Thursday, March 09, 2006

The Death & Resurrection of Jesus...and why that guy is not a Christian

Today's Gospels class, the last of 'em for me, was chock full of great information. So I'm going to share, with my own commentary, because that's why you read this, right?

So has anybody noticed that when it comes time to kill Jesus, there are no Pharisees around? The Pharisees are not the ones who killed him. And the law question - his main debate with that group - is dropped. His troubles with his people are different in the first and second halves of the story. The first half he's mostly teaching so we get a lot of arguments about law. The second half he's mostly, well, being killed. And doing these sweeping prophetic actions, that might be what got him killed.

I learned more about crucifixion. You know who was crucified? Anyone who wasn't upper class. If you were rich or powerful, you were offered suicide (way more honorable). Typically runaway slaves were crucified, mutinous army troops, and of course subject peoples (to make the point to them, as if it weren't clear that they are defeated). My prof called it state-sponsored terror: a very visible method of controlling and humiliating subject people. Rome is mocking Jesus but is also mocking the Jews by hanging a sign saying he's their king over his mutilated body.

Did you know anywhere from 10,000-100,000s were crucified in the 800 years it was practiced? Constantine ended it.

Did Jesus intend to die? Vast majority of Christians say yes. But if intended it, and does not take steps to commit suicide, then you have him intending to get killed. Does he start provoking people on purpose? If so, how does that fit with his life, ministry, purpose prior to his death? How does what he die for fit with what he lives for?

He lived for his calling, to be faithful to vocation. And to teach and proclaim the kingdom. How would dying fit that aim?

Did Jesus have choices, make decisions? Did he have free will? If so, that goes against the idea of his entire life being some unmovable plan of God's. And if he had free will, that means other people did too. If Jesus didn't come to die - maybe didn't even intend it (tho surely saw it coming by the end) - then you have to stop acting like he's the puppetmaster who damned Judas and the others from birth. Those people who acted against him had free will. And I'll bet ya if they hadn't done it, that wouldn't have messed things up. God didn't force people to kill Jesus. But he used the bad circumstance to make something great happen.

Jesus never says, "I came that they might reject me" - he says, "I was sent to proclaim the Kingdom/truth, and I know not all will hear it, they will be deaf and blind" - but that's not the same thing.

Why does his death accomplish something? Because God says it does! The death of this one is efficacious for us because God says so. God didn't need it but used it.

What do the gospels say Jesus knew about his death? It is unanswerable to ask what he knew(apart from the gospels) - what knowledge he might have brought along from the godhead. Grand puppeteer? 2 minds, divine and human? 1 mind, which is it, or hybrid? How many wills in Jesus?

Think of the parable of eviltenants. The son is sent by the landowner on a mission or task, to gather the fruits of the harvest. He is not sent to be killed!! ("I'll send my son so they can kill him b/c that will be good for all the people"). He has the same mission as the previous servants - people did the same thing before the son - and the result is the same: the tenants don't listen. The death of the son is the result of his mission - the reaction to it - not the point of it. Faithful emissaries of the one who sends them will reap whatever comes about because of their message. "He was obedient unto death."

Prophets don't often get a good hearing in the OT - there's not a great track record for God's message! But despite Israel not heeding prophets at the time, they save the books. The words are preserved. Interesting, isn't it?

So, let's think about Jesus as the Suffering Servant, from Isaiah 40 and 53. NOTE: Who is this the servant of? The servant in Isaiah is the servant of GOD.

If we are going to be like Jesus, we are called to be servants to God first, then to others.


The first rule of being a Christian, which means being like Jesus, living the way he lived, is that you subject your entire life to the mission of GOD in the world. Not to helping people or being nice or even healing or bringing justice. Jesus' primary loyalty was to God. A person can not possibly follow Jesus without following this absolutely central aspect of who he was. Period. If you just follow the teachings, you're a nice person, you're in step with the universe, you'll be well-liked. But if you do not acknowledge that it is all God's story and you are doing these things because you are first and foremost a servant of God, then you cannot call yourself a follower of Jesus.

Following the message of Jesus is not the same thing as serving as he did.

Jesus, the man who died for others. In 1. Mark 10:45, he is called (maybe he says) "a ransom for many"; "ransom" (pay for the release of) a prisoner ofwar, or a slave - but who got paid? It doesn't say Jesus paid the ransom, he IS the ransom.

What kind of people are ransomed? Slaves, but what are we slaves to? We usually would say "sin." But it doesn't say in the gospels that we're ransomed from sin. It just says Jesus is the ransom.

