When we began looking at the theme of God’s grace, I said we would consider three sons. We have looked at two sons in the parable of Luke 15. There is one more to consider – the one who is telling the story.
God is gracious. But God is not some feeble, indulgent father. God will be God. I guess you’ve all know father who indulge their children. A few screams, a bit of a tantrum, and Dad gives in. Or often it’s those daughters – a few sobs – and Mum despairs as Dad is manipulated once again. Well, you can’t manipulate God. All power and all authority belong to him. If people go on rejecting him then he will judge them and he will judge for all eternity.
That is where the third son comes in. God sent his only Son to make it possible for us to come back to God. We can come back to God just like the son in the story. God is ready to embrace us. But we can only come to God through Jesus.
God’s grace is not built on a fiction – the fiction that our rebellion and evil don’t really matter. No, they are built on a cross, an act of judgment. God is gracious because he himself took the punishment of our sin. He paid the price in full. Just before Jesus breathed his last breath as he hung on the cross, he cried out ‘It is finished’.
It had gone on for three years. Three years of patiently teaching, but people not understanding. Three years of doing good, and getting flack in return. Three years of opposition and hostility. Three years with no place to call home. He wanted to say: ‘I quit, I don’t need to do this, I’m out of here.’ But instead he said: ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ A few hours later he hung on a cross: nails cutting into his hands and feet, struggling for air, crowds mocking, spitting at him, splinters of wood biting into the open wounds on his back. He wanted to say: ‘I quit.’ He wanted to come down. But instead he said: ‘Father, forgive them.’ Instead he stayed on the cross until he could say: ‘It is finished.’
Is the death of Christ enough for you? Or do you think you have to finish off what Christ left undone? In the temple the work of atonement was never done. ‘Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.’ But Jesus ‘offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God’ (Hebrews 10:11–12). Jesus has sat down. He has done all that is required. So we can sit down as well. We don’t have to be up and about trying to make atonement. Bruce Milne says: ‘The Christian is called to affirm the completeness and sufficiency of [Christ’s] sacrifice by trusting in it constantly and by exhibiting the peace and confidence which are the fruit of such a trust. Our often strained and frenetic forms of Christian life are witness to how much we need to affirm again with Jesus, “It is accomplished!” It is finished!’