CS Lewis said there are only three options with regard to who Jesus is based on his claims and actions and the witness of scripture and history:
Your decision! And not to decide is a decision. If he’s Lord – the appropriate position to connect with him, starts on our knees. He’s not a hypothesis to consider but the God we were made to worship.
There was a famous occasion where some friends of a paralysed man lowered him through the roof in a crowded home to get him to Jesus. I would have thought his most pressing need was obvious (sometimes what we think we know gets in the way of what we need to know) – he couldn’t move to walk. Paraplegic or quadriplegic. Jesus knew what he needed more, first and foremost:
‘Son, your sins are forgiven.’
The religious people there to check him out were amazed, not that Jesus was focusing on forgiveness – but that he was OFFERING it!
They said, ‘Who can forgive sins, except God alone?’
And you know what? They were RIGHT!
The only person who can truly forgive you is the one who you have sinned against and wronged. In forgiving sin like this, Jesus wasn’t pronouncing absolution in some general religious sense, but claiming to give what belonged to God, the ability to judge or forgive sins. How could he? Because Jesus is God.
Jesus said, ‘Trust in God – trust also in me!”
That’s the kicker. The ultimate test. Not just the perfect life, the blameless character, the unsurpassed teaching, the most powerful healing, and resurrections. Not just the offer he made to give people forgiveness of sins, and lavishly pour upon them his love forever (oh – and eternal life too!). Not just the claims to be God, to return in glory and one day be the judge of all people, when all who have ever lived will be raised from the dead. ‘Blasphemy!’ Cried his accusers.
How do you know it’s real? Jesus’ offer of love of another kind, love that surpasses knowledge – how do you know it’s for you?
That’s the CRUX of the matter, isn’t it?
As Good Friday approaches.
That word Crux of course = Latin for cross. The most important symbol of Christianity. The cross gives us the answer. The most profound thinkers have never fully grasped it. The best religious brains at the time couldn’t see what was going on. Why the cross? Why?!
Why would this wonderful God-man end up, nailed up – impaled outside the city walls on a blood stained pole, amid the flies and the heat on a cross? A death no Roman could have ever been sentenced to it was so beneath contempt. Jesus was mocked, despised, reviled, spat on, flogged. Then, it got worse. A terrible lingering half-death, until all the lights went out as his Father covered the Sun to hide the shame of it all and yet this cross is said to demonstrate God’s love to us? How come?
I watched the new movie ‘Source Code’ the other day and a recurrent theme of that is, ‘If you knew you only had a very short time to live before you died, what would you do?’ – Good film by the way!
We are in a series at Ivy Manchester looking at what have become known as ‘The seven sayings from the cross.’ We’re calling it ‘Cross words.’ It’s seven short sentences Jesus mouthed as he hung in agonised dying agony. They’re available as podcasts and this series (not yet finished) is from one of those talks.
And if you knew you only had a short time to live, and if every word meant you had to push up on a nail that held your feet to exhale it. If every sentence brought your death sentence closer and shortened your life – wouldn’t you want to make those words count?
Many people were crucified by the Romans. Thousands in a single day at times. They once ran out of wood and just nailed people to the walls around Jerusalem. Many hundreds of thousands of crosses then, but we only remember this one. Those who were dying usually shouted and swore and cursed those who put them there.
Here’s what Jesus said: in Luke 23 – ‘Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
…they did know what they were doing, didn’t they? They were whipping him, driving long cruel nails into him, putting a crown of thorns on him, and killing him – very slowly. Laughing at him the whole time.
They did know.
And the problem is, when I sin, I do know what I do, too. All too often it’s not something that just happens, I choose to be selfish or greedy. I do know what I do.
Sometimes I justify it.
I say I can’t help it
Or nobody’s perfect
Or everyone else is just as bad
Or I’m not as bad as Adolf/Saddam/(insert name)…
But really, I do know what I do, when I do wrong.
So I don’t think that’s what he was saying, when Jesus prayed that one sentence prayer to God.
He called him FATHER.
Then… he said FORGIVE – because they knew exactly what they were doing...
But they didn’t know who they were doing it to.
Blinded by Satan and religion and jealousy and pride, they gave a criminal’s death to the Christ – the holiest, most perfect and good man who is God.
They spat on him and laughed as he died and said they were doing it for blasphemy, ‘Because you being a man, called yourself a King, the Son of God.’ There’s a dark irony in that.
They knew not what he was. They knew not what they were doing, and who to – that they were killing God. Spitting in his face.
And I don’t see what my sin is, or what it does to a holy God, either. That’s why I need what I don’t deserve. Grace. Forgiveness.
A nanny wanted to explain the reason for the cross to the children in her care and she wrote the hymn, ‘There Is A Green Hill Far Away,’ to help them get it. You might already know the words? Do you get it?
We may not know, we cannot tell,
What pains He had to bear;
But we believe it was for us
He hung and suffered there.
