Archives For How Does Jesus Save Us?

IMG_0593– Matthew 27.15-26

If I could offer you a choice: between a savior who tells you to return hate with love, or a savior who gives you permission to strike back at those who do you evil- if I could give you a choice, which one would you choose?

If you could choose: between a savior who says: ‘those who pick up the sword will die by it,’ or a savior who invites you to take up arms against the world’s villains- which one would you choose?

If you had a choice: between a savior who promises you a better life and the end of suffering, or a savior who promises you a life of cross-bearing- which one would it be?

Who would you bet on?
A savior who refuses to be a victim, or a savior who refuses to be anything but?
A savior who promises to liberate the poor or a savior who becomes poor?
Which one?
A savior who promises to turn the clock back to the time you were most happy, or a

savior who speaks of a future where everything is new and unfamiliar and turned upside down?

Which one would you choose? Which one really?

 

I have a friend; he likes to think of himself as something of a prophet, an activist, an agitator. He’s the sort of guy who can string together words like proletariat, bourgeois and globalization and do so with a straight face.

He’s the kind of guy who’s always talking about the Revolution coming.

In terms of appearance, he is equal parts Che Guevara, Rob Reiner and a leprechaun. He’s the kind of righteously angry activist that in earlier generations would’ve been called a hippie, a bohemian, a Red. Today, you’d just say he’s a coffee-shop kind of guy, MoveOn.org/Occupy Wall Street kind of guy.

He likes to hang out in eccentric coffee shops and smokey, out-of-the-way pubs, and between sips and drags- and with his balding white head wrapped up in some sort of scarf- he likes to talk about the Revolution coming.

About the poor rising up. About leaders being ousted.
About the system being taken back.
You all have friends like this too, right?
Every conversation with him is the same. At first you’re impressed by the authors he can quote, by his grasp of issues and by his diversity of knowledge. And always at some later point in the conversation you start to wonder exactly what newspapers this guy reads and exactly what’s in that cup he’s drinking from? What’s he smoking?

He’s eccentric. But once you know him his perspective is easy to understand. He does humanitarian work in the developing world. It’s the kind of vocation that has frustration and tragedy built into it. And that, I think, explains his frequent rants and bull-sessions.

Every day he sees what doesn’t work and every day he’s reminded of who doesn’t care. He works in places where the system is broken, where ideals give way to brute reality and where good intentions don’t go far enough.

One of my conversations with him, not too long ago- the smoke hung heavy in the air between us. Some kind of world music was beating in the background around us. We’d both just been lamenting the many ills in the world, and my we had been ranting about how hard it is to get people’s attention, how hard it is to get people to care.

When suddenly in a critical tone of voice my friend said to me: ‘It must be hard for you…being a pastor.”

And I thought at first he was baiting me to defend my faith or Jesus or all of Christianity but he wasn’t. He was pushing me to defend you. Christians.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

And he said something about how most Christians just want a savior who will bless them or comfort them or answer their prayers. But they don’t want a savior they have to follow very far.

“So you don’t think Jesus is relevant?” I asked.

And with a philosopher’s air he said: “No, the problem’s not with Jesus. The problem’s that so many Christians choose something else.”

 

If you were a Jew in Jesus’ day, the raw reality of Rome’s invasion left you with three political options.

If you wanted to hang on to your wealth and status then you could collaborate with the enemy. Think Herod.

Instead of collaborating, you could turn within and use Rome’s oppression as an opportunity to call people to reform and holiness. This was the route taken by the Pharisees.

A third option, popular with the masses, saw the overthrow of Rome as the only faithful option. Those who chose this option were called Zealots, and they pushed for an armed Revolution that would return Israel to the glory it had known under King David.

Depending upon your point of view, the Zealots were either criminals or freedom fighters. At least one of Jesus’ twelve disciples was a Zealot, Simon.

 

The Zealots believed a time was coming when God would break into history and rid the Promised Land of the Roman invaders. And they believed their violence was in harmony with the violence God was about to wreak very soon.

