Video interview with Matheus Lapa (#1)

Over the past short while I have been touching base with Matheus – from Brazil but living in Canada. We first met when he was (and continues) to translate for when he was translating for me on Zoom earlier this year. I suggested I made a few videos with him… for a number of reasons. He is younger than me by a few years (BTW my calculator seems to be back functioning and shows a difference of 42 years between us!!!… Age 23, things 23 years ago etc. have become very significant for Gayle and I, so that caught my interest); he is living cross-culturally and has / continues to think through the implications of his faith.

I made 3 interviews on Monday – this being the first, just pressing in to issues of what difference(s) are there in living cross-culturally.

Interpreting the signs

A new career calls

There are times we put 2 and 2 together and probably don’t get 4, but then there are other times… See what you think.

A short while back they began to film in the street round the corner from where our apartment is in Madrid. So there we stood, Gayle and I watching. Along comes one of the helpers who asked us to move on… apparently our reflection was in the window and this was not at all helpful as the whole setup was set in the 1920s. Of course I did wonder if this rather junior guy had missed the obvious – pull me in at least to be an extra. Whatever…!

So here we are some 18 months later and police notices go up – all cars out of the street, all surrounding roads blocked off, with our street as the main focus. Another series is being filmed. Set in the 90s, a series called Paraiso. Could just be coincidental, but maybe it is a sign. They are using this area as they wanted a setting that has not changed since the 90s. Surely they will need someone like me who has not changed since the 90s… after all how many can they find like that, I ask myself.

So while waiting for the call, I will see if I can sort out my calculator. For some reason it has begun to malfunction, I know this as when I tap in 2+2 it is giving me all kind of random answers except the right one.

Genesis – a way of reading it

Genesis… how to read it. Pete Enns has put together a great podcast that follows the work of Gary Rendsburg and in particular his ‘The Genesis of the Bible’ lecture (2005; available here:

The podcast is episode 172 at:

So many aspects of interest, but given that I see 1 Samuel 8 and the request for a king as being so central to the ‘downward trajectory’ of Israel, to set the writing of Genesis in the context of ‘defending’ the monarchy gives a fascinating window on the text. Here are a couple of paragraphs relating to one of the strong resonances from Enns’ podcast (he develops 7):

It really seems clear that the writer of Genesis is writing from a monarchic point-of-view and about things that happened during the monarchy.

Again, a lot of balls in the air here, so here’s the bottom line for clue number five: the stories in Genesis of Ammon, Moab, Esau, and Jacob are not really stories about people and what they did. They are really stories of nations. Namely, of how they arose and how they rank below Israel. Like “The Crucible” and MASH, Genesis is commenting on present realities by means of the past. [My Note: in taking this approcch neither Enns nor Rendsberg is suggesting that the individuals were not historic, like ‘The Crucible’ the history recounted was factual… but written in a way to comment on the present ‘McCarrthy-ism’.]

Okay, #7 – Let’s, we need to keep three stories afloat just for a couple of minutes here. One is the famous story of David’s rape of Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah to cover up the pregnancy. The second story is what follows just two chapters later. It’s the rape of David’s daughter, Tamar, by her half-brother Amnon. And that’s bad enough, but David lets Amnon get off the hook, doesn’t punish him, which is astounding, frankly. And that really steamed Tamar’s full-brother, Absalom, who bided his time and eventually killed Amnon, which set off like a whole thing that we’re not even going to get into.

See, both of these stories involving David are in the Book of 2 Samuel. The third story is the story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 (yes, Tamar – the same name as in that one David story). So, we’re looking here at two stories of David, Bathsheba and Tamar, and one story about Judah, also involving a Tamar.

Well, one odd thing everyone notices about the Judah and Tamar story in Genesis 38 is that it interrupts the story of Joseph. See, that began in chapter 37, then you have Judah and Tamar which seems totally irrelevant in chapter 38, and then the Joseph story just sort of picks up again in chapter 39 and goes to the end of the book. That awkward interruption actually draws attention to the story. It really forces us to ask, “What is this doing?”

And I’m going to say I think that’s very, very intentional on the part of the writer of Genesis to put it here in a place where it seems like an abrupt intrusion which means you have to sort of think about it.

