(IN PREPARATION FOR EASTER)
The ‘Spiritual’ asks the rhetorical question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Our first reaction is usually “Of course not!”, or “I would never do something like that!”, or “NO WAY”! But there is that little “niggle” in our hearts that says, “I’m not so sure”. And we struggle with the idea, and usually do a poor job of justifying ourselves. There is something in “them” that we recognize in ourselves.
The story is told of a Jewish witness at the Nuremberg trials who, when faced with the man responsible for implementing the “Jewish Solution”, broke down and wept. When he was asked why he was so overcome, he said “I see me in his eyes”. We sometimes have said, “But for the grace of God — there go I”.
Are we guilty of having crucified Jesus? For Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the temptation was to choose independence — an independence from God, attempting to be on a parallel with Him. “That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses” [Romans 5:13 MSG]. Paul called himself the “Chief of sinners”. Richard Neuhaus writes:
About the chief of sinners I don’t know, but what I know about sinners I know chiefly about me. We did not mean to do the deed, of course. What we have done wrong– they seemed, or mostly seemed, small things at the time. The word of encouragement withheld, the touch of kindness not given, the visit not made, the trust betrayed, the cutting remark so clever and so cruel, the illicit sexual desire so generously entertained, the angry answer, the surge of resentment at being slighted, the time we thought a lie would do no harm. It is such a long and tedious list of little things. Surely not too much should be made of it, we thought to ourselves. But now it has come to this. It had come to the cross. All the trespasses of all the people of all time have gravitated here, to the killing grounds of Calvary. [Neuhaus, p. 33]
The prophet Isaiah wrote, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way“. But notice the wonderful next statement: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. So “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all…. ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” [Hebrews 10:10,17,18]. Because “Jesus Christ the righteous One… is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” [I John 1:1,2].
The word ‘Atonement’ could be explained as At-one-ment. That is, bringing back into fellowship/relationship, or reconciliation.
I’d like to share with you what Richard John Neuhaus says are 4 truths at the heart of ‘Atonement’. [Neuhaus, p.33, 34]
- Something is terribly wrong. When we seriously looked at ourselves (before we gave our lives to God), we found we were like the prodigal son — in a distant land far from home. God was not near.
- Whatever the measure of our guilt, we are responsible for the death of Christ. Rabbi Hershel used to say, “Some are guilty — all are responsible.” In order for Christ’s death to be adequate for us, we have to admit that our sins nailed Christ to the cross.
- Something needs to be done about it. We react intuitively — Justice must be done! The modern world has us approach the issue of guilt from two angles.
- One is the “Gospel” of Positive Thinking. You can blame your parents, your genetic make-up, society, the other guy: just not yourself! After all, guilt can put you in the ‘rubber room’! “If you think positively, all of those negatives will leave and you’ll be fine.”
- The other tactic is to do the “stiff upper lip”. “I’ll get through it”. “Real men never cry!” “Take your lumps!” “Time heals!” “You’ll get over it!”
However “both of these options are worse than useless. They are obscene.” It is an attempt to “make peace with the evil they know” [Neuhaus,p.34].
4. Something must be done about what has gone wrong. Only we cannot do it! Neither “individually or as the human race together can we make up for one innocent child tortured and killed. How can we make up for Auschwitz, or ‘the killing fields’ of Cambodia”, or the atrocities of our modern era? [Neuhaus, p.34].
Only someone, who was in no way responsible for the wrongs, acting out of pure love and grace, could right the wrong and adequately serve justice. Jesus said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life… I lay it down of my own accord” [John 10:11, 17,18].
“And He can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.” [And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.] [I John 1:9 LB] “Work hard for sin your whole life — and your pension is death. But God’s gift is, real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” [Romans 6:23 MSG]
- MSG- Peterson, Eugene. The Message, NavPress Publishing Group, 1995.
- LB- Taylor,Kenneth. Living Bible, Tyndale House, 1971. (Out of Print. New Living Translation available from Amazon.com)
- Neuhaus, Richard John. “Father Forgive Them”. First Things, March 2000, Number 101.
- Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isayevich. Gulag Archipelago. Trans. Thomas P. Whitney, Harper and Row, 1974.
© 2000 D. H. Friesen