What Jesus did, was what the Father is always doing; the suffering he endured was that of the Father from the foundation of the world, reaching its climax in the person of his Son. God provides the sacrifice; the sacrifice is himself. He is always, and has ever been, sacrificing himself to and for his creatures. It lies in the very essence of his creation of them. The worst heresy, next to that of dividing religion and righteousness, is to divide the Father from the Son, in thought or feeling or action or intent; to represent the Son as doing that which the Father does not himself do. If Jesus suffered for men, it was because his Father suffers for men; only he came close to men through his body and their senses, that he might bring their spirits close to his Father and their Father, so giving them life. He is God our Savior: it is because God is our Savior that Jesus is our Savior. The God and Father of Jesus Christ could never possibly be satisfied with less than giving himself to his own! Not the lovingest heart that ever beat can even reflect the length and breadth and depth and height of that love of God which shows itself in his Son—one, and of one mind, with himself.
by Jess Lederman
My novel Hearts Set Free is much inspired by MacDonald. The excerpt below in particular owes a great deal to passages from Unspoken Sermons like the one above. It is part of a sermon which one of the characters delivers to a congregation he is meeting for the first time, made up of the beaten and broken from Las Vegas' Block 16, where one went for gambling, prostitution, and alcohol in 1930, which is when the scene takes place.
He has been talking about his experience as a volunteer fighting for the French in 1914, then gets to this:
“Early on, when I wanted to say a blessing over the hardtack and watery stew they served us in the trenches, I took a chance and announced that I wanted to ‘blesser’ our grub. That got a big laugh from the troops around me, because it turned out that in French, blesser means to wound.
“I was young then, and full of myself, and it was only years later that I realized, what seemed a mistake, an accident of language, in fact revealed a great truth: in our wounds we find the blessings of God.
“What are they, these wounds of ours? Punishments, at times; and thanks be to God that he lets us suffer the consequences of our foolishness, our evil, for too often suffering is all that turns us to Him and keeps us from burying ourselves in the depths of Hell. The Devil will dole out much that we ask for in our blindness, but God will give us what we need. And sometimes, we need to lose, to be the boxer battered down to the canvas and hearing the jeers of the crowd, the gambler rolling snake eyes, time and again. We need to lose home, lose love, lose anything and everything we used to point to with pride. Because what we need is God Himself.
“What, then, are we to think when we’re wounded through no misdeeds of our own? If it’s only in good fortune that we find the blessings of God, then such suffering is nothing but meaningless misery, blind chance, bad luck. But that can’t be, for not a sparrow falls to the ground apart from our Father’s will, and even the hairs of our heads are all numbered. Still, where’s the meaning, where’s the blessing in these wounds?
“I’ll tell you as much as I know: Christ did not come to save us from suffering, but so that our suffering might be like His. He came so that we could learn to die as he died—to our own desires, our own will. Close your eyes for a moment and picture Jesus, our Elder Brother, in the Garden of Gethsemane, kneeling in prayer, fully God and yet fully man. Facing agony unspeakable, he asks, Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me, His sweat falling like drops of blood to the ground. And then He speaks these words: yet not My will, but Yours be done. Listen: the whole point of suffering is for us to wish, with everything in us, not our will, but His be done.
“That is why Jesus said it was so difficult for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. By riches He meant not merely money, but anything that tempts us to feel self-sufficient: a multitude of friends; robust health; skills, and savvy, and splendid common sense. Anything that tempts us to believe the lie that our will matters, that we can trust in ourselves to get through whatever might come along. Because we can’t. Without God, we’re utterly lost.
“Nineteen hundred years ago, our Savior, the Son of God and Son of Man, spoke from a hillside to an assembly of men and women much like us. He told them then, as he tells us still today, that blessed are the poor in spirit—those who know that riches, of any sort, will not suffice. Blessed are the meek, blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted, and all the earth, and the Kingdom of Heaven, will be theirs.
“I find this awesome and amazing: that by suffering with Him, by dying with Him, dying to anything but the doing of His Father’s will, we will be raised with Him—raised into His glory, into eternal life!
“Jesus had more to say on that hillside: he told us how we can be so blessed as to become the children of God, and see Him face to face. We’re to hunger and thirst after righteousness; be peacemakers in an angry, warring world; merciful amid the callous and unsparing; pure in heart when so much that surrounds us is desperately corrupt.
“As a younger man, when I read this in the fifth chapter of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, His words only brought me to despair. Me, a peacemaker, pure in heart? How on earth could I accomplish any of these things? Because, of myself, it would surely be a hopeless quest, a futile dream.
“But in Him all things are possible..."