The Gospel is About to “Ruin” My Life

We were given homework at church this week … and I, for one, love it. (Unfortunately, I won’t be in church next Sunday to pass it in, so I thought I’d post it online so I could prove I did it). The challenge we were given was to create an “elevator pitch” to explain the Gospel.

For those of you who either weren’t there, or don’t know from other places, an elevator pitch is a quick, succinct, explanation of the core points of an idea in a way that someone who is about to rush off in another direction can be given the gist of an idea without all the details, but in a way that will leave them wanting to work with you on the project.

So here we go (and this isn’t even the full point of this post):

  • in life we seem to have two great needs – the need for community (relationships) and the need for what we do to actually matter.
  • at the same time, much of life seems like it is devoid of meaning and even our closest relationships can be less than peaceful at least some of the time.
  • in fact, it seems that we, humans, have a general tendency to screw things up. Even our best laid plans, with all the good intentions in the world, have a way of resulting in unintended consequences. Solving one problem leads to three additional ones. It seems like we, at best, get to choose the least destructive of many so-so options. It’s like the entire systems we have built will naturally screw over some people and that leads to cycles of things happening that lead to more negative consequences that lead to more attempts to solve things that lead to more ways of screwing things up …
  • and, yet, we feel this hopeful twinge inside us that somehow, some way there is a better way available to us — if only we could find it.
  • the gospel is the announcement that a new way of living is available to us. It is right here available for us now if we would just turn around and rethink everything we think we know about how the world works.
  • this announcement is that there is a person who came to show us what living a truly meaningful life looks like. And this meaningful life looks like sacrificial love. It sounds oxymoronic, but the way to feel connected is to look after the needs of others before yourself. The way to happiness is to give everything away for the sake of others. The way to find life is to lay yours down for anyone who needs it.
  • this sounds unbelievable and unachievable, but think about what seems to make almost everyone really feel like what they are doing matters — it usually comes when what they are doing benefits others. Think about the times we feel most connected to those around us — it usually happens when we stop caring about getting our needs met and are able to fully give ourselves to others because we feel loved, safe, and wanted.
  • while this may sound far-fetched, the proof it is true is even more far-fetched; the person who showed us it is true was killed because people couldn’t believe this new way of thinking, but God raised him from the dead and proved that self-sacrificial love is at the core of how our universe works. The Way of Jesus is the way to a meaningful life with true connection to those around us. In his resurrection, God proclaimed that Jesus is Lord and he is the person we should follow.
  • While this may sound too far-fetched to some – it just might be true and, if it is, that means everything about the way I live needs to change. The fact Jesus is Lord needs to change the way I shop, the way I eat, the way I relate to others, the way I think about the planet.
  • I am being invited, as a citizen of this new kingdom, to join in the project of mending everything that is broken … not in some future day, but right now with every little, boring, ordinary decision I make in every aspect of my life. I can choose to be selfish, me-centred, and “street smart” or I can choose to be selfless, other-centred and “eternally focused”. I can focus on things that are like vapour that disappear in an instant, or I can focus on things with eternal significance like hope and love.
  • The good news – the gospel – is the fact that this way of living is the way to find meaning and connection in life. It might sound impossible, but I dare you to try it.

OK, so that’s my attempt at an elevator pitch (I’m a bit long-winded even in an elevator apparently). But why I decided to write this down is because I have been thinking a lot lately about the last few points — that this should materially change the way I live. I have also been spending a lot of time thinking about the future of church; what we as the church may need to think about in order to reach the missing generation(s) in our churches.

While I won’t go into the many reasons why people (think 15-45) aren’t in church, the reality is they are missing and I have a desire to see them re-connect or connect for the first time. I don’t think they aren’t coming because they have heard the gospel and decided it’s not relevant, I think they haven’t truly heard the gospel.

Instead they have heard gospels of sin management (what you can’t do and call yourself a christian), gospels of heaven and hell (which isn’t really relevant to daily life), and gospels of politics (which tend to be very uninteresting and divisive simultaneously).

And yet, I fully believe that if a church were to engage their community in identifying;

  1. The needs of the community they are in,
  2. The services and support systems that are not easily and affordably accessible within the community,

they would quickly find a large group of people looking to make a difference, to feel part of the community, and looking to do things that feel meaningful who would be attracted to join with them in solving these issues.

Sure, they may not immediately buy the whole “resurrection from the dead” thing, but every major turning point in life starts with a first step.

