As regular readers of this blog may remember, we’re big fans of the HBO series The Wire.
It’s set in inner-city Baltimore, and it focuses on the drug trade. In the fourth season, we meet a character named Naman. Naman is a punk. He’s in 8th
grade, and he gets suspended from school a lot. He acts up. His dad is in jail for life for murder. His mom thinks Naman should be selling drugs too, so they can have money. So Naman starts working a corner. There are things he likes about it. He likes the prestige and the money. But he hates the violence. He hates the fear. He hates the fact that the people using the drugs he’s selling are his friends’ parents. On one level, he has chosen this life. And on another level, he’s stuck in it. And it’s pretty clear that Naman is going to die as a result of this life he’s living.
And although I can come up with lots of ways I’m not like Naman, I’m also aware that he’s a lot like me, like all of us. Just as Naman chooses his life, he is also stuck in his life. And just as we’ve chosen life without God, we’re stuck in life without God.
In The Wire, Naman gets out. But the only reason he gets out is because a teacher, Mr. Colvin, enters into his world. Mr. Colvin takes Naman in. He and his wife give up their retirement to raise another child. Naman escapes the corner. He escapes the drug trade. He escapes death.
You’ve probably figured out that I’m making a comparison here between Mr. Colvin, Naman’s teacher, and Jesus. Jesus enters into our world and rescues us. The difference is that Jesus doesn’t just give up early retirement. Jesus actually gives up his own life in order to save ours.
One of the early Christians, a man named Paul who wrote a lot of the books of the Bible in the part we call the New Testament, explained our problem this way. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “the wages of sin is death.” In other words, it is as if we strike an agreement with sin. I agree to work for you in order to live on my own terms, apart from God. But we quickly discover two problems with the contract we’ve just agreed to. One, we aren’t any longer working for sin voluntarily. Paul says we actually are enslaved by sin. It has control over us. And then, the payment we get, at the end of all our working for sin, is death. When we live without God, when we choose this life on our own terms, we are owed nothing more than death at the end of the day.
Jesus, the only one of us who has ever lived a life with God, who never chose life without God, he comes to rescue us from slavery. At other points in the Bible, Paul says that Jesus pays our “ransom.” Sin is enslaving us against our will, holding us hostage, but sin is willing to take Jesus hostage instead. In rescuing us, Jesus takes our place. He not only takes our life without God, he takes the full consequences of our life without God. He goes all the way to the ultimate place of “withoutness.” He goes all the way to death itself. He gets paid what we are owed, what we deserve.
Paul wrote, “the wages of sin is death.” But the sentence doesn’t end there. The full sentence reads, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.”
God became God with us in the person of Jesus. He crossed the ontological divide. He lived among us. He showed us what life-with-God looks like. And then he died on a cross. He took life without God, in order that we might live.
There is only one reason why he would do such a thing. The only reason Jesus would cross the divide, and certainly the only reason he would take our place on the cross, is out of love for us. God has done everything to demonstrate that you are his beloved, and that he invites you to live with him.