“We’ve got to protect our borders.” A man named Hank approached me after a talk about Jesus’ way of peace that I gave at a church in the United States, and this is how he started a conversation.
“Tell me more,” I invited.
“We’re called by God to protect our own,” he said. Okay, I thought to myself; this is going to be interesting.
.. When Hank finished his rant, I could see he was convinced that he had just said some very convincing, very Christian things. I began my response by saying, “Thank you, Hank, for sharing those thoughts. But it seems to me like you would make a better Muslim than a Christian.”
.. I then explained to Hank that his misunderstandings of the way of Christ were more rooted in the example of Muhammad than Jesus. If we can believe the traditions of Muhammad’s life (the hadiths), Muhammad fought dozens of battles to establish and then defend an earthly, religiopolitical kingdom called a caliphate. The caliphate is a physical kingdom where the law of the land (sharia law) and the religion of the land (Islam) are fused together as a single way of life. In the caliphate, there is no separation between religion and politics, between ‘church’ and state. When it comes to understanding “the kingdom of God,” Muhammad and Jesus offer very different visions.
.. Jesus wasn’t asked for the top two commandments. He was asked for the greatest commandment. But in his response, Jesus showed that he wouldn’t let us separate love for God from love for one another. He knew that just loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength without an equal commitment to love our neighbor as we love ourselves could lead to expressions of religious piety that ignore the hurting people around us, or worse, actually hurt people around us. People blow themselves and others up for “love of God.” Other people dedicate their lives to meditating in monasteries while ignoring the hurting world around them for “love of God.” So Jesus tied our love for God together with our love for others. In fact, this bidirectional spirituality of Jesus teaches us that the primary way we love God is through loving others (see Jesus’ story about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46).
.. Near the end of his life, Jesus so much wanted to emphasize to his disciples the need to fuse their love for God together with practical, caring, other-centered love for one another that he skipped right over the first command and summed everything up in just the second:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35)
.. Jesus had altered the second commandment (now the one central command). Jesus told his followers not just to love others as they love themselves, but to love them the way he—Jesus—loved them. That is a big love upgrade!
.. Simply loving others as Jesus does is our highest form of worship and the central ceremony of our “religion.”
The pattern is pronounced: WE are responsible for killing Christ. BUT GOD intervened by raising him from the dead. Yes, there is wrath displayed in the crucifying of Christ, but it is ours, not God’s.
When we look at the cross, we see our wrathful rejection of God, and his unhindered love for us. For some reason, the earliest gospel preachers and the writers of scripture refrain from describing God pouring out his wrath upon Christ on the cross.
.. God discharging his wrath upon Jesus is simply never stated in Scripture. And if it is not stated in Scripture, and never preached publicly as the gospel, there is likely a very good reason why God has decided not to offer us that mental image – an image of our loving Father pouring out pure undiluted angry punishment upon his beloved son.
.. When we think about the suffering of Christ, we do see wrath, but it is our wrath we see raging against Christ. And God? He is in Christ, suffering along with Christ, loving us through Christ, and reaching out to us with reconciling love. This much is clearly stated in Scripture:
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)
God was in Christ.
God was reconciling the world to himself.
.. If I told you I forgave you for the debt you owe me, and I can do this because I already got my son to pay that debt on your behalf, well, that isn’t true forgiveness, but just a different route to payment.
.. If a convict is exonerated for a crime and given a full judicial pardon (i.e., justified), the punishment simply goes away; it is withdrawn. That person’s punishment doesn’t have to be meted out onto someone else to keep things fair. Forgiveness is, by nature, unfair.
.. his all seems to me to be the HEART of the Gospel. God’s wrath is no longer something a Christian will face because the Son took it on himself for us. That makes the good news SO GOOD. That is why grace is so amazing. We are so sinful and utterly inept to change our present state that we need a Savior to die on our behalf and be that sacrifice that we could never be for ourselves.
.. The idea that an almighty God cannot simply forgive the sin of a repentant believer until he vents his anger onto another member of the Trinity seems to many to diminish rather than heighten his holiness.
Now, I agree that it is very good news indeed that no one has to face the wrath of God, if they trust in Christ to exchange their sin for his righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Praise God! And yes, this is at the HEART of the gospel. But precisely HOW God goes about doing that is not the heart of the gospel and is not proclaimed in Scripture. And so on this matter I think it is best to heed the apostle Paul’s warning: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6). As I pointed out in my blog post, why should any of us object to proclaiming the gospel the way the first Christians did in the book of Acts and elsewhere?
.. I’m suggesting, along with a growing number of Christians, that this popular atonement theory has very weak biblical support.
.. Jesus died the death of a sinner, his cry on the cross was not Father, Father why are you killing me, but why have you forsaken me