Imagine a church helping to develop an economy in a rural community, or providing child care or senior’s care in a community with none of these services (providing jobs at the same time), or imagine a church developing an innovation hub that provides employment for youth that would otherwise migrate to larger centres …

… the gospel should change my daily life and make ordinary, mundane actions mean more than the sum of their parts. And I’m starting to think about what that could mean.

Grace and peace!

 

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This is the End, Which is a New Beginning

It’s the end of a long-week of writing (for me — maybe too much reading for you) and I wanted to try to wrap everything up with some concluding thoughts that may lead to more questions.

Obviously there are a lot of different ways the bible deals with what the death of Jesus on the cross actually accomplished – and most of them consist of imagery, metaphor, and analogy.

What stood out for me is the fact that we are “logical creatures”. We have a desire to take the many different clues we are given and solve the puzzle. We are not comfortable with leaving things loose and scattered; we will attempt to create a unifying theory that takes into account every hint or suggestion we are given.

Theories are fine and can help make complicated things more understandable, but theories are not what we are given in the bible. We are given images and metaphors.

The reason many different theories of what the cross accomplishes exist is because the bible leaves room for each of these theories to be logical conclusions based on the pictures we are given within the text. No single theory is more or less “biblical“ than the others. Each theory simply prioritizes one way of describing what the cross accomplishes over another.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement focuses on sacrificial metaphors, Ransom theory focuses on legal / financial metaphors, and Christus Victor focuses on the imagery of Christ as victorious. (I am sure there are other theories I have missed here).

The second thing that stood out to me is the fact that while I may never fully understand what has happened on the cross, I can be confident that something very fundamental has changed.

It is like I was under the weight of an incredible debt and a benefactor has paid off all my high-interest loans.

It is like I was terminally sick and someone discovered the cure and I have a new lease on life.

It is like I had been captured by an enemy army and was being forced into slavery when someone came along and purchased my freedom.

It is like I was being charged for crimes that I actually had committed and a judge hears the case and declares that despite my crimes, I have been found not-guilty and am free to go.

It is like my life was a seed being stuffed into the ground, covered with dirt and left for dead. But from this “dead” seed, new life has burst forth and now I am living for something much different and much bigger. What started as a mustard seed has bloomed into a massive plant that has taken over every part of my life. You could say it’s like new creation has sprouted and is creeping into everything.

No matter how you create the image in your mind, something new has and is happening thanks to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

——

I came across a quote from N.T. Wright this week that summarizes how this little research project has made me feel. Wright says,

“When Jesus himself wanted to explain to his disciples what his forthcoming death was all about, he didn’t give them a theory, he gave them a meal.”

Random Loose Ends

Today’s cross metaphors are a real grab-bag. These are all the metaphors that don’t seem to fit well into other sections (at least in my head). Because of that, I may not do as good a job of walking through these, but I did want to ensure I covered as many of the ways the bible speaks of Jesus’ death as possible.

Some of these are definitely metaphors, while some are more like concepts … I don’t really know how to explain all of them to be honest 😉

On with the show …

1. New Life – This is really an extension of an earlier analogy Paul gives us about being dead to sin and death, but it goes further than that so I am placing it here on its own. Paul spends some time describing that we share in the death of Christ. And that because we share his death, this means his resurrection will also bring us new life. This refers to a new quality or state of life. He says that “in Christ“ all will be made alive. Peter also talks about Christ’s resurrection bringing new birth. Paul also says in 2 Corinthians that Jesus died so that we should live for him.

John tells us the reason Jesus must go to the cross is so that we can have “eternal life”. This concept (eternal life) is later in the book described clearly (“this is eternal life – that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent”) but it is generally understood that “eternal life” is John’s terminology for the arrival of the Kingdom of God. So, Jesus’ death and resurrection means that anyone who accepts/trusts/believes Jesus is Lord can enter a new way of life.

The image is of a new way of living. It is like a new creation has transformed an old way of living into an entirely new way. This upside-down way of living – called the Kingdom of God elsewhere – is the focus of a lot of the New Testament, and we are told the death of Jesus provides a way we can now have this life.

2. Glorified – Just before his death, Jesus says (John 12) that the time has come for him to be glorified in what appears to be a clear reference to his upcoming death. The word “glorified” implies honouring or acknowledging someone for who they are. In John, the word is said to refer to the self-revelation of God — the innate character that is at the heart of God is brought to light (revealed) and made tangible. Jesus later says something very similar when he says that he has “revealed your name to men”.

