Eight years ago I reviewed the Lasse Halstrom film “An Unfinished Life” on this blog.
It quotes Robert Redford and Morgan Freeman talking about one of Morgan’s dreams. In it the dead were united with the living and forgave them. That was the essential ingredient of the paradise he dreamed of… forgiveness between people. And Morgan was so high in his stratospheric vision that he felt he could see that “there’s a reason for everything.”
That’s the cool thing about this notion of reconciliation for all.
Why would the Cross be the reason for reconciliation?
Let me suggest 3 reasons.
- The Cross brought a substitute for Adam. It was “the just for the unjust”. But not in the magical way that Augustine imagined. He saw every human sin as an infinite offense against God. He taught … and traditionalists ever since have latched onto this … that an eternity of torment was an equal, necessary payment for an infinite amount of pain that we supposedly inflict on the infinite God when each of us sins. I’ve heard Dennis McCallum, John McArthur, John Piper, Alistair Begg, Mark Driscoll and many other preachers speak or write in this way. But I don’t see it explained that way in the Bible.
The description of the Cross that I see in the Bible is simple substitution: one finite human sin that had a death sentence attached — Adam’s disobedience — is placed against one “act of righteousness” that Jesus performed when he submitted to an unjust execution. Jesus was very intentional about his purpose in coming: “My flesh I give for the life of the world.” This exchange releases one prisoner from his sentence, and leaves an innocent man voluntarily in his place. But more than that. Since the process of heredity brought death and moral depravity to not only Adam, but all of his children, the Cross which releases Adam also releases EVERYONE from their sentence of death and bondage to decay. “Give me a long enough lever, and I can move the world.” That’s the lever that the cross gave Jesus.
- The Cross brought a Sin Offering. The Cross was not merely one act of torture. In Jesus’ case, it was three-and-half years of having his own natural preferences curtailed by the mission he had accepted from his Father. “I have a baptism to undergo, and how I am constrained until it is accomplished.” Jesus came to do the Father’s will. Jesus expressly states in his recorded prayer in Gethsemane, “Not my will, but Thine be done.” His entire soul was poured out unto death as “an offering for sin.”What does this major Sin Offering mean for the human race? Well, it is pictured by the offerings that were made each Day of Atonement in ancient Israel. (Yom Kippur) In verses 6, 11-14, 24-25, and 27 we read that a young bull was slain, its vital organs and steaks burned in the courtyard, its hide and bones burned outside in the camp, and its blood mixed with incense burned in the “holy place” … the outer of the 2 inner sanctuaries of the Tabernacle and Temple. This act symbolized the removal of all the sins of the people for the preceding year. The new testament writers are clear that Jesus fulfilled this picture, and provided a release to all people for their sins for all time.
Pause a moment and reflect on what this teaches us. It shows that releasing the entire world from its sins was accomplished already. There is no longer any looming threat of perpetual death (Hell and torment was never in the cards… the wages of sin is death). Everyone has their get out of jail free card. The only question that remains is, “when will I use my card to get out of Jail?” — There are only 2 possible answers. For authentic Christians, it’s this life. For everyone else, the hereditary curse of Adamic death will be lifted when they are resurrected and brought back for the opportunity of life we call the “judgment day”.
- The Cross became an event that invited sympathetic offerings. The followers of Jesus also take up Jesus’ cross. And as a result they have a cross of their own. Just as Jesus “learned obedience by the things that He suffered,” the circumstances of each disciple’s life challenges their spirit, and teaches them deep and powerful lessons about God that can be learned in no other way.Going back to the “type” or picture of the Tabernacle in ancient Israel, there were actually two animals slaughtered for sin on the day of Atonement. First there was the big fat bullock. And then there was a scrawny little goat. (See verses 7 and 15ff) Everything was the same in how the animals were handled. Blood with incense into the presence of God, life-giving, good-smelling organs and steaks in the presence of the believers, and raunchy, stinky body parts burned among the common people, who pictured unbelievers. And so it is written, “Let us therefore go with him outside the camp, bearing his reproach.” The Cross that every Christian disciple carries has a redemptive impact on all the people who witness our lives and the way we live them.
Reconciliation is not completed by the Cross. But the background issues are atoned for. I have read and observed in the different churches I have associated with over the years, that in every grouping of Christians there is a relatively small minority who “get it.” They do most of the doing, giving, teaching, praying, forgiving and heavy lifting. They are the truest of Christians, not because of the set of doctrines they believe but because of the way they live their lives. They daily take up their cross, and follow in Jesus’ footsteps. And they are servants of reconciliation as a result.
In the near future I’ll take a look at how the Bible describes the process of actually delivering on the promise of reconciliation for the entire world … for which the Christian era only places a down payment.