BUT NOW…Reflections on The Meaning of Christ’s Death.


But now the righteousness of Godhas been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to itóthe righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ† for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for fall have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show Godís righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-25)

The righteousness of God is revealed through the faithfulness of Jesus. What is the righteousness of God? Is Paul referring to Godís moral perfection? While the phrase means nothing less than this, it certainly means much more. Paul is referring to Godís fidelity, Godís trustworthiness, Godís ability to mean what he says and do what he promises. Godís creative intentions have not come to fruition and Godís special people Israel have been dragged into the mud and mire of the sin along with the rest of the nations. It seems as if evil will have the last word. As things have been so they shall be. BUT NOWÖGodís faithfulness has been revealed. Where? How? Through the faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus said no in the wilderness to everything Adam and Eve said yes to in the Garden (Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13). In the wilderness where Israel chose disobedience and death, he choose life (Dt 30:19). Through Jesus, the second Adam healing and holiness would came (Rom 5:12-21), and not just to Israel, but to the whole world (Ep 3:1-6), indeed to the whole cosmos (Col 1:20, Rev 21:5).

The righteousness of God, Godís covenant faithfulness and unswerving love are revealed in the faithfulness of Jesus. Jesus is the climax of the covenant (10:4).† In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see God refusing our refusal. In Jesus we hear Godís Yes to us, a Yes that will always be greater than our No, even at great cost to God.

In and as Jesus Christ God steps forth as our prophet, priest and king. Through Christ our prophet in and through the Spirit we are delivered from ignorance to knowledge, from darkness to light, from duty to choice (Jn 1:9; Jn 1:17-18; 1 Cor 2:13; Gal 5:1; Ep 5:8 Rom 8:4). The Father sends the Son, empowered by the Spirit,† to be our Priest, who as priest and victim makes the sacrifice that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Is 53:3-5; Is 53:11; Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20; Jn 1:29; Rom 5:9; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 5:19-21; Gal 4:4-5; Eph 2:13; Col 1:20; Heb 9:7, 12-14, 18-25; Heb 10:4, 19; Heb 11:28; Heb 12:24; Heb 13:11-12, 20;† 1 Pet 1:2, 19; 1 Pet 3:18; Heb 7:26-27; 1 Jn 1:7; Rev 1:5; Rev 5:9; Rev 7:4; Rev 19:13). Christ our Shepherd King brings us back from our wanderings, delivers us from bondage, and gives us the Spirit to make us new and fit us for citizenship in his Fatherís Kingdom. (Mt 6:10; Mt 12:28; Mt 13:34; Mt 25:34; Mk 9:1; Mk 14:25; Lk 11:2, 17-20; Lk 13:29; Lk 15; Lk 22:29; Jn 20:22; Ac 1:8; 1 Cor 15:24, 45; Eph 2:2;† 2 Pet 1:11; 1 Thess 2:12; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 2:14; Heb 12:28; Rev 1:6; Rev 5:10; Rev 12:10).

There are aspects of the story of Jesus that are scandalous to the modern mind, not the least of which is Christ’s substitutionary, vicarious death for sinners. We can perhaps take comfort in knowing that the message of the cross was no less scandalous in the first century than it is in ours. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18) N.T. Wright, the Anglican Bishop of Durham, is worth quoting at some length here:

the propitiatory effect of Jesus’ death…[when] seen as the result of God’s overarching and overwhelming mercy and love, and in which the persons of the Trinity are held in extremely close union, is not subject to the critique he has leveled against what increasingly looks like a bizarre (if sadly still well known) caricatureÖ The sense which penal substitution makes it does not make, in the last analysis, within the narrative of feudal systems of honour and shame. It certainly does not make the sense it makes within the world of some arbitrary lawcourt. It makes the sense it makes within the biblical world, the Old Testament world, within which the creator God, faced with a world in rebellion, chose Israel – Abraham and his family – as the means of putting everything right, and, when Israel itself had rebelled, promised to set that right as well and so to complete the purpose of putting humans right and thus setting the whole created order back the right way up. And the long-promised way by which this purpose would be achieved was, as hints and guesses in the Psalms and prophets indicate, that Israel’s representative, the anointed king, would be the one through whom this would be accomplished. Like David facing Goliath, he would stand alone to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. It is because Jesus, as Israel’s representative Messiah, was therefore the representative of the whole human race, that he could appropriately become its substitute. That is how Paul’s logic works. ‘One died for all, therefore all died,’ he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5.14; and thus, seven verses later, ‘God made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin,’ he concluded seven verses later, ‘so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (5.21). And it is within that argument that we find the still deeper truth, which is again rooted in the dark hints and guesses of the Old Testament: that the Messiah through whom all this would be accomplished would be the very embodiment of YHWH himself. ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Cor 5.19).

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:21). Christ became like us that we might become like him, that we might look, and live and love like him. In Christ God became our vicarious substitute.† God became sin and judged sin that we might be freed from its destructive grasp. Free from sin and free for God, we the called community of atonement are to be the righteousness of God in and for the world God loves. We are to be the sign, foretaste and instrument of the Fatherís kingdom through the power of the Spirit that reminds the world that God has not given up on it, that Christ will return to right every wrong and wipe every tear, to truly make all things new. Bearing witness to this glorious hope with our lips and our lives is our commission, calling and privilege. Thanks be to God.

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