The image is of becoming known and seen and given credit for who you are.

3. Saved from God’s Wrath – The word means violent passion and comes from a term used to describe a plant swelling with juice. No further explanation is given in connection to references to the cross, but we can study what wrath means elsewhere in the bible and this is one metaphor that I feel it is important to make a note about.

In scripture, there are many places where human emotions or anatomy are attributed to God, but that does not mean, for example, that God sleeps or has wings. In the same way “wrath” is not an emotion God experiences. We are attributing a human emotion to explain what it is like. It is a metaphor; a comparison to help us understand. I have explored elsewhere in this blog what wrath seems to mean throughout the bible, but it has been succinctly described as a sorrowful letting go in order to allow us to experience the consequences of our own choices.

The image is of God’s wrath hanging over us — which, I have suggested are the natural consequences for living in ways that are not on the right path — and the death of Jesus removing this.

4. Fulfillment of the Law & Prophets – This reason encompasses a number of way the New Testament claims that Jesus had to die simply because it was foretold that he would have to die. That sounds simplistic, but I am using this to also cover the claims that Jesus choosing the cross was to prove his righteousness/faithfulness/allegiance to his purpose. In other word, he knew why he was here and was committed to following this through to the very end.

The first allusion here is to the image of a suffering servant. We are told it was “Necessary (for Jesus) to suffer”. Jesus reference to the necessity of his suffering and his death appears connected to everything the Hebrew Scriptures said about the coming Messiah as a suffering servant. The sense of the word is to actually experience something as opposed to simply acting. Jesus had to actually suffer at the hands of someone else to fulfill what the Scriptures said about the Messiah. Why this is the case is not discussed. In Acts 3, Peter also refers to the fact that the prophets foretold the Messiah would suffer, and Jesus death fulfills what the prophets said. Paul picks this up in 1 Corinthians with his repetition of the phrase “according to the scriptures”, indicating Jesus’ death was the fulfillment of the Old Testament.

Paul goes on to describe the reason for displaying Jesus as the mercy seat was to demonstrate his righteousness both now and throughout history. The cross shows us God’s character is right and just and that he is committed to his eternal plan, which reaches its conclusion on the cross.

5. Unity – The idea here is that through the death of Jesus both Jews and Gentiles will be drawn to Christ. John indicates that Jesus’ death would “gather together into one the children of God who are scattered”. It indicates that Jew & Gentile would unify behind Christ through His death. He later says (John 12) that his death will draw all people to himself. In Ephesians, Paul says the blood of Christ has brought near people who used to be far away. He says this makes two groups into one. 1 Peter later speaks of Christ’s death as bringing us to God.

The idea is that Christ’s death would be a unifying event that would tie together various groups that were formally disconnected.

——

That concludes all the references I could find where a “reason” was given for the cross. I am planning one more post for tomorrow to answer a personal question: What does this mean for me?

Sacrifice

Today, I am continuing the conversation around the fact the majority of what the bible says about what was accomplished by the death of Jesus on the cross is said in metaphor. We have now gone through the two categories of metaphors, which I referred to as a) Victory metaphors, and b) Financial & Legal metaphors.

Today, I want to give a quick overview of the third category of commonly themed metaphors that I am calling Sacrificial metaphors. These are perhaps the most well-known metaphors, to the point that some might be tempted to argue that they are not analogies at all. I am not going to attempt to get into an in-depth argument of how these are metaphors, but do keep in mind that the sacrificial system was alive and active in the time of Jesus and everyone would be very familiar with how it worked. That means it would be a great thing to use as a comparison.

Also, it is interesting to note that many of the sacrificial references refer to the “blood” of Jesus – and yet Jesus’ death did not really involve blood. Crucifixion was a slow, painful death by asphyxiation (being deprived of oxygen due to the weight of the body pulling down on the chest, which would cut off breathing). The only actual reference to “blood“ on the cross is found in John after Jesus was already dead (when they pierced his side and blood and water flowed), and the purpose we are told it served was simply to prove he was dead and his legs did not need to be broken to complete the job. His “blood” was not literally shed … and yet we all understand that “shedding of blood” is a graphic image simply meant to imply death.

A lot of the sacrificial language and references are metaphors trying to call to mind what the sacrificial system would have meant to the average first-century Jewish person.

