“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:8
Every year around Christmas time, children are told that a certain man in a big, red suit is making a list, checking it twice, and is going to find out who's naughty and nice.
It's an annual warning for children to be on their best behavior. The prize for being nice is a plethora of presents under the tree on Christmas morning. And the punishment for being naughty? A lump of coal.
This traditional Christmas counsel that people should get what they deserve is an ethical philosophy accepted around the world. If a child is well-behaved, he should be rewarded. If he is not well-behaved, he should be disciplined.
Even the Bible says that “the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).” What we have earned for our sin is eternal separation from God. Yet even though every person deserves death, those who put their trust in Christ will receive eternal life.
That is because Jesus died the death that we deserve. This Savior, who had never sinned, offered himself up as a propitiation for our sins, willingly sacrificing Himself so we could live.
Romans 5:8 says this is how God demonstrated “his own love for us,” by giving us a free and incomparable gift when we’ve earned the eternal equivalent of a lump of coal.
This is what is known as agape love in Greek. Agape is a sacrificial love; it suffers inconvenience and discomfort for the benefit of another without the expectation of getting anything in return.
One man who was called by God to demonstrate sacrificial love hundreds of years before Jesus’ arrival was Hosea. As a prophet, Hosea was entrusted with speaking to Israel from God’s voice. But God did not tell Hosea to marry a righteous, Proverbs 31 woman. Instead, He told Hosea to marry “a promiscuous woman (Hosea 1:2).”
Hosea’s new wife, Gomer, lived up to her title when she was found to be unfaithful and loving another man. God said to Hosea, “‘Go, show your love to your wife again, though she is loved by another man and is an adulteress (Hosea 3:1).’”
Hosea obeyed and bought Gomer back “for fifteen shekels of silver and about a homer and a lethek of barley (Hosea 3:2).” According to commentaries, a homer and a lethek possibly weighed about 430 pounds. It was a heavy cost to buy back a woman who had been unfaithful.
Gomer represented Israel, which was unfaithful to the Lord at this time. Though Gomer didn’t deserve the love of her husband, Hosea showed love and care for her at his own expense. In the same way, God was going to sacrificially love an unfaithful Israel.
The love Hosea showed Gomer was perfected in Jesus. Jesus loved those who could not benefit Him. He healed poor and outcast lepers, lame men, and the blind. He befriended tax collectors and sinners. And he died on a cross for the very people who mocked and tortured Him.
Imagine if Santa, instead of giving naughty children lumps of coal, kept the coal in his sack, carrying the weight of those dark, ashy stones while offering the naughty children gifts. What a display of love that would be! That is what Jesus did for the world. The Son of God left his heavenly throne to become a human baby and eventually carry the weight of sin so that we could experience the free gift of God’s agape love.