Barabbas is a Zealot, and the fact that his crimes were famous probably means he was something of a folk hero to the pilgrims gathered for Passover. It’s likely too that Barabbas’ name and deeds were better known in Jerusalem than Jesus’ own. It’s even possible that Barabbas had a larger following than did Jesus of Nazareth.

Every year, at Passover, to keep a lid on any Revolutionary fervor, Pilate had two choices available to him. He could crucify some Jewish insurgents just to remind everyone who was in control. Alternatively, he could release a prisoner in order to appease the crowds. Usually, Pilate did both.

That Pilate even offers to release Barabbas, a known revolutionary, shows that Pilate doesn’t actually expect the chief priests to push the charges against Jesus any further. Zealots like Barabbas wanted to assassinate the Jewish elites too.

Pilate expects the chief priests’ jealousy of Jesus to be outweighed by their fear of violent radicals like Barabbas. That the chief priests refuse to relent on Jesus shows that they understand how Jesus poses a different kind of threat.

So Pilate lines them up, side by side, and gives the crowd a choice.

They’re both named “Jesus,” which means ‘God saves’ or ‘Savior.’

The one’s last name ‘Bar-abbas’ means ‘son of the Father.’ The other, not by name but by origin, claims the same identity. In other words both of them are named ‘Jesus, son of the Father.’

They’re both criminals in the eyes of the chief priests.
They’re both opposed to the Powers that be.
They both ignite within their People the hope that one day soon they will be free. Pilate lines them up, side by side. These two ‘Jesus-es.’
‘Which would you choose?’ Pilate asks them.
Which ‘Savior’ do you want?
Barabbas promises he can change the world by changing who’s in charge of it. Barabbas promises everything will be better if only we get rid of Pilate and the

Priests and Rome.
Barabbas asks his people to take up arms.

Jesus asks his people to take up their cross and follow.

Matthew says that the chief priests ‘persuaded’ the crowds to choose Barabbas over Jesus. The reality is that they probably didn’t have to try very hard.

 

One morning we were sitting down drinking coffee together. My friend was only half paying attention. He was rattling off his litany of the world’s ills while doing some kind of Tai Chi in his chair to music that was playing only in his head.

You all have friends like this, right?

Distracted, he was talking about the need for Revolution, about the need to change the System- to get rid of the people at the Top, to throw out the people in charge. Sensing that we were heading down a familiar rabbit hole- one I didn’t want to venture down that particular morning- I asked him, something that for some reason I hadn’t asked him before.

“Then why do you choose to do what you do?”

His arms didn’t stop their Tai Chi movements back and forth, but he cocked his head to the side, like he didn’t follow my meaning.

“If you’re all about Revolution and changing the System, then why do you do what you do? Small business development, advocacy, community organizing: these things take time. They’re small steps. You spend all your time with people on the bottom.”

And he smiled, like I had just outed the man behind the mask.
And he said: “Because just changing who’s at the top doesn’t really change anything.

If you really want to change the world, people need to be transformed.”

 

If I gave you a choice…

Would you choose a savior who butts in on your marriage and your money, who forces you to look into the mirror and own up to your own brokenness, who says you have to try and understand those you don’t like, who says you’ve got to love those who don’t like you, who says you’ve got to forgive and forgive and forgive.

Or, would you choose a savior who promises to leave the rest of your life alone and just answer the one prayer you have in your life?

Which would you choose?

A savior who will change only the pain in your life and leave the “good” alone, or a savior determined to change everything?

Which?

Pilate lines them up, side by side. Two different Jesus-es. Pick one, Pilate says.

Barabbas says ‘I can give you the life you want.’
But Jesus says ‘I can show you the life God wants.’
Barabbas believes governments and their armies are the tiller of history.
But Jesus believes the future can be moved by a Cross and the hearts that are

changed by it.

