Christians have tried making sense of Jesus’ death by pagan Roman hands since the first “Good” Friday. The Resurrection helped overcome the problem of the Jesus’ experiencing the death of a criminal. Jesus is risen as the Messiah (the anointed one) of God. The writers of the canonical gospels tell us that Christ is risen on both earth and the eternal realm. Luke tells us in the book Acts that just as Jesus is not in the tomb, he has been removed from earth and is in Heaven until the day he returns.
These events leave us to ask, how is it that God’s anointed one died at the hands of pagans with the consent of the leaders of God’s people? What does his death have to do with the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed?
Most Christians do not ask these questions anymore because the answers given usually appeal to the priestly sacrificial system of anciet Israelite religion. Christ died because he took our sins on himself just like the goat on the Day of Atonement. I once heard a teacher say that on the cross Jesus became a murder, a rapist, a thief, etc. I think this focus on personal sins leaves us in the unjust situation of the innocent dying for the guilty. Such an act is really neither just nor merciful. I once had a cousin who followed through with a teacher’s example of one child taking a spanking in the place of his sister. All that happened is the sister became a bigger brat.
St. Paul does use the word sins in the plural. I understand him to mean that what Jesus takes on in his death is the whole problem of Sin. “He who knew no sin became sin.” For that reason Jesus can be the “sacrifice” for sin because the sin of the whole world has been placed on him through the representatives of the “Jew first and also the Gentile.” This is why grace is so important. Grace is not free. It is freely given once Jesus has “taken away the sin of the world.” Jesus gives up his life because of the sin filled world wants his life destroyed.
The gospels tell us that God is constantly being rejected by the world. The prophets, the kings, the priests, and the scribes and teachers of all people are unheard because of the sin of the world. The final rejection takes place when the son of God loses his life to the sin-filled world. The grace of God has always been available. And grace was always costly. Those who proclaimed grace (God’s will) paid a price for it. Many of those who responded paid as well. The final rejection is on the Cross. And subsequently the Empty Tomb is the declaration of the victory of God over the sin of the world. Grace is now finally and fully freely given.
How do we respond?
Let’s suppose that we know all there is to know. In other words, let’s pretend we have all knowledge of everything that is or could be. What would we do with all of that information? Make pronouncements? Start a blog? Write books explaining it all? Then again, if we all knew it all there would be no point.
The fact that none of us knows it all is the reason some people who have expertise on some subjects and ideas about others write and teach. Pastor Rob Bell and many of my colleagues are writing about the subject of salvation from a Christian perspective. Doing this elicit’s controversy. It should. Discussion should be offered. As a Wesleyan, I would say that the discussions should fit the parameters of “holy conferencing.” Should we in doing so make a truly final statement regarding what we believe God will do with us after we die?
Perhaps not. Making final statements never ended a controversy. I may proclaim the existence of Hell and final judgement for sins leading to eternal punishment. So what? I could line up a long list of other church teachers who agree with my position. I may argue that to deny Hell is to deny Heaven. It would not change anyone’s mind who thought differently. The conviction of truth is not a matter of persuasive arguments. Nor is it a matter of fearing that something may be true.
If I choose to practice love, I can only do so based on my knowledge of what God’s love is and demands. If I choose merely to teach about love I can make any number of proclamations of what it means to be loving and hope to convict those who listen. It is likely the same result as teaching there is a place called Hell with eternal punishment in store for those who reject God’s grace. I may not reject it. I may claim to accept God’s grace for myself. And then, I may decide to do nothing else about it.
The “doing nothing else about grace” beyond saying the sinners prayer (which is not found in the New Testament or anywhere else in the Bible) is of major concern to people who hold the position of Pastor Rob. I agree with the concern. I do not agree with the position that God will save every person. It is an outrageous truth that there are many people who do evil for the sake of doing evil. When young Darth Vader tells his mentor that good and evil are merely a matter of perspective, Obi-Wan says, “then you are truly lost.” The problem has never been does an otherwise good person go to Hell. The question is should an unrepentant evil person receive eternal life? Is that just? Or better yet, how can that be merciful? It is merely expecting God to be “nice.”
To conclude. I know many christian believers who do evil and consent to it. I know many other christian believers who do not do so. Perhaps we should all practice intercessory prayer and speak up for truth in the spirit of God’s love more often.