Well, this is the story of, again, Judah, the fourth son of Jacob, and he marries a Canaanite woman, which is weird, whose name is not given but she’s simply called the “daughter of Shua,” and together they have three sons. The eldest son married Tamar, but he was evil and struck down by God. According to custom, the second son was to assume the family duty of impregnating the dead brother’s wife, only he refused so God struck him down too. That left the youngest brother, but he was too young to carry out the duties, and plus Judah was just petrified of losing him too. So, Judah asked Tamar just to be patient for a while, let the boy grow up. So, she went back to live with her father for the time being and she waited.

Now long story short, Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. And after a period of mourning, he went off on a business trip of sorts to the far-off town of Adullam. When Tamar heard of this, she dressed up like a prostitute and waited for him to show up. See, apparently Judah had been dragging his heels about handing over his youngest son to her, so Tamar was now taking matters into her own hands. She’s getting ripped off and she intends to get pregnant somehow.

So, Judah, he shows up to this town and upon seeing her and not seeing through the disguise, he was only too happy to hop in the sack with her and of course Tamar got pregnant. When later on and the disguises are off and Judah hears that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant, he demanded that she be burned alive. At least, that’s until the whole story was revealed, and Judah saw that he was actually in the wrong and Tamar was in the right.

Okay, so, let’s just get to the point here, right? These three stories are related in some fascinating ways and not accidently. When we read about the unjust sexual exploit of Judah in Genesis 38, the writer intends for us to be thinking about the unjust sexual exploits of David the Judahite.

And here are the main reasons why these stories are related. I just think this is so clever. This is why I love reading the Bible, it just never gets old. Such clever writers.

Okay, for one thing, David and Judah are both shepherds. And they both separate from their families at a point in time by going down to the town of Adullam. If you want chapter and verse in both stories, I’ll leave that to Rendsburg’s article. Okay, so small thing, but still fascinating.

But the second one is even more fascinating. And when I first saw this, about forty lightbulbs went off in my head. And I just knew that the story had to be connected with David somehow, okay, Judah’s wife is not named, as I said, but referred to as the daughter of Shua. In Hebrew, daughter of Shua is bat-shua. David’s wife is Bathsheba. Which in Hebrew is bat-sheva. Do you hear that? Batshua and Batsheva. There’s only one letter difference between them. No, the names are not exactly the same, but the names are similar enough to get you thinking like, you know, telling your daughter Maria the story with a moral lesson you want to get across to her and you begin,

“Once upon a time there was a little girl named Marian.”

“Hey, wait a minute daddy, that sounds like my name.”

“Good, I’ve got you thinking.”

Interestingly in 1 Chronicles, this is a key issue here too. Judah’s wife and David’s wife are both called Batshua, there’s no daughter of Shua, no Bathsheba. They’re both given the same name because that’s certainly how the author of 1 Chronicles understood the connection between these two stories.

You know, it really seems that Judah and David are mirroring each other.

A third parallel in both cases – the perpetrator is forced to admit his guilt publicly. Judah in front of the town and David when he’s confronted by the prophet Nathan for rape and murder.

Fourth, and rather obvious point, both Judah and David have a Tamar in their lives. Judah’s daughter-in-law and David’s daughter. Both of whom are at the center of an injustice involving sexual intercourse.

There are a few other connections Rendsburg makes but we don’t need to get into all of that. Let’s just take a stab at the significance of these three overlapping stories. And here I am channeling Rendsburg and adding a bit of my own thinking.

The story of Judah and Tamar, like so much of Genesis, is really a way of talking about a later period of Israel’s history. In this case, the life of David, namely his major sexual injustice with respect to both Bathsheba and then his daughter Tamar, both of which lead him to lose his kingship for a while until he won it back. It’s a big moment. The stories of Bathsheba and Tamar in 2 Samuel present David in a bad light, but not nearly as bad as they could. It’s like they’re holding back from panning David completely, much like politicians do today. You know, when they do all sorts of hard things, their supporters acknowledge it, but then move on and not hold anyone accountable. Politics hasn’t changed.

