I ended today’s sermon (which was kinda like a college lecture hall…please forgive me as I learn to “preach” rather than regurgitate knowledge) with a quote from a book that has radically changed my understanding of Jesus’ saving work on the cross, and is a perfect image of “Option #3.”
Dr. Andrew Sung Park writes, “Jesus’ blood was not shed to pay human debts to God; rather, it was shed to restore the integrity of the victims through God’s justice and compassion. Jesus came not to appease God’s wrath but to manifest God’s intention to restore humanity. His blood demonstrates that even God’s chosen one suffered, was put to shame, and was victimized. Contrary to the sin-punishment principle, Jesus came to vindicate suffering victims and to restore their human dignity.”
The Moral Exemplar theory offers a vision of Jesus’ death as the purest example of faithfulness any human has ever lived. Jesus was faithful to God’s lure unto death. Jesus was not just a nice guy that died, but the perfect “image of the invisible God” revealing what the Kin-dom is all about. The Cross opens the door to new possibilities, to new adventures, to new windows of healing, justice and liberation.
The early Church fathers that understood the death of Jesus in this light saw the atonement not as an obsession over guilt, personal sin and divine violence, but a clear image into the heart of God – relentless loving faithfulness. As Bruce Epperly says, “We must admit our own tendencies to turn away from God’s vision and God’s constant creative-responsive love which bears our pain, laments our injustice, feels the cost of abandonment and oppression, and seeks healing in the most chaotic and painful situations.” God’s love outlasts political rulers, the religious elite, and the disciples’ stupidity, and continues a work of transformation. “This amazing love inspires us to love in the example of Jesus, being open to God’s call even in the midst of chaos, conflict, and pain. We can “practice” atonement by choosing to become aware of the suffering of our world and responding in acts of solidarity, justice, and comfort. The Cross of Jesus models a love that faces suffering and seeks healing in the midst of pain”
So why did Jesus die? Jesus died because he loved the hell out of the world and it got him killed.