Last night I completed a Zoom on the final chapter in the book, The LifeLine, on the cross. Always an interesting discussion as the cross can and should be viewed from many perspectives (and is in Scripture… though no surprise here, not I think from that of penal substitution). I put forward a couple of aspects last night that are not in the chapter with ‘yes I am probably willing to stand in a corner and have stones thrown at me as a heretic for this…’
Given that we have to be agnostic about how much we have a grasp on ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’, my beliefs are ‘I lean toward’, and I lean strongly toward that of the future not being fixed, in fact I lean so strongly that way that I have probably fallen over. If the future is not fixed in what sense was the cross always planned? (‘Slain from the foundation of the world’ springs to mind here.)
Oh, what a roundabout way I am about to travel in this post…
Reading a few days ago in 1 Chronicles 11:15-19 (I have emboldened the text I am considering):
Three of the thirty chiefs went down to the rock to David at the cave of Adullam, while the army of Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. David said longingly, “O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” Then the Three broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and they brought it to David. But David would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, and said, “My God forbid that I should do this. Can I drink the blood of these men? For at the risk of their lives they brought it.” Therefore he would not drink it. The three warriors did these things.
Drinking blood – something that Jesus said both in terms of the Last Supper, and in John 6:53 that those who do not drink his blood will have no life in them. To drink blood is to metaphorically to receive the gift of the substance of a person (true love) at the cost or potential cost of their very life. It is not some pagan ritual, and this blood poured out is indeed the life poured out (life of the flesh is in the blood) not some appeasing act to the divine. Blood in the OT is for cleansing not for appeasement, life poured out cleanses, for life is stronger than all other opposing forces, even in the case of Jesus, that opposing force of death. To drink the blood of Jesus is to receive deeply his outpoured life that comes to us, not simply through him risking his life, but through losing his life. (And maybe I should add that as a human he has to take the risk that love is stronger than hate; life poured out stronger than death… he, as human, being faithful to live out God’s life. He dies in faith – into your hands I commit my spirit… God raises him on the third day.)
God’s life is revealed in the cross, there we understand that God is kenotic, self-pouring out, life-giving, not life-taking. As I have stated in previous posts Jesus did not humble himself in spite of being God, but because he was in the form of God he emptied himself and went all the way to the cross. God will go, God did go, to whatever depth was necessary for human and cosmic redemption.
The cross is not an aberration of God; it is not at the resurrection that Jesus defeats the powers but at the cross; the resurrection being the visible sign that Jesus has overcome all enemies to the fulfilment of cosmic destiny (and I mean cosmic, within which of course is included human destiny).
In Acts the consistent testimony is that ‘you killed Jesus.. the Author of life…’ If we do not read a theologically biased reading of ‘eternal foreknowledge’ into Acts 2:23,
this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.
we can understand it as the cross fulfilling the plan of salvation, not in some predetermined way set before the foundation of the world, but in fulfilment of the life of God. (Foreknowledge is simply to know something beforehand, the ‘when’ of the knowledge is only determined to be eternal if there is a presupposition that is the case.)
God will self-give to whatever level is necessary, there is not a ‘thus far and no further’. The cross became necessary for us; the death within critical history (the fullness of times) in the place of strong captivity (Jerusalem, strong captivity because of the religious / political alignment)… You (religion) handed him over to those outside the law (the one world government of Empire). Handed over the life giver (human act) and death was swallowed up, it could no longer hold him, indeed Peter says it was impossible for death to hold him. It is not primarily that he dies our death (substitution and penal?), I would rather suggest he dies because of our death and he takes our death to a new place; our death is carried into his life poured out, and so he tastes death for everyone, and brings death to our death!
The subsequent invite is to find our identification with him – to die with him so that we will be raised with him. The Triune God gladly took our death to the place of death, for that death is swallowed up in the life poured out. If I then drink of his blood, I will receive the flow of that outpoured life, I will die… and rise with him. It is not guilt that is to be dealt with, so that my ledger is marked ‘innocent’ but cleansing that comes to heal the soul and to restore the familial relationship, the cross not seeking to deal with legal issues (leave that aspect to the Jewish aspect of the cross) but the estrangement issues. The ‘Prodigal Father’ will run to us, leaving the law weakened, running the risk that sin will indeed abound yet even more… but for those who receive the embrace, shame (and guilt) disappear, sin is condemned, death is conquered.
Slain before the foundation of the world? Indeed. How can it be otherwise? That is the eternal God, not simply the historical Jesus in the first century. Each time we take the bread and the wine we proclaim his death… till he comes.
The mighty promises of a deliverer, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah… but when we turn (repentance) and see (bear testimony to) it is not a Lion that fills our view, but the eternal nature of God, a Lamb slain… the One found worthy to open the book of destiny.
Yes I do believe there could have been other possibilities if we (the ‘Adam’ that we all are and participate in) had made different choices. What could never be changed is that the God of Creation is the Redeeming God who will go wherever s/he has to go in order to redeem. The cross is not necessary for God, it was necessary for us. It becomes inevitable for God because God is kenotic.
2 thoughts on “Necessary – for us”
Love this post! Thank you Martin.
‘ I lean so strongly that way that I have probably fallen over. ’ is probably the best line I’ve read in ages 🙂 Once I’d cleaned up my coffee that I’d snorted out laughing I then had to stop for about 10 minutes just to chew over the Chronicles passage. I’ve never heard that connection made before but it blew me away and makes so much more sense of imagery that I’ve previously struggled to explain to my own satisfaction.
So much more I found helpful in the rest of the post to give a framework of language to understand the cross. The majority of my theology is driven by gut feeling, usually in the form of rejection of ideas that don’t seem to align with an understanding of the divine where love is the plumbline. I can often live in a kind of theological limbo where, having rejected an unhelpful/damaging (my opinion only) theology, there’s a period of yearning towards a different understanding, perhaps with snippets of insight. That has been the case with my understanding of the cross and as I read this post my reaction was such a huge YES!!
So many strands brought together in ways that are utterly consistent with a God of love without any hint of penal substitution, no matter how well disguised. Amen to that!
Nice one… hope the coffee was good! Maybe Paul was a bit ‘from the gut’ also. That would be a rather crude way of giving a nod to EP Sanders – Paul starts from the solution and then works back to what the problem was??? Probably not doing either EP nor Paul justice, but I am not sure getting it right will get us the whole way, the gut will certainly help!
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