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by Ted Schroder
April 9, 2006

"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

The Cross is the demonstration of the nature of the love God has for us. The death of Christ is necessary for us to understand the extent of the love of God.

Without the death of Christ, there is the real danger that our conception of the love of God will be soft and sentimental. The brutality of the execution of Christ on our behalf brings home the appalling cost of forgiveness to God. God does not simply say to us: "Never mind, I forgive you," and pat us on the head and send us away absolved of all guilt. God does not pretend that sin never happened, or that it is of no significance. Our sin is a real crime against God and our neighbor. It is a real act of rebellion against the order of the universe. It is a real assertion of our self-centeredness, our selfishness, in the face of the generosity of God. It is judged by the holy justice of God as deserving of punishment.

We couldn't accept a cheap and superficial forgiveness for ourselves if we had been assaulted, rejected, offended, hurt, or abused. If so, why should we force such a conception of forgiveness on God? Because we want to minimize the damage our sin has occasioned. We want to be let off lightly. We don't want to feel badly about what we have done, or about what we have left undone. We don't want to feel guilty.

True forgiveness involved facing and recognizing the great pain and distress caused by the offense - a process for which the cross is perhaps the most powerful demonstration known. The love of God for his people is expressed, not in a soft and sentimental way, but in the context of the seriousness of God's hatred for sin. The cross sets forward the full and tremendous cost of real forgiveness - a forgiveness in which the full seriousness of sin is met and dealt with, in order that love might triumph. The cross confronts us with the knowledge that man's sin wounds God to the heart, causing more hurt than we can ever imagine. Yet God offers forgiveness - a real, if painful, forgiveness in which all is faced and all is forgiven in order that man may go forth into eternal life with God. That forgiveness comes at the cost of the suffering and death of the Son of Man in our place - his substitutionary atonement for our sins. "Christ died for the ungodly...for us" (Romans 5:6,8) (Understanding Jesus, Alister E. McGrath, p.109)

Because of this demonstration of the love of God, the cross has been an inspiration to millions. Toyohiko Kagawa (1880-1960) was born in Kobe, Japan. His father was an aristocrat, a cabinet minister, and an advisor to the Emperor, while his mother was a geisha. Both parents died when he was only four years old and he was sent to live on the family farm with his stepmother. Here he was physically abused, unwanted and unloved., and he bore the scars of loneliness the rest of his life.

When he was at school in Tokushima, he was introduced to some American Presbyterian missionaries, especially Dr Harry Myers who became his mentor. Immensely impressed by the teaching and example of Jesus, Kagawa learned the Sermon on the Mount by heart and began to pray daily: "O God, make me like Christ." Then at age fifteen he was baptized. His relatives disowned and disinherited him.

On Christmas Day 1909, aged twenty-one, he moved out of Kobe Theological Seminary, wheeling all his possessions in a handcart, in order to live among the poor in the terrible Shinkawa slum. His windowless shack measured only six feet by six, yet he shared it with anybody who needed care and shelter, sometime several at a time. He lived on two bowls of rice gruel a day and wore the same ragged suit for several years. It is not surprising that he was often ill. He was also misunderstood, maligned and attacked. But he never retaliated and never gave in. One of his biographers, William Axling wrote of him at that time as follows:

"He visited the sick; he comforted the sorrowing; he fed the hungry; he lodged the homeless; he became an elder brother to the prostitutes, visiting them when they were ill and providing them with medicines. Parents turned to him for advice. Young people brought him their tangled life-problems. Criminals made him their father-confessor----The children swarmed around him."

These experiences, together with continuing studies at seminary, convinced him of the need to go beyond philanthropy to social action. So when the dockers of Kobe went on strike, they turned to him for leadership, and he organized them into Japan's first labor union. He also took up the cause of the tenant farmers and helped to organize the first nation-wide peasant farmers' cooperative. As a result of his solidarity with the workers, Kagawa was dubbed an agitator, the police black-listed him, detectives shadowed him, and in due course he was arrested, dragged to the police station, and consigned to prison for thirteen days. Yet, stung by his writings, the government declared its intention to abolish the slums in Japans' six largest cities.

After the terrible earthquake, which destroyed Yokohama and two-thirds of Tokyo, and killed about 100,000 people, Kagawa was active in reconstruction. But he never lost his evangelistic zeal. In 1928 he had a vision of one million Japanese people turning to Christ, and the central theme of his preaching was the cross of Christ as the revelation of the love of God.

Before the Second World War he was arrested three times for subversive peace propaganda. But after the war (which for him meant four years of acute anguish) the Prime Minister appealed to him in these terms: "Only Jesus Christ was able to love his enemies... Help me to put the love of Jesus Christ into the hearts of our people." And the Emperor gave him a half-hour private audience in which to explain to him the meaning of the cross.

Kagawa's books were immensely popular, and when a new one was published, long queues would form outside the bookshops. All his works alluded in some way to the cross.

First, Kagawa affirmed strongly that "Christ offered himself for the sins of others." "Only a sinner weeping over his sins can comprehend the marvel of this love." "To me, born a child of sin, this redemptive love fills and thrills every fiber of my being. It stirs within me a poignant sense of gratitude."

Secondly, "the cross is the crystallization of love." That is, it exhibits both God's love for us and the measure of love we should show to others. "As in a single word, Christ's love-movement is summed up in the cross. The cross is the whole of Christ, the whole of love."

Thirdly, Kagawa saw in the cross something altogether unparalleled. "The fact," he wrote, "unique in the whole world, of Christ's sacrificing himself and shedding the blood of redemption for the sins of the race, is the very revelation of love itself." Finally, here is perhaps his most eloquent personal statement:

"I am grateful for Shinto, for Buddhism, and for Confucianism. I owe much to these faiths. The fact that I was born with a spirit of reverence, that I have an insatiable craving for values which transcend this earthly life, and that I strive to walk the way of the golden mean, I owe entirely to the influence of these ethnic faiths. Yet these three faiths utterly failed to minister to my heart's deepest need. I was a pilgrim journeying upon a long, long road that had no turning. I was weary. I was footsore. I wandered through a dark and dismal world where tragedies were thick. Tears were my meat day and night...Buddhism teaches great compassion...But since the beginning of time, who has declared, 'this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many unto remission of sins?'"

The creed of Kagawa was that 'the cross is the center of Christianity'. His favorite hymn was 'Jesus keep me nearer the cross.' (Excerpted from The Incomparable Christ, John Stott, 147-150)

What is the center of your faith? How important is the Cross to your faith? How does the love of Christ in the cross affect your life? St. Paul wrote: "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." (2 Corinthians 5:14,15)

When we look at the unjust and undeserved sufferings and death of Jesus on our behalf, so that we might be forgiven and accepted, we see the extent of the love of God for us. Because we are convinced that he has died for us, we are assured that the penalty for sin is paid. Consequently, we are given a second chance, liberated to live for God, to no longer live self-centered lives, but lives that reflect the love of God.

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

(Isaac Watts)

An audio version of this presentation is found on www.ameliachapel.com.

Amelia Plantation Chapel,
Amelia Island, Florida

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