See this story of Judah and Tamar can be seen in one of two ways, it could be a safer way of condemning David, right? It’s indirect. The names are sort of the same but not the same, right? He’s not mentioned explicitly and the readers can draw the connections themselves. Or, on the other hand, it could be another way of getting David off the hook somewhat, now listen to this, by saying, “Hey, you know, tribe of Judah. Judah will be Judah. Boys will be boys. Our forefather Judah was no saint, don’t get me wrong, but look how God used him anyway.” Feel free, by the way, to make any connection you want to contemporary American presidential politics. Anyway, the bottom line is that Judah and Tamar, that story is not a random story of the past randomly inserted into Genesis. It’s another example of the deeper meaning of Genesis as a commentary on the monarchy.

[The seven points pulled out in the podcast:]

  • Adam story is a preview of Israel’s national story.
  • The land promised to Abraham matches the borders during Solomon’s reign.
  • Abraham and Sarah’s descendants will be kings.
  • Judah son of Jacob is destined for kingship. Again, remember David comes from the Tribe of Judah.
  • Genesis draws a political map of Israel’s neighbors.
  • God’s preference for the younger over the elder brother, especially Judah.
  • The Judah and Tamar story connects to the life of David.

Keeping Faith

Tricia (and Noel) Richards have been faithful friends over decades, and like so many of us have sought to respond to the winds of heaven, when they blow in convenient and also inconvenient directions! Tricia sent me this poem a short while ago… I think it will resonate for many. I personally loved the ‘I’m taking a different route’ lines / sentiment. First a short intro by Tricia, then the poem.

Several years ago someone asked me if I was having a crisis of faith. My immediate reply was, “No, but I am having a crisis of culture”. The ensuing years saw a shift not only geographically but spiritually and culturally. Many of the beliefs, ideas and thoughts that I had embraced were examined and sifted. This piece of poetry in some ways explains the journey that I have been on.

Keeping Faith

I’m taking a different route
It might be a long way round
But if we should meet along the way
Please greet me without prejudice
Or judgement
Be happy for the liberty I’m finding
It would be such joy
Such freedom for us both
Maybe we can really see each other
In this different light

I did not want my cynicism to drown me
And so I stepped away
Though some would say I fell
But really
My weary worn out heart just needed space
To find a quiet more simple path
Without the probing questions
Or the looks of loving deep concern
Memorials and signposts
Had began to look the same
And any facade that I had built
And happily decorated my life with
Tumbled as I walked away

I took the faith I’d tried to comprehend
Stepped outside a culture
That was all I’d ever known
And sought a different view
It’s not that you were wrong or I was right
It’s just I couldn’t see the way ahead from where I stood
Without the rules and constraints
All expectations stopped
And so the life I could not seem to blend with
All the things I no longer cared so deeply for
Fell away
Like leaves at autumns calling .

I found that I was left with God unchanged
In the silence His love remained
It never missed a beat
Love continued like Niagara falling
Stronger than all my fears
Bigger than the total sum of all my investment
Deeper than everything I had heard or learned
God Immense and vast
And from His storehouse
Treasures old and new came to me
As I continue on my way
I’m just taking a different route .

Peter and Paul

Here is a short video on the clash in Galatians 2 between Paul and Peter. The video is intended to go with the Preface to the fourth book on theological explorations: LifeLine. (Available at:

The provocative nature of the conflict is that they both have a strong missiological undergirding to their behaviour. And Paul calls Peter’s behaviour ‘hypocritical’…!!! Intensely challenging and provocative into our culture, where the Jew / Gentile; male / female issues are substantially behind us, but many other issues are pressing in on us.

The last day of the feast

Come drink water

Our water is back on!! Not sure how much damage to our Madrid apartment yet, but certainly nothing comparable to war-torn scenarios… The Scriptures in John 7:37-39 came strongly to Gayle with regard to the two-fold greeting we received last weekend that ‘all your water was pouring out’.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

The festival referred to is the feat of Tabernacles and is set in the context of Jerusalem. The wider section in John has Jesus being rejected in Jerusalem – he is labelled a sinner, demonised, not the Messiah. It ends in John 10:39 with the summary response:

Then they tried to arrest him again, but he escaped from their hands.

More on that in a mo…

The history of the Festival on this great last day was that water was drawn and then poured out. Jesus, never one to shy away from controversy, nor from confrontation (whenever religion was involved) puts himself at the centre. Water is not future, it is not tied to ‘when God acts to declare we were the good people all along’, come drink now!

