A few years back, I published the following article on ProgressiveChristianity.org. I encourage you to see it there, as well as all of the other great articles and resources on that site. If you’ve been following Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations this week, you’ll know he’s been talking about Jesus’ Death. He notes that the word “sin” in the passage God’s Lamb takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) is singular. According to Rohr’s interpretation, this passage refers to a single sin—the sin of redemptive violence. I think you’ll find this article complementary to his interpretation. I hope you enjoy it.
This might sound rather odd coming from somebody who has at times identified herself as a Christian. Still, I have to say the whole theological premise that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins never made sense to me. I know some Christians might say it’s not suppose to make sense. That’s where faith comes in. However, I don’t think faith has to be illogical. There’s a certain divine logic driving everything.
So here’s what bothers me.
First of all, why does God need a sacrifice in order to forgive? Isn’t it God’s prerogative to forgive anyway? Secondly, doesn’t the parable of the prodigal son clearly indicate that God’s love is eternally unconditional? That all we need to do is return to the Father and all is forgiven? Furthermore, wasn’t Jesus already telling people their sins were forgiven before he died on the cross? (Matthew 9.5)
Now don’t get me wrong. I do believe humanity was redeemed through Jesus’ sacrifice, just not for the reasons most Christians think.
Let’s consider the clear message concerning sacrifices that had been delivered by the prophets of Israel. Before Jesus was born, God was already weary of sacrifices and burnt offerings. As this passage from Hosea clearly indicates, what God really wants is acknowledgement and mercy.
For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. ~Hosea 6:6
So why would Jesus offer yet another sacrifice to God, even of himself? I don’t think he would.
That’s not to say, however, that Jesus didn’t make a sacrifice. He did. He gave up his own life for the sake of others. But the sacrifice itself isn’t what I think he offered to God. Not exactly. What he offered to God in the process of making that sacrifice was mercy.
Let me explain.
Jesus’ great challenge in his final hours was to continue his primary mission of exemplifying God’s divine will on earth. That’s why even in his darkest hour when the temptation to return violence for violence, injury for injury, and insult for insult was strongest, Jesus continued to treat others with unconditional love and kindness. He saved a thief, healed an ear, prayed for his accusers, and offered no resistance.
As a result, humanity was reconciled to God, not so much by Jesus’ death, but by his mercy.
In other words, we were redeemed by the cross precisely because Jesus continued to show mercy, kindness, and love even as he was dying, which means just one thing: There is great hope for humanity.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are capable of acting according to the divine will. Jesus proved it.
Jesus received God’s Spirit when he was baptized.
Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus was also baptized, and while He was praying, heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form like a dove, and a voice came out of heaven, “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased. ~Luke 3.22
As a result of the mercy he demonstrated on the cross, humanity as a whole became worthy to receive this same gift, God’s own Spirit.
Keep this in mind. It’s the power of the Holy Spirit operating in our lives that literally saves us from our sins–when and if we learn to follow the Spirit’s guidance. We have received this gift, the true source of our salvation, because Jesus acted in every way according to God’s will.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin. Hebrews 4.15
Jesus’ merciful death is our saving grace. Through it, humanity as a whole was proven worthy of God’s Spirit, which incidentally we always had. We are actually the ones who have a hard time believing in ourselves (and the only one’s who need any convincing).
This is what we’re called to understand. With the help of the indwelling Spirit, we too are capable of showing great mercy and love. This is the essence of the Christian way.
Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given us. ~Romans 5.5
If this is true, though, while Jesus’ mercy for us may be the reason he willingly laid down his life in the first place…
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. ~Romans 5.6
…technically speaking, it was the mercy he showed his accusers by enduring even his own crucifixion without causing injury or harm that actually redeemed humanity. So we are saved by his mercy, just not exactly the way we might think.