Sunday, March 01, 2009

The Cross and the Kingdom (7)

Why did Jesus have to die?

Was there no other way for God to save mankind?

The death of Christ is often explained either as a debt being paid - that is, His death paid the price of our sin - or as one innocent person dying in the place of other guilty people who have been condemned to die (that is, as a substitute). These are two different metaphors, but they often get confused and used together in explaining the 'atonement', or how Christ's death brings about our salvation. It's one thing to speak about a 'debt' being forgiven, but to then mix this up with a capital punishment for a criminal offense would be to confuse the metaphors.

If we stick to the language of debts being paid then Jesus must have paid the debt to someone - if indeed He paid a debt. This is quite different from someone dying as a substitute in place of another for a crime.

Paul used a variety of metaphors from the marketplace, the slave trade, the law courts and the Temple, because no one analogy is adequate or complete in itself. No one metaphor was adequate for him, and no metaphor should be pushed too far.

However, Jesus himself never spoke of His death as an 'atonement'. The Gospels record only one brief saying which possibly alludes to His death in atonement-theology terms - the 'ransom saying' of Mark 10:45 (parallel Matt 20:28), which may, or may not, be a reference to His death (to give ones life in service does not necessarily mean to die). Jesus' references during the last supper to His blood being shed to seal the new covenant are the language of covenants, not atonement. So it's actually doubtful whether Jesus ever referred to His own death as an atonement.

On the other hand, Jesus spoke frequently of God's forgiveness, His abundant generosity, and His graciousness. There is nothing in any of His parables, stories or sayings which suggests that a price of any kind had to be paid to secure God's forgiveness. The stories which refer to debts being forgiven all emphasise the undeserved kindness shown by the one forgiving the debt. If any debt was owed by Adam or his descendants because of his sin or theirs, then the debt was owed to God. If Jesus death was to pay a debt then the debt must have been paid to God, and that would put God in the position of demanding the death of His own Son in order to satisfy a debt to Himself. The other alternative would be Anselm's satisfaction theory which had the debt being paid to the devil, which I personally think is absurd.

If Jesus suffered the penalty for the crimes committed by others, then He suffered the punishment for sins which was due. There is no need for forgiveness then, because the sentence has been carried out. We are free, not because we have been forgiven, but because someone else took our place.

As I see it, the only way we can understand forgiveness is to see it as a gracious act of God in NOT demanding payment or punishment for our sins. If we use the metaphor of a debt, then the debt is paid and is not forgiven. If we use the language of capital punishment then the sentence has been carried out and the guilty party has a substitute who dies in their place, but the crime is not forgiven. Neither of these analogies explains what actually happened: God chose to forgive our sins even though there was absolutely nothing we could do to merit or deserve His forgiveness, and even though it would be impossible for us to find a substitute who could suffer the punishment which our sins deserved.

As I see it, Jesus' death was a demonstration of how far God's love would go in order to save us, not what God demands in order to be satisfied. Several Scriptures point us in this direction:

Romans 5:8
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Galatians 2:20
The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Ephesians 5:2
Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

1 John 3:16
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.

1 John 4:9
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.

1 John 4:10
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

John 13:1
Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.

The death of Christ is primarily a demonstration of the love of God. It was not an act to appease an offended deity. It was not a mechanistic or legalistic sacrifice to satisfy the requirements of any religious law. It was not a demonstration of what "the flesh" deserved. It was an act of love. As the shaliach, the agent or emissary of God, Jesus was demonstrating in His own life and death the love of God, effectively doing what God could not do himself.
William Barclay puts it very beautifully in The Plain Man Looks at the Apostles' Creed:
"But why the death of Christ? If Jesus had stopped before the cross, it would have meant that there was some point beyond which the love of God would not go, some limit to his love. But in Jesus [i.e. through His agent - my comment] God says: 'You may disobey me; you may grieve me; you may be disloyal to me; you may misunderstand me; you may batter me and bruise me and scourge me; you may treat me with savage injustice; you may kill me on a cross; I will never stop loving you.' This means that the life and death of Jesus are the demonstration and the proof of the limitless, the undefeatable, unchangeable, unalterable, infinite love of God." (My emphasis).
This is the most beautiful summary I have ever read of the motivation beyond the cross.

