Wednesday, March 27, 2013

No cross without resurrection

The resurrection forced the first Christians to think hard about the cross. Yesterday near the end of the post I noted:

Conversely, the resurrection of Jesus triggered a flood of reflection on what happened on the cross. To be sure, the risen Jesus before ascension may have contributed to this flood (Luke at least hints at this). Why does Jesus die only to be raised from the dead?

On the surface of things Jesus was crucified partly through tragic accident (innocent man in wrong place at wrong time as crazy leaders whipped up mass hysteria) and partly through some provocative action on Jesus' part (cleansing the Temple, raising Lazarus from the dead), albeit engendering a grossly disproportionate reaction from the authorities. But being raised from the dead raised larger questions. 

What was God up to?  Was there a significance to Jesus' person and work which had escaped them? 

Had the disciples missed something as they observed the surface of things rather than pressed to understand what was really going on? 

There were some clues, even without the resurrection, let alone the risen Jesus explaining things to them. 

One of those clues occurred when they were literally asleep. Indeed we probably have Jesus himself to thank for the knowledge of this clue, reference to 'this cup' in his final prayers. Citing a Lenten study I have co-authored with Lynda Paterson, published by Theology House Publications this year, we can think of the cup in this way:

‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done.’ 
‘This cup’ is an image of wrath and of suffering, when read against the Old Testament (e.g. Psalm 11:6; Jeremiah 25:15-16; Ezekiel 23:31-34), and other references to ‘cup’ in the New Testament (e.g. Matthew 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-39 [strangely, Luke has no parallel to these passages]; Revelation 14:9-10; 16:19).
 Why does Jesus face ‘this cup’?  
Space does not permit a full discussion of the significance of Jesus’ death but we do not do justice to the full witness of the New Testament if we downplay the cross as the place on which sacrifice for sin was made, victory over evil was secured, the depths of God’s love for us was demonstrated, and an example of righteous martyrdom was shown.  
‘This cup’ particularly points to the cross as the place on which the wrath of God against sin was borne by Jesus as the final and full sacrifice for the sin of the world. For Jesus to receive this cup was to receive the cup of unimaginable suffering. 
So we read on about ‘agony’ and ‘sweat … like great drops of blood falling down to the ground’ (22:44).[i]  
We may be prompted to ask why Jesus as Son of God needs an angel to help strengthen him. (Surely it was not because of the frailty of Jesus but because of the magnitude of the suffering he faced).
If Jesus were not raised then we would not know whether God's wrath was satisfied. That Jesus was raised demonstrated that God's wrath was satisfied. The cup had been drained by Jesus.

The resurrection, when the suffering of Jesus had been completed, enabled the disciples to understand what was really going on, that the cross was not just unimaginable physical suffering but also unimaginable spiritual suffering.

Incidentally, in our day many Christians are uncomfortable thinking about the wrath of God being visited on Jesus. But the Psalm set down for this Sunday is pretty clear, 

'The Lord has punished me severely' (118:18).

But the use of passages such as this (a commenter yesterday noted Psalms  2, 10, 116, 118, and Dt 18 as figuring in apostolic hermeneutic of the cross and resurrection) would not have taken place if Jesus were not raised from the dead.

When we talk about 'the cross' we engage in an act of remembering the painful death of Jesus as an innocent man (legally innocent before human authority, wholly innocent before divine authority) and we acclaim that something significant happened in that event. It is the only ancient crucifixion people talk about! And we only talk about it because that crucifixion was not the end of Jesus, and his burial was not the beginning of forgetting who he was. Without the resurrection there would be no cross.

PS There was no great win for the NZ cricket team yesterday. A small shadow was cast over the sunny uplit days of late summer :(

[i] Not all ancient manuscripts of Luke’s Gospel have verses 43 and 44.


Anonymous said...

"In the pioneer days on the prairie lands, people sometimes would find themselves about to be consumed. They would be in the middle of a field and a fire would catch in the tall, dry grass. Stiff winds pushed the flames toward them, so fast not even horses could outrun them. There was no time to escape. Instead, they took a match and burned a patch of ground where they stood. Then they waited on the burned-over earth. The prairie fire swept up to the edge of the patch and, finding nothing there to consume, passed by.

And later the fire proved a gift to the earth: it burned what was already dead, and its ashes nurtured new life.

Jesus Christ burned the earth with His cross. God poured out His wrath on His Son. If we take our stand there, the wrath to come will pass us by, and in its time will renew the very earth it devours."

From 'The Holy Wild: Trusting in the Character of God' by Mark Buchanan.

MichaelA said...

I see the two as working in tandem, death and resurrection. By his death he gained victory over death. By his risihg, he led the way for us also to rise.

Andrew Reid said...

Something that is of interest to me is the way different Christian traditions emphasise different aspects of Jesus' ministry and salvation.

For example, Protestants tend to emphasise the death of Christ, in terms of substitution in our place, and then also the resurrection in terms of new life. In Jesus' ministry, Protestants emphasise His teaching and words. Of course different branches of Protestants have different emphases as well (eg Pentecostals on the miracles and transfiguration).
Catholics tend to emphasise the suffering and agony of Jesus unto death. Within his ministry, they tend to focus on care for the poor and outcast.
For the Orthodox, they tend to focus on the ascension and reign of Jesus over the earth. Within his ministry, there is more of a focus on the people whose lives he transformed - eg apostles, Mary Magdalene.

These are tendencies and you may disagree with how I've described them here, but it's important to appreciate the insights of other traditions into the events we think we know and understand. Having said that, the Bible rightly focuses and reflects on some events and teaching more than others, which ought to guide our reflection as well.

Peter Carrell said...

I appreciate profound thoughts being shared here. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Peter - with prayers for a blessed Pascha to you and your family.
May our crucified, risen and ascended Lord continue to teach us His new commandment, cleanse us from every sin and failing by His blood and raise us in our hearts and minds to heaven.