Had Pilate known the crowds would choose Barabbas, he probably never would have given them a choice.

But the choice is with us all the time.

 

 

 

 

 

imagesForgive them- that sounds like Jesus, alright.

But: ʻThey donʼt know what theyʼre doing?ʼ Really?
Itʼs not like Jesus to get something so wrong.

Maybe it would help it all go down a bit easier. Maybe it would help us hear Lukeʼs Gospel with a little less dis-ease.

Asking ʻwhere am I in the story?ʼ would be a lot less incriminating if we could just say:

ʻThey didnʼt know.ʼ
ʻThey didnʼt know what they were doing.ʼ

But they knew exactly what they were doing.

Judas knew.
He was selling a friend out for money.
For thirty pieces of silver.
You canʼt get more straightforward than that. He waited to do it. He bided his time.

He chose the day and the time to walk out on the people whoʼd been his family.

And betray the person he loved.
Donʼt tell me he didnʼt know what he was doing.

Peter knew.
He was afraid.
So he turned his back on all the promises heʼd ever made.
Maybe he didnʼt mean it the first time.
But it wasnʼt just the first time.
It was three times: ʻJesus? Whoʼs that? I donʼt know him.ʼ
Maybe it adds insult to injury, Jesus. Maybe it hurts you to think so, but Peter knew. He knew what he was doing. He was saving himself.

You canʼt tell me the religious leaders- the scribes and the elders and the Pharisees and the chief priests- didnʼt know.

Didnʼt know they were smearing another for their own gain.
Theyʼd been after him since he first sat down at the wrong dinner table. Since he first touched the wrong kind of person.

Since he first spoke to the wrong kind of woman.
Since he first healed on the wrong day of the week.
Theyʼd plotted for just this sort of thing. This is what they wanted. Theyʼd orchestrated the entire event.
They contrived the indictments against him.
They whipped the crowd into a lynch mob.
Surely, of all people, Jesus knows that.
Knows that they know what theyʼre doing, that they have no alibi and no excuses.
No right to forgiveness.

 

The soldiers knew.
They canʼt hide behind their uniform.
They canʼt say ʻwe were just following orders.ʼ
No one ordered them to blindfold him and punch him and tease: ʻYouʼre a prophet, guess who just hit you?ʼ
No one ordered them to put a Kingʼs robe on him and mock him.
No one told them to take the time to fashion a crown of thorns for his head, or

to roll dice for his bloodied clothes, or to carve and nail a contemptuously ironic sign above his head that said ʻKing of the Jews.ʼ

 

They just did it for laughs.
They knew what they were doing.

And certainly Pilate knew.
He was choosing expediency over responsibility.
He even washed his hands of the whole sordid matter.
Literally.
Jesusʼ crucifixion was just a matter of course for him.
Jesus, for him, was just another peasant to make an example of.
His cross just one of hundreds that stood along the roadsides of Jerusalem. As a warning.
A deterrent.
He knew.

And so did the crowds gathered there that day to listen to his trial and watch him die.

Of all those gathered at his Cross only Mary and Mary and 1/12 of his disciples are weeping.

Everyone else is there to exult in his suffering.

To stare at the wreckage and feel a bit better about their own lives when compared to his fate.

Thereʼs no other reason for them to be there except that they know exactly what theyʼre doing.

Do you still want forgiveness for them, Jesus?

Everything Iʼve ever done, I knew what I was doing.
Every lie and half-truth ever told.
Every betrayal.
Every time Iʼve compromised my convictions just because that was the easier

thing to do.
Every person Iʼve hurt.
Every word spoken in anger.
Every good Iʼve taken for granted.
Every grudge Iʼve clung to and every decision Iʼve made based solely on

whatʼs best for me. Sure I knew.

Maybe I didnʼt always know what the outcome would be. Maybe I didnʼt always understand the consequences. Maybe I didnʼt always intend the damage done.

But I still knew what I was doing.