5 comments:

Allon Maxwell said...

Steve, you said:
However, Jesus himself never spoke of His death as an 'atonement'. The Gospels record only one brief saying which possibly alludes to His death in atonement-theology terms - the 'ransom saying' of Mark 10:45 (parallel Matt 20:28), which may, or may not, be a reference to His death (to give ones life in service does not necessarily mean to die).

"RANSOM" is the paying of a price in exchange for the release of a captive.

In Mark 10:45 Jesus has said that:
1. He came to serve
and
2. that He came to give His life as a ransom for many.

It is difficult to see how the giving of His life as a "ransom" can refer to anything other than his death on the cross.

And that would mean that in some sense, His death was a price paid to release us from something.

The appropriate questions would seem to be "What was I released from by His death"?
and
"What are the conditions I must meet for the ransom to be personaly effective for me"?

Allon

Allon Maxwell said...

Stever you said:
"Jesus' references during the last supper to His blood being shed to seal the new covenant are the language of covenants, not atonement. So it's actually doubtful whether Jesus ever referred to His own death as an atonement."

At the last supper Jesus said:
"This is my blood of the new testament which is shed for many for the remission of sins".

Although Jesus never used the word "Atonement", this statement must surely be an "atonement statement. It points us back to those Old Testament sacrifices where blood WAS shed as one of the conditions of forgiveness.
a. through personal sacrifices
and
b. Nationally on The Day of
Atonement

Of course we should understand that to be effective the sacrifices had to be accompanied by "a broken spirit and a contrite heart". (Psalm 51:17)

John De said...

Hi Steve

I wholeheartedly agree with what you are saying. Just one comment, your reference to Anselm’s theory


The other alternative would be Anselm's satisfaction theory which had the debt being paid to the devil, which I personally think is absurd.

In the hands of Anselm this is absurd – but there is a sense in which this is right. The fact that we are purchased (in metaphor) is clear but within the framework of that metaphor – who are we purchased from?

Romans 6 is full of the metaphor of redemption in a slave market setting.

Acts 20:28
28) Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20
19) What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
20) For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

2 Peter 2:1
1) But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.

It would be silliness to imagine Jesus – who was one with his Father – would buy us out of the hand of God. In all cases where the metaphor is used – we are bought out of the hand of sin & guilt – the personification of the result of the actions of our own carnal nature.

To be purchased from sin & guilt is an expression of the truth that we have been held captive by these in the past and in Christ we are no longer.
We have been freed from our own fruitless struggle for self redemption.
In Christ we have rest from our labour in which the earth brought forth only thorns & thistles.

John

Anonymous said...

Well, I just don't get it. How does Jesus' death prove God loves us?
Love Linda

Flint said...

Hi Steve

I believe our community is now paying the price for believing that the way they condensed "The Truth" in 1885 in an [amended] SoF was the ONLY way that things could be seen.

What you have been writing about the Cross and the Kingdom is so refreshing.

I believe it was Jesus' life that saves us - Hebrews says that the grave could not hold Him because of the power of the endless life within Him - and we have that same endless life within us.

He laid down His life for us... not by dying on a cross... but by living with His Father in a fruitful and functional way... and He showed us the way that we can do the very same thing.

The blood references at the final supper [of many?] that He held with His disciples [young, old, new and seasoned, male and female] were made in the context of ratifying a new covenant written in the hearts of men and women who now were making up the new spiritual temple... made up now of men and women right around this great globe... from every culture, tribe, nation and tongue.

The "new" passover Jesus gave "new" meaning to was never meant to be a blood absolution of sins committed... just as the original Passover wasn't.

Passover is a new beginning - a new relationship with God - it was never a forgivness of sins ritual.

Our concentration on atonement for sins at the MM is [I believe] a hang over from our Catholic roots and absolution of sins at the alter. [Yuk!]

My sins are forgiven in Christ continually because I am IN Him and IN Him there is NO SIN! My sins are forgiven daily... not just on Sundays... and it matters not whether I take bread and wine... my sins are forgiven when I acknowledge them and ask Father to deal with the problem!

How much blood did Jesus shed on the cross, by the way? The record is plain that He did not die from lack of blood... but rather from a broken heart.

Now that is something that many of us can identify with.

Cliff