By David Feddes
Joshua Lord was a great man with a rotten son. Mr. Lord was brilliant and ran a successful business. He was honest, kind, and generous to others. He was also a fine father: fair and firm, gentle and warm. But there came a time when, for no apparent reason, his son Adam turned against him. Adam stopped listening to him. He despised everything his father stood for. He wanted no part of the Lord family’s lovely home and prosperous business. The more his father tried to connect with him, the more Adam resented it. Eventually Adam ran away from home.
Adam set out to be his own person and do whatever he wanted. He left behind his old identity, dropped his family name, and went by various made-up names to make it harder for anyone to track him down. He got into the wild life and drank himself drunk at party after party. Then he started using harder drugs. Soon he was peddling dope. His drug use was dangerous, and so were the gangsters he was dealing with. If he didn’t die of an overdose, he was likely to die of a bullet. But Adam plunged ahead anyway, shutting his eyes to the destruction ahead.
Meanwhile, his father knew what was happening. Joshua Lord cared about Adam too much to forget about him. He had ways of finding out where Adam was and what he was doing. He even arranged for a few of Adam’s old friends from better days to contact him and try to reason with him, but it did no good. Adam wanted no part of his former life.
Then came the day of reckoning. Adam’s drug habit got so bad that he started stealing from the supply he was supposed to be selling to others. He also started skimming some of the money that was supposed to go to his gangster boss. Adam thought nobody would notice—but he thought wrong. The boss found out and set out to find Adam and kill him. When Adam caught wind of this, he went into a panic. He fled to an abandoned building and tried to cope with his terror by stuffing himself with even more drugs.
His father found out about all this and decided to take action himself. Joshua Lord left his lovely, secure neighborhood and made his way down to the filthy place where Adam was holed up. When Joshua found his son, the sight was revolting, and the smell was even worse. Adam hadn’t showered or changed his clothes for over a week, and that wasn’t the worst of it. He had passed out from too much booze and drugs and was lying unconscious on the floor with his face in a pool of his own vomit.
His father felt horror and disgust at his son’s condition, but he also felt tremendous concern and compassion. He threw himself on the filthy floor next to his son, soiling his best suit. Adam wasn’t breathing. His face was blue. He was drowning in his vomit. Joshua rolled him over. Without hesitation he pinched his fingers on his son’s gooey nostrils and placed his lips over Adam’s foul-smelling, sloppy lips and began to give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, forcing his own life-giving breath into the listless lungs of his son. For a few moments nothing happened. Then Adam spluttered and took several breaths. The color began returning to his face.
As the young man gulped in more air, his father remained on the floor next to him, covered by now with his son’s filth. Just then the door burst open. There stood a man with a gun, ready to kill Adam. Just as the gunman fired, Joshua Lord threw himself between the killer and his son. The bullets meant for Adam slammed into his father. Joshua jerked from the impact and dropped to the floor, dying, blood gushing from his wounds. Then another shot sounded. This time, though, the killer fell. With his last ounce of life, the dying father had drawn his own gun and shot the one who was trying to destroy his son.
Adam was saved. Soon he began to regain consciousness. As his head cleared, he realized what a mess he was and how awful he smelled. He saw his murderous boss lying dead. Then he looked over and saw his father. He saw the vomit-smeared face and the blood spattered, bullet-riddled body. It began to sink in what his father had done to save him. Adam’s pride and resentment melted away, and it dawned on him how much his father loved him. For the first time since he could remember, Adam felt tears welling up in his eyes and love for his father welling up in his heart. Adam decided then and there to leave the drugs and gangs behind and to take his rightful place in the Lord family.
How do you react to this story? Let me guess: You are impressed by the father’s love for his son but disgusted by some of the details. Well, the details about Adam’s gross condition and Joshua’s gory death are indeed disgusting, but isn’t that exactly where we see the full extent of the father’s love? Adam’s condition was totally repugnant to his father, but he loved him so much that even the stinking, sickening situation Adam was in couldn’t keep Mr. Lord from embracing his vomit-covered son and giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. A painful, violent death was completely at odds with Mr. Lord’s desire for joy and life, but his love was so great that he chose to be blasted and bloodied and killed in order to save Adam.