The Scriptures that were read in this Jewish setting were:

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
proclaim that his name is exalted (Is. 12:3, 4).

Then he brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east); and the water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar. Then he brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and the water was coming out on the south side.
Going on eastward with a cord in his hand, the man measured one thousand cubits, and then led me through the water; and it was ankle-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was knee-deep. Again he measured one thousand, and led me through the water; and it was up to the waist. Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross, for the water had risen; it was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be crossed. He said to me, “Mortal, have you seen this?”
Then he led me back along the bank of the river. As I came back, I saw on the bank of the river a great many trees on the one side and on the other. He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah; and when it enters the sea, the sea of stagnant waters, the water will become fresh. Wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish, once these waters reach there. It will become fresh; and everything will live where the river goes. People will stand fishing beside the sea from En-gedi to En-eglaim; it will be a place for the spreading of nets; its fish will be of a great many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea. But its swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they are to be left for salt. On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing (Ezek. 47:1-12).

On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea; it shall continue in summer as in winter (Zech. 14:8).

So putting a few things together we are convinced that for us (and we suspect for many others) our beloved water being poured out signifies:

A change of location. By this I do not mean a geographical change, but where one is located. It is time to be outside of Jerusalem. The shift from Jerusalem is marked in John 10: 40-42

He went away again across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing earlier, and he remained there. Many came to him, and they were saying, “John performed no sign, but everything that John said about this man was true.” And many believed in him there.

I have added emphasis to the text. Geography, location repeated surely to give emphasis. Same people, same era… but with the shift of location there is a different response. (And tying in with what has gone on earlier – thanks to prayer, intercession, repentance, there are locations that are ready.)

The last water is over. It has been poured out. It might not be appreciated (!) but it will have its effects. Just if we continue as those Jews did year after year to enact the pouring out of the water we will forever be doing the act, the re-enactment. Into that context, Jesus says come! But seems we have to come not to preserve what is here but in our re-location to be ready for the flow.

Of the three passages that were read on that day I will simply draw our attention to Ezekiel. A Scripture quoted (understandably) many times in the heady days of the 90s. A Scripture that seemed to stir the spirits of the Qumran community (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found). Abandoning Jerusalem they positioned themselves due East of Jerusalem as a prophetic sign that the waters were leaving the Temple and flowing East to the Dead Sea. (And prophetic they were with Josephus indicating that barely ever was one of their ‘predictions’ wrong.) I see that passage as also tying with the exit from Eden (Eastward)… wherever they went God went with them on that journey. A journey often of 2 steps forward and three back, until that era came to an end. Then steps in Jesus, drink, drink, drink…

The re-locating is away from Jerusalem – if some from there come out to the Jordan they too can ‘believe in him there’. The re-location is on in earnest. New languages are being formed, a mess is here, for we have to work out the ‘what then about the Gospel’ / ‘how then do we share our faith…’ but the trees that grow will be so varied, bearing fruit and healing (image repeated in Revelation).

With a fresh confidence that ‘from our innermost being…’; humility; listening; moving away from ‘to’, moving beyond ‘for’, and moving location to be ‘with’.

I suggest this could end the forced break of COVID. ‘With’ in the new location(s) will be ‘onward’ (from) not ‘back’ (to normal). The kind of break that Jesus always brought.

The Cross Revisited #3

Metaphors – no debt paid

A common description of the cross in the Gospels is of Jesus’ death being a ransom for many. Behind this is a slavery image. This led to many discussions in the early church as to who the debt was paid to. Paid to God? Paid to the devil? But the language is a metaphor and is rooted in the Exodus story where the people were ransomed from Egypt (Mic. 6: 4; 1 Cor. 7: 23). No payment was made to Pharaoh,4 but the people were redeemed, ransomed. The reality is that they were delivered, that Pharaoh no longer had ownership of them, the people going free from bondage.

Jesus does not die as a sinner

The verdict of the powers was that he was a sinner. A blasphemer (Jewish view), an anarchic insurrectionist against power (Roman view). Those accusations covered the reality of their positions. He exposed the supposed understanding of right / wrong that the Jews had to offer, and of the benefits that the Empire claimed to bring to all the citizens. He made an open show of the hostile powers. He might have been condemned and hung there stripped naked, but truly the powers that exercised their rule through religious and social constructs were the ones being exposed.

