The book of Isaiah opens with God grieving because Israel’s sins have blinded them, making them ignorant of God’s deep love for them:
Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: [but] Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward (1:2-4, KJV throughout).
God offers to forgive Israel’s sins if they will repent and return His love:
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it (vv. 18-20).
In Isaiah 53, we learn that Jesus will come and willingly pay for what we’ve all done:
But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all (53:5, 6).
Seven hundred years later, Jesus entered His own creation to become the sacrifice Lamb, the physical manifestation of God’s grace:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved (John 3:16, 17).
Though He loved them unconditionally, most of His own people did not return His love:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen [doth gather] her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate (Luke 13:34, 35a).
Israel represents what we’ve all done. We’ve all run from God’s love, preferring our will to His. How we respond to God’s love is our response-ability. Christ died, not for the righteous but for you and me — the ungodly (Romans 5:6). God loves us, period. Christians aren’t innocent; we’re forgiven.
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:7).
We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
Jody McCoy is executive director of the General Conference and lives in Austin, TX.