This story is a parable, but it’s based on a true story that’s even more graphic and glorious: the story of God’s love in Jesus. Sometimes when we think of God and his love, we prefer to think of a general warm feeling God has toward us, without getting into any gory details. But God’s love is far more than just some sort of vague niceness.
In order to see the greatness of God’s love, we need to know at least two things. First, we need to realize how gross and revolting and repulsive our sin is to God: only then can we see how intense and astonishing is the love that moves him to stoop down and embrace and breathe life into us in spite of how much our sin disgusts him. Second, we need to see the horrible death that Jesus died in our place: only a love beyond imagination could move the Lord to be nailed to a cross and suffer a gruesome and gory death in order to save us. In Romans 5:8 the Bible says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” Those two facts–“we were sinners” and “Christ died”–display the greatness of God’s love: love so great it overcomes his disgust at our sickening sinfulness, love so great the Lord would rather die than live without us. There’s no greater love than God’s amazing love in Jesus Christ. To appreciate the greatness of God’s love, we need consider two things: the horrid condition of the people God chose to save and the high cost of what God did to save us.
In Romans 5 the Bible speaks of God’s love and says,
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us… when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son (Romans 5:6-10).
This Bible passage uses four words to describe our condition: “powerless,” “ungodly,” “sinners,” “enemies.” We’re as powerless to help ourselves as a junkie passed out on the floor. As we lie drowning in our sin, we’re even more disgusting to God and nearer to death than someone drowning in his own vomit. And we’re more at odds with God than the most rebellious runaway. That is our horrid condition in sin–but God has chosen to save sinners anyway. Why? Because his love is so great!
The Bible says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins… Like the rest we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:1-5). In Titus 3 the Bible again speaks of rebellious, hateful, addictive sinfulness and then says, “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4).
We don’t like to face the grim reality of sin. We’d rather think we’re not so bad. We may think we’re healthy and clean and attractive and “doing just fine, thank you.” At that point, we’re like a junkie lying unconscious, clothed in foul rags, smothering in his own filth, but having a happy hallucination as he lies there. If we are not conscious of our bad condition and picture ourselves as pretty good, we’re out of touch with reality. We are hallucinating. Once God breathes life into us and wakes us up, our minds become clear enough to see our horrid condition as sinners. How he must love us, to come near us even when we’re so disgusting! How he must love us, for Jesus to enter our situation and touch us and get our filth on himself!
It’s when we see the extreme unloveliness of our sin that we see the greatness of God’s love. It doesn’t take much love to associate with people who are decent, clean, and fun to be with, who have a lot to offer. But to help those have caused untold grief, to embrace those whose condition is revolting—that takes ultimate love.
Consider Michael Ross. He brutally raped and killed eight women. At last he was caught and convicted and sentenced to death. Sitting on death row, Michael Ross wrote:
I am one of the greatest of sinners. I have murdered eight women in the most horrible manner. I was consumed by an evil sickness that made me subhuman. And I believed that I was beyond redemption. How could I expect God to love me?
But God is love. And God does love me. I can’t say I fully understand why God loves someone such as I—one of the greatest of all sinners—but he does…
God got his hands dirty with me. I was covered with evil, as sinful as they come. I was filthy in the eyes of the Lord. I didn’t deserve his help. I didn’t deserve his love… Yet as filthy and repulsive as I was, God wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and reach down into that dark, dank pit of evil to give me, the greatest of sinners, a hand up to the light.
This convicted rapist and murderer believes God loves him. Does this mean God thinks rape and murder are no big deal? Of course not! God hates every kind of sin. He cared deeply about Michael Ross’s victims. He cared even more than their own families cared about them. The dreadful attacks on these women were attacks on God himself. God was more grieved and angered and disgusted by Michael’s crimes than even the saddest, angriest, most outraged humans who were affected by those crimes. And yet God’s love is so strong that he could save and embrace even Michael Ross.
God loves people, no matter how evil they are, but he doesn’t take evil lightly. How do we know that? Through the cross. God doesn’t just look at sin and say, “Oh well, that doesn’t really matter. Let’s just forget about it.” No, God’s justice must be satisfied. His outrage against sin must be dealt with. But rather than making us pay the price, God in his love decided to pay the price himself. The reason God can embrace people like Michael Ross and you and me is that he gave himself in the person of his Son Jesus to suffer hellish anguish and death as the proper penalty of our sins. Jesus died in our place.