He is no sinner dying. God has another verdict. He dies as an innocent one, and is not judged by God. We have to stay within the bounds of biblical language, and Paul is very careful to state that it was not Jesus who was condemned by God at the cross, but that sin was condemned.

And so he condemned sin in the flesh (Rom. 8: 4).

The cross is not some pagan ritual but the act of a Tri-une God to deal in history with everything that stands in the way of humanity finding the path to truly reflecting the glory of God. It is not that my sin plus your sin plus… is put on Jesus, raising of course the question for whom did Jesus die (‘only the elect?’, or ‘for all’ and we all go free), but sin as the dominant power, sin as devouring lives, as transgressing boundaries, as scapegoating others, sin as religion, sin as division is judged in that event. Truly the tree of knowledge of good and evil does not need to be eaten from ever again. The tree of life, the tree that counteracts death is open.

We can theorise about the cross, we can elevate one metaphor above another, but we also have to recognise that no one metaphor will make plain what took place. I wonder whether there is something reflected to us in the description of those who are still present at the crucifixion that encourages us to be like them and that if we are that we might just have greater sight into what took place. The men had gone. The women remained. John remained. Maybe the one who saw love at a deeper level than others, perhaps due to his simplicity by male standards, perhaps the one who exhibited unique responses, leaning on Jesus’ chest (exhibiting behavioural or emotional ‘special needs’?). The heart, not the head is the means to understand the cross.

4 Ironically not only was there no payment made for their release, the Egyptians ‘paid’ them to leave!

The Cross Revisited #2

God did not kill Jesus

In an anti-Semitic way texts have been construed to mis-align Jews as being those who murdered Jesus. That is not the case, for ‘we’ all killed Jesus. The historical and geographical context, and the spiritual context of the redeeming nation (now simply ‘as’ one of the nations) however means that there are many, many Scriptures that lay at the feet of that generation the culpability for the death of Jesus. One of many Scriptures in Acts can illustrate this,

This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2: 23-24).

‘You put him to death’. God did not kill Jesus, though the plan of God is outworked through the activities of humanity.3

What a journey from the garden of Eden to the cross. In the day that you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, take on a path that draws lines, you will indeed surely die. Death was the result, not to be understood primarily as punishment but consequence. Israel encouraged to choose life not death, given laws to guide in the path of life, reduced those laws to be a means of excluding all others, read the law but without realising it the very letter of the law was bringing death to them.

[F]or the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).

But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 4: 14-18).

Death held sway over one and all. The consistent choices from the Garden onwards that led to the cross, not the inability of God to forgive without the shedding of blood. There are so many graphic examples of the life that comes through the death of Jesus. Original humanity exits the place of wonderful bounty eastward. Ezekiel carries a vision of a cleansed temple, where the water flows eastward, bringing life wherever it went. Wherever humanity has gone the life that flows from Jesus has gone.

He appears to a husband and wife on the road to Emmaus, a small village outside of Jerusalem. As the evening draws in so he reveals himself to them. The re-enactment of the Garden is clear. They have left Jerusalem where death has taken place, the death of their leader and the death of their dreams. They saw (once their eyes were opened) the resurrected Jesus, the original couple never saw that God had trudged eastward with them away from the place where they had brought in death. He carried that death from Eden, until at ‘the fullness of times’ there was a concrete manifestation that it had been carried to the place where death was given the death sentence, the place where Jesus ‘tasted death for everyone’ (Heb. 2: 9).

God did not kill Jesus, but was in Jesus bringing the rule of death to an end. Choose life, was indeed his choice. Choosing life for humanity meant embracing death. Like the true mother who chose life for her son in the Solomonic story meant that she had to embrace death. That is sacrifice. That is a sacrifice that can cleanse.

Not just the Jews

The early chapters of Acts are historically situated in Jerusalem, hence the consistent references that they (Jews) were the ones who crucified the author of life. Yet there are so many elements that come to put Jesus on the cross. Jewish religious power (the final manifestation of those who insisted on the right / wrong divide), the acquiescence of a crowd, the betrayal of Judas, the denials of Peter, the abandonment by the disciples, the Roman imperial power that controlled one and all. And we can add beyond that the spiritual powers that seem to dominate the very ‘air’ around us, the toxicity of a system that is not bent toward finding the path of life for people. And then we have to add the glad submission of God, who takes this all in, to end an era and open another one, a ‘new creation’ era.

