This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross (Acts 2:23, NIV).
The crucifixion of Christ shows man at his worst and God at His best. At the cross we see God’s just and righteous judgment on our sin and in so doing bringing glory to Himself by making a way for us to receive forgiveness. Yet the means by which this came about was the evil designs of people who wanted nothing to do with Jesus. What I have been learning is that God both abhors sin and uses sin to show His glory.
God makes it very clear in Scripture that He abhors sin. He hates it because He is righteous and just. David tells us in Psalms 11:7 (NIV) the LORD is righteous, he loves justice. Isaiah joins him exclaiming in 5:16 (NIV) But the LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will be proved holy by his righteous acts. Because God is just and righteous He will not let sin and evil go unpunished. Pursuing justice is not something God does not like doing, or that He pursues out of a mere sense of duty, it is His delight; Jeremiah 9:23-24 (NIV) This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the LORD. God’s sovereignty means He has the power to do anything He pleases; and what pleases Him is to exercise kindness, justice, and righteousness.
Therefore David says in Psalms 5:4-5 (NIV), you are not a God who is pleased with wickedness; with you, evil people are not welcome. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong. He cannot tolerate it, He cannot look at it, as Habakkuk says in 1:13 (NIV), Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing. What you love, what you delight in determines what you hate, it determines what you are against. God’s love for His glory, His love for His creation and the men and women He created, whom He created in His image so that they could love Him and one another sets Him against all acts that run against them.
God’s hatred and abhorrence of sin is something we all need to take seriously, for as Paul says in Romans 3:23, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Starting at 1:18 through 3:23 Paul makes the case that history shows this to be true, our own experience with others and with ourselves shows us to be true, and that Scripture shows this to be true. God’s standard for righteousness is the law. Such is God’s nature that He cannot tolerate any transgression of His law to go unpunished. There is no way for us to justify ourselves or rectify the situation. As the Psalmist says in Psalms 130:3 (NIV) If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
God has promised that in the end He will judge every wicked act. Isaiah assures us of this in 13:9-11 (NIV) where He says,
See, the day of the LORD is coming—a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger—to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it. The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins. I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
Yet while the Bible clearly teaches that God abhors sin, the Bible also teaches that God uses our sin to show His glory. The greatest example of God using sin to show His glory is the cross. Without a doubt the most evil thing that has ever happened in the history of the human race was the torture and murder of Jesus Christ. The reason that is the most evil act a person or group of people has ever perpetrated is because Jesus was the Christ. He was the Messiah, God Himself in the form of a man. No one else have we ever been obligated to love, honor and respect more than Jesus Christ. But in spite of that, we hated Him for revealing who we really are. We convicted Him in a court of law when we knew there was no evidence that He had done anything wrong either in the sight of men or of God. We beat, whipped and tore His body rationalizing that we were doing God a favor. Then, after hating Him for telling us the truth, after convicting Him for things we knew He did not do, and after beating Him almost to death, after all that, we took what was left of Him and nailed Him to a post and laughed at Him while we watched the last of His life drain from His body.
Nothing could be worse than that. But do you know what? God knew, planned and designed that very thing to happen! Peter says this in our text remember? This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. Peter was not making an argument that could not be backed up. Isaiah (who lived 700 years before Jesus was born) says in chapter 53:
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
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 her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away. And who can speak of his descendants? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.
Yet it was the LORD’S will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.
After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.
Nowhere in the history of humankind has greater sin been committed than at the cross. Nowhere in the history of the world has God shown His abhorrence for sin and what it deserves more clearly than at the cross. Yet at the same time, nowhere else Has God so fully revealed His glory.
At the cross we see the Father’s righteousness in His condemnation of sin. We see the glory of His wrath in the terribleness of that judgment. We see His wisdom glorified in devising a way to reconcile us to Him so that He could be a loving Father to us instead of a Judge who must justly condemn us. We see His love expressed to His Son in accepting His sacrifice in raising Him from the dead, and His love for us in seeing Jesus as our substitute.