And yet-
Jesus says to the Father: ʻ…forgive them, they donʼt know what theyʼre doing.ʼ

Last summer I spent a week with a group of Aldersgateʼs college students at a monastery in the French countryside. The monastery weekly welcomes thousands of Christians from around the world.

In many ways, the monastery is just what youʼd expect: monks in oatmeal- colored robes, chanting, simplicity and silence. We worshipped four times a day at the monastery, and most of the services were nearly identical in structure.

Except on Friday night, every week of every year, the monks celebrate Good Friday, the day of Jesusʼ death on the Cross.

Worship at the monastery is different in that the brothers donʼt explain or introduce anything- at best theyʼll flash a digitized song number on the wall.

Itʼs not like Christmas or Easter at Aldersgate where our instructions for communion take longer than the sacrament itself. The brothers just expect you to stumble along until you eventually fall into the rhythm of their worship.

That was true of their Good Friday service as well.

Most of the service was the same as all the others that week. We chanted songs like ʻIn the Lord Iʼll be Ever Thankfulʼ and ʻCome and Fill Our Hearts with Your Peace.ʼ There was 20-30 minutes of absolute, unguided silence.

But on Friday near the end of the service, as we were singing, the monks all stood up off their knees and shuffled down the aisle, stepping over all the people who were sitting on the floor. And for moment or two the brothers disappeared into a little room near the front of the sanctuary.

Just as everyone began to sing ʻJesus Remember Meʼ in French, the brothers reentered the sanctuary carrying a large cross on their shoulders. The cross was flat, about 6 feet tall and painted like a Medieval icon.

Because there were so many people crowded into the church and because we were sitting on the floor, I couldnʼt really see what they were doing with the cross. I saw them carry it into the middle of the sanctuary but then they dropped from my line of sight.

We kept singing ʻJesus Remember Meʼ over and over; the chanting was a constant ebb and flow, like the sanctuary itself was breathing in and out. After a few minutes I could see groups of people near the front of the sanctuary getting up off their knees and walking towards the middle of the room and forming a line.

It went on like that for a while. We must have sung 3 or 4 songs while a steady stream of people stood up and lined up, and still I didnʼt know and I couldnʼt see what it was they were doing.

Eventually the people around us started getting up and stepping over towards the line and so our group did too. I was only standing in line for a minute when everyone in line in front of me dropped down to their knees.

I still couldnʼt see what was going on. The aisle was twice as long as the one here at Aldersgate, and there were hundreds of people in front of me, all on their knees, inching forward on their knees every half-minute or so.

We were singing ʻWith God There is Fullness, Fullness and Joyʼ but we were singing it in German and I was tripping over the awkward melody and my knees were starting to ache and my back was cramping up and then after a very long time I could see.

The brothers had laid the cross flat on top of four terra cotta blocks so that it was about a foot off the floor. A dozen or so people were kneeling around the cross, bent over it with their foreheads pressed down against it. They were praying.

I crawled up to the cross when it was my turn.

I fit my shoulders in between two other people and I leaned over and I laid my forehead down on the cross, just about on the spot where Jesusʼ wounded side wouldʼve been.

The woman next me was praying ʻFather, Father Fatherʼ in desperate, pleading German.

A teenage boy on my left was sniffing and whispering ʻIʼm sorryʼ over and over in Spanish, and, with my shoulders touching his, I could feel his back heaving as he cried.

Everything Iʼve ever done, I knew what I was doing.

You know what I thought about that night, with my forehead pressed down against the cross? You know what hit me like a wound somewhere deep inside me?

That every lie Iʼd ever told, every insult or injury Iʼd ever done to someone I loved, every resentment, every angry word, every sin…that I hadnʼt just done it to the people I love, the people in my life…Iʼd done it to Him too. To God.

That every time I make a mess of my life, the person I hurt the most is the One who gave me that life.

And suffered for it.

Maybe it sounds strange for a pastor to confess, but I donʼt often think that way.

