I’m trying not to make this a grumpy old theologian post. I had a great holy week. In my tradition, we haven’t typically made a big fuss about Easter. That’s something other people did. Every Sunday was Easter for us. Yada, yada, yada. I am so happy now that some in my tribe are finding value in defining time around the Christian year, instead of time simply being one damn thing after another. So, to go to a Good Friday service and to have a full Easter celebration was good stuff for me.
Having said that, my appreciation for what God has accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus has changed over the years. It’s gotten bigger. And churches in general tend to explore a narrow set of themes during Easter. So dominant is one particular view of the atonement (penal substitution), that people can scarcely imagine other meanings.
So, here’s what I wish that someone had said. The resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that the final age is upon us, and with that an alternative to the powers of this evil age.
The surprising thing about Jesus’ resurrection is not that a human was raised from the dead. A common Jewish belief in Jesus’ day was that everyone would be raised from the dead on the Day of the Lord. What is surprising about Jesus’ resurrection was that it happened before that day. It signaled that the full and final purposes of God were on their way, breaking into our present experience and bringing with it a new range of human possibility.
The death of Jesus was more than just a sacrifice for sin. It was God’s judgement on a world given to us by the principalities and powers of this evil age. Our problem is not just or even primarily that we commit sins, our problem is that we are trapped and complicit in a world that has gone its own way, that no longer corresponds to the lordship of the Creator. Our problem is not only, or even primarily, that we need to be forgiven. Our problem is that we need to be set free from the oppressive reign of sin and death. And I am convinced that for most of us, this takes the form, not of evil, but of apathy, of resignation. That the way things are are just the way things are. That we’ve become content to be good or forgiven or wealthy, when what we’ve been called to in the resurrection is subversive revolution.
This is because the cross of Jesus is more than just God’s judgement. It is also a demonstration of God’s power. The response to this age, to a power as control-over-self-asserting-look-out-for-number-one is not more of the same. The power that resists the powers of this age is the power of enduring, self-giving-for-the-sake-of-others, love. This kind of love–this kind of power– breaks open the realities of the new age, an age in which God’s reign can be seen. This kind of power stands in contrast to the tools of power wielded by the kingdoms of this world. It has no use for drones.
And the fact that this is the kind of life that God raised from the dead demonstrates that this is the kind of life that will stand in the judgement, the kind of life that will endure in the age to come. Those of us who participate in this life, who carry in our bodies the death of Jesus, who know that the power of God’s Spirit is expressed as humility and peace and joy and love and kindness, belong to the future day of God’s glory now. We belong to a different day, to a different reign, to a different power, to a different view of what it means to be human. We belong to a revolution.
I wanted someone to wake me from my apathy, to show me that, in the resurrection, life has been unleashed and I can’t stay the same and find enduring life. Would somebody please say that! That the distant rumors that the empire is a fraud have become a shout of revolution in light of the death and resurrection of Jesus. I owe them nothing. And my allegiance to a new and different way is a sure bet–as sure as the fact that Jesus has been raised from the dead.
Will somebody please say that!
I think you just said it pretty well. Now, we just need to say that every Sunday and not just on Easter so we don’t have to do what everyone else is doing because this is what we do all the time…you know what I am talking about 🙂
I am saying it with you. The penal substitution is starting to sound a bit empty to me. Almost silly if that is all there is to the Jesus life. Thanks for posting this. I needed to hear someone say this as well. I am ready for movement and depth in the church… this waiting place is exhausting.
Great post. We ought to focus more and more on celebrating His ascension. This would help us move from salvation & Heaven when we die to discipleship & the Kingdom life now. Thanks Mark.
Maybe not exactly what you were looking for, but I think I touched on an aspect- of a sense of personal resurrection- in my blog. I hope you have time to check it out: mvisible.blogspot.com
How’s Ephesians 1.15-23 as Easter text? It was mine for my class, though I of course did not articulate as well as you have here.
I’m confident that both you and the Eph text say it very well.
While I suspect the penal substitutionary view of the atonement received the lion’s share of discussion during Easter, among evangelicals, should we attack it to create space for other views? This article addresses what you wish you would have heard. Maybe you could do a series on the other views of atonement and then share sermon sketches that would proclaim the Easter message from that perspective. These might help transform what is preached next year.
John, I’d like to think this post is ons such attempt. I think it’s a constructive post, for the most part. And yes, I think given PSA’s hold on the Christian imagination and given its rather recent vintage and severe limitations and potential distortions, it deserves to be roughed up a bit.
Sounds good- but the holiday came (as everyone knows) from the celebration of Passover- which is all about substitutionary sacrifice. Messianic believers do not have the hangups typical among evangelicals because they understand Yeshua as a Rabbi better. The problem with the point of view you express is that it is so often linked to anti-political or left-leaning political rhetoric. Yeshua’s rising from the grave (after 3 FULL days and nights by the way) had nothing to do with people feeling more guilty about their lives or in bringing the constant feeling to believers they are not changing enough or doing enough. Yeshua rose to bring DELIVERANCE. Deliverance from trying to do it on our own, from guilt, from shame, from feeling responsible for the world’s powers. Kudos for looking for a better way. BUT- the way is not in more rootless wandering evangelical ranting. It is in following the Jewish Rabbi Messiah Yeshua and putting His culture back into Christianity.
Laurie, I don’t have a problem with substitution per se. I have a problem with modern, western forms of atonement theory. I think we could be friends on this one.
I also don’t think that Passover exhausts the meaning of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Do you? I think, for instance, that the Day of the Lord images are just as big in providing a backdrop for understanding the death and resurrection of Jesus. And I think that just as traditions develop and change throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, so they continue to do so in the NT. Its likely new understandings are also being worked out by Paul and others. Do you think that’s possible?
I’m also wondering if you’re describing me as a meandering, ranting evangelical. I’ve been called many things, but rarely an evangelical. About meandering and ranting, I’m not sure you know me well enough. (though you might get some support from my students).
We seem to be in agreement about issues like guilt, etc. do you think we are? And I certainly sound the call for liberation and would agree with your list. I doubt that you intend for your list to be exhaustive, so I think that some on my list might have a chance to make it on to yours as well. I am puzzled a bit by your statement related to being liberated from feeling responsible for the world’s powers. I expected there instead liberated from the world’s powers. Maybe you could help me there. Are you saying that Christians are being oppressed when others see them as on the side of privilege or power?
One more thing you can help me understand. I’m assuming by the culture of Jesus, you’re referring to his Jewish-ness, which I think is vitally important. God raised Israel’s messiah from the dead. Many Christians certainly don’t pay that nearly enough attention. But beyond that point, I doubt that you could show me a monolithic Jewish culture or a monolithic Christian culture anywhere in history. So, I don’t know what you would be referring to if you mean culture in this way.
Anyway, let me tell you what I think I’m doing. I think I’m interpreting the death and resurrection of Jesus against a broader biblical backdrop, which would include the Hebrew scriptures in order to save it from an overly narrow reading. Did I represent the only way I think that can be expressed in my blog? Nope. But I think I did express a way that is legitimate and way too often overlooked.
Anyway, thanks for reading and for caring enough to respond.
I think we agree on much. I believe the Exodus story is THE story for understanding the sacrifice of Yeshua. EVERYTHING in Judaism hinges on blood sacrifice. My main point however is one I find hard to express. Evangelicalism (which we would probably agree irritates both of us in many ways) has reached a point where it is floating in mid-air with no roots. I think the roots are in the return to Pre-Constantinian Christianity. That is, before Jewish believers were kicked out of the church, (at least in their Jewishness). Easter- the prompt of this discussion does not point to Messiah the way Passover coupled with all the other Jewish feast-days does. Yeshua said to remember His death. Yes. His sacrifice.
Platoism- however is a nasty thing when it gets entangled with theology….hard to unwind….I fear we have come to the point in Christianity where we are up against it. Pull the weed already, is what I hear from the LORD.
And yes- I think feeling guilty about privilege/power is a uniquely American Christian problem. It is certainly not a Jewish/Messianic one.
Really great post here, Mark….and I hope you are okay with me sharing some of your thoughts as I lead the table this Sunday, one week removed from Easter, and one week closer to that “final age”
You preach well. Words that make since and cut deep. Hope you continue to have many opportunities to share. When you do send me the links to listen!
I once heard from this preacher man say “When you know the power of the Resurrection it changes everything!” Yes indeed it does!