“Why did Jesus have to die?” We all know that Jesus died “to take away the sin of the world.” But what about a more complete explanation? How can Jesus be justly punished for our sin? A common explanation has been that the Father’s wrath against our sin moves God to destroy us because a holy God cannot tolerate sin. The Son becomes a buffer and takes the punishment in our stead. While this is true, it is not the entire truth. Greg challenged this thinking by reminding us of some of the biblical descriptions of the work of Christ. Jesus reveals the love of God, not merely conceals God’s wrath.
Today’s sermon began with a question: “Why did Jesus have to die?” We all know that Jesus died “to take away the sin of the world.” But explaining things further requires us to dive into the various theories of “atonement.” These theories put more flesh on the bones of the simple and profoundly true statement that Jesus died for our sins so that we might be reconciled to God. They attempt to describe HOW Christ’s dying accomplishes this goal of reconciliation with God (and therefore each other!). Inevitably, these discussions point us to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son.
A common explanation has been that the Father’s wrath against our sin moves God to destroy us because a holy God cannot tolerate sin. The Son becomes a buffer of sorts and takes the punishment in our stead. While this is true, it is not all that is true and the picture of God we get if this is all that we say is problematic. Here’s one set of questions that show the problem: How can Jesus be justly punished for my sin? How can another person become guilty for what he/she did not do? Is God just for punishing the wrong person? Another set of questions might be: Does God really forgive? Is there truly a release of debt? Or is it just transferred so that the wrath of God is what is really being appeased here? Greg challenged this way of viewing the atonement by reminding us of some of the biblical descriptions of the work of Christ. Jesus reveals the love of God, not merely conceals God’s wrath. It is love that motivates the incarnation (recall John 3:16! Rom. 5:8, etc.). The Bible teaches that if we see Jesus, we have seen the Father.
Greg offered a barrage of Scripture to show that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were a part of God’s plan from the very beginning. God had always intended to gather all things up into Christ. Redeeming all that can be redeemed. (John 1:1, 14; Eph. 1:4-6, 9-11, Rev. 21:2-3) God was prepared for the fall. In the fall, three problems emerged: we became separated from God by our lack of faith/trust, we contracted a fatal disease (death claimed us), and we gave ourselves over to bondage to the devil. God’s plan then, included responses to all of this: God, in Christ, abolished the lies and restored faith, heals us and defeats death, and sets us free from the devil’s domain.
The first description above that dealt with God’s wrath is the “legal” understanding of the atonement, this latter description deals more with the love of God and the means God uses to transform and reclaim the world. One could get the impression that God is an uptight accountant fussing over every misstep…and someone has to pay for all this! The second view still “accounts” for sin and the damage caused, but the relationships take higher priority than that which threatens them (Rom. 5:8, 2 Cor. 5:21).
The incarnation, God becoming flesh in Jesus Christ, is the response of God to the brokenness in the world. God knew this would involve experiencing death, rejection, even crucifixion (Phil 2:5-8) but God’s love is all the more fully expressed in being willing to do so. The heart and character of God is revealed in the incarnation. God did not stay “up in heaven” (remote from us, emphasizing the infinite difference between us and God) but entered fully into our reality in order to change our reality. God took on the very opposite of the divine nature in order that we might be reconciled to God (2 Cor. 5:21). The loving face of God revealed in this way of explaining the incarnation is far more compelling than that of the legal view of the Middle Ages. Rather than God the Father being and remaining remote and ambiguous in character, God through Christ enters fully into our situation. Rather than set the Son seemingly against the position of the Father we know that to see Christ is to see the heart of the Father! (Jn 14:9)
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