When I was much younger and not a Christian, I heard a radio program about expectations. The speaker said that when someone does something bad, they expect to be punished for it. After the punishment, they actually feel better because the expected justice was served.
This tidbit solved a problem. My first husband used to stop for a beer or two on his way home from work, then arrive home later than he said he would. His supper would be cold and his wife would be hot. No amount of nagging helped, but after hearing this program, I tried a new tactic: I didn’t give him the verbal tongue-lashing that he expected. Instead, I reheated his supper and served it to him without saying anything negative. He was totally undone. Now he had to deal with his guilt by himself and it was not pleasant. From that day on, he came home for supper when he said he would be home.
Dealing with guilt is difficult. I cannot remember how I handled my own guilt way back before believing in Jesus Christ, but since He changed my life, I bring my sinful stuff to Him . . .
“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
However, I’m aware that even forgiven people still feel that old expectation of: ‘I’m guilty – I must be punished.’ It pops up in several forms such as not being able to forgive myself, or trying to do something to make up for it. Grace is difficult to accept because of this trait, and for many grace makes no sense. It certainly was a strange plan to the disciples when they first heard about it.
And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. (John 12:23–33)
Instead of God’s anger for their sin, they would see His wrath poured out on their beloved Jesus. How could this be? Peter didn’t like it at all, but when he said so the reply from Jesus must have shocked him:
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:22–23)
Humanly, if we are going to admit our wrong doings, it seems only right if we pay our own debt to God, not let someone else do it. This attitude is behind all religions and human effort to please God by good deeds. But Jesus knew God’s better plan. For humanity to be forgiven forever, He had to take their punishment rather than lay it on them. Only He, the innocent Son of God, could handle such an assignment. Only He could die for sin and come through the grave to conquer death.
Jesus did the unexpected. He took His followers to Gethsemane. He asked them to pray with Him. Without any idea of the weight He carried, or perhaps just the thought of it made them impossibly exhausted. They could not stay awake, but they did hear what He said:
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39)
He didn’t look forward to the wrath, but the will of His Father was more important.
Jesus, You did the unexpected and took my burden of sin, leaving me with only one responsibility — what would I do about that? Take my sin back? Or let You set me free? It seems a no-brainer, yet my heart aches for those who assume the normal way of ‘sin and be punished’ is the logical and only way, and are willing to ‘take their chances’ with how that turns out. Please continue to open eyes and hearts to Your grace.