ʻForgive them,ʼ Jesus prays.
ʻThey donʼt know what theyʼre doing.ʼ
No, they know, but they donʼt GRASP what it is theyʼre doing.
Judas doesnʼt grasp that itʼs not just a friend heʼs betraying. Itʼs God. In the lesh.
Peter doesnʼt grasp thatʼs itʼs not just his rabbi heʼs denying. Itʼs his Lord. Pilate doesnʼt grasp that in the lowly criminal heʼs condemning all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Every one of them.
They know.

But they donʼt grasp-

That all the lies weʼre willing to tell.
All the betrayals weʼre willing to make.
All the promises weʼre willing to forget.
All the hypocrisy and violence and shame and cruelty weʼre willing to tolerate. That, when all is said and done, our true victim is God.

And heʼs the One praying for our forgiveness.

The woman at my right was pleading ʻFather, Father, Fatherʼ and the boy on my left was praying ʻIʼm sorry.ʼ

Meanwhile the words that came to me were Davidʼs words: ʻAgainst you, you only only Lord, have I sinned.ʼ

Words we pray on Ash Wednesday.

Words I donʼt think I ever really understood until I said them on my knees with my head pressed against Godʼs wounded side.

And the feelings those words conjured in me: Smallness. Shame. Guilt

But you know- when I got up off my knees, not one of those feelings came with me.

They stayed there. At the cross.

And I think thatʼs the paradox of the cross that only Christians can truly understand: that as much as the cross is confirmation of the very worst about us, itʼs that much more a sign of the goodness of God.

When I left the cross and found my place back on the sanctuary floor, the monks and the weekʼs pilgrims were all singing ʻWithin Our Darkest Night You Kindle a Fire that Never Dies.ʼ

And I can tell you- if I hadnʼt been a Christian already, I wouldʼve become one that night.

 

 

The Lord says it is too light a thing that you should be my servant.  You will be a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end, reach to the end, reach to the end of the earth.  I have labored in vain.

The Lord says kings shall see and stand because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel.  Sing for joy, 

O heaven and earth for the Lord has comforted his people, has comforted his people.

Bring Jacob back, bring Jacob back.  Bring Jacob back.  I have labored in vain.

Bring Jacob back.  My Lord has forsaken me.  Bring Jacob back.  My Lord has forgotten me.

Isaiah 49:  1-13

Thursday night of Holy Week ends where Jesus’ last week began: at the Mt of Olives, where the prophets promised the Messiah would appear. The story of salvation begins where the story of creation began: in a garden.

Peter- and probably the other disciples too- brings a sword with him to the garden. Even now Peter expects Jesus to turn out to be the sort of Messiah they’d all wanted. A Messiah worthy of palm branches. A Messiah who provokes and leads a war. A Messiah who deposes Caesar as handily as God disposed of Pharaoh.

Peter wants to sing a victory song as badly as the Israelites had wanted to sing.

Peter brings a sword and Jesus rebukes him: ‘Do you think I couldn’t appeal to the Father and he will at once send me twelve armies of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled?’

In the garden Jesus prays: ‘Let this cup pass from me.’

John Howard Yoder says this is Jesus wrestling with his final temptation. This is Jesus struggling to believe that the only way to defeat the power Sin is to suffer the very worst it can do.

“I have labored in vain” Isaiah foreshadows.

Here’s a question for tonight: 

Does Isaiah imagine Jesus speaking those words, as the darkness creeps all around him and defeat seems certain. 

     “I have labored in vain” is this Jesus speaking?

     Or does Isaiah imagine those words spoken by you and me? 

     Those of us who’ve given years to Jesus and brought swords with us only to discover he’s not the sort of Messiah we had wanted. 

 

photo-1
This weekend for my sermon I answered questions people submitted about the Cross, the Atonement and the Passion Story.

I pulled the questions at random from a bingo tumbler and answered as many as possible.

