On March 19, 1969, my life and my understanding of the Gospel changed forever. That was not the day that I became a Christian. I did not attend church that day, nor did I hear a sermon. That was the day our first child was born. After a long and traumatic labor, Janet gave birth to our daughter. Her name was already chosen — Jill. I was not prepared for the immensity of love and care that overwhelmed me as I held her those first few times, as I fed her, as I stood over her bed and just stared. So how did that revolutionize my understanding of the Gospel?
With the birth of Jill, Romans 8:32 took on a whole new depth. “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all” — the Father sacrificed His own Son. I could not imagine sacrificing Jill for my friends, and it was ludicrous to think that I would sacrifice her life for my enemies. March 19, 1969, I began to see Jesus dying on the cross from a father’s perspective. The Bible early on alludes to the deep pathos of such a thing. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. We are forced to walk with the old patriarch as he traveled for several days with the torturing knowledge that he would sacrifice the son walking at his side when he arrived at Mt. Moriah. We are forced to look with Abraham into the boy’s eyes when he asked, “My father! … Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Gen. 22:7). We can only imagine what passed between them when Abraham began to tie and bind his beloved son. Did Isaac voluntarily climb onto the altar to be tied, or did Abraham bind his hands and feet and lift him to the place of sacrifice? Only when Abraham raised the knife to slay the love of his life did God stop him and provide a ram to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place. That same drama was played out at Calvary centuries later with a different ending — no one stopped God from slaying His own Son.
Jesus, as He prayed in Gethsemane, asked the same question of His Father that Isaac asked. “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Where is the sacrificial lamb; isn’t there another way?) The Father’s answer was, “There is no other way. You are the sacrificial Lamb.” Our hearts are torn as we hear the sacrificed Son cry out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” But what of the Father who had to endure those cries of His Son, even as that same Father emptied His own just wrath upon Him! As much as I love my children, I could never love them as much as the Father loved His Son. Yet, the Gospel is that same Father slaying His Son. That is how much God loved me — He sacrificed His own Son. That is a compelling love!
As I began to view the Gospel from the perspective of a father, something else happened on that happy day in 1969. I realized with greater understanding the child-parent relationship I had with my Father. God not only saved me from sin and judgment, He also adopted me as His child. It was one thing for Him to save me; it was quite another for Him to call me His child, to adopt me and give me the magnificent privileges of a son and an heir. The apostle John was reveling in this when he wrote, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called the children of God; and so we are … Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1–2).
We often speak of the love of God as we count our blessings and begin to enumerate the uncountable material gifts God has given: family, house, job, friends, food, clothes, cars, and so on. John did not say, “See what kind of material blessings the Father has given to us.” He said, “See what kind of love the Father has given to us; that we should be called children of God.” The Greek word that is translated “given” can also be translated “smote” or “struck”. Indeed, the unthinkable love by which God calls me His child should strike or smite me with life-changing force. In Romans 5:6–8 Paul measured the love of God for us by looking at a Father giving His own Son for us: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person — though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die — but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” John measured the love of God by looking at our God, who has done the incredible: He adopted us!
The enormous love that I felt for Jill, and for our other children when they were born, is a supreme love. However, it pales in comparison to the love my Father has for me. Before Jill was born, I had no idea how much I would love her. Once I personally knew that love and felt the force of that love, I wondered in awe as I considered that this was something of the love that God has for me. God loves me with a Father’s love, with a parent’s love. He not only knows my name as an omniscient God, He knows my name because I am His son. He looks at John Sartelle, who still bears the remnants of a rebellious heart, He looks at John Sartelle, who cannot think without sinning. He looks at me and says, “There is John. Look at him. He is My son.”