For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8)
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died…” It was this phrase that took my breath away as I was going through the motions and routine of getting ready for bed one night last week. Earlier in the day I had been thinking about my past, decades ago now, ancient memories, but still me, still my journey between the womb and grave. There were some rough years in there. Years when my family had fallen apart and though I knew the Lord, I was lost and in so much pain that I was almost daring Him to prove Himself to me in the midst of the ugliness of my own rebellion.
It may not even need that much explanation because many of us have been there. We’ve been in seasons where everything unravels to the point that we don’t even know who we are, and we simply lose our way. For me, it was just at the end of high school and a couple years thereafter. My heart was in such agony that I turned it around and tried to put most of the blame on Him. Yet somewhere in the midst of my mess, Jesus showed me who He really was. As David said in the Psalms,
“He delivered me from the pit of destruction and out of the miry clay (Ps 40)… He did not let me sink (Ps 69).”
He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. He delivered me from my strong enemy…the Lord was my stay. He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me. (Psalm 18:6-9)
I was remembering my own rescue by the Lord as I turned off the lights and sat on the side of the bed. And I just whispered the words, “thank You, Jesus... do You have any idea how much I love You? You are so good, so worthy.” And in that moment, the words from the fifth chapter of Romans popped in my head: “while we were yet sinners, Christ died,” followed by, “do you have any idea how much I love you?”
Sometimes I forget the exchange. I remember how beautiful our God is, how worthy and glorious and deserving of all my worship. Yet I forget that there was an exchange - that somehow in this upside down Kingdom, I have worth to Him too. Not that He needed me then or needs me now, because God doesn’t need anything in and of Himself. But still, He chose me. He chose you. He chose that Cross, that brutal death, and not because we were deserving or because we were walking in righteousness. No, it was while we were yet sinners. Our worth to Him is not in what we own, or in what we accomplish, or how good we are at all the things our culture values, or even how good we are at what God Himself values. Our worth is defined by that choice, that beautiful and merciful exchange of His holy blood for our lives. It is in the death He chose to die so that we never would (John 6:50, 58). We may have mocked Him and provoked Him, we may blame Him and doubt Him at times even now, but He still made that choice two-thousand years ago. Knowing every thought and choice we would make, Jesus still bled for us on that Cross.
This is the unrelenting profession of Love Incarnate to you and me. The Word was made flesh and Love stretched out His arms and died, and our worth was decided and His worth declared for all eternity in a choice made by Christ alone. Think for a moment about the one who wrote the words in Romans 5 above. Yes, inspired by the Holy Spirit, but still they were his words. Paul, by his own confession, was chief among sinners. We like to think of sin as hierarchical. I’m not sure how true that is in the eyes of God, but if there were a “sin-scale,” then certainly killing others just because they love Jesus would be pretty high on the list. That’s who Paul was. So much so that even Jesus revealed that He was taking that persecution very personally when He appeared to Paul on the road. “Why are you persecuting Me?” Jesus asked Paul (Acts 9:4).
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:12-16)
… and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am… (1 Corinthians 15:8-10)
When Jesus was on the Cross, He prayed for the forgiveness of the very ones who were crucifying Him. He interceded for His enemies (Luke 23:34) – for you, for me, and for ones like Paul who would come to drink the dregs of his own unworthiness. The great apostle would become a trophy of grace, an example of hope to all who believe upon Jesus for everlasting life. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and we are invited to come to Him anew again today and behold the wonders of the Cross.
Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed - my ransom paid
At the cross