Dennis Perry, my assistant pastor, joined me at 3 of the services and a friend and divinity student, Andrew DiAntonio joined me at 2 of the services. 

You can listen and/or download them by clicking here or going to ‘Tamed Cynic’ in the iTunes store.

I will add them to the ‘Listen’ widget on this blog by the end of this week.

IMG_0593I’ve posted a few times this week about the Church’s historic theories about how Jesus saves us on the cross. Atonement theories. None of these theories are perfect. Some are problematic.

The chief problem with all of them is how incidental they make Jesus’ Jewishness.

Jesus is the incarnation of Yahweh not a generic concept of God. That should matter and govern how we understand his life, death and resurrection.

After all, the New Testament is replete with parallels between the Hebrew Bible and Jesus’ life:

The Genesis Creation Story – Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus and Jesus’ Virgin Birth 

Joseph Going Egypt – Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt

Death of the Firstborn in Exodus – Herod Killing Newborns in Matthew

Deliverance through Red Sea – Jesus’ baptism in Jordan

Wilderness Wandering – Jesus’ Temptation in Wilderness

Moses Giving the Law – Sermon on the Mount

Manna – Feeding of the Multitude 

Passover – Last Supper 

Garden of Eden – Garden of Gethsemane 

Tree of Knowledge – Cross

NT Wright says that “Jesus is Israel in person.” Jesus doesn’t just re-enact, in a general way, our human story. Jesus re-enacts the particular story of Israel.

Jesus goes down to Egypt with Joseph like Israel did. He begins his vocation at the Jordan River like Israel did. He’s tested in the wilderness for forty days just as Israel was tested for forty years. Jesus calls twelve followers like Israel had twelve tribes. Jesus echoes the prophets by calling attention to those who’ve been forgotten and marginalized.

Jesus is the Second Adam. He’s the one righteous man like Noah. He forms a new people like Abraham. He’s the new Israel like Jacob. He despairs and nevertheless saves his people like Joseph. He leads his people to freedom like Moses. He’s God’s chosen King like David. Like David facing Goliath, he does for his people what they cannot do for themselves. He’s a healer and trouble-maker like Elijah.

     And by following the way of the Cross, Jesus goes into Exile among his own people to bring them home and change the ending of their story. The rejection Jesus faces puts God to the ultimate test, but on Easter God turns that rejection into a display of his grace.

Jesus is the entire story of Israel in the flesh. Redone. Recapitulated. Repeated. Perfectly this time.

By living perfectly the life God originally intended for all of us, by doing what Israel could never do, Jesus unwinds the story of Sin. He shows Sin to be a false narrative, a corruption, devoid of power or ultimacy. He starts creation again. Resurrection is a reset. In him, is a new creation.

So salvation doesn’t just begin with Christmas or on the Cross. It begins when God calls Abraham to be a blessing to the world. And it’s embodied by the whole life of Jesus. It’s living this whole story that saves us and continues to heal the world.

In other words, there is something fundamentally askew with human existence- we’re imperfect, corruptible and prone to sin despite our best intentions.

So, in Christ, God takes flesh to set right what is wrong with our fleshly lives. Just as Adam disobeyed God by eating from a tree, Christ obeys God even if it leads him to be nailed to a tree. Christ thus perfects every part of our human lives.

We’re saved because, by becoming one of us, God joins our imperfect character to his perfect character. God became one of us so that we might be freed to become more like God.

In this perspective, the Cross is an image of Christ’s obedience (not God’s wrath). Christ doesn’t suffer for us, in our place. He suffers because of us. In other words, sinful humanity’s reaction to the life of someone who bears God’s image is to see him as a criminal and kill him. Think of Martin Luther King.

He didn’t come to die, but its easy to see how death was the likely outcome of a life lived as he lived it.

God’s wrath didn’t require his death; his vocation did. 

The cross is a sign of Christ’s obedient life. Even when threatened with suffering and death, he doesn’t waver from the form of life God desires. Easter then is vindication. It’s God saying with an empty tomb: ‘this is the life I desire.’

