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?