Now on to what the bible says about sacrifice on the cross …

1. Confirmation of the New Covenant – At what we call the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives his disciples the cup and says the cup poured out for them is the new covenant in his blood. This is all Jesus says about that, but the Jewish people would understand the concept of a ritual that confirms a covenant since God confirmed the first covenant with Abraham in a similar fashion (Gen. 15). In the first covenant, a ritual of cutting animals in half and passing between them is performed. The idea was that the parties to an agreement pass between the two halves of slaughtered animals that represent what will happen to them if they violate the terms of the agreement, thereby formally ratifying the treaty or covenant. Jesus states that his blood is the similar confirmation of the new covenant.

The image is of blood sealing a contract. This image may be ancient and therefore hard for us to understand, but it was a known way to confirm an agreement in the ancient world.

2. For us – In John, referring to us as sheep, Jesus says he lays down his life for us. He then goes on the mention the fact that he has many flocks of sheep and he must make one flock out of many. He lays down his life willingly and has the right to take back his life again (and with it bring us all along with him?). This is echoed in Caiaphas’ proclamation that it would be better for Jesus to die than for the whole nation to perish — John makes it clear this was a prophesy that Jesus would die for Jews and Gentiles alike. In Romans, Paul restates this to say Jesus died for us and for the ungodly.

This is another sacrificial image that would have recalled the sacrificial system. All sacrifices were a way of taking the transgressions of humans, placing them on an animal, and then that animal would die “for” the person. The image is of another living thing doing something for a person so that they would not have to suffer the consequences of their actions.

3. Reproduction – In John, Jesus indicates that he needs to die because on his own he can only do so much, but if he is planted, like a seed of wheat, he can produce more copies of himself that will be able to do much more good in the world. This also appears to be tied to Jesus’ promise that only once he has gone away can the Father send the Holy Spirit, which will allow God to move in much greater ways than He could in a single body (this appears more directly related to Jesus ascending to the Father than his death directly, but the imagery is the same).

The image is of something that must “die” in order to bring new life. A seed must “die” to produce a new plant. You could say this is “sacrificial“ on the part of the seed.

4. Sacrifice – In the most obvious usage of the sacrificial metaphor, Hebrews describes Jesus as the perfect High Priest who entered the holy place by his own blood rather than that of an animal sacrifice. Jesus put away sin by his own sacrifice. Peter talks about how we have been ransomed (see earlier discussion of this reference) by “a precious blood like a spotless lamb“, which brings out the same sacrificial imagery since a lamb was one of the main animals sacrificed in the Hebrew system. Revelation has imagery of Jesus as a lamb as well.

John speaks of Jesus being the “atoning sacrifice” for our sins, which is very similar to the language used in Romans where Paul refers to the cross as a public display of Jesus as the Mercy Seat (hilastērion). “Hilastērion” was the place where the Hebrew people received mercy. While it is too difficult for me to get into an in depth discussion of what these reference MEAN, I want to make a quick note that it seems almost every bible translation translates Romans 3:25 differently. That is because it is difficult to determine exactly what Paul is getting at here because the metaphor is one that is so difficult for us to understand. One grouping of translations has translated this to say the cross is where God displayed Jesus as a sacrifice – or propitiation, but the direct translation is simply a reference to the lid of the ark of the covenant where blood from a sacrifice was sprinkled on the Day of Atonement. It is the place where mercy was accomplished in the Old Testament and Paul is saying Jesus is now that place.

No matter how we translate that passage, the image is sacrificial in nature and would call to mind the Hebrew system of dealing with sins through sacrifice. And, on the cross, this sacrifice was self-sacrificial. Jesus choose to sacrifice himself for us (see above).

5. Demonstrate the Greatest Love – This is yet another reason given that is not a metaphor, but it is still sacrificial in nature, which is why I have included it here. Jesus tells us that the greatest love possible is to lay down your life for the sake of others. In this way He is saying that He is demonstrating the greatest love possible on the cross – self-sacrificial love.

#Winning!

Earlier this week we started the conversation around the fact the majority of what the bible says about what was accomplished by the death of Jesus on the cross is said in metaphor. Yesterday, we went through the first category of metaphors, which I referred to as financial and legal metaphors.

Today, I want to give a quick overview of the second category of commonly themed metaphors that I am calling Victory metaphors. One quick thing to make note of is that half of these ideas are metaphors and half are something different. They appear to be something more closely related to a proof or an evidence for something … like a footprint indicating someone has recently walked here.