The cross is a sign of obedience and Easter is vindication, but salvation begins happening with incarnation, in Mary’s womb.

Christus Victor, Penal Substitution, Moral Exemplar- these traditional atonement theories all have scriptural support. They’re all right, in a sense.

The problem, though, is that each of them focuses on only one part of the story: Good Friday or Easter or Christmas Day; Jesus’ suffering or the Sermon on the Mount or the Resurrection. None of them focuses on the whole of the story. They all see Jesus fulfilling a part of the Hebrew Bible but they fail to put Jesus in continuity with the entirety of the Hebrew Bible. 

     They really are theories in that they’re abstracted explanations.

     They’re abstracted from the detail and the context of Jesus’ life.

They all forget that the context of Jesus’ life isn’t a courtroom or a battlefield or our hearts. Sin isn’t just a matter of guilt. Sin isn’t just a matter of metaphysical corruption. Sin isn’t just ignorance.

Sin is a corruption of Israel’s destiny.

     And the context of Jesus’ life is Israel.

Because Jesus effects a re-inaugeration of the creation story, we are now free (through the Spirit’s work) to live Jesus’ life. Jesus’ earthly teaching is not extraneous nor is it simply something that can change our hearts. It’s the true story of creation. It’s, as John Howard Yoder says, ‘the grain of the universe.’

The recapitulation perspective sees Jesus’ work not only as living Israel’s life perfectly so that Sin can be defeated. It sees Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection as the first act of God’s New Creation.

In the Book of Revelation, for example, ‘heaven’ is not a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ otherworldly realm. Rather, heaven is a New Earth. Heaven comes down to earth. Our destiny is a New Jerusalem in which God dwells in peace and love with his creatures- just as things had begun in the Garden in Genesis.

The Gospels, however, emphasizes the importance of Jesus’ life because it’s that life that leads to New Creation.

The proper trajectory of salvation, then, is not that we go to be with God, but that, because of the reversal made possible by Christ, God will come down and be with us forever.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0593The angel Gabriel in Matthew’s Gospel tells the sleeping Joseph to name ‘his’ boy ‘Jesus’ for that boy will ‘save’ his people from their sin. This is as explicit as the nativity story gets. How Jesus will save his people Gabriel doesn’t mention.

     How Jesus saves…how Jesus saves from Sin is a question the Gospels, the New Testament for that matter, never answers in a singular, definitive, clear, logical or rational way.

      The reticence of the New Testament to explain the mechanics of salvation leaves us with questions. Questions with which the Church has wrestled for centuries under the heading ‘atonement theories’:

     Does Jesus die for us? 

     As in, does Jesus die in our place? 

     As a substitute for you and me?

 

     Or does Jesus die because of us? 

     As in, is death on a cross the inevitable conclusion to the way he lived his life?

 

     Does Jesus die because our sinful lust for power, wealth and violence kills him? 

     As though our world has no other reaction to a life God desires than to eliminate it? 

 

     Does Jesus die in order to destroy Death and Sin? 

     As in, does Jesus let the powers of Sin and Death do their worst so that, in triumphing over them, he shatters their power forever?  

 

    Does Jesus die with us? 

    As in, does Jesus suffer death as the completion of his incarnation? 

 

    Is death the last experience left for God to be one of us, in the flesh? 

 

    Was it necessary for Jesus to die? 

    Or was his incarnation, his taking our nature and living it perfectly, redemptive in itself? 

 

    Did Jesus have to die on a cross? 

    If the conclusion to incarnation had been for Jesus to die as an old man of natural causes, would we still be saved?

 

     And how does the history of and covenant with Israel fit into the salvation worked by Christ?

      And how does Easter relate to Good Friday?

Such questions are possible, indeed they get asked all the time, because the New Testament never singles an answer to how Mary and Joseph’s son lives up to his name.