The Consistent Core: The Atoning Work of Jesus Christ

Mt. Pleasant has also remained focused upon the second great (in no particular order as I’ve presented them in my previous post) key tenet of evangelical Christianity, the Atoning Work of Jesus Christ. The Cross of Christ is everything. The crucifixion is not simply an historical event from 2000(ish) years ago.  It isn’t simply one element among many of one particular religion.  It is everything.  It is the central event in history.  Everything before the cross looks forward to that moment.  Everything that follows upon it looks back to that moment for its definition.  It is the center of human history, it is the defining moment for all peoples everywhere and always.  You simply can’t overemphasize the importance of what was accomplished at that hill outside of Jerusalem by Jesus of Nazareth.

Of course to understand the cross you have to understand clearly what the Bible says about humans (all people).  That we are sinners, and this not only due to our sinful actions, but by our very nature.  Every element of our nature is twisted, marred, perverted.  This is what we mean when we talk about total depravity – It doesn’t mean that we are always as bad as we possibly could be; it means that every aspect of our being is not as it should be.  We are off, askew. We are alienated because of sin – alienated from God (guilt, enmity, death, hell, etc.), from one another (war, genocide, rape, malice – just read a newspaper), we are alienated from the created order (earthquakes, famines – again, newspaper), and we are even alienated from ourselves (many manifestations, pride, self-loathing, etc.).

When you see all of that (sin) for what it is, for its effects and the pain that follows upon the twisting of human nature – you can’t help but want to be freed from it.  Imagine something far greater than John Lennon imagined – a world in which there is no sin.  That is what the cross is all about. When Jesus hung on the cross, he who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Cor 5:21), he became a curse for us (Gal. 3:13).  Jesus died for our sin.  He suffered the penalty due to us.  He began to undo the horrid effects that human sinfulness has wrought on the universe.  And his return will see the removal of not only the penalty of sin, but the presence of sin –  Imagine That!

The second thing that must be understood when considering the cross is the person of the man who died there.  It wasn’t just that death on a cross was somehow going to change the sin problem.  In the Roman world hundreds of thousands of people died by crucifixion (two others did that same day in Jerusalem).  What makes Jesus’ death significant goes beyond the manner of death to the man who died there.

Jesus is the God-Man.  He is God incarnate, the Son of God.  He was preexistent as the Son from all eternity.  All things were made by, through, and for him  He is the image of the invisible God (just read Colossians 1, Hebrews 1, and John 1 and you’ll get the idea).  At the same time he is fully human.  Born as a human baby from a human mother. Walking in the midst of human people – broken hurting ones, hungry, blind, lame, etc.  He put on his tunic one leg at a time (so to speak, tunics don’t have legs).  He became tired, and hungry.  He was like us because he was one of us.  He was like us in every way, except one.  Jesus was sinless.  He never sinned in thought, word, or deed.  He never lusted in his heart.  He never murdered in his heart.  Never coveted.  Never lied or deceived or even wanted to.

Only the perfect God-Man could affect our salvation at the cross.  Why?  Only a human could represent humans and suffer in our place.  An angel couldn’t do that.  Nor could a dog.  Our redeemer had to be fully human.  It was man who sinned against God and only a man could act on behalf of men.  But he also had to be divine.  Why?  Well, how can a sinful man set sinful men right with a righteous God?  He can’t, obviously.  The thieves crucified with Jesus did nothing to effect our salvation, nor could they possibly.  Only a righteous man can set sinful humans right with a righteous God.  The cross is the accomplishment of that setting right.  Jesus Christ, the God-Man, died for our sins.

Now, of course, there is much more than this to say.  We haven’t even mentioned the resurrection, for instance.  Nor have we applied this to the human response of faith, or mentioned the Holy Spirit – all necessary elements for another time.  But this much must be established before we can go further:  The Cross of Christ is everything.  It is not, should not, and can not be pushed to the perimeter of any Christian’s thoughts or actions ever.  It can not be sidelined in religious dialogue in order to appease the gods “Political Correctness,” “Tolerance,” “Comparative Religions,” or the chief deity in our culture’s idolatrous pantheon, the goddess “Nice.”  Jesus’ atoning work on the cross is the whole ball of wax.  Everything.

The cross and all it means is at the heart of everything we do here.  That has been and will be true for us in every respect.  It must be true for our congregation and for all who will truly be disciples.  There can be no compromise here.  This is the core of the core.