Wednesday, June 14

Who Done It?

God the Father delivered Christ up as an exact expression of justice.
Yesterday I mentioned that I might tackle the Did God Kill Jesus? question. Since I wrote that, there have been several more posts added to the mix, and what I wanted to say has mostly been said, and said well, which means my post will be shorter than I'd intended.

First off, let me point out one of the pieces that Jeremy Pierce linked in the comments to yesterday's post, a post Jeremy wrote a couple of years ago called Who Killed Jesus? In this post, Jeremy points out something he learned from an elder in his church: That the same biblical language--delivered up--is used for the roles of several different parties in the crucifixion of Jesus--Judas, the Jewish leaders, Pilate, our sins, God the Father, and Jesus himself. So there is a real sense in which every single one of these parties--and that includes you and me, since he was delivered up for our sins--killed Jesus. It isn't only Isaiah 53, which is the passage some are quibbling over, that says it.

One more post I want to highlight, since it's one that really lays things out for us, is from Dan Phillips of Pyromaniacs: God, evil, and the Cross. You might want to read that before you read any more of this post, since that one came first, and it says most of what I wanted to say, and says it better than I would have, too. And make sure you read yesterday's post here, too, since that post is another one that will undergird my comments.

I hope by now you'll agree that there is indeed some sense in which it is right to say that God the Father killed Jesus. Did he have exactly the same role that the others had? No, of course not, but if scripture uses the language it does (like delivering him up, or crushing him) for the Father's role in bringing about the death of his Son, there's no need for us to back away from it. There is truth that God wants to express to us and to the world by using that strong language to explain his own role in the death of Christ. Sure, it may need explanation, and it can be a little confusing; but doesn't real truth tend to be that way?

Let's use our noggins and think this thing through. What exactly was God the Father's role in the death of Christ? Well, for one, he planned for it to happen. It was part of his will. Actually, I think I'd say that Christ's death is the center point of God's plan for history. Everything hinges on that event in God's plan coming to fruition.

But if we think that God plans or wills something, and then just sits back and waits for that plan to happen, we'd be wrong. Ephesians 1:11 says, speaking in the context of redemption, that God works everything according to the counsel of his will, so he not only wills something, but he actively works to bring that will to pass, and that includes the plan for Christ to be crucified.

That doesn't mean that the Holy Spirit was the energizer of the people who actually did the physical work of crucifying Christ. Pilate wasn't working under the inner influence of the Spirit, nor were the Jewish leaders, or Judas, or the Roman soldiers. But nonetheless, God was working his plan, by arranging circumstances, perhaps by unrestraining previously restrained evil, by purposefully choosing when to allow men to act on their desires, and when to prevent them from acting on their desires, so that his plan would with certainty come about as he planned for it to happen.

Now some might object that this is not a role for which the word killed can rightly be used, since God is not the one who actually physically nailed Christ to the cross, nor was the Holy Spirit the active agent in those who did. But let's not forget the previously mentioned strong language that scripture uses for God's role in Christ's death. Christ's death, according to scripture, was accomplished by God. And as Bugblaster points out in a comment on Adrian Warnock's blog, scripture says that David killed Uzziah when David was not the one who physically killed him, but simply the one who set things up so that Uzziah would be put in a position where he would undoubtedly be killed. David was held responsible for Uzziah's death, and while it's an iffy thing to use the words "held responsible" in relationship to God (Who is God going to be held responsible to? What is the standard, except for his own character, with which he always acts in accordance, by which his acts can be judged?), there is also a sense in which God is accountable for Christ's death, although in God's case, being accountable for this event rightfully results in praise rather than censure.

Why the difference between God and David, when their roles are similar? Because, although David, as king and judge, had the right to order someone's death as an expression of justice, in this case, justice wasn't David's motive. Rather, his motive was an unjust desire to get himself out of a pickle of his own making.

God, in Christ's death, stands in direct contrast to David. God delivered Christ up as an exact expression of justice. And this, it seems, is another place where some people get hung up, because they can't imagine how Christ's death can be called "justice." Yet that is exactly what scripture tells us it is.
...God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25, 26 ESV)
One of the purposes of Christ's death is so that God "might be just."

Whoa there! Christ hadn't done anything wrong! How could it be just for him to die? If it was unjust for David to send Uzziah, who was the innocent party, to be killed, why would it be just for the Father to send the Son, who is also an innocent party, to be killed?

The answer is right there in those two verses quoted: Because in God's forebearance he had passed over former sins. Not Christ's former sins, of course, but the sins of people who had lived before Christ. God had withheld his rightful judgment of the sins of people in the olden days, but he couldn't do that willy-nilly without grounds upon which that could be done rightfully.

But hey! Can't God just do anything he wants? After all, he's God isn't he? What he says, goes, right? Can't he just choose to ignore sin? Why does he need grounds for passing over sin?

The objection is partly right. God is God, and as God he's free to express himself. But who he is is a God who is just, and when he expresses himself, it is always going to be according to his just nature.

It is nothing other than God's just character itself that requires grounds for passing over sins, since justice requires that sin receive exactly what it deserves, and, as we've all read from that other famous verse in Romans 3, the just deserts of sin is death. So God, being true to his just nature, always makes sure that sin gets what it deserves, and that is nothing less than death. He can't pass over sin without ensuring that that sin, somewhere, somehow, receives the justice due.

Okay, so what does that have to do with Christ? What does he have to do with the sins of people who lived during the olden days? How could Christ's death be just grounds for God passing over their former sins?

The answer is that Christ has everything to do with the sins of people who lived during the olden days.
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV)
Christ, who knew no sin was made sin for us, and the us includes those guys from the olden days. It includes me, too, for it includes everyone--past, present, and future--who "has faith in Jesus." Christ wasn't actually sinful--he knew no sin--but he was counted as sinful for us. His death accomplishes something for us, because his death was counted as our death (2 Corinthians 5:14), and he had our sin counted as his. He took our sin and stood in our place on the cross. Our sins received their just deserts when Christ died on the cross, and in that way, his death is the just grounds for God passing over the former sins, and for him justifying every single one of us who has faith in Jesus.

So in a real sense, God killed Jesus. If he-who-is-always-just planned to save people, it was required by his just nature that Christ die. God planned, then, for Christ to die, and he worked to bring that plan to pass. He gave sin its justice due in the death of Christ. In that way, Christ's death is an expression of God's righteousness (or justice). God the Father deserves praise for Christ's death because he brought it to pass and he accomplished righteous ends through it.

The other players in Christ's death? Some of them certainly planned Christ's death. Some of them actively worked to bring it to pass. But their roles in his death were an expression of injustice rather than justice. And they knew it. Why else would we have the "I'm washing my hands" business, if Pilate didn't know how unjust (and blameworthy) his action was? So the rest, intending unrighteous ends by their actions, are completely blameworthy for their roles, even though in the scheme of things, they were tools our just and merciful God used to accomplish his just and merciful plan to spare us the just deserts for our sins.

Other posts, besides the two linked above, that I've collected on this subject: