There’s more than one model of atonement in the pages of the New Testament.
I’ve never liked the oboe. Clarinets are agile and joyful. Saxophones are versatile and soulful. An oboe sounds mournful, a bruised reed, a blanket of grief. Yet even an oboe can contribute its mellow hues to an orchestral arrangement. Who can forget the haunting tones of Gabriel’s Oboe?
Atonement is as rich and polyphonic as a symphony. At its heart, to atone is to make at-one. God reconciles the world to himself, and that ultimately makes us at-one with each other.
But when we press in to how atonement works, we cannot reduce it to a single instrument. Like light reflected from a multifaceted diamond, atonement has many angles in the New Testament.
Continue reading “The rich texture of atonement (Matthew 18:23–35)”
Why does Matthew tell the story of the cross as he does? Should we have the same emphasis when we talk about the cross?
There are so many ways to talk about the cross, the centre of our faith. So, why does Matthew tell the story of the cross the way he does? Does he have a consistent message? What is it?
Continue reading “The meaning of the cross (Matthew 27:32–44)”
How did Jesus’ death “fulfill the prophetic Scriptures?” Here’s the explanation he gave in Gethsemane.
Fight or flight? Many kings have faced that choice. In a field just outside his capital, the true king rejected both options. Neither would bring peace to a divided world.
If you don’t flee and you don’t fight, you could die. Not very attractive, but it is an option: stay and die.
Instead of taking flight, Jesus stayed in Gethsemane, consulting his Father, the architect of human history. He triple-checked for any other alternatives (26:36-46). When the crowd with swords and clubs arrived to take him, he rejected the fight option too.
Matthew doesn’t name Peter as the disciple who unsheathed a dagger. It’s too late for flight. He sees no option but to fight for his king. He swings his sword. The high priest’s servant sees it coming and drops his head to one side. The blow aimed at his neck slices off his ear.
The king orders him, Put your sword back in its place! All who take the sword will destroy themselves with the sword.
What astounding insight! Jesus wasn’t merely saying that those who rely on weapons for survival probably won’t. He said the very act of choosing weapons to kill humans destroys our own humanity (ἀπολοῦνται = future indicative middle).
Ask returning soldiers who’ve seen killing whether Jesus is right. Ask them how many friends they’ve lost to the spectrum from shellshock to suicide. War destroys more than the enemy.
But what sort of option is stay and die? Is that what the Scriptures required of him? It’s not what previous kings had chosen.
Continue reading “Why did Jesus have to die? (Matthew 26:47-56)”
What was Jesus referring to when he spoke of celebrating anew with them in his Father’s kingdom?
Closing his Last Supper, Jesus said, I tell you the truth, from this moment I will not drink the vine’s produce with you until the day when I drink it with you anew in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29).
What did he mean? According to some communion talks, Jesus was referring to the big banquet at the end of time when everyone is under God’s authority. But that doesn’t really work: within a few days, Jesus was eating with them again (Luke 24:30, 43; John 21:5-13; Acts 1:4).
Continue reading “With you in my Father’s kingdom (Matthew 26:29)”
What did Jesus mean by this phrase? The backstory is not to be missed.
I’m meditating on a phrase Jesus used at his last supper: This is my blood of the covenant (26:28). What did he mean by my blood? How is his blood covenantal?
Since this was a Passover meal, I’ve heard people say that Jesus was the Passover lamb sacrificed for us. You can draw that parallel (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 5:7, to ask us to live unleavened lives). But I doubt that’s what Jesus was saying.
Continue reading “My blood of the covenant (Matthew 26:28)”
Ask why Jesus died on the cross, and people usually tell me he died in my place, to forgive me for my sins. Shortly we’ll be looking at the explanation Jesus gave at his last supper, but listen to how Matthew introduces the passion narrative, Jesus’ looming death:
Continue reading “Why did Jesus die? (Matthew 26:1-5)”
Could we explain the gospel as Jesus did?
Why did Jesus die on the cross?
Many of my friends would say he needed to die for me, in my place, for my sins. That’s called substitutionary atonement, and it’s one of the explanations of the cross found in Scripture. But it’s not the primary way Jesus understood his crucifixion.
Here’s how Jesus described the cross:
Continue reading “How Jesus explained the cross (Matthew 20:17-19)”
The true king takes on his people’s suffering.
Why did Jesus call himself son of man? Here’s a clue: in the Synoptic Gospels, the vast majority of occurrences (78%) are after Peter calls him the Christ. Jesus has used the phrase previously in relation to his authority, but mostly he uses it once they recognize him as God’s anointed ruler. I think the phrase son of man contains a paradox he wanted them to understand. Continue reading “Son of man: suffering king (Matthew 16:21–17:23)”
Why was Elijah present at the transfiguration? How did he contribute to the message of the event when the spotlight fell on Jesus and heaven declared, “Listen to him!”
Continue reading “The Elijah connection (Matthew 17:2-13)”
Recently I was asked this in a text message:
Q: Why did God sacrifice his only Son to save us instead of killing Satan directly?
Love this question! It accumulates so many misunderstandings of the gospel. Truth is, God’s goal wasn’t to kill Satan. God didn’t need a blood sacrifice before he would save us. And God didn’t kill his Son. Continue reading “Why didn’t God kill the devil instead of his Son?”
Few people understand the way of the cross.
We think of Jesus’ cross as something that relieves personal guilt. We don’t realize the cross is the instrument for restoring God’s reign. We don’t see how the cross has power to free the world from what crushes it.
Continue reading “The folly of the cross”
How do you sort out a relationship with someone who wants you dead?
Jacob fears for his life. Esau will kill him if he believes he’s coming to claim the inheritance. Why else would he bring a posse of 400 men (32:6)? Continue reading “Jacob’s reconciliatory gift (Genesis 32:13-21)”