Life is more powerful than death. Death was overcome, for it is not stronger than life. When Moses told the people that there were two options before them, that of life and death, they were not instructed to avoid death, but simply to choose life. Life could not be chosen by avoiding death; rather death would be overcome if they chose life, for in the very choosing of life death would lose its power. Life and death are never presented as two equally strong opposition forces. God raised Jesus from the dead as a confirmation that we are not still in our sins, and the early chapters of Acts says that death could not hold the Author of life. There is life in God, abundant life, that overcomes death. And as a result of the cross is an invitation to live from that same life source.

Prior to the cross Pilate offers the people a way out. I can hand over to you the one who is truly guilty, Barabbas (Aramaic: son of the father) or Jesus. Echoes here of Cain and Abel. Abel’s blood speaks from the ground (Heb. 11:4, 12: 24), probably calling for justice. God’s response was to protect the guilty one, the one who sacrificed his own brother. Now the people are given the choice. Yet again the choice is to kill the Abel figure. Protecting the guilty one but by sacrificing the innocent one. God protected, damaging his own reputation in the process, the guilty one through self-sacrifice, thus offering the path of transformation for the guilty one. The cross touches the mind and emotions, and in doing so can bring about a transformation, but there is something even bigger taking place where the powers that previously ruled are broken and there is a doorway from death to life (Col. 1:13).

Peter explained that life was no longer something that was open only for Jews to choose, but that ‘God had granted repentance that leads to life also to the Gentiles’ (Acts 11: 18). Such an easy door, the door of repentance, the door of a mind-change. A change of perspective primarily about God, about oneself. A perspective that sees the cross as the place where a transaction took place, not between us and God, but between God and us, a transaction without any small print. If, I come with guilt, the innocent one has taken the consequences of my guilt; if I come with shame, he has endured the shame because the other side of the cross is joy, joy at seeing the door opened for the very real start of true humanity to be expressed; if I come with a sense of sickness there can be healing for my soul. All three elements, guilt (the over-emphasis of the Western church), shame (the issue that seems to plague eastern cultures) or sickness (the Orthodox church) come together at the cross, the fullness of times, where they are dealt with once and for all, for it was at that time there was no hope to be found of finding a solution. We live from that time, pulling in the future into this time and place. A firm historic foundation opens up levels of creativity and diversity.

3 Other Scriptures that state this directly in the early encounters between (Jewish) Christians and their fellow Jews are: 2: 36 ‘whom you crucified’; 3: 13-16 ‘you killed the author of life’; 4: 10-12 ‘whom you crucified’; 5: 28-31 ‘you… are determined to make us guilty for this man’s blood’; 7: 52 ‘you have betrayed and murdered this him’; 10: 39 ‘they killed him’.

The Cross Revisited #1

I write various articles for those who have / will take part in the Zoom Discussions on the series Explorations in Theology. They do reflect my current thinking but are also intended to be offered as a bouncing off point for their reflections. They are far from the final word!

Today I wrote a piece on the Cross. I touch on it in Humanising the Divine and again in The LifeLine. I will post the article here over the next few days in its various parts.

Paul had a sharp focus, that being the cross of Jesus. When entering the city of Corinth he determined to have a focus on the cross (1 Cor. 2: 2) and he claimed that he would glory only in the cross (Gal. 6: 14). In book 1 (Humanising the Divine) I open a perspective on the cross concerning the ‘when’ of the cross – at ‘the fullness of times’, when not only Gentiles were without God, but the nation chosen to be the redeeming nation was also under bondage, ‘under the curse of the law’. That ‘when’ seems to fit the ‘Jew first, then Gentiles’ statements. In Humanising I wrote of the cross being the roadblock to the path that humanity was on with no way of escaping from it. The rut had gone so deep that Scripture calls the era the ‘fullness of times’; a time when there was a dominance of the adversary and the demonic powers over humanity, manifest at the political level of an all-but one world government. No hope for Israel, and therefore no hope for the world. The crucifixion of Jesus occurred in a specific time of history and the reasoning for that I argue is key to understanding what took place. The cross deserves a full-length book, yet no full-length book could fully explain all that took place, and so in a non-full-length way I will seek to write some aspects that I consider are central.

