Tuesday 25 March 2008

So, why did Jesus die? (Cont.)

In order to help me process some thoughts going through my head I've decided to blog about it. This post is a continuation of yesterday's post. Take from it what you will.

I've already hinted at my unease of the predominance of a particular explanation (atonement theory) of why Jesus died - namely to take the punishment that should have been ours. So, for some time now I have been searching for what other views have been proposed. The one I read about last evening is in relation to Jesus describing himself as a 'ransom for many.'

Some time ago someone stopped me in the street and wanted to talk to me about matters of faith. When I asked him why did Jesus die, his response was to present Jesus as a ransom for many. (He would have shown me in the Bible, but he only had a Chinese translation (??). Well, what d'ya know? I had an English one in my pocket!) So I asked the obvious question. If Jesus is a ransom, who is the ransom paid to? I didn't get a clear answer. Perhaps it was because it was raining and he didn't have an umbrella. (Well, what d'ya know? I had one of them too!)

Anyway, stop and think for a moment. Who or what is the ransom for? It can't be about paying a debt - which is what I probably used to think. If someone is asking for a ransom, it's not usually because you are already indebted to them. So is it something spiritual? Is it being paid to the devil? I can understand how you could think that, but surely that can't be right either. If it were the case then it would place Satan, at the least, at a level order with God, or further still in a higher position of power. That's just nonsense!

So, what is Jesus being a ransom all about? The book I have been reading presents the answer in the context of what Jesus said and where he said it.

First century Palestine was under Roman occupation. It was part of the Roman Empire. And the way the society of the Empire worked was through a series of obligations starting at the lowest level (the slaves) and working it's way up to the top (the Ceasar). At every level the person was obliged to serve the authority above them: slaves to their masters, sons to their fathers, the elite to Ceasar. The further up the chain you could scramble, the more power, prestige and rule you acclaimed.

Now take a look at what is going on around Jesus just before he speaks of being a ransom. A couple of disciples are asking if they can sit in positions of power when Jesus becomes "King". The other disciples are rightly annoyed at this request (because they never would have dreamed of asking such a question?, or because they didn't ask it first??). Then Jesus goes on to outline the system I've just mentioned, but suggests that those who follow him act in a different way. In fact, 'even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom.' (Mark 10:45)

You probably already know that the term ransom comes from the ancient slave trade. If someone paid a ransom the slave was freed and now belonged to the one who paid. Now though, not as a slave, but as a member of the family. Viewing the ransom of Jesus as our emancipation, his ultimate example of humility provided the framework for a means of release from attitudes that can corrupt and unhealthy desires to "make it to the top" plus entrance into the family of God. I wonder, then, if the ransom is being paid to us - setting us free from ourselves?

I'm afraid,though, that following Jesus just got a whole lot harder. My old view of the cross meant that Jesus' death caused some spiritual transaction to have taken place (there is still room for exploring areas of this theory, for sure). This new view actually calls me to do something. To follow an example. To 'take up my cross'. To serve God and his world in humility as a sign that there is an alternative way to live that is not based around power, greed and status.

I'll continue my journey and may feel the need to express more on these pages...

18 comments:

Nick Coke said...

This is good stuff! It's funny isn't it, you have to be in the 'right place' to really get to grips with this kind of thinking. I mean when I was at Training College and sitting through doctrine classes and going through all the atonement theories, I just wasn't really that into it - it just wasn't answering the questions I had at the time. But reading your posts here suddenly makes me interested.

I wondered if the ransom was paid to 'death' or 'sin'? Not the devil, not God but to the very 'falleness' that humankind has found itself in.

Cosmo said...

Thanks, Nick. Being in the 'right place' for this kind of thinking is correct. I too would have sat through these classes while in training, but not really taken it all it. (Actually I'm not sure how much I took in during other classes too!) I've even read a little about this in the past year, but the other night something just clicked.

I'm looking forward to reading more on this subject. The theory of Christus Victor sounds appealing too.