Again, there is obvious overlap between the categories, I have grouped these into six general ideas and will try to simply state what is said in the bible about these without going into great detail.

1. Judgement of this world – Jesus states that his death will bring about the “judgement of this world” and that “the ruler of this world will be driven out”. The two phrases should probably be read as one. “Judgement” implies a decision reached by some legal system (so in this way it is closely related to the legal metaphors from yesterday). The difference here is that the judge’s decision results in a sentence — the ruler of this world is cast out. The phrases also imply a separation; a process of distinguishing what is good from what is not and removing forcefully that which is not good. A similar wording is used later when Jesus says he has conquered the world.

The emphasis on this metaphor is of the victory achieved rather than the legal proceedings. The image is of a victorious ruling that defeats someone in a high, powerful position.

2. Power Over Death / Victory – In Acts, Peter claims that it was not possible for Jesus to be held in death’s power. Paul claims that death has been defeated and swallowed up in Victory. In Colossians, Paul describes this as a triumph over the rulers and authorities by disarming them and making a public disgrace of them.

The image is of a battle that has been won. This is a one-side contest; there is no competition. All the things that can triumph over us as humans have been brought to nothing and humiliated on the cross.

3. Dead to Sin and Death / Set Free From Sin & Death – This is a longer analogy that Paul spends a lot of time developing. Essentially he presents a picture of us as being “in Christ” – as in actually taking part in – the death of Christ. (And since we were in Christ in his death, we are also in Christ in his resurrection). And this participation in his death means we are really dead to sin and death … these things have no power over us. We have achieved victory over them by participating in the death and resurrection of Christ.

The image is essentially that we also were on the cross and since that was us up there dying, we are now dead to – or set free from – sin and death.

I am going to try to explain this metaphor with another one, which unfortunately isn’t that great, but hopefully will get some minor point across. It’s like having a favourite hockey/soccer/baseball/etc team. Most fans will understand that when your team wins, you win. When your team loses, you lose. Whatever happens to your team, happens to you. Paul is describing the death and resurrection in the same (very basic) way. What happened to him, has happened to us and his victory is our victory.

4. A sign of Authority – In John, when Jesus is asked for a sign to prove his authority to turn over the tables in the temple, he predicts his death and resurrection as the proof of his authority.

This is where metaphors disappear slightly in this section as Jesus is not comparing his death to something else. Rather, he is using his death and resurrection as the reason why he has been given the authority over the religious system in Israel. It is because he is the one who has won (or will win) the victory (over death and sin) that he can do things other people would not have the authority to do.

5. Testimony to the Miraculous Proof that Jesus is Lord – This is my attempt to put words on the numerous proclamations found in Acts about Jesus death and resurrection. When Peter and the apostles preached throughout Acts, they simply announced that the things they were doing were done in the name of Jesus, “who you crucified, but God raised from the dead”. They didn’t attach any meaning at all to the proclamation and it appears to simply be an announcement of something everyone knew to be true. It is like their teaching and miracles were simply a continuation of what Jesus had done while on earth. Everyone knew Jesus had been raised from the dead since it had happened right there in Jerusalem only a short time ago. In Acts 4 it says the apostles were going around simply giving testimony to the resurrection of Jesus — that’s it; providing an eye-witness account of the miraculous. They saw the miraculous as proof that Jesus was their leader and saviour. The resurrection was proof that Jesus is Lord. Paul also says in Ephesians that Christ’s resurrection resulted in God putting all things under his feet, which again indicates that Jesus is Lord and plays into the image of Victory.

Jesus is Lord because he defeated death! The apostles are claiming to be doing things under the authority of the risen Christ.

6. Evidence for the Resurrection of the Dead – This is yet another way Jesus death and resurrection is used as a proof of his victory. Paul develops an argument for the future resurrection of the dead based on the fact Jesus is the first evidence that it will happen. Since he was raised, we also will be raised like he was. His defeat of death is proof we will also be resurrected.

—-

Half of these statements are metaphors and half are proofs that something has or will happen, but they all centre around the fact that Jesus has won the decisive victory on the cross.

Getting Rid of Debt Collectors & Legal Troubles

Yesterday, I introduced an overview of the fact that the majority of what the bible says about what was accomplished by the death of Jesus on the cross is said in metaphor.

Today, I want to give a quick overview of the first category of commonly themed metaphors that I am calling Financial and Legal metaphors. I am not trying to give a full investigation about what these concepts mean throughout the entire bible, but simply to state how they are phrased when referring to Jesus’ death on the cross.