Look at the Last Supper: "my blood of the covenant" (mentioned in Exodus 24:7-8, Zech9:9-11). Ransom is some kind of setting free. The idea is that the blood of the covenant and freedom for prisoners go together somehow. In some way, Jesus' life and death establish a new covenant with God's people that is ultimately sealed with his blood.

See the Gospel of John, 10:11-18, 11:45-53, and 12:23-24 - it never says he lays down life to forgive sins. It just says he is one dying for the many. The Ransom is his life for ours - Jesus gives his life so the whole nation wouldn't be destroyed (by Rome, says Caiaphas).

In 1 Cor 15, Paul says Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures. Most people hear Christ "died for me" - but the word is "our" not "me".

Jesus is his name, but Christ is his office. Paul is saying the Messiah died for us. Messiah doesn't mean savior or redeemer but rather "anointed to be king". Read it: the King, the rightful ruler, died for our sins. The king died for his people.

What do we think of when we think of a king dying for his people? Probably think first of a battle. Not a temple, an altar, a sacrifice in that sense. What is missing from the gospels is the language of cultic sacrifice. Jesus' death is strikingly non-cultic in the gospels.

This is not to say Jesus didn't speak of his death or think it was efficacious. But rather than focus so much on those issues, shouldn't we rather be looking into what was Jesus' life was about?

What is missing from the gospel accounts of Jesus' death? God's wrath - penal substitution, bearing the guilt of sin. Jesus' primary ministry with Israel is not abetting God's wrath.

Jesus does talk about the judgment of God - we often like to forget that and make him just a nice guy. But he does NOT connect judgment with his death.

The Resurrection as Vindication - note that resurrection never expected in Jewish thought to be done individually - it was all at once for everybody. What wound up happening was Jesus became the "first fruits" resurrection, which promised everyone else's later. He may likely not have expected individual resurrection and may not expected so soon! But he did expect vindication. Still, how would he have known it would be resurrection??

A. The resurrection is presented in the New Testament first as the vindication of Jesus' life and ministry (Acts 2:33-36) - you put him to death but God raised himto life. Jesus did not accomplish the resurrection. This is important - because the promise of the NT is that what God did for Jesus, he'll do for us.

So much of our religion is about what happened after the death of its founder. It is not about a great teacher and living like he said to! What our faith is about is who he was after the resurrection - we follow not a figure of the past, but a figure who is.

People worry a lot about what Jesus himself claimed to do and be. But to paint a whole picture of someone, you need to know more than just what the person thought of him or herself. Like Bill Clinton's memoirs - what he thinks of himself is incomplete - the whole picture of him is based on what others think too. You can't say you could know everything about him just from his own thoughts. A vital part of who that man is has to do with other people's beliefs about him, and what history will say about him - his legacy after he'll die.

Some say not all Christian faith has to be Easter faith - there are many ways to be a Christian. But these are ways "stuck in Lent" as a classmate put it. If there wasn't a resurrection we wouldn't have the gospels or a faith at all. Who would have cared? Who would have written it down and kept the stories? When you think of all the religions at the time, including Judaism which was doing fine for most people, there's really not this great pressing need for a new faith to fill some void.

In fact, I've heard people say Paul invented Christianity. But that's ridiculous. Paul was a very happy and observant Jew. He didn't need God in his life - he had God in his life. He was perfectly set. And anyway, why would a person create a religion that would get them so messed up and eventually killed? He was always in prison or being beaten or other nasty things. He'd have to have been quite masochistic to have made it up, and quite charismatic to get other people to martyr for it too.

The Christian faith is not just about recapturing the past of Jesus, what he supposedly actually did and said. It is also about understanding his present and his future. Without people putting the risen Jesus together with the Jesus they knew who lived onearth, there wouldn't be any record of his doings. There wouldn't be any teachings for that atheist to follow. Unless this risen Jesus was also the one who did and said all these things, then there's no Christianity and we might as well all go home.

Whew! Well that was a lot of stuff. It was a great class, though, really provocative.

She finished it by reading this to us, which I leave with you now:


Anonymous said...

As a Presbyterian, I'm ashamed of the fact that he joined a Presbyterian church.

Dave said...

Did Jesus have choices, make decisions? Did he have free will? If so, that goes against the idea of his entire life being some unmovable plan of God's.

Not necessarily. Quite a few philosophers think that determinism is compatible with free will. Some even think that free will requires determinism. I highly recommend Daniel Dennett's book Freedom Evolves as one example of such thinking, although obviously from more of a scientific and philosophical standpoint than a religious one.

Stasi said...

J goes to UCR, where several people (John Fisher, Gary Watson)study compatabilism. He says it's crazy. :)

jw said...

Very, very thought provoking (now I have to read it all again).