What Is His Death To Us Today?
A Man named Jesus of Nazareth was crucified between two thieves on a Cross almost two thousand years ago.
Could this possibly have to do with us today? How do Christians dare to believe that this Man's death directly affects people walking in machine-made shoes on concrete sidewalks in this age of missiles and nylon?
John the Baptist said of Jesus of Nazareth, "Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world."
In the Book of Revelation, at the very end of the Bible, we are told that "the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world." How is this related to the crucifixion of Jesus at Calvary less than two thousand years ago?
Is the Lamb spoken of by John the Baptist the same Lamb that was "slain before the foundation of the world"? If so, how do we manage to leap from before Creation to Calvary and arrive at today? And why do we hear so little about the "Lamb slain before the foundation of the world?" Is orthodox Christianity isolating the act of Calvary from this pre-world "Lamb slain?" Are we
limiting God to time? What indeed does the death of Jesus Christ have to do with us today?
In Romans 5:10 we find some amazing words: "For if as enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more surely shall we, who have been reconciled, be saved by His life."
In this chapter we are concerned with the first part of this verse our reconciliation through His death. How are we reconciled through the death of Jesus of Nazareth nearly two thousand years ago? Socrates died equally nobly. No one has ever claimed to be "reconciled" by the death of Socrates. Why? Because Socrates was not God in the flesh. Jesus was. The death of Christ is valid to us today only because of His identity.
Was that young Man, hanging on the Cross, God?
If He was, then the human heart is forced to look more closely. The Bible tells us that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." If this is true, then God was in that young Man hanging there in awful humiliation.
A disturbing question raises itself here. If this young Man was God clothed in humanity, why did He cry out, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?" Why did He scream in His darkest moment, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" If Jesus was God visiting this earth, to whom was He praying on the Cross? Was He praying to Himself?
Here we must remember that Jesus of Nazareth was all that could be contained of God in a human being. There is far too much of God to be fully held by one Man. When He visited this earth, He came as one of us. A human being. "He had to be made like His brothers in every respect." As Jesus hung on the Cross, He was all that could be contained of God in a human body, but He was also utterly human. And as a Son He was in all things submissive to His Father. On the Cross, Jesus the Man was praying to the Father-God. He was at once God and
Man. The Son of God and the Son of Man. The Man-God. The God-Man. To our mortal minds, mystery perhaps graciously obscures how this was possible. But God's method is not the point where we are concerned. Our part is to realize, once and for all, that throughout eternity no one will ever discover one tiny contradiction between the Father and the Son. Their heart is one. Their intent is one. Jesus went the whole way and declared, "I and my Father are one."
God was in Christ, then, on the Cross, reconciling the world unto Himself. The entire key to the Christian faith is our awareness of the true identity of the One who hung there that dark day on Calvary. If Jesus was merely another great teacher, His death can have no more to do with me now than the death of Socrates, another great teacher. I can be inspired by it, but how can I be reconciled to God by it? My admiration of "Socrates drinking the hemlock and Jesus on the rood" can inspire me, but I can also be depressed by their noble spirits. I can be made to feel guilty, knowing that I could not meet death in the same exalted way in which they met it.
But if Jesus of Nazareth was God Himself visiting the earth, then His death on the Cross automatically involves me, since I, as a created being, have a primal relationship with my Creator. Sin in me has jerked me loose from the original harmonious oneness with God, but there lingers in every person the need to return. To be reconciled.
Even if we don't yet see how this reconciliation takes place, there is at least hope for it, if the Young Man on the Cross is one with God.
In my own mind there was for some time deep confusion about the actual connection between the death of Christ and humanity. I read that "there is no remission of sin, except by the shedding of blood." I believed this. I still do. I read and spoke and wrote of the "finished
work of Calvary." That I was deeply involved in it, I had no doubt. That it affected me directly, I had no doubt. The Atonement of Christ had somehow made me at one with God. I knew it intellectually and I knew it experientially.
But I also retained some kind of inner dullness and confusion over the explanation that Jesus "took my sins away" that one dark day on the hill outside the gates of Jerusalem.
