Friday, April 10, 2015

5 Attributes of Punishment, pt 1

This is a follow up post to 7 Things Accomplished on Easter.

When Jesus died on the cross, many things took place. There are several explanations in the Bible for Jesus' death, not to be harmonized and condensed, but to be understood as explaining separate aspects of His work. In his book Christian Theology, Millard Erickson lists five different theories of the atonement:
         "The Socinian Theory: The Atonement as Example
         The Moral-Influence Theory: The Atonement as a Demonstration of God’s Love
         The Governmental Theory: The Atonement as a Demonstration of Divine Justice
         The Ransom Theory: The Atonement as Victory over the Forces of Sin and Evil
         The Satisfaction Theory: The Atonement as Compensation to the Father"[1]

These various theories should not really be thought of as competing, but as each explaining some different angle of what Jesus did. Like any ;l’ty;ilu;tyo 0o’ljlk metaphor (which they certainly are, nothing like the cross occurs in our experience), they are accurate when used properly, but dangerous when pushed beyond their intended scope.

While I hope to blog in the future about these different aspects of the work of Christ, the angle of explanation which seems to be the easiest to use as a starting point (at least in our culture) is called Penal Substitutionary Atonement. That means that Jesus was given the penalty for my sin, as my substitute, to cover up my guilt before God (to atone/make me at-one with Him).

Legal experts acknowledge 5 purposes for punishment. These are deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution and restoration. To help structure our thoughts, we will see how God's judgment of Jesus addressed each of these reasons. You will see the five theories all present here in some sense, but they do not correspond closely. So let's ask the question: what does the cross actually do?

1.) The Cross Deters
Imagine the cross standing against the darkened sky – the agonized cries of Jesus. How terrible must sin be to earn a penalty like that, where God would have to give up His Son to shame, execution and abandonment? The cross serves as a double deterrent to sin. For the lost, it takes away the opportunity to downplay judgment (Hebrews 10:29); if sin was costly enough for the heir to be punished, what will happen to the rebels?
This deterrent is not limited to the unsaved, but extends to Christians, in a different way. While Christians are not constrained by fear of judgment, they are motivated by something much more positive. Someone may give me a car. If I know nothing about them or what they cost, I may be superficially grateful, but perhaps not deeply moved to protect it. If I recognize that it as a $200,000 luxury sports car, I will probably park in a quarter of a mile away from any other cars, and wrap it in bubble wrap ever night. When I understand the value of something, it is precious to me. When Christians see the cost of forgiveness is the terrible suffering of Jesus, the desire to sin is overcome (1 Peter 1:17-21; 1 Corinthians 6:20). For the believer, the cross is an even more powerful deterrent than it is to the one who is afraid.  

2.) The Cross Incapacitates
Incapacitation can take many forms. Often in our society, incarceration is used to prevent people from committing crimes. Keeping someone in jail (theoretically) keeps them from committing another crime. Historically, exile accomplished the same thing – if someone is out of my country, at least they commit no crimes here. The supreme method of incapacitation is, of course, the death penalty. Those who experience the power of the sword do not err again.
Jesus’ death did not incapacitate Him by any means (it was impossible for death to hold Him – Acts 2:24). Instead, by purchasing the world with His blood, Jesus bought the rights to the title deed to the world (Revelation 5:9-10). It is by this double authority (as Creator and Purchaser of the cosmos) that Jesus seals Satan up for 1000 years (Revelation 20:1-3).
More profound and more permanent still – the cross incapacitates Satan eternally, and even incapacitates death itself (Hebrews 2:14-15; 2 Timothy 1:10). Since the cross takes away our sins - and if God is for us who can be against us? – death itself loses the power to be ultimately victorious. Though Jesus was bound, executed and exiled from His people for a season, His death ultimately binds sin, casts it away from us and  kills it forever.  

Come back for the next part on Monday. 

[1] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 714.

Friday, April 3, 2015

7 Things Accomplished on Easter

As we approach Easter and the celebration of our Lord’s Resurrection, l would like to share 7 things accomplished when Jesus rose from the dead (largely spurred from studying I. Howard Marshall’s book: Aspects of the Atonement).

