The Messiness of the Cross
Friday after the Last Sunday of Pentecost
25 November 2016
Why should God have used the instrument of the cross to reconcile us to Himself in Christ? Couldn't some better, even less messy way, have been found by God to resolve the conflict between Himself and Adam's children? Some medieval theologians have argued that God could simply will away the conflict between men and Himself. He has an omnipotent will. So why not expect Him to sweep the whole messy business under the carpet through His all-powerful decision? I suppose one could argue about what God "could" do until the cows come home.
 
Today, there are theologians trying to one-up the medieval theologians by saying not only that the cross is an inadequate way of saving the fallen world, but that the cross is an immoral teaching. Why? Because it is a case of child abuse; the Father takes His wrath out on His innocent Son. God the Father becomes the ultimate abuser. Of course, this ignores the fact that the Son willingly lays down His life for us (Jn 10:17; 15:13). He suffers it gladly for our sakes as our substitute. This should lead us to repentance not to accusing God of abuse. We are the cause of His suffering.
 
But perhaps it would be more fruitful to consider what God has done for us humans in Christ by grace. This seems to be Augustine's answer to the question of God's method of reconciliation. He really fails to explain why God used the death of the precious Victim upon the cross of Calvary to reconcile the world to Himself. He merely retreats to God's own self-explanation in Scripture. Here one can hardly go wrong. For all the influence of Neo-Platonic philosophy on the thinking of the Bishop of Hippo, still Scripture is the decisive influence for him. This is as it should be; for Augustine was a theologian of the church, because he was a biblical theologian. For him, there was no better explanation of our salvation than the one provided by God Himself.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Augustine of Hippo
 
"Why should the death of Christ not have come to pass? Why should that specific death have been chosen above all others, while bypassing other innumerable ways which He who is omnipotent could have employed to free us? Why does God choose that death in which nothing was diminished or changed from His divinity and so great benefit was conferred upon men, from the humanity which He took upon Him, that a temporal death, which was not due, was rendered by the eternal Son of God, who was also the Son of man, by which He might free them from an eternal death which was due? The devil was holding fast our sins, and through them was fixing us deservedly in death. Christ discharged them, who had no sins of His own, and who was led by him to death undeservedly. That blood was of such a price, that he who even slew Christ for a time by a death which was not due, can as his due detain no one who has put on Christ in the eternal death which was due.
 
"Therefore 'God commends His love towards us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified in His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.' He says, justified in His blood, justified plainly, in that we are freed from all sin; and freed from all sin, because the Son of God, who knew no sin, was slain for us. Therefore 'we shall be saved from wrath through Him;' from the wrath of God certainly, which is nothing else but just retribution. For the wrath of God is not, as is that of man, an agitation of the mind; but it is the wrath of Him to whom Holy Scripture says in another place, 'But You, O Lord, mastering Your power, judge with calmness' (Wisdom 12:18).
 
"If, therefore, the just retribution of God has received such a name, what can the right understanding also of the reconciliation of God be, except such wrath comes to an end? Neither were we enemies to God, except as sins are enemies to righteousness; which being forgiven, such enmities come to an end. Those whom He Himself justifies are reconciled to the Just One. And yet certainly He loved them even while we were still enemies, since 'He spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all,' when we were still enemies. And therefore the apostle has rightly added: 'For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son,' by which that remission of sins was made, 'much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved in His life.' Saved in life, who were reconciled by death. For who can doubt that He will give His life for His friends, for whom, when enemies, He gave His death? 'And not only so,' the apostle says, 'but we also joy in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received atonement.' 'Not only,' he says, 'shall we be saved,' but 'we also joy;' and not in ourselves, but 'in God;' nor through ourselves, 'but through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received atonement,' as we have argued above.
 
"Then the apostle adds, 'Therefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, in whom all have sinned' (Rm 5:8, 12) and so on. In this passage he disputes at some length concerning the two men; the one the first Adam, through whose sin and death we, his descendants, are bound by, as it were, hereditary evils; and the other the second Adam, who is not only man, but also God, by whose payment for us of what He did not owe, we are freed from the debts both of our first father and of ourselves. Further, since on account of that one the devil held all who were begotten through his corrupted carnal desire, it is just that on account of this one he should loose all who are regenerated through His immaculate spiritual grace."

Augustine of Hippo, On the Trinity, 13.17
Matthew 20:17-28

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day."
 
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, "What do you want?" She said to him, "Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom." Jesus answered, "You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" They said to him, "We are able." He said to them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father." And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
(ESV)
Prayer
Lord Christ, You chose the way of the cross and offered your immaculate life there for us poor sinners. Grant that we might confess You to be the Lord who takes the hard way to become our Way, the Lord who gives up His life to give Life, and the Lord who is the truth that we might know the Truth. Amen.
 
For our friends and fellow believers in the Lutheran Church in Nicaragua, that God would guard and keep them in the most holy faith of Christ the Word of God
 
For deliverance from temptation, especially for young people, that they would be protected from the demonic attractions of pornography
 
For the teachers and staff of Memorial Lutheran School, that they would find joy in their labors
Art: Durer, Albrecht  The Adoration of the Trinity (1515) 
Memorial Lutheran Church
smurray@mlchouston.org
http://www.mlchouston.org
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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