Jesus was a friend of sinners, not simply a friend of ex-sinners. Paul was a friend of those who had not responded to the Gospel he was passionate about (or at least had not responded to the ‘personal salvation’ part of it). But God? And Jesus was like God but God was not like Jesus? Really?
He cannot look at sin, he turns away, we see that ever so clearly with the cry of Jesus:
And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).
God-forsakeness. Psalm 22:1 being quoted by Jesus, the words of David. So God abandoned David? David certainly had many moments when that is exactly what he felt but God did not abandon him. Jesus certainly felt and expressed that on the cross, the cross where God was (present) in Christ. Thank God for Scriptures that mean we are not alone. Scriptures that even indicate we have been abandoned by God, but then we discover that others have gone this way before, and they have found that God was with them. There is a cloud of witnesses that testify to the ever present Presence of God, in and through all circumstances. Indeed we need to keep reading the Psalm, for almost certainly Jesus is using that Scripture while on the cross. Read on, read on… Come to verse 24:
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
He did not hide his face from me. Did you feel abandoned? Yes, desperately… the feeling was real, it was overwhelming, but the reality is the cross is not an evidence of a divided Trinity but of a Unified Trinity, unified for humanity. Human experience and despair (abandonment) meeting Trinitarian undivided commitment and love to go through whatever is necessary to achieve reconciliation.
It is possible that those final words on Jesus’ lips ‘It is finished’ is his reflection on the end of Psalm 22:
his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
He has done it. He, the God in Christ, has done it, has brought deliverance to a people yet unborn. It has been done, it is finished. Whether Jesus words are reflective of that final verse or not, we rejoice that God is the friend of sinners. No appeasement necessary. Only humanity needs to turn their face to God, for his face has always been turned this way.
Afflicted by God, punished even by God, is a common understanding of the cross. But Isaiah 53 a chapter that was taken up in the New Testament of being totally exemplified in the death of Jesus said that this was our perception, not the reality:
Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.
We saw this as God afflicting the Servant, this is how we reckoned it, how we saw it… ‘yet’ shows how it was understood, but the reality is something is going on for us. Jesus is not killed by God – the universal witness of Acts is that ‘you crucified him’. Sin, in all its forms, crucified Jesus. This does not mean that I am suggesting the cross is not an act of God, but it is not the anger of God in any personal sense that sends Jesus to the cross, it is our sin, our estrangement from God, our inability to know him, hence our failure to represent him, to be the glory of God.
It might be a simple way of putting things. Sin brings about God’s anger; we can do nothing to pay for the sin(s) committed, Jesus pays and takes the rap. Believe in that substitution in your place and you can be forgiven, never needing to pay. Simple to present. Simple does not mean either adequate nor right.