Our death morphs into his death
Imagine how we’d feel if someone we loved was tried and found
guilty of something we knew they didn’t do. Imagine now that we then learned
that the prosecutors and the judges conspired together to have our friend
killed. We’d be the first to stand up and say two things: “They committed
an injustice,” and then second: “The leaders and judges deserve to
die.” But the followers of Jesus turned everything inside out and unlocked
the magic of Jesus’ death: they saw that the death Jesus didn’t deserve is the death
we did deserve because they
knew the injustice done to Jesus typified our injustices. They added these
ideas together and the lights went on and the death of Jesus morphed. Here’s
what they concluded, and it is perhaps the most important idea Christianity can
offer to anyone: Jesus died instead
of us and now we don’t have to die. He died our death when he died at
the hands of injustice.
Death has a special place to pay in the world of Jesus, and I think that world is far more honest and blunt than our culture. It is impolite to talk about death for many people today, but that was not the case in the ancient world where death stared them in the face on a routine basis. Death became something not only to see but something to solve. Which is one of the great truths about the Bible. The opening pages of the Bible inform us that God told Adam and Eve that they’d die if they ate of the Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, a tree that represented the human attempt to be God. They did eat and death was the result – not immediate death, but the death of alienation from and fear of God, the death of being ashamed of their own nakedness, the death of blaming one another, and the death of being banned from the Edenic kingdom into which God had place them. Sure, they also will die physically, but what the Bible tells us is that sin ushered a culture of death. There is a connection here between sin and death that, when acknowledges, ushers one into the world of Jesus and the Bible: sin corrupts and sin leads to death. The apostle Paul said this memorably: “The wages of sin is death.” The human being who sins, which means each of us, has earned death – the kind of death that goes deeper than dying, the kind of death that plummets us into the death of deaths, into eternal death and into what Jesus called outer darkness. But Jesus, and then his followers after him, saw something in Jesus’ death that turned death inside out. Jesus died our death so we wouldn’t have to die our death.
Jesus spoke about this when he and his disciples were taking the last journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Jesus told them they needed “to take up their cross.” They must have thought this was a cute pun at the time, but he went on to say that he would himself die “a ransom for many.” So Jesus anticipates here three things: his own death, that he would die an unjust death, and that his death would count for his followers. The followers of Jesus at that time didn’t get it, but over time they saw the cross morph. Remarkably, once all of this began to dawn on them, they feasted on the cross. Take Peter again. When he wrote his first letter he said that Jesus “himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (2:24). Peter is the one who was pointing his finger at the religious elite at Pentecost for their unjust condemnation of Jesus, but in this letter he claims Jesus shouldered on that very unjust cross our sins. Not just those of the leaders.
Once again, we are witnessing a miracle of morphing. Jesus’ death morphs into our death and our death morphs into Jesus’ death. He dies instead of us so that we don’t have to die our own deaths. We die with him so his death becomes our death.
But we need to back up and take in one more time what is happening: Jesus introduces us to God’s kingdom dream. It is too easy to get caught up in a dream for a just and peace world and forget how it is that Jesus takes us there. There is something strangely peculiar about Jesus’ kingdom dream and I want to say it once again:
The kingdom dream is the dream of Jesus.
But the Jesus of that kingdom dream is the one who lived, who was crucified and who was raised.
(Put differently, the Jesus of that kingdom dream is the Crucified One.)
The only kingdom dream of Jesus then is the one shaped by the Cross.
The kingdom dream of Jesus then is a Cross dream of Jesus.
It is too tempting to many today to take the justice dream and forget the cross. But there is no justice dream of Jesus without the cross. Through the cross the kingdom dream comes alive.