Good Friday as Good News, part III
In the first two blog posts in this series, the emphasis has been on these two points:
1 – The cross was a very ugly symbol of power, oppression, and torture much like a lynching noose, an electric chair, a water board, or a gas chamber. We do not do justice to Jesus, to God, nor to the power of evil and the power of love if we do not let the cross be the horrendous event that it was. It was not a beautiful wall decoration, necklace, or glass window, it was a hangman’s lynching noose.
2 – Neither Jesus in the Garden, nor Jesus’ disciples, understood fully why the cross was necessary as a means for God unleashing God’s love more fully than ever before. Jesus asked God “If possible let this cup pass,” and the disciples totally lost hope at the crucifixion – “We used to hope that he was the Messiah.” The risen Jesus now saw that it was necessary and an event of honor (Luke 24:26), but still the disciples wrestled with what this all meant, and the book of Matthew ends with the phrase “but some still doubted” (Matthew 28:17). If these pioneers of the faith found the cross difficult to understand, we should not hesitate to ask God to give us the blessings and benefits that God has unleashed through Jesus’ faithfulness even if we do not fully understand necessity of the process.
Having said this, it is important to wrestle with the meanings of the cross that do appear in various New Testament writings. The New Testament presents the meanings of the cross more like a prism than a single focus. In other words, there is not one single New Testament theory or “doctrine of atonement.”
MEANING #1 – The Crucifixion is the Decisive Act of God Expressing God’s Love (chesed – stubbornly faithful commitment to our best) for us humans.
One of the primary meanings of the cross presented in the New Testament may be the one we wrestle with the most. The writers are convinced that the relationship between God and Jesus that led to the crucifixion actually unleashed the love of God as never before.
Contrary to the modern tendency to teach that the cross was Jesus’ way of making it possible for an angry God to love us again, the NT writers constantly claim that the cross is an enacting of God’s love for Jesus and God’s continuing love for the rest of us humans. They also see the cross as an expression of Jesus’ love for God and of Jesus’ love for the rest of us. If the cross is not ultimately the enacting of God’s love for Jesus and for the rest of us; it is the tragic horror story that proves yet once again that injustice almost always wins when the best of us humans confront our human power systems and their sins. As the English scholar James Houston once said: “The cross of Jesus is either God’s HESED (“stubborn committed love”) or the cross is God’s HORROR.” I would add: Either the cross is the place we should learn trust that God’s love is bigger than any situation, or it is the place we should learn that human life and human history is ultimately a tragedy.
H. H. Farmer tells about what occurred after he preached a sermon on the Love of God. He said that a Jewish man from Poland’s Warsaw ghetto walked up and said to Farmer, “I don’t think you really know the depth of what you are talking about. When I saw the blood of family and friends running down the gutters in utter meaninglessness, I knew that either I had to find God in this horror and injustice, or I had to give God up forever. I looked for where could God be found in a place like this. And, I found God in a place just like this — at Golgotha.”
A few examples of biblical claims concerning the meaning of the cross as God’s love (chesed/agape) include these passages:
16 For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
5 …Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6 For while we were still weak, at the right time the Messiah died for the ungodly. 7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners the Messiah died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life.
2 Corinthians 5:14-21
14 For the love of the Messiah urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. 15 And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. 16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in the Messiah God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for the Messiah, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Messiah, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Jesus the Messiah for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
1 John 4:10-21
10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
Long before these New Testament passages were written, the book of Jeremiah, the experiences of Joseph recorded in Genesis, and passages such as Isaiah 53 prepared for this understanding of God’s love being unleashed in the midst of evil and injustice:
7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By a perversion of justice he was taken away. Who could have imagined his future? For he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people. 9 They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain. When you make his life an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, and shall prolong his days; through him the will of the LORD shall prosper. 11 Out of his anguish he shall see light; he shall find satisfaction through his knowledge. The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will allot him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out himself to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.