This week we approach the celebration of Jesus’ death and resurrection. These event are truly central to the Christian faith and, assuming they are true as I do, central to the story of human history. So I think it’s quite worthwhile to look at some of the significance of these events.
While on the cross, Jesus quotes Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I have most often heard this interpreted literally; people have said that the fellowship Jesus had with the Father was broken at this moment. And I’ve most often heard it said that God the Father turned his back on Jesus because of the sin which Jesus’ bore. “God is so holy,” the explanation goes, “that he can’t look upon sin.”
I’ve never been comfortable with this understanding of Jesus’ quote of this psalm. I haven’t bought into the rift between the Father and Son because I believe that Jesus is God and never stopped being God, not even on the cross. I’ve held that Jesus quoted the Psalm more poetically, using it as a means of describing his experience of the cross, not the literal reality of the situation. (I expect that Jesus, though only quoting the opening line, had the full Psalm in mind; it is interesting to read Psalm 22 in light of the crucifixion.)
I’ve had a new (to me) idea about this recently. It makes sense to say that sin clouds our view of God. I also think it makes a lot of biblical sense to say that the Father loved Jesus as much as ever while Jesus was dying on the cross. But as Jesus bore our sins and experienced the consequences of sin, he felt forsaken even though he surely understood that the Father had not forsaken him. This is mind blowing for me to think that Jesus can related to us even in the experience of sin, even though he never sinned himself.
Christians believe that Jesus’ death in some way reconciles us to God. (Originally atonement was synonymous to reconciliation.) One of the most common views is that because God is holy, he can’t forgive sin without some kind of sacrifice in order to appease his righteous wrath. Jesus took the punishment in our place, thus effectively saving us from the Father’s punishment. (This may be referred to as the penal substitution or satisfaction view.) However, this view didn’t come about (or at least wasn’t prevalent) until one-thousand years into church history. This view is problematic because it gives us substantially different pictures of Jesus the Son and God the Father.
Jesus is said to be the image of the Father, so much so that he says “if you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9). Jesus didn’t go around telling people, “Away from me you sinners; I can’t even look at you because I am so holy!” So it seems like it would not be in line with the Bible to say that God the Father takes this view of Jesus or us. Jesus was criticized for hanging out with sinners too much, and Jesus is the exact representation of God.
I think the view of God the Father as a wrathful deity needing to be appeased comes from a couple of places. Most basically, nearly everyone seems to have some kind of sense, which may well be unconscious, that we are some how not all we are supposed to be. We have a sense that we don’t measure up. We lay this over our ideas of God, supposing that he must be disappointed and angry at our imperfections. This is a common pagan view of gods. If you take this and mix it with a failure to understand the old testament in the light of Jesus, you end up with semi-pagan beliefs about the God of the Bible.
The original view is that Jesus conquered Satan, death, and the powers of evil through his death on the cross (Christus Victor and ransom view). In this way, the cross was God’s ultimate expression of love—both from Jesus and the Father. This view understands that because of sin, we are in some way captive to evil, death, and Satan. “…Through death [Jesus] might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)
(Make sure to continue reading the blog below the video.)
The worldly myth of power holds that if only the right people come to power and have enough power, they can destroy the powers of evil through force and violence. This is the myth which government and politics is built upon. This type of power can bring a certain order and stability to a society, but it can never rid the world—or even a country—of evil. Violence will always eventually lead to more violence.
Jesus undermined the power of the world and broke the cycle of violence. He did this by allowing the forces of worldly power and violence to do their worst to him. In the end, the worst that violence can do is kill. After this, the power of violence has expired. And this is what happened to Jesus. However Jesus did not stay dead, and therefore violence did not have the last word. Through his resurrection, Jesus broke the power of violence. Jesus became the first new human being, the first man to have a new physical body which would not die. And because we believe that we will also experience this resurrection, we too do not have to live in fear of the powers of death and violence. We can fight violence with blessing just as Jesus did.
The Humiliation of Satan and the Powers of Evil
“[Jesus] stripped the spiritual rulers and authorities and shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.” Colossians 2:15. Satan must have been elated when Jesus placed himself in a vulnerable position. The forces of evil took advantage of the situation and influenced the bringing about of Jesus’ death. It was their most unbelievable moment of victory, their ultimate triumph. Or so it seemed.
No one could have ever conceived how this terrible act could be good for God. But God displayed his mind-blowing, incomprehensible intellect. He demonstrated how there is no comparison between his wisdom and the wisdom of evil. God took what appeared to be an ultimate victory for Satan and rather used Satan’s own moment of triumph as the key to his own undermining. God used what appeared to be his lowest moment and instead made it his ultimate victory. This bad event became the seed of good which would restore the entire creation. In this way, God turned the cross into the ultimate humiliation of Satan and the powers of evil. “None of the rulers of this age understood [God’s wisdom]; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8.
The Resurrection Verifys Jesus’ Claims and Teachings
To put it bluntly, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then he was a fraud. Jesus resurrection authenticated his claim to divinity and subsequently everything else he taught. The resurrection is the linchpin of Christianity. It not only provided proof of Jesus then, it continues to do so now.
The resurrection of Jesus is arguably one of the most historically verifiable events as I understand it. Of course everyone knows the people don’t normally if ever rise from the dead. So skeptics assume that the resurrection couldn’t have happened and therefor another explanation must exist. Jesus gets compared to stories in other cultures and religions. However, the beliefs about Jesus’ divinity and resurrection didn’t grow out of a superstitious culture over centuries as in the case of many other beings to which he gets compared.
Instead, we have many manuscripts of works by various authors which were written within decades of the events they describe. This all adds up to what I understand to be nearly unprecedented historical reliability. Furthermore, no one in that time and culture would have invented a story of a resurrection. Some Jews believed in a resurrection at the end of the age, but no one believed in a resurrection happening at that time. And the word resurrection very specifically meant a physical returning to life after having been dead, not a spiritual life after death, a ghost or vision. See “How Easter Killed My Faith in Atheism” for more along these lines.
Celebrate Easter with a fuller appreciation for all that Jesus did through the cross for us.