“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16, ESV).
On Good Friday especially, we ought reflect on the meaning of the cross. Why did Jesus die? What did His death accomplish? What is the message of the atonement? Only when we will face the awful reality of sin can we grasp the magnitude of Christ’s accomplishment on the cross, and the wonders of the holy-love of God.
I mentioned recent statements by Jory Micah in my last Tuesday Tea-ology, but it has come to my
shocked disbelief attention that not everyone drinks tea. Now, you can watch Tuesday Tea-ology without drinking tea, but, to be on the safe side, I’ll restate the issue.
Jory Micah considers herself a theologian, and she has been intensely criticizing the idea of hell. This, then, connected with criticism of the orthodox position on the atonement—because the wrath of God and the meaning of the cross are intertwined. When you deny the wrath of God, you lose the significance of the cross, as Micah demonstrated.
In one tweet, she said:
“Jesus died because the empire murdered Him for standing up for what’s just. God didn’t kill Jesus and Jesus didn’t even “have to” die to inspire many to live for God.”
She makes two statements here, both of them problematic. In the first place, she asserts that Jesus was executed by the Roman empire because of His stand for justice. You can see how such a narrative would resonate with contemporary American culture and its fixation on heroic activism; but it has no basis in the biblical record. The empire appears to have taken no notice of Jesus; the Roman governor is only triangulated into the business of Jesus’ trial because the Jewish leaders lack the authority to arrange an execution, and Pilate only gives in to the demand because of political pressure.
In the second place, she denies the divine purpose in Jesus’ death, but even in doing so reveals that she’s not even thinking in terms of an objective atonement at all. Jesus’ death wasn’t necessary, she contends, in order for us to have Him as an inspiring example. No, I suppose not; but, since the purpose of Jesus’ death was so much more than inspiration, the argument is rather toothless. And, as a matter of fact, Jesus’ death is a prime example of the wonder of God’s love.
Micah also retweeted someone else, with the handle Pope Carmine Naugahyde, who asserted,
“Jesus didn’t die for our sin. He died BECAUSE of it.”
Now, this is, perhaps, closer to the biblical doctrine of the atonement, in that it at least recognizes that Jesus’ death was particularly related to human sin. But it does so in a way that directly contradicts the true meaning of the cross. The implication of the statement is that Jesus’ death was the result of human sin, but that His death was not intended to deal with human sin—it was not atonement at all.
But the Scriptures won’t support such anthropocentric exegesis. There was, indeed, a divine purpose in the death of Christ.
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3).
“so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Heb. 9:28).
Jesus died for our sins, to take them away, to deal with them. Dealing with sin meant paying the penalty for sin—suffering, on our behalf, the wrath of God. That is what He did upon the cross, as the prophet Isaiah foretold:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:).
This is the message of Good Friday. God, in the vastness of His holy-love, has dealt with our sin. In the unfolding of the Triune mystery of salvation, we witness the depths of divine love turned upon us: the Father sent the Son, by the Spirit, to bear the wrath of God in our place so that we could receive forgiveness, life, and adoption to sonship unto God. The glory of the atonement can only be grasped by those who acknowledge the holiness of God, the depravity of sin, and the condemnation under which we stand apart from Christ. Facing the terrible seriousness of our situation, we are able to see the work of Christ and the offer of salvation for what it is: the awesome redeeming majesty of the holy-love of God.