Our series marches on!
The Trinity and the Cross
When we understand the infinite depth of the Father and Son’s loving relationship, it helps us to understand and appreciate the cross even more.
The Trinity tells us how much the Father gave
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16)
“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10)
How does the Trinity change our understanding of these well-known and beloved verses?
My point here is simple. Our understanding and appreciation of God’s love towards us depends on how much God loves his Son, whom he sent for us. If God loves his son a little, then his love for us diminishes. He wouldn’t be giving up much to save us.
But we know from our understanding of the Trinity that the exact opposite is true: the Father loves his Son more than anything. He has for all eternity been pouring out perfect love towards him in the form of glory–in the divine commendation, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”. How great was this love? It was the Father’s love for the Son that exploded into the creation the world; he wanted the whole world to see just how beautiful his Son is.
Sometimes you’ll hear a skeptic say, “What kind of Father is God that he sends his Son to breathe the dirty air of earth and suffer a shameful death upon the cross, while he stays up in Heaven? Our understanding of the Father’s love for the Son should put that accusation to rest once and for all. Ask any father, and I’m sure he would say that he would much rather suffer in place of his child.” Make no mistake, it pained the Father to restrain his greatest instinct–to pour glory and love upon his Son–and to pour out instead the full angry wrath, meant for sinners.
Do you remember the line from the hymn?
“How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure. That he should give his only Son to make a wretch his great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns his face away. As would which mar the chosen One, bring many sons to glory”
The Father’s love for us is deep and vast beyond all measure. So much so that it pleased him to crush his only Son so that we might be saved. We look with thankfulness to Paul’s rhetorical question in in Romans 8:31: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”
The Trinity tells us how much the Son lost
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed to his Father: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mt. 26:39). Luke, the physician, records that Jesus was under such great duress that he began to sweat great drops of blood.
We are jarred to see the Son of God so unnerved and distraught. Jesus, throughout his ministry, was always calm and always collected. He was always strong and compassionate. What was in this cup? What was it that was so terrible about the cross that made the Savior ? Was it the torture, the abandonment of his disciples, the mocking? Was it the excruciating pain of the cross?
It couldn’t be that. We know from church history that many disciples were abandoned, beaten, mocked, and scorned, but still endured with great courage and confidence. Many of the disciples later faced their crucifixions with great strength and courage. We know that the disciples were not greater than their master. The only explanation is Jesus was about to experience something far more painful than even the pain of the crucifixion.
What about the cross made Jesus tremble? Matthew captures the heart of Jesus’ pain in his agonizing cry as he hung on the cross:
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”
When we understand the eternal love between Father and Son, we understood how great Jesus’ love is for us. We understand that for all eternity the Father has been loving on the Son. They have never been apart. They have been one in every sense of the word. But on the cross, the Son gives up this fellowship in the most drastic way possible–instead of receiving the Father’s glory and love–he receives God’s full angry burning wrath.
When we understand the Trinity, we also understand Jesus’ cry from the cross as one of profound loss and loneliness. Jesus enjoyed perfect intimacy and union with his Father for all eternity. But on the cross, for the first time, Jesus finds himself utterly alone.
What great love the Son has showed us–that he would trade eternal infinite joy for eternal infinite pain and loneliness? For who? For us, sinners and enemies of God.
The more we meditate on God’s intra-Trinitarian love the more we will be amazed at the love of God at the cross!
In the next post, we’ll look at how understanding God’s eternal intra-trinitarian love expands and deepens the way we understand our relationship with God.