Jesus Loves Me…

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Several years ago, Newsweek ran a cover story on Christ entitled “Visions of Jesus.”  It looked at how different religions see Jesus, and as it turns out, Jesus is a pretty popular person.  Jews see Him as an important rabbi… though a greatly misunderstood one.  Muslims see him as greatest of all prophets who are not named “Mohammed.”  It has been said that there are more honorific titles for Jesus in the Koran than for Mohammed.  And it seems that Hindus have a tradition of a Jesus going to India and becoming a great guru there.  But while these world religions salute Jesus, they don’t worship him or follow him.  Why is that?  The Newsweek article suggests that what other world religions have a problem with is the the cross

The cross is what separates the Christ of Christianity from every other Jesus. In Judaism there is no precedent for a Messiah who dies, much less as a criminal as Jesus did. In Islam, the story of Jesus’ death is rejected as an affront to Allah himself. Hindus can accept only a Jesus who passes into peaceful existence… There is, in short, no room in other religions for a Christ who experiences the full burden of mortal existence—and hence there is no reason to believe in him as the divine Son whom the Father resurrects from the dead.

Didn’t Paul predict that the part of Christianity that others would see as foolishness and a stumbling block would be the message of the cross? 

It is at the cross where the deity of Jesus and the humanity of Jesus meet in dramatic fashion; the one who spoke the world into existence surrenders himself to death, the ultimate human experience.  And in some way, that death was “for us” and makes a way for us to live with God forever.  Exactly how that death was “for us” is the subject of much scholarly debate.  Several “theories” have been advanced through the years—

  • Atonement: God paid the debt created by our sin, and because that debt is paid, then we have been set free (Heb. 9:21-22)

  • Identification: At the cross, God fully identifies with those who are sinners, and takes on Himself this burden and “God-forsakenness.” (Luke 22:37)

  • Substitution: The perfect God came to earth to live a perfect life, and by laying it down for us, we can become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)

  • Satisfaction: In some sense at the cross, the wrath of God at our rebellion that went unsatisfied from Garden of Eden onward has been satisfied (Rom. 3:25)

  • Victory:  At the cross, God in Christ Jesus triumphed over sin and death and made a spectacle of Satanic forces (Col. 2:15)

What tends to happen is that we elevate on of these “theories” over the others.  And like the little Dutch boy with his fingers in the leaky dyke, the more we plug holes in one of these theories, the more we spring leaks at other places. 

For any of these “theories” to work, then two things must be true. First, Jesus had to be human.  He had to really die and really be raised from the dead.  Any sort of understanding that sees Christ as only seeming to be human or seeming to die is what John calls “antichrist” (1 John 4:3). Second, Jesus really had to be God; it had to be God doing the dying and raising to life.  A human (or even an angel) dying on the cross was not any of the things suggested in the understandings above.  For the cross to mean anything, then Jesus must be everything scripture declares him to be—God in the flesh who died and now lives forever. 

So, which of those “theories of atonement” do I think is correct?Some of my friends argue for one theory; others of my friends argue for others.I always stand with my friends.These are all metaphors from different angles that help us understand some of what happened at the cross.Like any metaphor, push any of these too far (or hold up one over the others) and we get an incorrect and incomplete understanding of what God did through Christ.I can’t fully understand or explain how Jesus can be both fully human and fully God at the same time.How can the infinite be finite? Why should I think that I can understand or explain everything that was going on at the cross?I think I’ll stick with my very first understanding, “Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.”