The Scandal of the Cross (2)

On the cross, Jesus accomplished a number of things, a wide variety of things that we tend to boil down to a simple explanation. This is very unfortunate. By simplifying what Jesus did on the cross to a simple statement like, “Jesus died for my sins.” Or “Jesus’ blood covers my sins”, we do not do justice to the degree to which Jesus’ death turned the world upside down. What follows is just one of many other things that Jesus’ death accomplished.

The Roman world was based on patronage, people doing what was expected of them by others. Everyone had expectations. Slaves were indebted to their owners, sons to their fathers, the Elite to the Emperor, and the Emperor to the gods. Gifts and favors were given with an expectation of a return on the “investment”.

In contrast to this, Jesus set forth an alternative ethic, one in which we “die to ourselves take up our cross and follow him.” This ethic is found through out the gospels. For instance, we see the disciples fighting among themselves over who is the greatest. Jesus responds by saying that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. During the sermon on the mount, over and over he says, “you have herd it said, but I say unto you…” He invites the little children to come to him with out reservation, and shortly before he dies, he takes on the role of a lowly servant, washing his disciple’s feet. The teachings of Jesus have turned and are turning the world as we know it upside down.

Now none of these teachings constitutes something new for those of us who identify ourselves as Christians, but how far would these teachings have multiplied if Jesus had not died a horrible death on a cross? They would be lost. By making the ultimate sacrifice, Jesus set his other teachings and examples in concrete, causing them to be immovable objects. As Paul puts it “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”

To draw an analogy, the life and teachings of Jesus are like a demolition team setting up a building for demolition. If the effort of the demolition team over the course of weeks doesn’t result in a gigantic explosion, bringing an old building to the ground, their effort is for not. Similarly, if Jesus hadn’t died, his teachings and life would be like a demolition team setting the charge but not igniting the fuse. If Jesus hadn't died, would we even know his name?

His teachings have changed the world, and continue to change the world, but none of this would be true if he hadn’t died the way he did. If his teachings had endured, but he hadn’t died, there would be a point at which we could say, “this far and no further, I am willing to give this much up, but no more.” Instead, because Jesus is our example, and because he went all they way, we have no option but to also go all the way… whatever that might mean. : )


David Baxley said...

As much as I like to argue with you I can't here. Great Words! It is consistant with being a slave to Christ! I look forward to the next posts. It takes away that "what do I want to do with my life" way of thinking for a christian.

Rom 7:25
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law,

1 Cor 7:22-23
similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought at a price;

David Baxley said...

So another thought... what scandel is the book recovering? Nothing new so far.

Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov said...

Wow, you damn liberal. I knew Fuller would mess you up.

Also, are you using a moral example theory of atonement here? Did Jesus die simply so we would all see his selfless act and be energized to be good people as well? This was Arius' view. Be careful not to slip into a works salvation you Catholic sympathizer.

Oh yeah, and see my comment on your last post and check out Irenaeus' recapitulation theory, it's my favorite.

Wally Johnson said...

Moral example theory? Interesting how we want to classify things. You are correct in that the cross is far more than we can simply categorize. There is a Scandal to it - one that Moses willingly embraced because in that scandal there is great pleasure. Well done!

David Best said...

Greg, I don't think any of this will be news to you, but I'll say it anyway. Jesus didn't die simply so that we would all see his selfless act and be energized to be good people as well, he DIED so that would all see his selfless act and be energized to be good people... and so much more. Yes there is a line of reasoning that would suggest that Jesus was just a good teacher and that his death sealed this teaching, catapulting them to the next level if you will, and that Peter and Paul then invented Christianity on the back of this "good mans deeds". What is different here is that I am saying not "yes, but" but rather "yes, and" The good teacher, (who was also the Son of God) sealed his teachings, our example, and did a great number of other things as well. These "other things" I believe can be grouped or described under three broad categories, anthropologically, kind of what the previous post was getting at, and theologically, which we do too narrowly, and spiritually. You and I both believe that on the cross, something amazing happened at a spiritual/supernatural level that mere theological discourse fails to get its arms around. What Jesus did on the cross fails comprehension at so many levels it should stop us in our tracks. Instead we summarize it in neat theological statements and package and sell it for only $9.99 on necklaces and bookmarks at the local book store.