That’s the second great measure of God’s love: the high cost of saving us, the enormous price the Lord paid to rescue us and bring us home to him. The Bible says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us” (1 John 3:16). In another place the Bible says, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10).
Jesus himself put it this way: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That’s the ultimate love one human being can have for another—laying down his life for a friend—and the love of the Lord is all that and more. It would take enormous love to willingly die for someone else, even if death came instantly and without much pain. But for Jesus, death was not instant or painless. Quite the opposite. He was beaten and spat upon and mocked and tortured for hours. His face was beaten black and blue. His back was bloodied by a whip. His hands and feet were pierced with spikes. His flesh and tendons, his nerves and muscles, endured excruciating strain and pain as he hung on the cross. His lungs heaved and gasped for lack of air. His throat and mouth burned for lack of water. And that still wasn’t the worst of it. Worse than all the physical torment, Jesus absorbed the horror of the entire universe as he suffered the hell our sins deserve.
If it would take great love to die a relatively painless death for an attractive, upright, good person, what can we say of the love that would die the most horrifying and agonizing death imaginable for people who were repulsive, warped, and sinful? Such love strains my brain and melts my heart.
What about you? Do you know God’s love? Have you received it by faith? Your greatest need is to be loved by God and to know that you are loved, loved even at your most unlovely, loved with a love more powerful than death. God’s love is not some vague, indefinite “whatever.” God demonstrates his love in this: While we were sinners, Christ died for us. So if you want to know God and his love, look to the cross of Christ. Believe that God loves you and that Jesus died for you. Admit your sin. Marvel at God’s love, love so great it stoops to touch and help you when you are most offensive and disgusting and useless, love so great it pays the ultimate price to give you eternal life.
And once you start trusting God’s love at the cross, keep on trusting his love. Rest assured: his love will never fail you. After all, if he set his love on you when you were a repulsive rebel, imagine what he’ll do for you once he’s made you a friend and member of his family. If he loved you even at the cost of blood and death and hellish sorrow, how much more will he keep loving you and blessing you now that he has risen from the dead and lives in glory and unspeakable joy (see Romans 5:9-11).
There is no greater love than God’s love, and there is no forgiveness more complete than God’s forgiveness. At the cross God deals with sin once for all, and in his love he grants full and final pardon. When you trust in him, he promises to put your sin out of sight, out of reach, out of memory, out of existence!
The Bible speaks of God putting our sin out of sight in Isaiah 38:17, where a child of God says, “In your love you kept me from the pit of destruction; you have put all of my sins behind your back.” God doesn’t keep focusing on our sins. He doesn’t keep bringing them up or holding them against us. In love he puts our sins behind his back where he no longer looks at them. They are out of his sight.
But that’s not all. God also puts our sins out of reach. “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:11-12). In Micah 7:19-20 Scripture says, “Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives… You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” This great God of love puts our sins as far out of reach as east is from west, so far out of reach that it would be easier to swim thousands of feet underwater to the bottom of the ocean than to reach the sins he’s taken from us.
God’s loving forgiveness puts our sins not only out of his sight and out of reach but also out of his memory. In Scripture the Lord promises, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25). God doesn’t get amnesia or gaps in his knowledge. His memory doesn’t play tricks on him. But he no longer remembers our sins against us. If God keeps any record at all related to the sins of his children in Christ, it is a record of “pardons,” “forgivenesses,” “graces,” not a record of sins to be held against us. The cross cancels the written code and its accusations and removes our offenses from God’s memory.
Indeed, God’s love wipes our sins out of existence. In Isaiah 44:22 the Lord says, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist.” Or as the apostle Peter once told a crowds of sinners, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). Wiped out! Swept away like fog blown away by the wind or melted away by the sun! Wiped away like a once-dirty dish scrubbed clean! Gone–out of existence! That is what God’s love does to the sin and guilt of those Jesus died to save. He takes our sins out of sight, out of reach, out of memory, out of existence!
No greater love is imaginable. No greater forgiveness is possible. God sees us at our absolute worst, and his love remains as determined as ever. Jesus endures the most awful death, and his love shines all the more brightly. His forgiveness works all the more powerfully. So repent of your sins, rely on his forgiveness, and rejoice in his love.
By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.