By: Fermon Brown
Edited by: Jacob Dawson-Brown
“…Hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.”
With passages such as this the Bible explains the death of Jesus on the cross. Though somehow in our hearts we know that it had to be – we who love Jesus lament His suffering. And because it hurts us, we ask for an explanation – Why did God allow (even demand) that one as loving and pure as Jesus should have to suffer so? Paul, more than any other writer in the New Testament, gives us that answer – His Answer! Christ died as a sacrifice (the ultimate sacrifice) for our sins. With the death of Christ on the cross, our sins were atoned for and mankind was forgiven of all sin – present, past, and future – all sin was forgiven, thereby ending the need for sacrifice ever again. After a sacrifice so great no future sacrifice could ever be worthy. Therefore, sacrifice to God as an act of religious atonement was forever precluded.
The only problem with this explanation is – it is wrong! I do not and cannot accept this answer as having validity. I truly believe that the only blasphemy is to intentionally misrepresent the message of Christ. All that Jesus valued of Himself was His truth, His message. A message He so believed in He was willing to give His life for it. To misrepresent this message is to deny Jesus. To explain, what was, the culmination of Jesus’ ministry, the ultimate act of selfless love in this manner is wrong! And to my thinking blasphemy. This explanation that Jesus died as an act of Sacrificial Atonement is not something Jesus claimed. It is the explanation/invention of followers such as Paul.
Jesus’ entire ministry was built around a central value of Love. His great truth was one of liberation made possible by a loving God. This concept of God was quite revolutionary to the world in the time of Jesus. The God of the Old Testament is a much more stern, and judgmental figure of authority. This God, the God of Moses, demanded much of man. The religious rite of sacrifice was the norm. To make atonement to God, to please God and to make supplications to God, sacrifice was required.
It was commonly believed that the debts of the father should pas on to the son. Thus, it was quite possible to be born indentured in slavery through debt inherited from the father. What was true in finance was also true in sin. The sins of the father, if not properly atoned for, would pass on to the son. It would then fall on the son to make the proper offerings to God thereby expunging the sins of the father in the eyes of God.
This was the world that Jesus sought to reform. These legalistic practices had no place in the revolutionary message that Jesus tried so hard to impart to His fellow man. Great long passages exist in the Gospels that are nothing more than Jesus patiently explaining and expounding upon a simple truth that the listeners are laboring to understand. So much of what Jesus sought to impart was as simple as it was revolutionary – and this is precisely why people have had such trouble understanding His message.
The God of Jesus is love and His religion is one of spirit. The authoritarian God and legalistic religion of the church in His time is what He sought to reform. The laws and rites of sacrifice were central in what He came to change. Jesus taught against these practices of sacrifice. Jesus preached against the custom of one man inheriting and paying for the sins of another. And yet, this is how we’ve been asked to understand His greatest act – His death and suffering upon the cross.
When Jesus confronted the Temple of Jerusalem – When he upset the tables and drove the moneychangers from the temple, He was rebelling against these very practices. With the act of changing one’s common money for consecrated Temple money, one could purchase their offering and make a sacrifice to atone for their sins, or, as mentioned earlier, the sins of their father. Upon this very practice Jesus chose to launch His assault. This act of open rebellion against the Temple is what led to Jesus’ arrest, trial, and condemnation. It is inconceivable that after a life so dedicated against these practices, Jesus would have made a sacrifice of atonement of His own life. Neither believing in the rite of sacrifice nor the inheritance, or transfer, of sin from one man to another, Jesus would not, could not, have suffered and died for these reasons.
Read Thoreau’s essay, “On Civil Disobedience,” and start to get a glimmer of an idea of why Jesus chose to suffer on the cross.
Jesus’ mission had reached the point where it could either go forward or retreat. The next step for Jesus was to either confront Jerusalem with His message of reform or to continue preaching to the converted. Realizing from the beginning that this confrontation would be the inevitable outcome of having a successful ministry, Jesus now faced his destiny with great courage. Jesus’ life was an example to all, and Jesus realized and encouraged us to follow His example. To truly reform Judaism, Jesus had to confront the church and state (i.e., the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Roman Rule under Pilate).
