How Deep the Father’s Love…on Good Friday

We’re nearing Easter weekend, which along with Christmas celebrates the most significant events in all of history. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying Easter Sunday is perhaps my favorite worship service of the year, signaling as it does Jesus’ triumphant victory over sin and death and the unconquerable hope everyone who trusts in him may have.

And yet, Easter Sunday would not be what it is without the events of the previous Friday. The church has historically labeled this day “Good Friday,” and so it is. Paradoxically, the horrible crimes visited on humanity’s only truly innocent victim—the betrayal, the beatings, the blasphemy and mocking, the tortuous death on the cross—provide the way for our undeserved deliverance from sin. If we don’t consider that a great “good,” we’ve missed the truth of the gospel altogether.

In this context, countless preachers and commentators through the ages have drawn attention to Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane. There he grappled, not merely with the prospect of physical pain, but with bearing God’s full wrath toward the entirety of his people’s sin—everyone past, present, and future. There he asked, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will but as you will” (Mat. 26:39). Commenting on the cup that Jesus referenced, C. J. Mahaney writes:

Isaiah 51:17 shows us this cup in God’s extended hand—it’s the “cup of his wrath,’ and for those who drink from it, it’s “the cup of staggering.” This cup contains the full vehemence and fierceness of God’s holy wrath poured out against all sin, and we discover in Scripture that it’s intended for all of sinful humanity to drink. It’s your cup…and mine. (Living the Cross Centered Life, 80)

This sobering reality separates Jesus’ experience from any other human trial—even the deaths of martyrs. We rightly see it as a testimony—both poignant and powerful—of Christ’s almost incomprehensible love for people who are anything but lovely.

What is rarely mentioned, however, is what this situation tells us about God the Father. We should never lose sight of Christ’s sacrificial willingness to drink from this cup. But it strikes me that the Father’s willingness to give it to him is similarly amazing.

Think of it. The Father has never been anything but perfectly pleased with his Son. The Son has never done anything but perfectly glorify his Father. Their love for each other is so much deeper, richer, and more satisfying than any human equivalent that any analogy borders on the ludicrous. Any parent who has felt love, joy, and appropriate pride regarding a child has only the barest glimpse of what God the Father experiences toward Jesus. We literally lack the vocabulary to express, let alone the minds to understand, the quality of their relationship.

In light of this, how could we possibly describe what the Father felt as he poured out his terrible wrath on the Son he loves so much? Why would he give him such a cup to drink?

Scripture gives us an answer of more than one facet, but today I’ll concentrate only on one. And I think it’s fair to say that its enormity is clouded by its familiarity:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…(John 3:16).

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. (Eph. 2:4-5)

If you believe the gospel, and you’re looking for a sign of God’s favor to you, of his love for you, look no further than Good Friday and his willingness to give this cup of wrath to his Son to drink.

Then, along with the psalmist who perhaps spoke better than he knew, think of another biblical cup—the cup of salvation—and the appropriate response of praise*:

116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
2 Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The snares of death encompassed me;
the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;
I suffered distress and anguish.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“O LORD, I pray, deliver my soul!”

5 Gracious is the LORD, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
6 The LORD preserves the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return, O my soul, to your rest;
for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you.

8 For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears,
my feet from stumbling;
9 I will walk before the LORD
in the land of the living.

10 I believed, even when I spoke,
“I am greatly afflicted”;
11 I said in my alarm,
“All mankind are liars.”

12 What shall I render to the LORD
for all his benefits to me?
13 I will lift up the cup of salvation
and call on the name of the LORD,
14 I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people.

15 Precious in the sight of the LORD
is the death of his saints.
16 O LORD, I am your servant;
I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
You have loosed my bonds.
17 I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
and call on the name of the LORD.
18 I will pay my vows to the LORD
in the presence of all his people,
19 in the courts of the house of the LORD,
in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Praise the LORD!

(Interesting note: if you’re a U2 fan, listen carefully to Bono’s words before this rendition of “Where the Streets Have No Name”—a paraphrase of vv. 12-14 above. I’d add that this presentation of the song, particularly in its original context, certainly has the flavor of thanksgiving and praise.)

*This is a concordant reason for God to do what he did: to draw glory and praise to the Son and to himself. See, for example, Eph. 1:6.

HT: My thanks to chapter 6 of C. J. Mahaney’s Living the Cross Centered Life for spurring some of the above.

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