When explaining how Jesus' death on the cross 'deals with sin', we tend to emphasize the divine will and love behind it. Out of love for His fallen creation, the Father sent the Son to the cross, and out of love for Him and for us He stayed there until His victory over sin was accomplished. Now, of course this is true; none of the events leading up to Jesus' death were in any way surprising to God or outside His control. In fact, one thing that strikes me is how in control Jesus seems even as He is being arrested, manhandled, beaten, and killed, both in terms of not being afraid and accepting His role (Mat 26:53: "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?"), and in terms of how He radically loves those who are putting Him to death (Luke 23:34: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."). We view the cross as a supreme example of God's sovereignty and the crux of His redemptive plan for us. But by emphasizing the planned-ness of the crucifixion, we can miss a different, more disturbing angle on it:
The God of the universe became a man, and was put to death by sinful men. We killed God.
This recalls Nietzsche's famous proclamation that "God is dead". We (rightfully) view this as the epitome of blasphemy, but for three days, because of us, it was actually true. (Now is not the time to blunt the impact of this with metaphysical talk about Jesus' place in the Trinity or where He "went" for that time) In a real (but mysterious) sense, God was actually dead, and we killed Him. We talk about the cross as where the great victory was won, and this is true inasmuch as it fit into God's aforementioned plan, but it is much more the ultimate defeat, the death of God, begging for the ultimate victory to come. But God's wisdom, and power over death, are such that Good Friday, though a catastrophe in itself, served to make possible Easter Sunday. For "death has been swallowed up in victory." (1 Cor 15:54)
When we speak of Jesus' death as "dealing with sin", allowing Himself to be (temporarily) defeated at our hands is certainly part of how He did it. The cross of Christ, more clearly than anything else, reveals the depth of human sin. God came to earth in the flesh; most people hated Him and had Him killed, and those who didn't nonetheless deserted Him. I can't honestly say that I'd have done any better had I been there, and neither can you. It was the clearest possible manifestation of the human rebellion against God: not simply holding an attitude in our hearts, or disobeying His commands, but actually seizing God and killing Him (as Jesus pointed out in advance in the parable of the tenants, Mat 21:33-46). It's no wonder that the Jews who heard Peter proclaim this in Acts 2 were "cut to the heart"—some of them had probably been in the crowd shouting, "Crucify him!"
In the crucifixion, mankind's depravity is set in the starkest possible relief against Jesus' unrelenting love for us and His humble obedience to the Father. Of course we also see the latter in the cross, but it testifies just as clearly to the former.
Problems with the Prophets (RJS)
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