It has been called the wondrous cross.
It has been labeled Good Friday.
It has been described as a serious tragedy.
It has been likened to a monstrosity.
It has been held up as the epitome of virtue.
It has been said that He died for you there.
How could all of these statements describe the same thing… the death of the Jewish man Jesus on a cross in the first century?
For theologians, wrestling with the concept of atonement has produced all sorts of theories that have led to many words written about the cross. Every year we face new recapitulations or restatements of the same biblical concepts that have amazed deep thinkers and the average person of faith for hundreds of years and face the similar objections and challenges.
The atonement has been likened to a bag of golf clubs (Scot McKnight – A Community Called Atonement) where each club represents an aspect of what happened to Jesus on that fateful day. Just as each club has a function in a golf game so each angle of seeing the death of Jesus gives us a glimpse into what really is an act of genius and brilliance yet has baffled and continues to puzzle the greatest of minds throughout history.
Some of us have been raised with the driver of our understanding of atonement being the statement “Jesus died for you/us”. An amazing and important truth that is precious to every person who has sensed the need for someone to cleanse his or her guilty heart.
Others have been told about the model of self-sacrifice, using one of the irons as the main club of choice, getting us out of the selfishness of the rough that holds us back.
And still some focus on Jesus as the victor over the grave and the evil one. The putter raised in the air having made that putt, symbolizes their understanding of the cross where Jesus defeats His enemies and that great enemy death.
Some today are rediscovering the historical rootedness of what happens to Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s history, where He relives each aspect and fulfills all things as the Messiah for Israel and for all people. A stream of thinking that answers a question like: Why would Jesus need to be baptized by John the Baptist? To fulfill the requirements of being our high priest – washed, clothed, anointed with oil, and offer sacrifices (in His case Himself). Why would Jesus need to die? As the scapegoats were sent away and as the unblemished lambs were sacrificed in the Old Testament, the Messiah clothes us in His righteousness (propitiates) and takes away our sins (expiates), not just as individuals but also as His covenant people (family). Just as Israel was unified through sacrifice so we today are made one in His overwhelming act of shalom.
Perhaps this use of golf clubs is a bit crass for such a deep subject, yet it sure has helped me to see that what Jesus did can’t be located in one or even a few catch phrases. Other metaphors may be closer to capture the brilliance – a diamond with many facets, or a tree with many branches stemming from a solid trunk. Yet can anything truly be put to words about the agony of Jesus that fateful and amazing and yes good Friday? Quoting my friend Tim Callaway (quoting an OT scholar) “It is the death faced by Jesus when he was executed by the empire, the death to which the church is called. Good Friday is about the losses that go with that contradiction”.
My prayer for myself and for us is that we could take time to revel in the mystery this season – a simplicity that the littlest child can begin to see and yet a profundity that will allude us all until we meet Him face to face… and even then it may be a few centuries (if time be measured) before our jaws will close again as we sing “oh the wonderful cross”, or “in Christ alone my hope is found” or “He made a wretch His treasure”. All nations now together standing in awe of Him. Joy, joy, joy…
In His grace,
University of Alberta Christian Chaplain