In this season of remembering Christ’s sacrifice, the TV programs try to mention Easter, even if it is a one-sentence “Happy Easter to all who celebrate it today”. And those of us who do celebrate Easter will try to share with others the importance of this day, saying that at the cross Christ solved the problem of Sin.
Among other questions, people will say “Well why did Jesus bother with the cross” and to this we go to John 3:16 “God so loved the world that He gave his Only-begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life”.
This raises at least two more questions such as: But HOW did salvation happen through Christ, WHY was the Cross a necessity?
To these questions we then turn to the idea we get from:
- 5:21 For him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
- Gal 3:14 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.
Based on these verses we then formulate an answer such as “Being in sin, we can’t stand before God. And God can’t stand us with sin. So God found a way to meet both justice and mercy: Christ came on earth, lived a perfect life and accepted all the guilt and shame from all the world’s sin, and God poured his wrath on the cross. Christ bore the wrath of God on the cross and now that God’s wrath is diverted and appeased thanks to the Cross, we can stand before God thanks to Christ’s righteousness.”
Scene 1: The Salvation Drama
Let’s picture this as a drama that we are watching, and this is how the scene looks like:
- Sinners are about to fall in the hands of an angry God. This is terrible. Sinners in the hands of an angry God is not a good image. We are one big target, and God has a big rifle. The outcome is clear.
- But then Christ shows up and takes the target off our shoulders and puts it on himself. He’s not really guilty of anything. He just volunteers to bear the target sign.
- Then God the Father does what He does best. He pulls the trigger and blasts Christ to smithereens.
- The smoke settles, and we see God raising his big rifle victoriously yelling “Now, finally justice has been served”. Christ lays down dead. We get to live.
There are a few questions about these ideas of God, Christ, Humanity and Salvation.
Question 1: What sort of behavior do we see in this scene?
- We see an angry, sadist God who is not interested in justice. He is interested in punishment and somebody who would be the object of His wrath. The main driving force of God in this image is His desire to make someone suffer because of the sins of the world, whoever that may be.
- We see a passive, masochist Christ who, for no reason other than the love for suffering, decides to take the full wrath of God.
- We see the People as the guilty bystander in this scary execution of Christ for something he didn’t do, and all that goes by as “divine justice.” We seem untouched, unchallenged by all this suffering as none of us really asked Christ for this sacrifice.
The three parties in this drama end up in a peculiar, smoky field with a dead but innocent victim, an appeased God, and a people who got the easy way out, learning nothing in the process other than the idea that as long as God gets some blood everything will be OK.
Question 2: What does the Bible say of God as a judge and Christ as a Savior?
- The God of the Bible is a loving God, slow to anger and fast on forgiveness. The story in Exodus 34 is when Moses goes up on Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. In the meantime the people at the base of the mountain get bored of waiting, assume Moses is dead, so they decide to make themselves a new god, a bull made out of gold. Moses returns, finds the people all in a crazy party, throws down the tablets in anger and literally breaks the Ten Commandments. God, as we see in v6, is then described as being slow to anger and fast on forgiveness and He gets Moses to make new tablets and God recreates the Ten Commandments even though all the people have broken the commandments by their behavior. If God was an angry god looking for a reason to spill the blood of sinners, this was a perfect opportunity to do so. But he didn’t exercise wrath. He exercises love and patience.
- Jesus from the Bible is a person who actively is engaged in the life of the community and in the lives of individuals. He goes to the Temple, he engages the leadership, and he talks to plenty of individuals, challenging them to change radically, as was the case with Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10. Zacchaeus returns half of his wealth to the poor after this meeting. A man who was stealing, is now giving away. Meeting Christ has changed him.
Christ didn’t come just to take a bullet for us. He came to do something much more than that. We read throughout the New Testament of all of Christ’s activities, from preaching, to healing, feeding the crowds etc. The shortest summary of His teaching can be: Love God. Love your Neighbor. Be in the world but not of the world. Be the salt and the light in this world.
