γενήσομαι «ge-ney-soh-mey : i am becoming»
These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
good friday/easter reflections on context, part 2
Please note, this is the second post of a series.
You can read the first post here.
In my last post, I attempted to show—with a very broad stroke—that Good Friday in context doesn't mean that Jesus died for your sins. Instead, I tried to show that in the context of the narrative of Israel, Jesus is shown by the gospel writers (and argued by Paul) to have taken the punishment enacted by Rome that was meant for disobedient Israel.
So what significance is it that Jesus died for Israel as part of their story and not mine?
(While there are number of nuances I could discuss, I will highlight three that I think are significant push-backs to our traditional theologies. I may one day delve into more.)
Among other issues, penal substitution has been known to suggest that you as a person are inadequate because of your shortcomings and you therefore need to be 'saved' in order to be considered by or stand before God. This is harmfully unbiblical. (Penal substitution also argues that Jesus had to die to forgive sins but that clearly wasn't the case if you consider his ministry.)
Our contextual reading removes the theology that God is angry at or vindictive toward us because of our personal sins. If Jesus reveals to us the nature of God then we can see through his ministry that God is in fact loving and welcoming and concerned for our well-being. The times Jesus became angered and his words were the most poignant were the times he was dealing with hypocrites—and then it was in the vein of the Hebrew prophets who condemned those in power that used their status to exploit others.
A contextual reading removes the burden of self-loathing and the doctrine of human depravity. God does not look at you and only see a filthy, sinful creature until you've been 'washed in the blood.' A contextual reading upholds the Genesis theology that we are each of us divine image bearers, and we can approach God on those terms—without manipulation, without pleading, and without guilt.
Your sins did not nail Jesus to the cross—your sins did not hold him there.
What a contextual reading also does is remind us, like Paul does in Romans, that we are becoming a part of something much bigger than we realise. We are joining a faith and a story that has been churning for millenia—we are wild shoots grafted onto the olive tree that is Israel. In this way it also reminds that there are things we cannot understand without first understanding the story and theology of the Jewish people.
Classic Theism/Evangelicalism pushes a personal salvation theology that tends to compartmentalise or perhaps privatise a person's religious beliefs. Penal substitution atonement compounds that attitude when it argues that Jesus died in your place because of your individual sins. It's a theology of 'me, my, mine.'
But here we are reminded that we are joining a community—we are joining an entire body of fellow believers. A contextual reading emphasises that we are not at our basic component individuals but we are instead essentially pieces of a whole.
This shift in focus by default elevates the needs of others at least as equally pressing as our own needs—a theology that runs directly parallel with the teachings of the Hebrew prophets and with the second greatest commandment as taught by Jesus.
There is nothing private about this. Religion in the ancient world was not compartmentalised and overflowed into politics, economics, and social connections. Our fellowship in the community should be decidedly embodied and it should affect not only our relationships with other people but also with all of creation.
A contextual reading dismisses the 'eternal destination' obsession to the background of our theologies. If Jesus' death inaugurated the new community then his followers were then also the first fruits of the 'new creation.'
In Romans, Paul makes this precise argument. He presents a case that our uniting with Jesus unites us with each other and this is our glory—a glory for which creation has groaned in pain. Paul says that creation has been waiting for the revealing of the Children of God and he argues that time is now—for we are those children.
The liberation of the natural world from its enslavement is intimately tied up with the liberation of all people—a liberation that comes through Jesus.
This is not an 'I'll fly away' theology. Instead, a contextual reading elevates the cosmos as partners in the grand scheme of life. It reminds us of the Genesis-given mandate to be loving stewards of the earth—it reminds us of the importance of creation care. This world is our home. The Jesus who is Lord and master over the elements is Lord and master over us.
Jesus' death was redemptive for Israel and by Israel's redemption the doors of the Kingdom were flung wide open. For that reason, Paul and the gospel writers proclaimed the body of believers as an eschatological community. That is, through Jesus' death, God fulfilled a covenantal obligation and 'put things back in right relationship with Israel, and through Israel, with the world.'1
Jesus' death inaugurated the era of non-Jewish inclusion into the People of God—an era anticipated by Isaiah.2
But we know the story of Jesus doesn't end with his crucifixion. And neither does our contextual journey. ✤
1. Grieb, A Katherine, The Story of Romans: A Narrative Defense of God’s Righteousness (Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 37-38.
2. Isaiah 2.