Journeys in Faith
April 8 marked the second of the seven Sundays of Easter. During this Easter season of 50 days, my church is looking at the reports and stories of the appearances of the Risen Jesus, and the questions that accompanied these appearances.
Where is Jesus? Who will help us to see him? Why don’t his friends and disciples recognize him?
I would like to add my own question for us to examine: What does it mean? What does Jesus’ life unto death and resurrection mean for Christians? Not “are you saved?” but how is it that we all are saved? I want us to really consider the meaning, the work of the cross.
You see, far too often we assume that there is a singular answer to the meaning of the cross: Jesus died on the cross for our sins. But this simple answer has layer-upon-layer of meaning. (1) Some understand that Jesus died as a “ransom,” a price that God had to pay to the devil to release Jesus and all others from the bounds of hell. (2) Some understand that Jesus died as a “satisfaction,” to satisfy the justice of God for the injustice of human sin. (3) Some understand that Jesus died as a “substitution.” He was punished in our place to placate the wrath of God. (4) And one of the earliest understandings of the work of the cross was that everything Jesus did, his teachings, example, martyrdom and resurrection, was to move us to “model” Jesus and God’s love.
Have you considered what you understand the work of the cross to be? While all of the above understandings have their place in Christian thought, each assumes a particular human predicament that Jesus solves. And each assumes a particular path on which followers will embark. The human predicament might be a state of sin, loss of blessedness, bondage to evil, or simple ignorance. The antidote to that predicament, the path of the followers is to accept God’s grace, to copy Jesus, live ethically or follow in the Way.
I go through this because I want people to know that “Jesus died for my sins” can mean different things to different people. You are not alone, and in fact you are in good company, when you trust in a saving work of Jesus that is not the same as the current cultural understanding.
In the biblical readings for April 8, we have two reports of the Risen Christ, and one story of the Risen Christ. How would you describe the saving work reported in Acts 4:32-35? We are told the gathered community was of one heart and one mind, with all possessions held in common so that no one had need. These followers of Christ are living out an understanding of Jesus as model, as they care for/serve one another as Jesus did and preached.
In 1 John 1:1-2:2, the followers of Christ understand that the saving work of Jesus brings them into fellowship with God and with one another through the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the world. These followers of Christ are living out an understanding of Jesus as both substitution and satisfaction - both see Jesus as a sacrifice.
In the gospel reading, John 20:19-31, the disciples are living in a state of fear after Jesus’ crucifixion, staying behind locked doors. When Jesus appears, he grants them peace and the Holy Spirit, and sends them out to forgive sins. What saving work is promised here?
Are these followers of Christ living out an understanding of Jesus as ransom, substitute, satisfaction or model? Or is the “saving work” of the cross not even addressed?
Friends, the work of the cross stands at the junction between the human predicament and our relationship with God; it is about God’s abiding commitment to the world. Whether through ransom, sacrifice by substitution or satisfaction, or through modeling, a restored relationship between the Creator and creation is promised. For whatever else you believe/trust/understand, the work of the cross always is promising God’s abiding presence with us. Always promising our “at-one-ment” with God.
It’s okay to hold onto your understanding or wrestle with it. To question the diverse approaches to saving work of the cross. Believe in the saving work of the cross or doubt it.
I shall remind and bless you with the promise that somehow, some way, and in spite of your / my / our failures and mistakes and false starts and detours and wanderings, NOTHING can separate us from God’s love. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. The work of the cross is “at-one-ment” with God. And nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.