I did not doubt it. I knew that since my life was linked with His, since I had recognized Him as my Saviour, peace had come to me. And with it a new vital interest in all of life and a hope that could not have been conjured up by my nimble imagination. But, over and over again, I saw the same confusion and dullness, the same lack of comprehension in the eyes of other persons to whom I was trying to explain His death. It wasn't the stubborn resistance of a human being fighting God. It was genuine confusion as to how His death so long ago could possibly affect us now.
I became painfully aware of the need to allow the Cross of Christ to emerge from its Jewish matrix and let it touch the hearts of today's pagans. After all, Jesus made it clear that God would no longer limit His pursuit to one people.
"I, if I be lifted up from the ground [on the Cross] will draw all men unto me."
"Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden...."
In this chapter I am not attempting to set forth a doctrine of the atonement as such. And to those of you who hold no confusion concerning the death of Christ, I ask that you realize I am attempting to express some of the insight which liberated me from my confusion and lack of understanding. Primarily, I am trying to communicate here with those who have not had a doctrinal back-
ground. Those who, like myself ten years ago, are either in the dark where the Cross is involved, or who find their hearts locked against a theory concerning it.
Instead of an explanation of the Atonement, which has already been done in more scholarly fashion than I could manage, I want to speak of the One who made the Atonement possible. I have found Him to be the drawing power, just as He said He would be. I will not speak so much of what He did on the Cross, as of Who it was Who did it. This approach not only melted my heart and quieted my confusion, it has melted the hearts and quieted the confusion in almost every other person with whom I have shared it.
I do not believe there is any new viewpoint concerning the Cross of Christ. "The Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world." Our part is only to stay open to an ever deepening understanding of it. My own heart rebels at a pat explanation of His Cross. To me it is the open door to a living relationship, not a procedure which can be contained in words. We dare not shut up the Christ of the Cross in a box! Even if we try, He will break out of it, because He is alive and because He is too big for our boxes.
No one knows more clearly than I, who tried too long to make the grade by my intellect, that these things cannot be known intellectually. They must be revealed to us by the Spirit of God. To the natural man they are foolish. And yet, I now believe that God will move heaven and earth to reveal Himself clearly to any open heart. He demands far less conformity in our thinking than the average Christian demands. He respects the unfathomable depths of the human personality all the way. He knew "He had to be made like His brothers in every respect." He does not ask us to accept some worded explanation of His Cross. If He did, He would have settled for the Biblical statement that "the Lamb was slain before the
foundation of the world." He did a much more patient and gracious thing. A much clearer thing. He came to earth and allowed Himself to be slain before our eyes! He asks that we accept Him.
Jesus always makes issues clear. We have already said that His one motive for coming to earth was to clarify, once and for all, the true nature of the Father. I said this from a platform once and a dear lady approached me afterward with this admonition: "Genie, you must never say again that Jesus came to show us what the Father's heart is like." When I asked why, she simply said, "It isn't correct doctrine. He came to die!"
I quite agree. But His death is the supreme showing of the Father's heart. It is the identity of the One on the Cross that reconciles me. It is the identity of the One on the Cross that causes me even to see that I need to be reconciled.
It is not the death alone, it is the One involved in the death. It is His very attitude as He hung there that affects me so directly. I am struck by His willingness to go through with the only means He knew could ever melt the human heart into a desire to be reconciled to Himself. He "personally carried our sins onto the cross." And with them He experienced the agony of their consequences.
Over and over I am asked, "Why did Jesus have to go to the Cross? Couldn't God have done it another way?" I am convinced that He could not. If He could have, He would have. Love shows itself supremely when it is laying itself at the feet of the rebellious loved one. Love shows itself supremely when it exposes its goodness without defense to the fury of the rebellious loved one. As I see the pure goodness of God on the Cross, the guilt of the hammer blows becomes mine. The conniving mind of the Sanhedrin arouses guilt in me. I am painfully affected
by the goodness which drove self-centered humanity to try to do away with Him.
Recently a young person asked a provocative question: "If there was no other way to be rid of our sins, why are we supposed to be so sorry Jesus died on the Cross?" We are not to feel sorry. We are to rejoice! There was no other way, and I can never accept the notion that Christ opened His arms on the Cross and experienced death to make us feel sorry. He did it because He knew there was no other way to let us see the gaping chasm between Himself and His loved ones who had jerked themselves out of His loving will by their self-willed determination to be their own masters.