1.    Easter Confirms Jesus’ Teaching

Acts 2:22 says that Jesus proved who He was by signs and wonders. Throughout the Old Testament, there was a two pronged approach to testing the validity of new teaching. If it contradicted what came before, it was false, no matter what else happened (Deuteronomy 13:1-3). If it matched exactly what had come before, there was no need for a sign. If it was consistent with what came before, but went beyond it, miracles would verify. Jesus said that the sign He would bring to a wicked and adulterous generation would be the sign of Jonah (Matthew 12:39-40) – on the third day He conquered death. The resurrection shows that Jesus is a true prophet.

2.       Easter Accepts Jesus’ Death as Complete

In the Old Testament, when propitiation was made for some sin, God’s forgiveness was shown by the end of the punishment. When Phinehas performed a representative execution, the plague was lifted from Israel (Numbers 25:7-8). When the people cried to God, the judges delivered them from the oppressors they had earned. When David offered on the threshing floor, the Angel stopped His path of destruction (1 Chronicles 21:26-27). Each time, the sufficiency of the offering was shown by the end of the plague. In the same way, when Jesus rose from the dead, it showed that God had lifted the curse of death, because the penalty was completely paid.

3.       Easter Acquits Jesus from Human Judgment

Jesus had been condemned both by the secular authorities (in the person of Pontius Pilate) and the religious authorities (in the person of Caiaphas). They had found Jesus guilty. Doubtless, prior to this many people had been executed for crimes they had not committed, but they were still sinners worthy of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Jesus being delivered from the power of death was God’s resounding acquittal of His innocent Son (Matthew 27:24).

4.       Easter Makes a Spectacle of Satan

The powers of the universe in rebellion against God enjoyed an incredible control of humanity. Genesis 5:5 begins a sequence of the grim testimony “and he died” which is found nearly 100 times in the Old Testament. As Jesus took the power of death in His hand, truly the pallbearers came to a halt (borrowing language from Luke 7:14). Satan’s greatest triumph was turned into disaster, as the rising of the Lord Jesus showed that by death, the power of death was broken (Colossians 2:15).

5.       Inaugurates the new creation

Easter was the beginning of a new world, a sign that the end has begun. All of the matter which now exists will be recreated, except the body of Jesus. When He returns in power and glory, we will be conformed to Him and ultimately the whole creation will be transformed by His resurrection power. Easter shows that on the first day of a new week, God began His new work – Jesus is the beginning of that creation (Revelation 3:14) and the firstborn of the dead (Colossians 1:18). As 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 reveals, we will take up the image of the heavenly just as we have taken the image of the earthly, what the entire universe groans for began on the Easter morning (Romans 8:22).

6.       Easter Positions Jesus as Advocate

A dead Lord cannot help us, but we have a living High Priest who is always available to work on our behalf. Hebrews 7:23-28 reveals that we have a High Priest who, through His resurrection, will never be unable to help us because of the scourge of death, but who is always available for us. As Job 19:25 tells us, we know that our Redeemer lives. Romans 8:34 puts it in similar language: if God is for us, who can be against us? Jesus died and was raised, and always intercedes on our behalf.

7.       Easter Pardons Jesus as the Representative Man

Jesus, as the second Adam, stands as the federal head of His people. In the first Adam, all were given a sin nature and made subject to death; all those who are in the second Adam are made like Him (Romans 5:14). As God found Jesus not guilty and lifted the penalty of sin from Him, we too escaped that penalty. Everyone who looks at Jesus’ suffering and death and rightly proclaims: “That death ought to have been mine!” and places their trust in Him is united to Him. If we are united to His death through confession of sin, we will be united in His life (Colossians 3:3-4; 2 Corinthians 4:10). In Easter, the innocent Jesus was pardoned in our guilty place.   

Let us close with the triumphant hymn “He is Risen” by PP Bliss:

Hallelujah, He is risen!
Jesus is gone up on high!
Burst the bars of death asunder,
Angels shout and men reply:
He is risen, He is risen,
Living now no more to die.
He is risen, He is risen,
Living now no more to die.
 Hallelujah, He is risen!
Our exalted Head to be;
Sends the witness of the Spirit
That our advocate is He:
He is risen, He is risen,
Justified in Him are we.
He is risen, He is risen,
Justified in Him are we.
 Hallelujah, He is risen!
Death for aye hath lost his sting,
Christ, Himself the Resurrection,
From the grave His own will bring:
He is risen, He is risen,
Living Lord and coming King.
He is risen, He is risen,
Living Lord and coming King.