Miz Melly said...

hi Cosmo, thanks for your post on this. It's something I'm grappling with myself. I'm reading Tom Wright's Surprised by Hope which deals with the resurrection and what that means. It's scary when the way you've thought for years is challenged and old assumptions begin to crumble but I hope it's part of the refining fire that will make me stronger in the end.

Cosmo said...

Hi miz melly! Welcome to the Coffeehouse. Thanks for your comment. It's always nice to see a new name from out of the blue!

Asking questions and inteligently seeking answers can only be a good thing in matters of faith, I believe. (It was Jesus' suggestion anyway! - Luke 11:9). The more I embark on journeys such as this the more I discover loads of people on a similar quest, and yes, it does cause you to think the big, big questions of God. Don't forget your First Love. It's what I keep coming back to.

Perhaps it would be helpful to not think of previous assumptions as so much crumbling away, but rather as the first paving stones on your pathway of faith and life. You wouldn't be where you are now without those early steps.

I'm looking forward to Tom Wright's new book - it's "in the post". Did you read the book that proceeded it? 'Simply Christian'. Good stuff.

Nicole said...

Hey Marcus, thought I'd leave a comment on this because it's a very interesting idea. I'm going to have to research this further. Another thought of mine is if Jesus took the punishment that everyone deserved, why would someone who doesn't accept Christ be punished when they die? Wouldn't that mean God is punishing the sin twice?

Cosmo said...

Nicole,

That's a great, great question.

(Anyone else got an answer? Nick, any thoughts?)

It caused me to think about the words in 1 Peter 3:18 that say:

"Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God."

When it says "for all" does that mean everyone will go to heaven? I don't know! (I know there are those who couldn't stand the thought of eternity with God).

Like you, and others, I'm on a quest to try and figure these things out in a way I can understand and relate to. I'd love to hear more about your journey. Do you blog?

By the way, if you are studying this further you'll soon discover a number of theories about why Jesus died - sacrifice, substitution for punishment, liberation, restoration of creation, victory over sin and death, reconciliation, ransom.... Lots to dig deep into!

nicole said...

Yup, lots of researching and thinking ahead! I don't blog, but maybe I'll start.

Cosmo said...

By the way, Nicole, are you the Nicole I have met at HSD?

(If HSD means nothing to you then you are not who I'm guessing you might be. Regardless, I'll be interested to hear what you come up with as you think some of these things through.)

Nicole said...

Yes, that'd be me alright! From the porridge stand at the Fairtrade fair :)

Cosmo said...

I guessed right!

Nicole, I've got to say I'm very impressed that you are asking these questions, and I really hope that you take the questioning further (Maybe to study theology? Or maybe just getting into the Bible more and more?)

If I can help out, let me know.

Nicole said...

I do need to get studying my bible some more alright, would benefit my Christian life loads if nothing else!

I'm thinking of starting that blog too!

Nick Coke said...

Just realised I've been missing out on the ongoing conversation. In response to Nicole's question - the traditional answer is to say that whilst Jesus died to punish all sin, only those who choose to accept the forgiveness through Jesus are set free - John 3:16. Easy to say, hard to get your head around of course!

Snot Head said...

Have you read The Purpose Driven Life? I don't know if I completely understood this post, but the last part caught my attention directly. The part about sort of taking action. I didn't happen to check the date on this post, but it doesn't really matter. If you are seeking any kind of guidance in taking action to serving God and showing others the alternative way of life, I have a lot of faith that God anointed this book. I have learned much about myself, my relationship with God, and God through reading it and studying it.

Cosmo said...

I've dipped in to Purpose Driven Life, but not read the whole thing. Perhaps I should give it another go. I know it's been helpful for many people and if it inspires you to live a life that is more obviously shapped by the ways of Jesus then that's great.

I think I'm right in saying that for a while Starbucks were printing some of Rick Warren's wise words (along with other notable figures) on the side of their paper cups.

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