Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
Doug was a young father when I left for seminary in 1977. After many years I ran into him at Costco. He told me that he had had his own business selling farm machinery, but was going bankrupt. I asked if it was because sales were low. He responded, "No, sales were great. We sold lots of stuff. They just wouldn’t make the payments." It was an Epiphany.
Doug had written off a lot of debt, but forgiving a debt didn't make it magically disappear. It was still there, it is just that someone else had to eat it. In this case, it was Doug. Doug forgave one debt after another and it killed his business. This is what God does for us.
The Gospel is that God has forgiven our debt. This doesn't mean it just disappeared, that He acted like nothing happened. He has 'eaten' it. The Lord takes on our sickness and sin. He accepts the consequences of sin which is death. You see, Sin and death are not arbitrarily tied together. In the legal system, laws and punishment are determined by human beings. Not all laws make sense to us. Punishments don’t always fit the crime. We do our best, but the legal system is always somewhat arbitrary. But sin and death are not simply a legal matter! They are connected naturally.
Natural Laws is never arbitrary. It is just how things work. We can pass laws which make it legal to sell products which kill people, but that does not save them from the consequences of consuming those products. The law of gravity isn’t interested in what you want or need. Natural Laws are the rules which cannot control or ignore. We must discover them through inquiry and observation, discern them through reason or accept them in revelation.
Spiritual natural laws govern the life of the human soul in relationship with God and others. Spiritual laws and their consequences are never arbitrary. Sin separates us from God. God is life. Once you walk away from God you have chosen death. Death is what happens to those who reject Life. Death is not capital punishment imposed by a judge. Death is not God’s revenge. Death is the only possible outcome of sin. Therefore, death is not what God does to us--it is what we choose for ourselves. The cost of Sin is "a debt" which is paid by our Death. You make your choice and you pay the price.
We are separated from God and only He can bridge that gap, so God chose to eat that debt. Philippians describes the process. He began in the form of God, He emptied Himself and took the form of a servant. [remember Moses, David, the prophets—they are all called the servant of God] A servant is completely subservient and obedient to the will of another. The Man Jesus is completely obedient to the Father because Jesus is God Incarnate and He is the debt eater. He enters the human condition, which is governed by sin and death. That is the cost to God: incarnation, emptying of self, becoming nothing to join us, being subject to evil and death. God must empty Himself every time He interacts with us, crushing His perfection and eternity to fit into our imperfect and temporal world.
We didn’t read it today, but the next verse in Luke's Gospel says Jesus weeps when He enters the city. He is heartbroken that the people rejected the chance to be delivered. Sad enough to cry. He said peace had been possible, that God could save if they returned. They didn’t and Roman armies destroyed the city, as Jesus warned. Things could have been different. Instead, Jesus will suffer and die. Death will have its way with Jesus. The powers of the Fallen World will be on full display. The world, the flesh and the devil will have victory over the Lord's Messiah, His self-emptying Servant.This is the added tragedy of God's Self-emptying. His love and mercy rejected, He loves us all the more and forgives even that...
So today we watch Him ride into town, it is rather exciting and festive. By Thursday we eat the Passover and He blows our minds with His reinterpretation of that dinner. The on Friday the unthinkable horror, we see Him crucified, our debt to the power of Death consumed before our eyes. And next Sunday, the deliverance is assured. Let us not, however, rush to that happy ending, lest we forget that we, too, must walk with Him in dying in order to rise with Him in Living. For the Mystery is that He does it for us, but also with us and in us.