another way of putting it is, if God loved first, our natural response is to love in return – not just Jesus Christ, but each other.
Then as opposed to feeling ‘less than’, knowing we are inclined to go our own way instead of God’s, we are loved in spite of the way we see ourselves and the actions that too easily define us. And this is the love story of the cross. It’s real love, not because we are perfectly loveable, but because we’re not. We are that valuable to God. And through the power of Easter Day we are set free to love the world.
This is the lesser told version of events at Easter. All that’s required of each and every person to receive this free gift is a willingness to be open to compassionate love. God who has moved heaven and earth to demonstrate this compassionate love offers it to every one of us. That means you, whoever you are.