God does not require sacrifice

In the ancient pagan world of gods it was not uncommon for those gods to require sacrifice, even at times the sacrifice of human lives. The sacrifice was to enable the worshipper to be in ‘the good books’ of the god in question. Scripture uses the word ‘sacrifice’ of the death of Jesus and the Old Testament is replete with instructions about sacrifice, yet I suggest that it remains that God does not require sacrifice in order that we are in her/his good books.

Sacrifice can be understood in two ways, and is well illustrated in the story of the two women who come before Solomon both claiming to to be the mother of the child. Solomon’s solution is to give each of the women half of the surviving child, cutting the child in two. The women respond differently.

The first receives the advice, advocating that the child indeed be cut in two. This is one understanding of sacrifice. The death of the child will satisfy something in her, perhaps dealing with her grief, jealousy and hatred.

The real mother also gives us a window on sacrifice. She is not willing to sacrifice the child, but in order that the child might live she is willing to forgo her own legitimate claim of ownership, live with separation and pain.

If we understand sacrifice through the path of the real mother’s response then we will grasp the sacrifice of Jesus (God) well. If however we understand sacrifice along the line of satisfaction we will miss it. God is not vengeful demanding sacrifice. A book (Hebrews) that uses sacrifice as the lens through which the cross is viewed makes this ever so explicit:

First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Heb. 10:5-10).

The writer makes the direct statement that God did not desire sacrifices, yet goes on to write about the sacrifice of Jesus. Before seeking to make a response to the ‘yet’ part of the sentence there is one more verse from Hebrews I wish to add in order to clarify something.

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb. 9:22).

It seems to say in clear fashion ‘No forgiveness with death, without sacrifice’. And sadly this verse can be taken to imply that God cannot forgive without sacrifice. There is however a process in the verse. Working backwards, there is a logical sequence in the verse:

  • there is no forgiveness without there being a cleansing
  • there is no cleansing without the shedding of blood.

The blood is connected to cleansing, the cleansing to forgiveness.

The blood, in the sacrifices of the Old Testament, was to cleanse, not in order that God might forgive.1 This gives an insight into the bloody sacrifices of the Old Testament, such as we read of in Leviticus. Not one of my favourite books but maybe let’s jump there for a short while! Leviticus 4 is when we have the first mention in the book of ‘sin’ and how to respond to it. A sacrifice is to be brought2, a ‘sin-offering’ and the blood from the animal slain was to be used… not used to bring God around (appeasement) but to cleanse. Indeed the term ‘sin-offering’ might not be the best translation, with certain versions offering us ‘purification offering’ or ‘cleansing offering’. In our world it is strange to think of blood as being a cleansing element, a detergent if you like, but we are not entering our world. Blood was seen as a means of cleansing (and by this I am not meaningin some literalistic sense, but in a deeply significant sense of internal cleansing), and if we continue to read the following chapters we will encounter the ‘sin-offering’ again in chapter 12 where after a woman gives birth to a child there was to be a sin-offering made, not made to forgive the act of childbirth(!) but in order to clean up the mess. Childbirth is not clean and we might have all means, in our world, of ensuring that the situation is left hygienic, sterile and germ-free. But the ancient world of the Hebrews is not our world, and their solution was ‘use blood’ to clean it up!

This ‘sin-offering’ is the one that Mary made after the birth of Jesus. She fulfilled the law, but the birth of Jesus was clearly a ‘holy’ event. This again shows how the term ‘cleansing offering’ is the better understanding.

Childbirth, with the loss of blood, always carried the threat of death, and as the ‘life of the flesh is in the blood’ the use of blood to cleanse was not to appease an external deity, but to bring life to the situation. Sin, a failure to follow the path of life, brought the threat of death; the response was to sprinkle blood to get rid of the pollution.

The sacrifice of Jesus has a cleansing effect. As we read further in Hebrews 10 we read,

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Heb. 10:13-14).