The overwhelming majority of verses that deal with the character of God in the bible describe Him as a loving father, intimately interested in the wellbeing of his children, guiding them, teaching them, being a loving and forgiving father. Christ is depicted as an active member of community, maybe even too active for some people as he was regularly accused of spending too much time on feasts, and hanging out with “sinners”. So the image from Scene 1, where God is represented as an angry sadistic being is not very biblical at all. Thank God for that.
Scene 2: Why was the Cross unavoidable?
Let’s continue with our drama now, and let’s see a new set of actors on the scene and how they interact: We have Jesus at one side, and on the other side we have The Establishment Group consisting of The Politician, The Religious Leader, and The Individual. Let’s see how all of these actors now behave and interact.
- We have Jesus, who through his life shows us how to live properly, and identifies Himself through His actions:
- He is pragmatical with The Politician (Give Cezar what is his) showing us that we should pick our battles wisely, and picking a fight with The Politician seems to be of little interest to Jesus.
- He is Challenging The Religious Leader (you brood of vipers, you whitewashed graves looking nice on the outside but rotting on the inside) showing us that religiosity is just another form of hypocrisy and God doesn’t enjoy it at all. Jesus is very interested in engaging the Religious Leader in heated debates.
- He was Valuing The Individual by feeding and healing people. Healing the blind man in (John 9) to the paralyzed man in Matthew 9 is a way for Jesus to identify himself as God since only God can create sight where there was none, and create the ability to walk where there was no ability from birth. In a sense, these events are not “healings” but acts of creation.
- On the other hand, we see The Establishment as being completely uninterested and incapable of providing “good life” for the people they ruled over, even though they pose as leaders:
- The Politician showed no interest in enforcing justice. In John 18-19 the conversations between Jesus and Pilate show that The Politician cared about keeping the status quo even at a price of condemning to death a clearly innocent man. He seemed OK with letting one innocent man to die instead of facing a rebellion. The goal of The Politician then is not to provide the rule of law but to keep things steady, even if they are far from perfect.
- The Religious Leader also was focused on keeping the status quo by letting one good man die who obviously had “special powers” and disturbs people by calling himself The Son of God (John 19:7). They would rather have a person die instead of reevaluating their beliefs and behavior. The very people who are in charge of providing moral guidance fail miserably as they seem to be more interested in keeping their good relations with The Politician.
- The Individual was also challenged as people practiced crowd mentality and asked for a murderer to be released instead of Christ. According to the Gospel of John, it was only 7 days ago that they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as royalty when they threw their cloaks and palm leaves under the donkey as He was riding toward Jerusalem. Now 7 days later they want Jesus dead.
Christ challenged everybody… so everybody pushed back: individuals, religious leaders, political leaders. If you want a suicide mission, this is the best way to succeed. Expose everybody’s lies and corruption and you are guaranteed to get killed. You don’t walk away from that sort of a situation without a scratch. With such a radical exposure of how wicked everybody is, everybody turned against Christ because everybody was offended by this display of radically different life.
The challenger of everybody got challenged by everybody. This grows into crowd mentality, and the challenger ends up being killed. The masses appease as there is no challenger anymore and everybody can go on living in their status quo. This is classical scapegoat scenario where an agent of change is placed in a group, the group unites against the newcomer, and the scapegoat is gone, exposing the group as unified in evil, and therefore everybody is condemned of evil.
The cross achieved this global exposure of just how corrupt society and individuals are, how inapt we all are to live in reasonable peace. More importantly Christ’s pressure on The Establishment revealed that in fact, people are not all that interested in justice. They are only interested in preserving the status quo where they can live a comfortable life, no matter the cost and no matter the consequences on others.
Scene 3: The Runaway Train: Get cozy, or get out?
Picture this scene as a set with four actors that is played out in a train wagon: The Establishment Group, Christ, The Father and The Holy Spirit.
- The Establishment is in charge of a train that we are all riding. But this is a runaway train heading toward a chasm, The Establishment is convinced that everything is OK and if we’re not happy all we need to do is change seats or go to the buffet wagon. The goal of The Establishment is focused to preserve the status quo, politically, religiously, ethically. Their goal is to keep things peaceful and quiet and troublemakers are not welcomed. The louder they yell, the more severe their execution will be.
