Monday, January 14, 2013

Defining the Cross

I've been reading a lot about the atonement over the past few months, and keeping a research journal in which I write my thoughts and reactions to what I read. (It just hit 50 pages yesterday!) At times the tone of it becomes more devotional than scholarly, and that felt particularly true this morning. I tried to distill my thoughts down to a compact definition, on which I would then expand. It's incomplete and at times the paragraphs are disjointed from each other (such is often the case in these research journals), but I felt like sharing what was for me a source of profound wonder and awe at the love and goodness of God:

This is why Jesus was put to death in the economy of God’s salvation: so that our old humanity—the flesh, subject to the power of Sin and Death—would be destroyed,  so that sins could therefore be justly forgiven among those who share in that death,* and so that the new humanity of Jesus’ risen life would be manifested in its place by the Spirit, and the new creation begin.
All that Jesus has accomplished may be placed within this definition without stretching it; on the contrary, the complexity and diversity of our descriptions ought to adorn this basic understanding. 
In accomplishing this death upon the cross, Jesus is at once the substitute, representative, expiation, propitiation, ransom, victor, satisfaction, high priest, mercy seat, son of man & king of creation, image of God, savior, redeemer, mediator, servant, friend, son of David, passover lamb of God, glory of God, Word of God, wisdom and foolishness of God—Son of God.
This achievement constitutes the fulfillment of human destiny in the son of man—the long awaited kingdom of God, the reign of the Most High over all creation, has been inaugurated through the self-sacrificial love of the son of David, the king of the Jews, who rules the world as Word of God in his willingness to suffer and to forgive, entrusting himself to the power and faithfulness of God his Father over and against all of the evil, suffering, and darkness of the world and its powers. He is our true humanity, the humanity to which we are called, but which in our sin we have forsaken. Jesus is the death of our sins that commands our death to sin; he is the life that brings to light our life in him; he is our Prince and our pattern and our path; he is God’s word of forgiveness to us and the thwarting of every power over us that made forgiveness impossible. He is the very heart of God, the truth of who God is, hanging in weakness upon the torturous contrivances of our knowledge of good and evil and responding to our rebellion and rejection and self-assertion with nothing but “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
I deem the plethora of titles and images with which we may adorn his precious name to be fitting—not because of the inexplicability of his accomplishment on the cross (as many a theologian of postmodern sympathies would argue) but because of the magnitude of what he has achieved. How can the profundity of this act, even if simply grasped and explicable to a child, ever be fathomed or ever be exhausted?
*[fn: Justly, because forgiving them no longer entails a capitulation to and a perpetuation of the power of Sin.]