My first thought when I hear the above title is of a scene from the movie Night at the Museum. The plot is a little long, but in short the night guard gets caught and is tied down to the train tracks. He asks the characters, “Why are you doing this?” The character Jedediah says, “Somebody’s gotta pay!” So the night guard asks, ” Pay for what?!” And Jed responds, ” I don’t know! Just pay!” The night guard hadn’t actually done anything to these characters, and the characters didn’t know him. But they had been wronged, and that wrong needed to be made right. Justice needed to be served, and somebody had to pay the price.
This sort of justice is what most of us understand. There is a sort of balance to it. We could look at it positively in a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” kind of way, or we can look at it in a revenge type of way. “You hurt me so I’m going to hurt you back.” Whatever the case, we see the necessity for people to get their justice, whether good or bad. One could say this is part of natural law. But there is a certain balance of justice and mercy that I think most people overlook in their lives until about this time of year, until Lent.
“‘Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.’”
~ Leviticus 24:17-22 ~
“But you must not eat meat that has its lifeblood still in it. And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being.
“Whoever sheds human blood,
by humans shall their blood be shed;
for in the image of God
has God made mankind.
~ Genesis 9:4-6 ~
So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all livestock
and all wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
To the woman he said,
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living. The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.
~ Genesis 3:14-21 ~
In all of these passages, there was a reckoning to be had. Some wrong was done, and a punishment worthy of the crime had to be met. There was justice to be served on both the victim and the perpetrator. But how about the last one? Who all is involved? For the last, we go back to the beginning, to Adam and Eve. From one man sin entered the world and through that sin came death (Rom. 5:12, Jas. 1:15). But this punishment, the consequence of wrongdoing and rebellion, was not limited to only our first parents. We all as children of Adam have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23, 5:14, Hos. 6:7, 1 Cor. 15:22, 15:45). Because of our parents’ rebellion, sin entered the world. And because of our sin, we were unable to be a part of God’s glory.
The punishment for sin is death. That is why the above verses connect the two so frequently. This is justice. We all deserved the same fate, and that is death and separation from God. In fact, before Christ came, we were dead spiritually even before our flesh finally caught up. We were undeserving of God’s mercy and love, though He showed it to us regularly. We either openly or secretly rebelled against Him. We did not know that we needed to be saved, as a dead person wouldn’t. We were heading toward our justice, whether we knew it or not.
But God in His mercy sent the one person who could redeem us from this just punishment: His Son (Jhn. 3:16). God did not want the world to remain condemned before Him. That is not why He created us. Instead, He wanted us to be in fellowship with Him. God wants His children to live with Him. But, as dead people, we were unable to do anything to right our wrongdoing (Rom. 5:6-8). Despite this conundrum, somebody had to pay. There had to be a reckoning for sin. A price had to be paid in order for there to be redemption. After all, you redeem something by gaining or giving. God’s wrath had to be poured out on someone (Rom. 5:9, Ex. 12:21-27Rom. 5:9, Ex. 12:21-27). And what was the punishment for sin? Death and separation from God. This is what happened on the cross (Matt. 27:46, Mar. 15:34, Psa. 22:1).
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
~ Isaiah 53:4-7 ~
Christ died for us so that we would not be separated from God, which would be our just punishment. Atonement had to be made. And what is atonement? It is satisfaction, reparation, reconciliation, making right a wrong. The Israelites did this through the blood of animals, because blood was needed to atone for sins (Heb. 9:22). But Christ redeemed us and set us free by the shedding of His innocent blood, the only way for sins to be truly forgiven (Rom. 3:25-26, 1 Pet. 1:18-20, Heb. 10:1-7, 13:11-12). He did not have to do it in the sense that he did not owe us anything. Ours was the transgression, but out of His mercy and grace, Christ paid the penalty because He loves us.
During this time of Lent we are reminded that We did not get what we deserved. Justice was served, but it was not met out on us. A punishment had to be given for our sins, but we did not have to receive it. Somebody had to pay. But God loved us so much that He sent someone else to do it, for we never would have been able to (Jhn. 3:16, Eph. 2:1-9). The price paid for our redemption was the blood of Christ (Eph. 1:7, 2:13-16). In Him we have forgiveness and mercy. This is what we remember during this season of Lent. And like our baptism, we should remember the sacrifice of Christ daily and be thankful that we have been made righteous in His sight (1 Cor. 11:23-26, Isa. 53:10-12).
Blessings to you and yours,