- Christ steps into the wagon and yells “The train is about to crash, everybody wake up and get off the train now!” Not wanting to be bothered out of the status quo, we all conclude it’s better to just kill Jesus because he is disturbing our peace and ruining the otherwise comfortable ride. In doing so, the mask falls off. Humanity is completely revealed as being united in doing evil, having no real and lasting desire for goodness, honesty, integrity.
- The Father shows his love and patience, and the desire that we all would live a life to the fullest by resurrecting Christ, making him the first of the many who would follow Christ into eternal life with God. The status quo, that peace and bliss the Establishment desires so much, is not found on the train, but off it, and onto Christ.
- The Holy Spirit exposes the lie of the Establishment by opening people’s minds to the possibility of Christ. The Spirit does this by showing that changing seats on a runaway train is madness. We are still on a runaway train and the key issue is not a comfortable ride but a way off that train, a way to put an end of the blind following of lies and a way that leads to growing in integrity, goodness, humanity. The Spirit helps individuals realize that only Christ has a way out since we all threw him off the train and yet he is back on it, alive and well, calling us to follow him. If he is well, we can be confident that we too will be OK if we follow Christ’s leadership and reject the lies Satan has been feeding us.
Christ is a small tool of truth thrown into a large engine of lies. His presence in history, inside this machine, is enough to start breaking apart and exposing all the lies we believe in. But in breaking the machine of lies, he dies in the process only to be brought back to life. With the machine damaged, we are awaken from this delusion. For the first time we think for ourselves and the logical step is to follow Christ toward a life that will be a challenge to the Establishment by the positive example that Christ set for us as a pattern…even at the cost of death.
As people, we have always had tendencies to love lies, starting with the one in Genesis 3: 4-5: “Eat the fruit, you will not die, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God”. Our desire to be independent of continues today by trying to figure out alternative ways to run our own lives as individuals and as societies, without following God’s leadership. Some statistics say that in the past 200 years more people have died than throughout the entire history of humanity. All this technological progress and wealth seems to have only made us more effective at killing each other.
Chris exposes this deception by showing us how we ought to live, knowing that once we all find ourselves exposed by Christ, we will all unite against Him and kill him. He is calling us to wake up from the fairy tale since riding this train on our own will result in certain death. Christ knew that once His ministry starts, once He starts challenging the political, religious and individual structures the cross is the only future for him.
God the Father shows his love for humanity by allowing the scandal of the Cross to play out as this is the only way to fully expose the delusion of successful independence of God. At great pain within God, the Cross does play out and Christ is risen from the dead as evidence that the messenger is truthful and the message is real.
The Holy Spirit brings many individuals to realize that what hangs on that cross is God himself, being killed because He exposed our sins. Thanks to the active work of the Holy Spirit we know this today, so that everybody who believes in Christ will not perish but have eternal life.
God is not a sadist deity only looking for blood to flow so that He can be appeased. His patience and love toward us is the power that raised Christ from the dead with which God confirms the validity of the message we hear from Christ, who was not a passive punch-bag for God but the best revelation of the love God has for humanity.
We are not just uninterested bystanders in all this. We are in fact the accusers of Christ, and the reason why Christ endured our accusations. Seeing Christ properly spurs us to a radical change, of jumping off the runaway train and following Christ.
Christ’s mandate to us of being in the world but not from the world now makes perfect sense. We are called to live in this world that acts as a runaway train, and be the salt and light to as many as possible, so that they too can wake up from the lie that there is hope for humanity without God, and start living a life full of hope in God.
Call to prayer: You’re on the runaway train, feeling comfortable. But you hear Christ calling you off the train. If you’d want to follow Him, raise your hand: “Lord I acknowledge the illusion I lived in. I recognize your desire to save me from this madness. Thank you for forgiving my rebellion against you. Here I am, ready and willing to follow. Guide me, give me strength and wisdom to follow you.”