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’.