As Thoreau explains, when faced with governmental injustice, one has a fairly limited set of options. One can either retreat, confront, or acquiesce. To retreat and to acquiesce would have been cowardice in the eyes of Jesus. Many would have understood such actions and forgiven them as all would have known that to confront Rome would have ended inevitably in death or defeat. Nonetheless, Jesus’ ministry would have sacrificed His credibility for His life.
In confronting Rome and the Synagogue, Jesus’ choices were active resistance (with the tactics of war) and passive resistance. Active resistance was what so many of His fellow Jews yearned for. For many years, the coming of a “Messiah” had been prophesied. The “Messiah” was traditionally thought to be – One who would be sent by God with a sword in hand to lead His fellow Jews in victorious battle against Rome – and thereby establish a new world order with the Jewish people ruling over all the peoples of the earth, establishing and enforcing God’s will over His world. This was God’s covenant with the Jews, His chosen people.
With a tradition such as this, many people would have gladly followed Jesus in a physical uprising against Rome. In fact, Jesus’ refusal to be their “Messiah” is why the majority of His fellow Jews denied Jesus – in essence, to them He was a disappointment.
But, to those that accepted His message of peace, Jesus was the true savior – “The Son of Man” – one sent by God to lead mankind out of spiritual darkness and misery. Jesus understood that for mankind to be truly free we had to end our self-imposed slavery, the bondage of our souls. Having chosen this path, Jesus sought to show through passive resistance how to confront the injustice imposed upon us by our fellow man. Viewed in this light, Jesus faced the cross to show us His power, God’s power, over the cross. Yes, they could bind Him to the cross, but they could not prevent Him from transcending the pain and suffering that they wished to crush Him with. And He did triumph over the cross. Not by His resurrection, but by His refusal to succumb spiritually to the pain, fear, and hopelessness of this instrument of torture. When Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, they know not what the do.” He showed all who would see that His message – God’s promise of love for mankind – transcended the cross.
We could argue that Jesus did or did not know the exact circumstances of His impending death – but what would be the point? Whether Jesus had prescient sight into the exact tortures He would suffer, or merely the general idea of what would befall Him, He knew well enough that He faced a horrible, painful death. I think to not know exactly showed even greater courage and love!
Jesus so loved the world that He willingly gave His life – to show us how to live! His death bespoke great courage and even greater love. I do not worship Jesus (or even worse, follow him out of guilt) – I love Jesus. And I have but one duty to Him! To understand Him! He spoke loudly and clearly, he explained at length, He spoke in parables that a child could understand, and He suffered a long and lonely road so that by His example we could understand! We have but one duty to Jesus. All He ever asked of us – to understand Him.
It sounds simple enough – but obviously it’s not. Because for so long, so few, have demonstrated that understanding. The only blasphemy is to deny Him this understanding. His message was incredibly simple. His message was and is for us to know the awesome boundless love that God has for humankind, for all things! The love a Mother has for her child. The love that is the wellspring of existence. The eternal reward that awaits us all – we lonely creatures – is love, pure and boundless. This love is not a quality or an aspect of God – this infinite, eternal love is God – the Alpha and Omega – but nothing else is God. God is not the King and Heaven His kingdom. God and Heaven are one – infinite, eternal love – the Creator is the principle of creation – Love, quite simply the one and only creative principle – that which begat us, and that which receives us – the true Father – through love we are created and in love we are received. This is the reality Jesus discovered in the wilderness. Jesus was a searcher that wandered through the pain and loneliness of life to find God – this God of love and He drank of that fountain and became one with the truth. Jesus’ ministry was a constant embrace of mankind. His message and His path that He laid out for us was no more than His wonderful attempt to lead us out of our own darkness and pain to the bliss and peace we all seek in becoming one with God.
The God often portrayed as being angry and displeased with mankind, the God that demands our obedience, the God that wishes to be worshipped in reverence, etc… That God is no more than a perverted extension of our own ego and fear. More childish and petulant and spoiled than a God of Divine Dimensions. God does not want our adoration and God does not reward our supplications. God does not even want our love! God is love – wishing not for love from us or to love us – but love that is – that truth, as Jesus did, we will always be unfulfilled. How to become one with God is the path that Jesus, having walked it Himself, wished to show us. That is why His message always returns to the same truth – love your fellow man as you would be loved. For to love others is it’s own reward. This is what Jesus so clearly understood and what He tried so tirelessly to show us.
“And to love Him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” – Mark 12:33
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