How and why does Jesus’ death matter?
So far we have looked at the historical reasons for Jesus’ death. We saw the mob mentality of the angry crowds, the petty jealousy of the priests and the indifference of the roman governor. As we saw in the meditation all of these are ordinary problems we see in day to day life. We asked if we were there in that situation, what would we have done? Jesus’ death shows humanity at its worst and invites us to see ourselves for who we truly are. Jesus’ death on the cross is in a way inevitable, we simply couldn’t cope with what he was saying and doing. This is shown in the last gift given to Jesus by the wise men, the myrrh. This is a spice used to anoint dead bodies, weird thing to give a kid. The point of the gift is to say that by God living with us, the cross is inevitable.
That in a way is the depressing part. The cross showing humans and God at odds with each other. It shows that God in Jesus is so far removed from us we just can’t stand it. As I said in the video the cross is place of opposites, total weakness and total strength. It is the place where the world is turned upside down where an act of extreme evil is transformed to an act of total love and goodness.
It is often said that Jesus died for me or died for my sins. But how can Jesus’ death so long ago make any difference to our relationship with God today? If God wanted to forgive us why did Jesus have to die in a horrible way to accomplish it? In one way this is true God could forgive us without the cross after all he makes the rules of the whole universe. There is no doctrine in the church to fully explain these two questions. What the great thinkers of the church have come up with are four different ways of understanding how Jesus’ death saves humanity. These are called salvation theories or atonement theories. Each one of these is incomplete on its own, because each one looks at the cross from a different angle. To just take the one that you like will give you a very two dimensional view of things. To get a full view of the cross we must take each.
The cross like all of the gifts of God are mysteries and can only be understood in prayer. In a sense these theories of salvation are aid to our prayer life. What you may find is that one theory will really connect with you at a certain time in your life, while later on you may be indifferent to it or really hate it. That’s fine because none of these theories on their own are correct, they are simply ways for us to understand something that will always be beyond us.
For this visualisation I want you to read and reflect on each theory. Take your time and really enter into it as much as you can. Give it a chance at first you may not connect with one or two, but still take the time to think and reflect. Afterwards answer the questions at the bottom and share your answers in the comments.
The Four Theories of Salvation:
1: Jesus as moral example
Nothing could be more unjust than the crucifixion of Jesus. In the crucifixion we see the worst of humanity. The same story of injustice is seen all over the world and throughout human history. Jesus on the cross forgives his executioners and in doing so shows us that he forgives the whole world. Here Jesus the word of God shows us the true love and forgiveness of God, rather than just saying it. If Jesus can forgive those who killed him surely he can forgive us too.
2: Jesus as victor over evil
Evil by its very nature destroys and eventually it destroys itself. We see this in cycles of vengeance between people and even countries. Revenge is seen as trying to kill someone by drinking poison yourself. In this theory evil tries to beat God by killing Jesus, believing that if Jesus is killed then God will die and evil will win. But in killing Jesus this enables the resurrection where the whole universe is transformed and released from death to new life. So God turns evil on its head and make an act of destruction into an act of creation.
3: Jesus the sacrifical lamb
In the Old Testament there are many stories of sacrificing lambs and goats. The story of Abraham where he is stopped from sacrificing his son and God provides the lamb. Jesus is that Lamb of God. In the Exodus story when death passes over the Israelites they eat the Passover Lamb as part of that meal. Jesus is that Passover lamb who saves us from death and frees us from slavery to evil. Remember Jesus’ death occurred at Passover. At that time the Jewish priests would sacrifice lambs on behalf of the people in the temple. These sacrifices and all the stories of the Old Testament are seen as pointing towards the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. On the cross Jesus sacrifices himself in the most perfect way, finally destroying the power of evil. We use these images in Church services all the time. Just before communion we say, Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world.
4: Jesus pays off the debt
In this theory it emphasises that we as humans cannot save ourselves as we will always fall sort of perfection. The symbol of roman slavery is used to illustrate this. Romans who were in debt often sold themselves into slavery to work off the debt owed. Sometimes a rich benefactor would pay off the debt for them and they would be redeemed from slavery. That is what redemption means to be set free from slavery. Our sins can be seen as a debt that is owed to God. This isn’t as alien as we might first think. If someone hurts us we often see that as a debt. ‘You owe me for smacking me in the face’ for example. Sin is often seen as a form of slavery, no matter how hard we try we can never stop making mistakes. In fact the deeper we get into any given negative behaviour the harder it is to get out. Addiction is a classic example of this. We as humans are like the slaves we can’t pay back the debt owed to God. Jesus is perfect and fully human so he is the only one who can pay off the debt for us. Like the rich benefactor Jesus redeems us from slavery.
What do you think of each theory?
Which one connects with you and why?
Spend some time thinking about each theory, remember they are all incomplete. Put your thoughts and answers in the comments below.
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