Good Friday and Easter weekend are upon us.
And I returned home just in time from my ten days in Texas. This was one of those wild trips where I met so many people and experienced so many awesome opportunities. I did a video interview about my view of the church, and a future podcast interview with Tracy Levinson, who wrote a wonderful book, Unashamed, and appeared with Brad and I on three previous podcasts: Unashamed, Taking Shame out of Sexuality and Mutually Shared Selfishness. I also got to meet her husband, Bruce, and they graciously loaned their car to me for a week after I lost my driver’s license at LAX somewhere after I cleared security and was unable to rent one.
I also visited the George W. Bush Presidential Library, celebrated my birthday too many times with old friends and new, did my TEDx talk at ACU (which won’t appear online for a couple of months), and along the way watching God do some deep work in the hearts of very specific people. In addition, God may have found us a co-author to help with a new book I’ve been contemplating with a good friend of mine, called The Language of Healing, in contrast to the rhetoric of animosity and vitriol we see in our country and too many family relationships. It was a fruitful trip indeed in so many ways. I always come away from such trips reminded that it’s friendships that make us rich.
After I returned, Sara and I spent an evening with a couple who have asked us to help them understand better how we live this journey. They are originally from Mexico and one doesn’t speak English very well. Because it was Easter week, we talked about the death of Christ and what it accomplished in God’s plan of salvation. They had never heard a non-appeasement based view of the cross before and it was a joy to watch their faces light up, and wrestle with the questions it triggered. At the heart of that for me is always, Who did Jesus die for?
I grew up believing that Jesus died to satisfy God’s need for justice. God was so offended at the sin of humanity that to save us he had to exact our punishment on the most innocent human being who had ever lived. By tormenting his own Son to death, he was relieved of his anger and offense for our sins. If that saves us from the punishment we deserve, that’s still a good story, but it leaves us with a distorted view of God. It paints him as a Deity only sated by bloodlust. That’s how many teach it, but honestly it so distorts what Scripture says and what God did.
That view has Jesus dying for God, when Scripture is clear that Jesus died for us. Those who teach appeasement, do so from Old Testament passages that see the Suffering Servant in incomplete terms. A fuller view of the cross can be seen in the New Testament by those who have been transformed by it and saw that it wasn’t truly about punishment, but curing humanity from the destructiveness of sin. They saw the cross as the basis of forgiveness, reconciliation, and opening the door to a relaxed relationship with the God who has always loved us.
Our relationship with God was not broken from his side. It was broken from ours. We’re the ones who sinned and fled into the darkness afraid of what God might do to us. But from the beginning he was at work from his side to restore the friendship he had lost and redeem us from the devastating effects of sin. As the deceived Creation we were estranged from God by our sin and shame. Jesus’ sacrifice was to reverse all of that. by becoming sin itself (2 Cor. 5:21) he was able to hold our sin before God as his consuming love “condemned sin in the likeness of sinful flesh.” (Romans 8:4)
Jesus didn’t die to satisfy God’s need to punish sin; he died so that sin might be destroyed in him. Then, we could be restored to the relationship God had always wanted with us. The cross was about reconciliation not punishment. Sin needed to be destroyed, not humanity punished.
I love talking about this stuff with people who never heard of it before. As our friends said when they left that night, “This changes everything !” Indeed, it does. And in ways they can’t even imagine yet. Now they will see God not as an angry deity needing to exact punishment, and one still needing to be appeased by our sacrifices or offerings today. Instead, they will see him as a loving Father rescuing his children from their helplessness (Matthew 9 and Romans 5) to sin’s power. They will know God is not one to be appeased, but one who holds great affection for his children. It’s a story that has changed my life and launched Sara and I on a new trajectory some 24 years ago. If you’d like to hear more, I did over eight hours of teaching on this in Transition, which is available on this website for free. Also, Brad and I did a recent podcast on Does God Need to Be Appeased?