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?
There are two key phrases in this verse which underline the Father’s costly love for us. The first phrase is ‘did not spare’ and the other phrase is ‘gave him up’.
There is an echo of Genesis 22 behind the phrase ‘did not spare’. You may recall that God directed Abraham to take Isaac his son to a distant mountain involving a three day walk. God was testing Abraham concerning his faith and obedience but without Abraham knowing. He set off early in the morning taking Isaac, two servants as well as a donkey loaded with food and other necessities. Reaching their destination, Abraham and Isaac walked alone up the mountain and when they reached the summit built an altar. In what must have been a moment of agony, Abraham took his ten-year-old son and tied him to the stone altar. Standing over the boy, Abraham was ready to bring his knife to sacrifice him but before he could do that, a voice from heaven suddenly called out Abraham’s name, commanding him to spare Isaac. The boy was immediately freed, and an animal sacrificed in his place. Paul probably had this Old Testament incident in view when he used the phrase, ‘did not spare’. The contrast is powerful, highlighting again the enormous love of the Father for us.
We see this love at work on the cross. Beyond the intense heat of the sun, the thirst, the physical pain, the torture of crucifixion, rejection by the people, the activity of the devil, there was unimaginable spiritual desolation as the Father punished him as our substitute. Christ suffered in his Person the full extent of divine wrath which we merited. ‘My God, My God’, he cried from the cross, ‘why have You forsaken Me?’ (Matthew 27:46). He was ‘distressed’ and ‘troubled’ but whatever the cost to him personally, he was determined to complete his rescue mission successfully for he too, with the Father, loved the church. Through all of this the Father was silent and there was no change of mind on His part. There was no holding back from the divine plan. He did not ‘spare‘ his Son whom he loved dearly but rather in infinite love and mercy exposed his own Son to the knife of divine justice in our place.
Do you feel worthless and ashamed of your Christian life? Do you hate yourself and wonder how God can love you? Then look at the Father’s enormous love. He did ‘not spare’ his own beloved Son and that for our sake. You can never fathom the depths and vastness of the Father’s love for us as sinners. He gave the most precious gift of all – his own beloved Son. Not only did he give and send his Son into the world for our sake but on the cross ‘he spared him not’. Rather he punished his Son fully as he took our place. That is how much the Father loves you!
Ponder also the second key phrase in this verse, namely, ‘delivered Him up for us all’.
The verb ‘delivered’ is used on other occasions in the New Testament. Judas ‘betrayed’ or handed Jesus over to the religious leaders (John 18:5). After an illegal trial, the Jewish leaders insisted that Jesus should be crucified. Under enormous pressure, Pilate eventually ‘delivered Jesus, after he had scourged Him, to be crucified’ (Mark 15:15). This was Pilate’s decision and though he wanted to free Jesus, he felt he needed to ‘gratify the crowd‘.
Peter in an early sermon in the temple porch reminded the people of their responsibility in crucifying the Lord, ‘whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let him go‘ (Acts 3:13). Earlier, when preaching on the day of Pentecost, Peter emphasised the same point, ‘Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified and put Him to death‘ (Acts 2:23). There is a profound mystery here. People are free agents, committing sin willingly and are responsible for their actions. That however is only part of the picture for God is in full control of all events and the Father was sovereignly accomplishing his purpose by handing over his beloved Son to suffer the punishment our sin merited. This was God accomplishing his plan of salvation yet in no way responsible for the sins of those who crucified Jesus.
In a nutshell, the cross was not a tragic mistake, or a failure due to weakness but rather God the Father delivering his Son to death as our substitute. He did not spare his Son; there was no reduction in the punishment he suffered for us as the Father laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). On the cross, Jesus was ‘smitten by God, and afflicted, But He was wounded for our transgressions‘ (Isaiah 53:4-5).
I love the way the Puritan pastor/theologian John Owen emphasised God the Father’s loving nature which he described as the ‘great discovery of the gospel’ (Works. 2:19). Without Christ, the unbeliever is the object of God’s wrath but in contrast the gospel announces the Father’s love for sinners. Yes, he sent his Son to rescue us and punished his own Son in our place. That was the Father’s costly and amazing love for us.
Stuart Townend’s song captures this well:
‘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 treasure.
How great the pain of searing loss –
The Father turns His face away,
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.’
It really is true! The Father has given you the greatest possible gift and made the greatest possible sacrifice because he loves you. You can be assured of his vast, unending love.
Dr Eryl Davies (Heath Church Cardiff)