He died that we might be forgiven,
He died to make us good,
That we might go at last to heaven,
Saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough
To pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate
Of heaven and let us in.
8 thoughts on “Why I believe – Part 3: The Crux of the matter”
Oops – I’ve not closed a citation somewhere, and I can’t edit it to fix it – sorry.
My view very briefly – sin entered earth through humanity’s choices, (there are always consequences) the result of that was that ‘the whole creation was subject to frustration’ – which includes sin and death. God’s rescue plan in Jesus incorporates putting that right again. This should not be taken to mean that sick people are ill because they deserve to be, and God’s heart to heal is seen in Jesus’ actions of wholistic healing. John 10:10 sums it up for me.
If we have choices (via which “sin entered earth” – you make it sound like a tangible thing) then we have – to a certain extent – a free will. Indeed I believe it is central to your beliefs that we have free will as you need that as a ’cause’ for sin. “Free will” is the dustbin in which you place all the questions as to why, if God is so brilliant, his creation is so cruel and imperfect.
But we come back to this question of who decided Jesus had to die – why God needed him to die. I still don’t know the answer to that, but what I do know is that it is the Christian belief that it had to happen, which means someone had to betray Jesus, and someone had to nail him to a cross.
What of free will then? If God has decided something has to happen on earth that requires human intervention – the kiss of betrayal, the hammering of nails – then, ultimately, we don’t have free will, do we? What if no-one had wanted to nail Jesus up? God needed him nailed up. Would he have done it himself, or would he have made someone do it? Or did God create people specifically to do this job?
I’m sure you’re right to think so deeply about such things. Your comments help sharpen me up too. I don’t think it’s fair to say I have ever ‘used freewill as a dustbin’ for theodicy questions though, maybe that’s someone else.
What I’m pretty clear in my mind is that God didn’t and doesn’t need anything. Need speaks of imperfection so for a perfect God that would be a contradiction in terms.
The need, as I have tried to maintain in the little series, is ours entirely.
Maybe dustbin wasn’t the right word. ‘Freewill’ is often used as a ‘get out of jail free’ card, is that better?
The conversation goes ‘Why did/does God allow such a thing to happen?’ ‘Freewill’
God ‘needed’ Jesus crucified to fulfil scripture. Christians talk of ‘the price of Sin’ and ‘a price being paid’ and so on. I presume this price ‘needed’ to be paid? Otherwise the whole crucifixion/resurrection thing really was just showmanship. My question as to who ‘needed’ it and why remains not only unanswered but un-addressed.
I find it odd that ‘needs’ speak of imperfections to you. I need water and food to survive. Is that imperfect, or what God designed, or both, or neither? I presume he could have designed us not to need either, if he wanted, if he’s omnipotent? Did we not need food and water in the Garden of Eden?
That can’t be right, because Jesus was perfect, and he needed all the things I need – food, water, oxygen, gravity and so on.
So why do you claim needs speak of imperfections?
My questions, summed up are:
1) Did Jesus have to die?
– the answer from a Christian perspective appears to be yes. If it is no, then why did he die?
2) Why did Jesus have to die, if God is omnipotent? Who said he had to die, and how did his death ‘pay the price of our sins’?
– this is the one on which I have no clue as to Christian thinking.
Jesus’ needs were because he came to share our humanity fully; fully God AND fully human. As a man he had needs, but as the pre-existent Word of God he did not. It’s part of his self-emptying in the incarnation that he took on a body which had needs.
Re the questions 1 & 2 I refer you back to my posts. If you want to go deeper than that the Alpha material is available as ‘Questions of Life’ a book by Nicky Gumbel. Or to look deeper than that, the book ‘Pierced for our transgressions’ by Jeffrey, Ovey & Sachs is a treatment of the atonement I found really helpful. Available on amazon etc
I understand that the theology says that Jesus had to be ‘fully human’ and hence have human needs, desires etc.
I’m not sure why he had to be human for this though. If your omniscient, you know it all anyway. And if you believe God is omniscient, you know he knows it all. As ever with things where God ‘had’ to do something (die, be human etc.) I’m just not clear on why he “had’ to do it. Who tells God what he ‘has’ to do? I thought he made the rules?
This takes me back to my questions 1 & 2. My question isn’t about the mechanics of atonement though – I can imagine how the case is made in terms of one person substituting for someone else. I just don’t understand who it was that judged that the death of Jesus was required at all, or why they would make that decision. If you claim that God is omnipotent, then Jesus didn’t have to die. If Jesus did have to die, God is either not omnipotent, or God decided Jesus had to die. They are the only options, surely?
I don’t have time to read books on subjects I am not convinced by, in the same way that I’ve never yet managed to persuade a religious person to read the God Delusion, I’m going to use the reasoning that I doubt there is much of interest to me there – but I’m more than happy for you to explain the key points that you think would help solve this paradox I’m struggling with.
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