Day 5 - Friday
We’re walking with Jesus through this last week of his life on earth.
Today is Friday. Good Friday.
Good? Good for whom?
I never understood why it was called “Good Friday.”
Maybe it was because we got out of school!
That still doesn’t answer it.
Do you remember the line from a past president, “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”
Well, understanding the cross depends on what the meaning of the word “for” is. What does it mean that Jesus died “for” our sins?
From my seminary notes in “Systematic Theology,” there are 4 theories - there are really more, but I’m trying to keep this as SHORT AS POSSIBLE!
1. The Ransom Theory. Check out Mark 10:45, “…and to give his life a ransom formany.”
These are the words of Jesus. If anyone should know why Jesus is going to die, it should be Jesus!
Do you remember the movie Ransom with Mel Gibson. This quote from his character, Tom Mullen, sums it up: “Give me back my son!”
When a child is kidnapped and a ransom is demanded, who is the one who demands a ransom? Not the parent!! Ransoms aren’t paid to parents of the kidnapped. Ransoms are paid by the parents of the kidnapped. So, who kidnapped the human race? Sin, Or, as the SNL church lady said, “Could it be….Satan?!”
Jesus did say, in his first sermon, that he came to “set the captives free” (Luke 4:18-19).
The Ransom Theory is the oldest theory and is still held by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
2. The Christus Victor Theory is a kissing cousin to the Ransom Theory. They are so close to one another. In this theory, instead of God paying Satan a ransom for our release, Jesus freed us by directly defeating the Evil One.
This view is about how Christ is victorious over the powers of sin and death and frees us from their bondage through the cross. It focuses on the struggle between the Kingdom of God, taught by Jesus, and the kingdom of Satan (Colossians 1:13). This view speaks of our personal reconciliation and the reconciliation of the powers and systems in which we live.
3. The Moral Influence Theory argues that Christ’s death on the cross is the greatest example of love. The view was formalized by a guy name Abelard in the 11th century. I like him. He was a rebel. An out-of-the box thinker. He wrote a book called “Yes and No” which pitted contrary statements made by church fathers against each other. He put in neon lights the fact that theologians didn't agree with each other! Gotta love that.
Abelard saw the death of Jesus as the greatest example of love (John 15:13). Jesus died on the cross to show us what love looks like in action. The powers of sin and evil and injustice do their worst to Jesus. And how does Jesus respond?
Jesus never retaliates.
He never says an angry word.
He never curses those who curse him.
He never raises a fist to hit back.
Jesus lives God’s love and forgiveness till his dying breath…and three days later his grave…is empty. He wins. Love wins.
4. Penal substitution. When most people in U.S. churches think of Jesus dying on the cross, this is where they go. God is so angry at even the sight of sin, that He must condemn anyone who has ever sinned to an eternity of damnation and torture. However, God doesn’t want to do this and thus needs something to make His anger go away so that He can forgive - but the only thing that can appease His anger is the blood sacrifice of an innocent human - His Son.
This view, articulated by Martin Luther, says that although God wasn’t willing to forgive us outright, he was willing to accept the punishment of Jesus as a substitute for our own punishment. So, Jesus becomes our scapegoat.
In this view, God kills Jesus. Jesus saves us from God (which is hard for me to swallow. I think the Bible teach that Jesus reveals God).
Penal Substitution is not a new theory. It was around long before Christianity. Religious history is filled with stories of gods who can only be placated by a sacrifice - even a child sacrifice. It is the god who is mollified by throwing a virgin into a volcano.
This view is so common that whenever most people hear the word “atonement” they think of “penal substitution”. But as we have seen, there could be other ways to understand the word “atonement.”
Bottom line: The cross is at the heart of the good news of Jesus. For Christians, regardless of whether we are conservative or liberal, Protestant or Catholic, or whatever, the cross is at the heart of the Gospel. Regardless of our differences in theology, this moment on Good Friday was the moment.
Whatever happened on the cross, whether we accurately understand it or not, is at the core of the Christian story.
I have to throw in one more theory. It is expressed by two of my favorite people: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Captain James T. Kirk.
Bonhoeffer: “Only a suffering God can save."
Capt. Kirk: In the Star Trek episode, “The Paradise Syndrome,” Captain Kirk is thought to be a god. Kirk gets into a fight with one of the natives (of course he does) and gets cut - and bleeds. The native, Salish, says, “Behold, the god who bleeds.”
On the cross, God bleeds. He is the fellow sufferer who understands.