“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16) A favorite bible verse of mine, taught to me by my grandfather when I was a boy. For a long time I held the childish belief that Jesus had simply saved me from my “sin” so I could “go to heaven.” Sort of what this bible verse says, right? And the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday was proof of that.
As I began to “put away childish things” as the Apostle Paul would say, I discovered it is not exactly what the writers of the New Testament were saying and believing. These first disciples of Jesus had a much more profound understanding.
It was all about the cross and Jesus’ crucifixion.
Personal meaning about the crucifixion is not left out; it’s really part of a much larger story. A story that has more meaning, not less, about God’s desires for us all and for all creation.
Today is Good Friday. It is the hinge on which the meaning of Easter depends. You see, it is Jesus’ death that, in the words of N.T. Wright, “launched a revolution.” So you might be wondering what Jesus death means beyond forgiving our sins so we can go to heaven. And what is revolutionary about it?
Ok, let’s begin with the belief, stated over and over again by the scripture writers, that “Jesus died according to the scriptures.” Their scriptures are the ones that existed at the time of Jesus, called the Law and the Prophets. These scriptures describe the story of the creation and eventual exile of humanity. Some might say the “fall” of humanity. While you might not think in terms of human exile, consider Adam and Eve exiled from Eden, Abraham to Egypt, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons and families, all of them exiled. And then there is the great Babylonian Exile in 587 b.c.e. By the time of Jesus the people believed they were still living in exile.
Exiled from what? From their own humanity. How so? By turning away from their God-given role in creation to be stewards. God created us to, in effect, rule over creation, caring for it as God intended. Human sinfulness led to surrendering that purpose to other gods. Worldly gods. Money. Sex. Power. And in surrendering our humanity we became enslaved to these worldly gods. An enslavement that led to death.
Sin literally means “to miss the mark” as in archery. Humanity misses the mark by being less than the human beings God created us to be. We do inhumane things that violate the goodness of creation. Scriptures identify sin, not as a checklist of things we do that are wrong, although we can certainly include this understanding in the whole story. The real death-dealing act of human sin is idolatry. The false worship of worldly gods. Money. Sex. Power. This is what the writers of the New Testament understood to be the situation God faced, and resolved through Jesus in his death. God promised to provide an answer to human sin and Jesus became that answer.
On the grandest scale, the revolutionary scale, Jesus died to free humanity from the sin of idolatry. So we could recover our humanity. “Going to heaven” is not biblical. The biblical understanding is this: God will make God’s dwelling among us, a marriage of heaven and earth. God dwells among God’s creation. Humanity worships God by caring for God's creation. In Jesus’ death we regain our humanity. Jesus' death defeated death. His resurrection proclaimed the exile is over. We become part of the new creation God intended. A new life awaits those who believe this. There's a reason today is called Good Friday.
And the revolution continues.