Sacrifice cleanses. The former sacrifices simply cleansed outwardly, the sacrifice of Jesus cleanses inwardly, and deeply. The process is of cleansing (Old or New Testament) so that forgiveness might be a reality.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

The purify / cleanse word is so important, and once that is grasped Jesus’ death is not a sacrifice to appease, but a sacrifice that is one of laying down rights, laying down his life in order that we might receive not simply a symbolic cleansing, but a deep cleansing.

1 Blood used to cleanse, cleansing being costly, the life being in the blood indicated how costly it is to clean up a mess. The sacrifices that we read about can be read as those that were made, not those that God instituted. We can read ’when you offer your sacrifice, perhaps indicating that sacrifice was so ingrained in the cultural scene that God is putting in fresh meaning to what they were culturally ingrained to do, rather than instituting them for the people. The sacrificial system was not one of transaction, to bring God around, to appease his anger.

2 In the light of the Hebrew texts that say God did not desire sacrifice we could also suggest that virtually all ancient cultures used sacrifice transactionally to appease, and therefore God accommodated Israel’s expectation of sacrifice, but transforming it in order to give it a different understanding than the surrounding cultures. We do not have to suggest that God instituted sacrifice.

A response to ‘So how do we share the gospel?’

Simon Scott (no relation, but great choice of last name!) responded to my post of a few days ago, and I asked him to post something here.

Reflecting on Martin’s ‘So how do we share the gospel?’

Martin’s post suggested the intriguing possibility that salvation may mean we are saved ‘for’ rather than ‘from’ something and that something could be the revealing of a new creation or a new kingdom if you prefer that language. Great suggestion. So, we are all a part of something a little larger than our own selves which I have to say is a bit of a relief really! I mean, what kind of world would we be in if it were all about us? The thing is that we, humanity, are rather important at least on a couple of levels. From a faith perspective we are made in the image of God, we have God’s breath intimately given. Personally, I find this inspiring and humbling and my identity is certainly there- at least in those moments when I am not preoccupied with my identity in various (minor) successes and failures and so on. What would a grown-up version of me look like if I could live in that image? Back to that in a minute. The other reason humanity is important is the influence we have as the dominant species on our planet.  A worldview that doesn’t think firstly that we are in God’s image, asks us to see ourselves as one species among many, to get over ourselves and realise we share the planet with all life forms that deserve a future-and whilst it shouldn’t need saying that does include all people. Humanity’s (ab)use of the planet is increasingly evident in human and non-human suffering.

So, I have been pondering the idea of salvation being a reciprocal kind of deal, between each person and between us and the planet. (Romans 8.18-23 is the go-to passage linking creation, humanity and salvation/liberation). That in some way the depth of salvation and transformation we experience is connected to our part in the liberation of others. Have to be careful with language of course as suggesting salvation is achieved by doing things has a long history of not doing well!  I’ve certainly been influenced by Liberation Theology for which the defining question is ‘what does Christian salvation have to do with physical liberation in the present?’ The genuine concern and criticism is that salvation becomes reduced to freedom from social oppression and loses the inner freedom of a spiritual transformation. But then isn’t the Christian hope to see the removal of this either/or scenario so that spiritual and physical liberation are joined? And even that the cross and resurrection have already accomplished just that.  Often this is (only/mostly) a future post-parousia hope and less of a now hope? Liberation theology in all its guises says that salvation starts now, whatever the future brings.  

Back to ‘the image’. I am discovering the Eastern Orthodox idea of salvation as theosis, becoming like God (not becoming God), which is similar to the West’s sanctification. Salvation is an invitation into union with God and the ongoing transformation through the Spirit and a sense in which salvation becomes an individual and a shared experience in embodied reality. Bodies are important, reading only the smallest amount of black or feminist liberation theology seriously challenges this white male to see in a new light and the incumbent responsibility to ask, ‘how should I be?’ and how haven’t I seen?

Sharing the gospel then becomes an invitation to relationship with God and others that is tangible and experienced. Maybe it means planting gardens and businesses before churches or joining in with the things that people care about. Maybe it’s about recognising the other person before anything else because God was there first, the Spirit is present and it’s not about us. Lots of maybes lots of questions!

Another one. Maybe our idea of salvation, of being human, is evolving and maturing. Maturity not being even more certain of what I always knew but growing into the likeness of the one I am still getting to know.