Today we remember the death of Jesus on the judgment tree. There on Calvary an exchange took place that will require an eternity to comprehend. His righteousness for our sin. His acceptance with God for our forsakenness by God. His glory for our shame. His blessing for our curse.
When we survey the New Testament’s treatment of the judgment Jesus experienced on the cross, there is also an emotional exchange that we can piece together. Jesus expressed his fiercest feelings of dread in the hours leading up to his crucifixion–“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death” (Mark 14:34). His willingness to endure the emotionally excruciating judgment for our sins yielded an emotional freedom for us. Here are two fears Jesus’ death on the judgment tree enables us to overcome.
1. The fear of exclusion
Paul writes pointedly that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). In the next verse he states the positive effect of this redemption by judgment: “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.”
This may not have immediate emotional resonance–like a 6 year-old puzzling over the sophisticated telescope he received for his birthday–but when we further explore “the blessing of Abraham” and “the promised Spirit,” what emerges is inclusion. God initiated a covenant relationship with Abraham and his descendants, and Christ’s death for us ushers us into that covenant relationship with all its benefits, protection, and intimacy. In particular, as Paul later writes in Galatians, God sent his Son “so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” (4:5-6).
Because Jesus bore the curse for us, we are enfolded into an eternal family. We never have to be alone. By faith now and in fullness when Jesus returns, we can affirm with our Lord, “I am not alone, for the Father is with me” (John 16:32).
2. The fear of injustice
One of the most visceral human fears is that those who prey on the vulnerable and do violence to the weak will never be held accountable. This is likely one of the dozens of emotions facing those who survived the terrorist attack on a Kenyan university this week where, according to one witness, “If you were a Christian you were shot on the spot.”
Those Kenyan students who lost their lives for Christ joined the multitude of martyrs John describes in Revelation 6:9-10, “those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.” What is their posture as they join us in awaiting the consummation of all things? “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’” These martyrs understood God’s commitment to justice. They understood that their judgment was borne by the Lamb who was slain. And they understood that those who opposed the Lamb would one day face his final justice.
In that day, Jesus will ride into enemy territory not on a donkey but on a white horse, and “in righteousness he judges and makes war… From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:11, 15–16).
As we meditate on Jesus’ death on the judgment tree today, we can feel the security of being part of the family of God. Ours is a future of belonging. And regardless of the violence and injustice we face today, we can be assured that Jesus will complete his work of justice against all that is wrong in this world. Though it is filled with betrayal and blood, this Friday is Good indeed.