Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)
“At the wonderful, tragic, mysterious tree
On that beautiful, scandalous night you and me
Were atoned by his blood, and forever washed white
On that beautiful, scandalous night”
Lyrics from a popular worship song some years back now. We heard the song again this past weekend at an event where we were also singing. So, this morning, I was singing that chorus (above) in the shower, and I thought about the finality of what Jesus did on the cross. The words of the song say, “were atoned by his blood, and forever washed white,” and that’s what caught me. That mysterious word “forever”. We talk about it like it was another measurement of time, just as a minute or a second or even a year or a decade or perhaps as preposterous as the concept of a millenium. Who among us has experienced a millenium?
Do you remember when you were a child, and your parents would require you to wait for something you desperately wanted (perhaps some ice cream, on a hot summer’s day?). They might have said something like, “Yes, Johnny, you may have some ice cream, but you need to wait about five minutes.” We had no concept of what five minutes was! To us, five minutes was the same as 5 seconds, or 5 hours! (Often, our parents may have taken a bit of an advantage of that, knowing that to us 10 minutes could just as easily pass as five…) 🙂 So, after waiting for what we then may have deemed an eternity, we got our ice cream. And we learned a bit about the concept of time through experience.
Then do you recall the long trips to visit relatives? A twelve hour car ride was not even fathomable to a 7-year old kid. Every so often then, the question would inevitably make it’s way from the back seat to the tired ears of the adults in the front, “How much longer?” And no matter what the parent might choose to say, or how they might describe it, how could they convey the meaning of “About another 5 hours”? If that same child can barely grasp the concept of 5 minutes, how will they understand 3000 minutes?
But God says forever. Forever he will be with us. Forever we will live with him. Forever our sins have been forgiven.
And as if that were not mind boggling enough, consider the moment of our forgiveness. Does forever begin from the point in which we accepted Jesus’ offer of forgiveness? Does it begin the moment we emerged from the waters of baptism? Does it begin at our conversion, and then re-begin with each confession of ongoing sin?
The song suggests (and correctly, so) that it begins at the cross. We can not fully understand the ways that God works in and out of time, as he is definitely on a different plane than we. But, we can see that from Jesus’ own mouth, the work of forever forgiveness was completed at the time of his death. Just before he died, he says, “It is finished.” Did he mean his struggle? His life? Perhaps he was frustrated that the plan had failed? No. Jesus knew the end result. He knew that my forgiveness was taken care of – finished – at that moment in time. The whole thing gets weirder if you try to grasp the idea of Revelation 13:8 which talks about Jesus being killed before the world was made, or Ephesians chapter one where we are called “holy and without fault in his eyes” before the world was made. Yes, God definitely interracts differently with time than we do.
But revisit with me the idea from the top of this post. We are atoned by his blood and forever washed white. (Nevermind that the actual event occurred during the day, rather than the night. Just chalk that up to poetic license.) It was not a moment of my decision, or my will, or my effort, or my accomplishment by which I was “washed white.” It was not anything I did. That could not be clearer from scripture. It was instead an act of love and mercy and grace done by our measurements of time around 2000 years ago, but effecting eternity. Eternity future, and I believe eternity past. (From the verses mentioned above regarding the whole thing being done before the creation of the universe.)
Acts says that there is no other name by which we will be saved. And Jesus said he is the way to the Father, that there is no other. So what about all the people in Hebrews 11 who are declared righteous by God for their faith? Did they earn righteousness somehow that we can not? No, Jesus said quite clearly that he is the only way to the Father. So perhaps his death that occurred at a very specific time in our history was actually efffective even before it happened? When dealing with concepts like eternity, what in the world does it matter if it’s eternity forward or backward. Both are equally out of reach of our experience and intellectual comprehension.
The song reminded me that there is so much about our Father that I could never possibly understand, even with an eternity to learn from Him. But, it also reminded me that I really need to stop trying. To let him work in me the things that he is longing to do. Release the pressure of getting it right, or not messing up again and know that on that one “night” (day) in history, I was forever washed white. Forever.
What a concept.