Desperately, we need to begin to look at ourselves and at God as living persons in relationship with one another. Desperately we need to put aside for one clear moment any preconceived theories about some magical theological performance on Calvary and look clearly at ourselves and at God.
He is not foisting explanations on us, He is still offering Himself to us. Our part is to take stock of our relationship with Him. Either we belong to Him, or we still belong to ourselves. Either we have returned to God's original plan for us, or we haven't. In the beginning God created us to belong to Himself. We have wrenched free of Him. And yet no one has ever been able to wrench free of His love. He proved this when He came to earth Himself and showed us His heart on the Cross. In Jesus Christ, the Father made a way for us to come back. No one can explain forgiveness, but anyone can experience it. And only those who have experienced the unexplainable forgiveness of God, through response to Jesus Christ, are the peaceful ones.
Human nature is not at home orbiting independently in its own sphere. It was created to be linked with God, and although it had the power to jerk itself away from
Him, it does not have the power, nor the desire, to come back. Anyone who longs for peace with God has gotten that longing directly from God through His Holy Spirit. Anyone who has returned to the love relationship with Him, which He intended in the first place, has been brought back into it through response to the wooing of Jesus Christ.
This need in the human personality for forgiveness, for reconciliation with God, is not limited to religious theory. Dr. Alphonse Maeder, a noted Swiss psychiatrist, has written a clear explanation of what he feels happens in the human personality that causes the whole pattern of life to be distorted to become unharmonized, self-centered. In his book, Ways to Psychic Health, Dr. Maeder writes: "Sin, evil, committing the forbidden deed constitute a violation of the divine command, a rebellion of the self against God. Herewith the creature repudiates its dependence upon the creator in order to be its own master. As a result the order of creation is pierced, the breach is opened between the creature and its creator, and the human being possesses only a relative, limited independence. When he elevates himself arbitrarily to an absolute, independent being something central in him is broken, namely, the inner bond with his origin and His Divine Master. He transforms himself into a titanic but also an uprooted being. The original love for and trust in God transform themselves into an unchained, demonic and destructive egoism as demonstrated by world history up to the present time."1
The Bible declares that we have "all sinned and come short of the glory of God." To the modern mind Dr. Maeder's description goes straight to the mark. This universal state of falling short of what God has a right to expect of us (had not the sin of self-assertion twisted us out of shape), shows itself in various stages of personality defects, but it always shows itself. There is, there can be,
no integration, no harmony of the human personality which is still cut off from God. We do become "titanic," and we are all "uprooted beings." We can accurately paraphrase the Biblical estimate of human nature by saying, "All have become titanic, (enormously self-willed) because all are uprooted beings having cut themselves off from God."
Further on in his book Dr. Maeder writes, "Then like a ray of light in the darkness I was struck by the words: 'For the Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost' [Sinful, uprooted, grown enormous in its own estimate]. It appeared to me as the perfect model for our psychotherapeutic activity. These words have never lost their effect upon me and have repeatedly strengthened me in moments of despair."2
No one needs to stay "uprooted" and unreconciled. But God knew that the alienation from Himself by sin in the human heart was so great that He would somehow have to produce the desire in us for reconciliation before He could offer it.
And so He came to earth in Jesus of Nazareth, the one sinless Man who ever lived on our planet. His very presence caused His death. The presence of the God-Man in the midst of the selfish corruption of the religious and political little men of His earthly day, forced them to try to annihilate Him! When Jesus walked the earth men did one of two things. They either gave themselves to Him or they tried to do away with Him. His goodness shows our sin so painfully that the human self must take some action. Religion and pious beliefs do not affect people this way. Only when the human heart sees God as He is in Jesus Christ does this violent reaction take place. As I realized I stood in the Presence of such goodness, the very goodness of God Himself, I was driven to try to blot Him out or to run to Him. His pure and holy Person in our midst, once we recognize Him as being God Himself,
forces us either to commit ourselves to Him or try to blot Him out by disbelief.
As I saw the God-Man hanging on His Cross asking forgiveness for me, I was stunned by the sharp cracking of my own defenses. As I saw Him, I saw myself and the contrast was so pain-filled I longed to be blinded by it! Blindness would have been a temporary relief. At least I wouldn't have had to look at myself any longer. Did Paul, as Saul of Taurus, experience this? He told it well: "Due to the brilliancy of that intense light, I was blinded."