It is important to keep in mind that no, single metaphor is ever given as THE definitive explanation of what was accomplished on the cross. It is important to keep all of these analogies in mind and to avoid using only one or two to determine how you understand the cross.

While there is obvious overlap between the categories we’ll explore today (and with those yet to come), I have grouped these into five general ideas and will try to simply state what is said in the bible about these.

1. Forgiveness / Pardon – the first metaphor (or illustration) is given to us by Jesus in Matthew where he says his blood will be poured out for the “forgiveness of sins”. In other places, the word “pardon” is used instead of forgiveness. Forgiveness and pardon are both legal terminology suggesting a release from bondage. The root word used here refers to the act of putting some distance between yourself and some other object. It literally means “to send from oneself”. It initially was used to indicate throwing something or letting something go. The word from the Old Testament that corresponds to this Greek word is a term that indicates a lightness … a lifting up. It seems to be providing a picture of a person who has been weighted down by something and that thing has been removed. Paul picks up on this image and Peter writes of Christ “bearing our sins”, which has the same imagery of holding something heavy on our behalf so that we may stop sinning and instead pursue righteousness (faithfulness). John refers to this as a “cleansing” of sin, which is the same image just with a different metaphor for sin (removal of dirt instead of removal of debt or captivity).

While we now understand forgiveness almost exclusively in a religious sense, the original usage of the word was a term derived from the legal system to indicate being freed from something that was weighing you down. The image is of a person being owed something, but instead they decide to cancel the debt, lift that burden off of the person who is in debt, and let them simply walk away.

2. Ransom / Redemption – Jesus frequently refers to giving his life as a ransom for many. This is a word that refers to a price paid to redeem a captive or free a slave. It is a “means of loosing”. This is a picture of people either in captivity or slavery and through a payment made – via the cross – they are being loosed. Paul says that Christ “redeemed us from the curse of the law”. The word “redeem” is essentially the same as ransom; Christ paid the price to free us from slavery – and that slavery is connected to the curse of the law. There are also many references to being “set free”, which is similar to both ransom and forgiveness (above). In Colossians, this same concept is described slightly differently when Paul says Christ has “destroyed the certificate of indebtedness that was hanging over us by nailing it to the cross”. It is yet another word-picture describing the redemption of a slave, just without a payment being made. In Hebrews, the writer says that Jesus died to set us free and Peter talks about being ransomed by a precious blood like a spotless lamb (which also brings out some sacrificial imagery we will discuss later).

Similar to the first image of forgiveness and pardon, ransom and redemption is a metaphor trying to describe how Jesus paid for our freedom. The image is of someone held in captivity or slavery having a benefactor come and purchase their freedom.

3. Justified / Being Declared or Made Righteous – Paul uses the word “justified” to describe what has happened on the cross. Justified is a legal term used to indicate that a person has been judged to be in the right. It can also mean to set right and is in that way similar to what justice means in biblical thought. Things have been unjustly stacked against a person, and the judge sets things right. The wording can also mean to be freed or to make free. These passages use legal terminology to indicated that, through the death of Jesus on the cross, we have been made right and are declared to be in the right — or, alternatively, that we have been freed from something. This legal terminology is developed further in Romans, where Paul indicates Jesus death was due to our taking the wrong path (transgressions) and his resurrection was for our justification (we are now judged to be in the right and have been made right).

The first two metaphors in this section involved an individual either paying or forgiving something that was over us and this third image has the same concept, only with a judge having heard the case and delivering a judgement that we are in the right and/or he finds in our favour to make us right. It is like we have been taken to court and, after hearing the case, the judge decides that we are simply to be let go. He either finds we have been wrongly accused or decides to ignore the charges.

4. Reconciliation – Paul indicates that we have been reconciled to God through the death of Jesus. This word implies to change or exchange something, usually money. This is a picture of an exchange between what we give God and what he gives us. This exchange is described as the removal of trespasses (sins) to be replaced with the life of Christ. The perfect person who cannot sin, became sin for us and, in exchange, declares us righteous (see above). Paul says elsewhere that Jesus reconciled all things to himself by ”making peace” on the cross. This again implies a restored relationship through some transaction.

