How do we lead those we love and care for to experience the love of God the Father? First, we proclaim God the Father’s plan to send his only Son to us, and to sacrifice him on the cross for sinners like you and me. Scripture is clear: the love of God the Father for sinners is supremely demonstrated on the cross.
In fact, the Father’s love cannot be understood apart from the cross. John writes, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16). Later he writes, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world” (1 John 4:9). Paul adds to the chorus: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
The Father’s love for sinners like you and me was the divine motivation for the cross. As John Stott writes:
It cannot be emphasized too strongly that God’s love is the source, not the consequence, of the atonement. . . . God does not love us because Christ died for us; Christ died for us because God loved us. If it is God’s wrath which needed to be propitiated, it is God’s love which did the propitiating.¹
Dr. Stott offers serious wisdom here to those committed to preaching faithfully on the topic of God’s wrath. Our sermons and our songs must not neglect the holiness and the wrath of God. We must not soften these topics or apologize for preaching them. But we must never teach about God’s holiness and wrath in isolation from his love.
One reason we cannot separate God’s wrath from his love is simple: they are joined at the cross. We must never leave the impression that it was the loving Son who placated the angry Father. Rather it was the Father’s love—his love for sinners who richly deserved his righteous wrath—that moved him to sacrifice his only Son as our substitute. At the cross, the Father both satisfies his wrath and displays his love for sinners. Pastors, we must remind those we care for that before the cross and behind the cross and through the cross, the love of the Father is revealed. If we do this well, their contemplation of the cross will bring a fresh experience of the personal and passionate love of the Father toward them.
Sinclair Ferguson says this well:
When we think of Christ dying on the cross we are shown the lengths to which God’s love goes in order to win us back to himself. We would almost think that God loved us more than he loves his Son! We cannot measure such love by any other standard. He is saying to us: I love you this much. . . . The cross is the heart of the gospel. It makes the gospel good news: Christ has died for us. He has stood in our place before God’s judgment seat. He has borne our sins. God has done something on the cross which we could never do for ourselves. But God does something to us as well as for us through the cross. He persuades us that he loves us.²
Is that what your church thinks? Have you ever preached so clearly about the Father’s love as revealed in the cross that your church wondered if God loved them more than he loves his Son?
The cross convinces us of the Father’s love because it is here that the voice of the Father says to us:
I will crush my Son under the full fury of my righteous wrath for you. In the Garden of Gethsemane, my Son will cry out for this bitter cup to pass from him. And I will remain silent. Why? Because I love you that much.
And when my Son utters that shriek on the cross, unlike any other protest in all of history, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I will again remain silent. Why? To convince you that I love you.
Behold the supreme demonstration of my love—the cross—the death of my Son. What more can I say? What else do you require to be convinced of my love for you?
Behind the death of the Son for us stands the love of a Father toward us. And there is no more effective way to persuade your church of God the Father’s love than to remind them of the cross, the supreme demonstration of the Father’s personal love for them.
This post is part of an 11-part series, The Pastor and the Trinity, excerpted from the chapter “The Pastor and the Trinity” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper edited by Sam Storms and Justin Taylor, ©2010. Used by permission of Crossway.
¹John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986), 174.
²Sinclair B. Ferguson, Grow in Grace (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1989), 56, 58.