Monday 30 November 2009

Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible (35/50) – His Saving Victory on the Cross: Finished!

‘Word for the Week: Whole Life, Whole Bible’, from London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, is a series of fifty emails designed to look at the main milestones of the biblical story, seeking to show how whole-life discipleship is woven through Scripture as a whole, from beginning to end. Here is the thirty-fifth of the fifty emails.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19:28-30

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

We anticipate the dawn of a new day in the resurrection, but, for the moment at least, we pause at Good Friday. And pause we must, for the biblical story makes no sense without this. And as we pause, we join with Christians around the globe and through the ages who have confessed the centrality of Christ’s work on the cross, for our faith makes no sense without this.

The cross, of course, is where the gospels – and Jesus – have been heading since the start. As he does so, he takes on the role of the servant spoken of in Isaiah 53, suffering and dying on behalf of others. That it happens at Passover time gives his death an ‘exodus’ flavour, as Jesus brings about a new release for the people of God, inaugurating a new covenant in his body and blood – for the forgiveness of sins.

The predicament of human beings, so apparent in the biblical story – rebellion against God and the judgment it deserves – are dealt with at the cross, interpreted in the early church as a demonstration of God’s love, as a victory over the powers of darkness, as a sacrifice of one in the place of others which makes forgiveness possible, which brings about reconciliation with God and with each other, and more besides.

The work of the cross is applied personally, though not privately, for it is the place where the wisdom and power of God are demonstrated to the world. And Paul makes clear the comprehensive nature of what has been accomplished – not just on our behalf, but on behalf of the whole of creation. Jesus’ death is God’s chosen means of restoring ‘all things’, liberating men and women – and creation itself – from sin and bondage, with the guarantee that one day evil will be removed completely.

So the cross stands not just at the peak of the gospels but at the climax of the entire history of salvation. Everything in the biblical story leads up to and away from this point; everything is understood in the light it casts, a light extending forward to the final victory when all things will be fully restored.

Meanwhile, that light illumines our discipleship and mission as we seek to make sense of the cross and be shaped by it, knowing that we live by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us.

For further reflection and action:

1. All four gospels devote considerable space to the death of Jesus and the events leading up to it. Not for nothing have they been called ‘passion narratives with extended introductions’. Reflect on how far you agree whether or not this is a good description of the gospels.

2. The pattern of the cross and resurrection is one of ‘suffering’ followed by ‘glory’. If Christian discipleship involves a call to follow the way of the cross, think of the moments in your life or the lives of others where this pattern has been evident.

3. How does the cross transform the ‘ordinary’ stuff of life (the ‘all things’ of Colossians 1), and how do we follow the way of the cross in the ‘ordinary’ stuff of life?

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