The God-Man hanging on His Cross, with His arms stretched out toward the whole world, looked at me and I knew I could never bear not to look back at Him for all eternity. But there was the vast dark discord between us. Suddenly I wanted to press my ears shut against the most hideous sound I had ever heard! But pressing my hands to my ears did no good. This was not something I heard with my ears. It was an inner distortion, a discord screeching at the very center of my being. I became aware for the first time that I lived out of harmony with God and all of His universe. I failed to shut it out by much talking and it clanged the louder when I tried to shout my denial that Jesus Christ was God! There was in me no way to contain the dreadful disharmony of my life alongside His, once I had seen Him. "If I am like this and if He is like that, I can no longer live with myself as I am. No human being could experience such discord and live!"
This was something of my own experience long before I knew God had said, "No human being can see Me and live." To me this does not mean I will be struck dead physically if I see God. It means that seeing Him as He was in Christ on the Cross brought me to such an awareness of the discord in my own life that I could no longer bear it.
This would be called by some, "conviction of sin." It is. Still I am helpless against sin. I cannot live with it, but I cannot rid myself of it. The more I try, the louder grows the screaming discord around me.
But the noise has stopped now. I have linked my life with His. I knew that I had seen God on His Cross, and from the seeing came the equivalent of death to the screaming disharmony within me, but new life to me!
The dictionary definition of "reconciliation" is "to harmonize." Looking at the God-Man dying on His Cross brought me to my knees, not in adoration at first, but in sheer weakness against the pounding thunder of the discord rolling around me. Obviously, it had been there before. I only became aware of it when I believed that I stood in the Presence of the Saviour-God who created me. Of the Man-God who died on a cross for love of me. In my blessed desperation, I cried out for forgiveness. I think I really meant to cry for peace and an end to that discord! But the word forgiveness forced itself up from my broken heart.
And then there was peace.
I see now that Jesus, the Son, was not "paying an angry Father" for my sins. The Father was paying with His own God-heart on the Cross, as a mother pays when she goes on loving a disobedient, ungrateful child. I see now that the Father is not merely "accepting me, loathesome creature that I am," because His Son did what He did. I see now that the Father and the Son are in this together. They are one. The heart I saw breaking on Calvary was the very heart of God Himself.
Because I have at last seen the intention toward me of the heart of God, I am harmonized. And I am being harmonized. Jarring discords come and go outwardly. I rebel. I weep. Too often I am unloving and impatient. But as the discords come, they go, because deep within my
essential self is harmony with God through what I have at last seen Him to be in the death of Jesus on the Cross.
We are reconciled through His death, not by some magical theological performance. After all, the "Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world." Jesus broke into human history to prove this! On Calvary, Christ was merely laying bare the heart of God as it has always been. The Father's heart was not changed as Jesus hung on the Cross. It was revealed.
I wouldn't have known I needed harmonizing if I hadn't been permitted to see the heart of God exposed at last on the Cross. I wouldn't have dared look at myself. If that had not been God Himself on His Cross, there would have been no hope for me.
No human being on earth needs to stay out of harmony with God. God has revealed Himself in Jesus and no one needs ever again to worry and wonder about Him. The great simplification has taken place. "The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost [cut off]."
Another question can be raised here. How am I reconciled? Jesus said, "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father." Quite simply, I believe I was reconciled with God by looking at the One who died on the Cross. But it is not my looking that does this, it is what I see when I look. I see at last something of what God is really like. The veil of the Temple was torn from the top to the bottom when Jesus died. So was the heart of God. It is open now. Anyone can look inside and discover for himself what everyone longs to know the authentic intention of God toward the entire human race.
We are reconciled by exposure to the true nature of God as we see it in Jesus Christ on His Cross. In Him is our way back. In Him "who committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth; who did not return the insult when He was insulted; who did not threaten when abused who personally in His own body carried our sins
onto the Cross, so that [seeing Him as He is] we might abandon our sins and live for righteousness."
His heart has already been exposed to us. There remains only the exposure of our hearts to Him.
Chapter Thirteen || Table of Contents