Once again, this is a financial metaphor. The image is of two parties exchanging coins for others of an equivalent value. It is similar to an image of a accountants ledger where transactions must be reconciled or settled. Alternatively, it is like owing NS Power money in order for them to turn your heat back on, so you reconcile your debts by paying them off. The only strange twist in this metaphor is that Jesus is the one who reconciles us to God … he is the one who clears up the book.

5. Healing – This metaphor seems slightly out of place here, but because the concept is similar to the financial and legal ideas above I have decided to placed it here. Peter talks about us being healed by the wounds of Christ. This word means both to cure and also to make whole. While it could literally mean that physical healing is now possible thanks to the blood of Christ, it could just as easily refer to the concept of being made whole or restored to wholeness. Similar to how forgiveness releases us from bondage, ransom purchases us from slavery, and reconciliation restores us to a good (financial) relationship, healing removes illness from us and restores us to full health.

While the metaphor is different (not legal or financial), the idea is very similar to forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation. The image is of a sick person being restored to perfect health through the death of Christ on the cross.

What Was Happening on the Cross?

What did the death of Jesus accomplish?

This is perhaps one of the most compelling questions in all of Christianity — and yet it is a question that does not have as simple answer as one would think.

I initially considered writing a post that outlined my view of how the cross “works”, but even that is hard for me to nail down.

Why?

The reason, I would suggest, is because while both the bible and the creeds of the early church place the Good News of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus at the centre of their theological worldview, they used varied terminology to describe exactly what this all accomplishes.

When we actually look at what the bible says about the cross specifically — without bringing pre-conceived frames of interpretation to the passages — we find that it seems we are given a series of metaphors, illustrations, or analogies of what God has done for us on the cross rather than a scientific formula or explanation for what is going on.

Metaphor is an essential part of language. In fact, almost all language is grounded in an attempt to explain things that are abstract using things that are tangible. Take for example the World Wide Web (www). The use of the word “web” is in no way literal, but is a metaphor used to conjure the image of a spider’s web where everything is connected to everything else in some way, but the way a digital network actually functions is much different than an actual “web”. (You can keep this going by dissecting the word “network”, which originally comes from an image of working with a net-like arrangement of threads, wires, etc …)

The point is simple — language requires tangible, concrete illustrations and analogies to make things that are complicated and/or abstract into things we can grasp.

And speaking about God is perhaps one of the most complicated things we can do — we are told in various places throughout the bible that fully knowing the mind of God is beyond our abilities as humans. And the central component of God’s eternal plan was the cross and resurrection, so naturally it is something that may be a bit complicated to understand and require the use of metaphors we can concretely relate to.

So — just because I’m so very cool (ok, fine, I’m a geek) — I decided to go through the entire New Testament and see what it directly says about the cross. While I have tried to be exhaustive, there is, of course, a chance I missed some verses, but I tried to limit it to statements that indicate a “reason” for the cross.

Today, I simply want to list them all without additional comment and then, in the next few days, I will give a few more details about what some of the key metaphors are and what common, concrete imagery they are attempting to draw upon. Some of these (noted with *) do not appear to be metaphors, but are rather better seems as “proofs” or “evidence for” something.

So, what does the New Testament tell us were the reasons for the cross (I have created categories that summarize a generalized, common metaphor to attempt to separate them):

Financial and Legal Metaphors

  1. Forgiveness / Pardon
  2. Ransom / Redemption
  3. Justified / Being declared (or made) righteous
  4. Reconciliation
  5. Healing

Victory Metaphors

  1. Judgement of the world and the casting out of the ruler of this world
  2. Victory / Power over sin and death
  3. Dead to or freed from sin and death
  4. * A sign of authority
  5. * Testimony to the miraculous proof that Jesus is Lord
  6. * Evidence for the resurrection of the dead

Sacrificial Metaphors

  1. Confirmation of the New Covenant
  2. For us
  3. Reproduction
  4. Sacrifice
  5. * Demonstrate what the greatest love looks like

Others

  1. Eternal Life / New Life
  2. For Christ to be glorified
  3. Saved from God’s wrath
  4. * It was necessary for the Messiah to suffer / Demonstrate his righteousness / Proof of God’s faithfulness (fulfillment of the law and prophets)
  5. * Unity / To draw Jews and Gentiles together to himself

That’s a fairly long list, but these are the concepts that are used to describe what God accomplished on the cross. I want to focus on the main concepts in the coming days, not to suggest any is more important than any other, but to show a bit more about what the bible says (and doesn’t say) about these metaphors so we can (hopefully) not stretch the analogies further than they are intended to go.