“It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’ And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.” – Luke 23:44-49
Today and tomorrow we will be looking at the pinnacle of the soteriological narrative. In modern Christianity, I think we are susceptible to thinking about the crucifixion and the resurrection as one event. We might think that the reasons and consequences for each are the same; however, I want to suggest that there are slight differences for them. On the one hand, the crucifixion of Christ is the atonement for sinners. On the other hand, the resurrection is the victory over evil, which predetermines the eventual dissipation of all evil.
Today, we will be looking at the crucifixion. When we read passages from the Old Testament, we see that death is a recurring theme that follows sin. After Adam and Eve at the fruit, they became mortal. The Passover meal in Exodus includes the sacrifices of an unblemished lamb. Leviticus describes several offerings that entail the sacrifice of various kinds of animals for different purposes like sin offerings or guilt offerings. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest makes a sacrifice on behalf of all of Israel (cf. Leviticus 16). In the New Testament, the book of Hebrews explains to us how Jesus fulfills the standard of sacrifice for all of humanity’s sins.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14)
We see from this passage that the blood of Christ is the means by which we receive redemption.
Throughout the history of theological developments, there have been various different interpretations of the death of Christ within the system of doctrines. Some favored the view that the devil was deceived, others prefer the idea that Jesus was a substituted offering, and others like to take a more legal approach. In my view, I think that the legal perspective makes the most logical sense within a biblical and philosophical framework. First, we have to start with the idea that God is fair. God prefers justice rather than injustice. With the initial sin, humanity transgressed the rules set by God; thus, all of humanity was ruled guilty and is required to serve the punishment, which is death. Paul explains in Romans 7 that the law isn’t sin but “holy” and “good” (Romans 7:7-12). Sin took advantage of the presence of something good, the law, which produced death. The transgressors of the law were being punished. However, as we talked about yesterday and at several other times, God has boundless love for us, so much love that he did not want to see us suffer. Furthermore, God in his desire for justice remained fair even to his adversary. A prominent Medieval theologian, Anselm (1033-1109 C.E.), in regards to this very idea states:
"For though you [God] are all-just and supremely just you are, however - precisely because you are all-just and supremely just - also beneficient even to the wicked. You would, in fact, be less good if you were not beneficent to any wicked man. For he who is good to both good and wicked is better than he who is good only to the good." (Proslogion c. 9)
Anselm connects God's goodness to his desire for justice, which is something that we can see Jesus teach in Matthew 5:43-48. It is through this goodness and justice that he sent his Son. The Word Incarnate, the Emmanuel, was blameless from conception until death. Being divine, he had no sin; being human, he could be offered as a sacrifice on behalf of humanity. Both the divinity and the humanity are absolutely necessary without one overshadowing another. As we read in the Gospels, Jesus was innocent despite the verdict of crucifixion. Like we read in the Luke passage for today, “Certainly this man was innocent!” (Luke 23:47) Thus, through the crucifixion, we arrive again at a balance. Even though the initial sin caused an imbalance, Christ’s death corrected it back to equilibrium and justice.