We see the glory of Jesus in His humility and obedience to His Father even to the point of death. We see it in His love for us that was so great, that he did not see His life as too high a price to pay to redeem us. We see it in His defeating His enemies by His death. In His sermon, The Excellencies of Christ, Jonathan Edwards says,
Christ never so effectually bruised Satan’s head, as when Satan bruised his heel. The weapon with which Christ warred against the devil, and obtained a most complete victory and glorious triumph over him, was the cross, the instrument and weapon with which he thought he had overthrown Christ, and brought on him shameful destruction…In his last sufferings Christ sapped the very foundations of Satan’s kingdom; he conquered his enemies in their own territories, and beat them with their own weapons; as David cut off Goliath’s head with his own sword… Thus Samson’s riddle is most eminently fulfilled, Judges 14:14, “Out of the eater came forth meat, and out of the strong came forth sweetness.” And thus the true Samson does more towards the destruction of his enemies at his death, than in his life, in yielding up himself to death, he pulls down the temple of Dagon, and destroys many thousands of his enemies, even while they are making themselves sport in his sufferings; and so he whose type was the ark, pulls down Dagon, and breaks off his head and hands in his own temple, even while he is brought in there as Dagon’s captive (WJE, 19:580).
The cross was not something that the Father or Christ were forced into. It was not some plan B because plan A did not work. It was plan A. It was always the plan.
God both abhors sin and uses sin to show His glory. We may be tempted to focus on one or the other but we need to remember both.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLTse), So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. We need to remember that if God abhors sin and we are being transformed into His likeness we should have a growing abhorrence of sin as well. What you love and what you delight in, determines what you hate, it determines what you are against. If we love God, we will hate sin. If God’s Spirit is indeed in us we will have a consistent and growing distaste for sin. We will stand with Paul, who said in Romans 6:1-2 (NIV) What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?
But we also need to remember that God uses sin to show His glory. Let me give two reasons why this is important to remember.
First, it means that God is in sovereign over evil. If God can take the murder of His only begotten Son, and out of that most evil crime bring forth the single greatest good that mankind has ever had graced upon it, then He is be sovereign over evil. There is no greater evil than what we did at the cross. But there is no greater good than what God brought out of the cross. The cross is the single greatest thing God has done to bring glory to Himself through His love, forgiveness and faithfulness to His Church. God is in absolute and total control of everything, even evil.
Romans 8:28 says, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Not just some things, not most things, but God is working in all things. The good and the bad, the inexplicably lucky, and the incomprehensibly evil things. God is working in and through them all. We do not need to guess where the Bible falls on this issue. It is very clear. God is in control of all things.
Now notice what the passage does not say. It does not say we know how God works in all things, we just know that He does. Nowhere in the Bible does God lay out a formula with which we can plug any given event to see how He is using it for His own purposes. The Bible does not answer that question. It simply asserts that God does. God’s sovereign activity is guided by His love, grace, goodness, and compassion for His people. God wants you to know that while we don’t always know how God works all things for our good, we can be confident—we can have faith—that He is working all things together for our good. God wants us to know that while we may not be able to fully understand how God can be completely good, absolutely sovereign and have evil exist all at the same time, He understands.
And second, it means that you cannot do anything to mess up God’s plans. I don’t know about you but that is a great comfort to me. Those people who set about the judgment, torture, and murder of Jesus were not frustrating God’s plans, they were carrying them out. No one, no matter how much they hate God, can do anything to frustrate His plans. They can only advance them. If that is true about those outside of Christ, how much more is that true for those who are in Christ! I do not need to worry about my sins, my failings, my headaches, heartaches, troubles and problems messing up, diminishing, or negating God’s plans. And the same is true for you. God’s love for you, His commitment to you, is not based in what you have done or not done, or what you will do not do. It is based in who you are in Christ. You can’t do anything that in the end will not serve God’s purposes.
God both abhors sin and uses sin to show His glory. It is not either or, but both and. And that is good news.