This is my sermon from Sunday, March 18. The lesson from the Narrative Lectionary is John 19:1-16a.
The ways of framing this theological concepts is taken from Nadia Bolz-Weber’s video, Cross, from Augsburg Fortress’ video series, animate: Faith.
Why did Jesus have to die?
I’ll be honest; this question doesn’t directly flow from this text. This lesson may better phrase the question of “Why do these people want Jesus to die?” I’ll answer that question after explaining why Jesus had to die. And it won’t be for the reasons that you have probably heard most of your life.
Here are some of the reasons that have been used to explain why Jesus had to die.
Jesus had to die because God the Father was mad at us because we are sinful and sin filled, bad and evil. God chose to punish Jesus in place of punishing all of humanity. This makes God to be a cosmic child abuser, and Jesus is an enabler in this depiction of divine wrath and retribution. This is also referred to as sacrificial atonement, because, as was the case in the Jewish Temple system, a lamb, here The Lamb of God, is sacrificed for the accumulated sins.
Jesus had to die to pay for our sins. It views our sins as a transaction; the more we sin, the more indebted we are to God for our disobedience. We cannot pay off this indebtedness or work it off with our piety and good works. This portrays God as a debt collector, or that God is somehow indebted to the forces of evil. Someone has to pay for all of this sin, and God let it be Jesus, the one person who never added to the final total. This is called the ransom or satisfaction atonement.
Jesus had to die in order to defeat death and sin. By living without sin, and by being raised from the dead, Jesus has defeated the forces of evil, specifically sin and death. Since they have no power over Jesus, they have been defeated for once and for good, for you and for me. Christ’s death and resurrection liberate us from our bondage to sin and death, and set us free. This describes God as having to battle to defeat evil, and is known as the Christus Victor, or Victorious Christ theory of atonement.
But none of these reflect a loving, all-powerful God. They show God as vengeful, petty and with limited powers. They show God with human frailties and faults. These theories take parts of our behavior, our characteristics and say that since we act this way, God must act the same way.
They depict God standing above the cross, judging us. Instead, God hangs from the cross, refusing to judge or condemn, refusing to stop what could easily be halted.
Let me offer an alternative. Jesus CHOSE to die, and to die on a cross as a rejection of the violence and self-absorption of our way of life and as a presentation of an alternate love-filled, other-focused, service-centered way of life. A life full of actions and teachings consistent with our understanding of the God who wanted God’s people to be blessed in order to be a blessing to the whole world.
Jesus CHOSE to die to show us that not even killing the Son of God, the Word of God made Flesh, the Light that has come into the World, can stop God from loving us. He was raised from the dead to show us that not even dying can separate us from the love of God. Sin and death have no power over God. They are a part of this world, but they, as are all things, are subject to the will of God.
John’s Gospel shows this idea most clearly.
Jesus surrenders himself to the forces of the Temple leaders. He isn’t seized by them, he hands himself over to them. To the leaders of the Temple, who see him as a threat to their understanding of how to love and serve God, he doesn’t confront them. Instead, he asks them to judge him by what he has said and done. They find that his message of taking care of those in need threatens their way of life, and for that he must die.
Jesus submits to the rule of Rome and the power of Pontius Pilate. He doesn’t challenge Pilate or his authority, but he challenges Pilate’s understandings of who Jesus is and what he has done. He challenges Pilate’s understanding of true power, and from where power is derived.
Jesus accepts the brutal beating, mockery and bullying of the Roman soldiers. He does not resist, or rebel, but allows those who want to abuse the limited power they have to have their way with him. His stoic attitude as he is abused and mistreated stands as a rejection of the human cruelty that we display toward one another too often.
Jesus takes the rejection of those whom he came to save. The people whom God chose to be God’s own, the ones whom God blessed so they could be a blessing to the world, reject and repudiate him. Those who were His own did not know him and instead called for a bandit and murderer to be released in his stead. They use language from a hymn of worship, “We have no king but God,” and use that to pledge allegiance to Rome, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Jesus chooses to die. Jesus chooses to go to the cross. He does this because by doing so, from the cross, Jesus Christ loves the violent, loves the abuser, loves the betrayer, loves the denier, loves the God-killer in all of us. Only a God who becomes truly human and suffers our abuse, insults and rejection showing only love and mercy can save us from ourselves.
Having suffered the rejection, abuse, denial, injustice, torture and judgment of this society, and of the world, Jesus Christ chose to go to the cross. From the cross, he judges our violent ways and our spiteful values.
And the judgment is forgiveness.
That is why Jesus had to die. For us to, hopefully, finally see, that no matter what we do, or do not do, we are forgiven.
Pastor Brian's Page
Pastor Brian Robert Campbell has served at Our Savior's and Emmanuel since August 1, 2011, and began serving Nazareth on December 1, 2015.
Pastor Brian is originally from Saginaw, Michigan. He graduated from Alma College with a B.A. in Business Administration, and worked for the Saginaw Public Schools' Community Education Department for 17 years before answering the call to ministry. He graduated with a M. Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg in 2011. ONE in Christ Lutheran Parish is his first call.
He is the only child of Robert and Charlotte Campbell, both who have entered the Church Eternal.
He is accompanied in ministry by his faithful bulldogge Ananias, who regularly writes for our newsletter. His articles are archived here.
He is a fan of sports teams from his native Michigan, especially the Tigers and the Lions. But we tolerate him despite that.
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