The Cruciform God: Deep Magic — Why Jesus Had to Die

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

So why did Jesus have to be crucified? I don’t pretend to have the complete answer. I don’t, I’m sure. But I think I have a glimpse of part of the underlying truth.

(Heb 5:7-10)  During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus “learned obedience” through his sufferings. And this made him “perfect.”

We wrestle with the idea of the Son of God being “made” perfect, as though he wasn’t already sinless. And he was already sinless.

“Perfect” is teleioo, from the root telos, meaning the goal or end. N. T. Wright argues in After We Believe that “perfect” sometimes refers to God’s ultimate goal being achieved. Jesus was made perfect in the sense that he became fit for God’s finish line — the completion of the task.

Now, it was, I believe, C. S. Lewis[1] who explained that the Spirit can do for us only what the Spirit knows how to do. Until Jesus was required to obey, the Spirit of Christ could not write on our hearts “obey.” And until Jesus was crucified, the Spirit could not write on our hearts “be co-crucified.”

In order for Jesus to walk along with us and help us, through the Spirit, to do what we have to do, Jesus had to do it first.

C. S. Lewis wrote,

A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means – the only complete realist.

Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 11, p. 110. Jesus had to suffer the ultimate in temptation to know what he is asking of us — and to have the ability to help us make it to the end.

And this means that Jesus loves us so much that he suffered crucifixion so he’d be able to help us make it to heaven. And that’s a big deal. God isn’t testing and tricking us. He is desperately, sacrificially, painfully doing what is necessary to get us to the end — and walking alongside us to make sure it happens.

Jesus was crucified so that he could help us be crucified — because it’s only those faithful to his crucifixion who will reach the telos –– the finish line — who will live with Jesus in the new age. You see, resurrection is only for those who’ve been hung on a cross. But we don’t have to cross the finish line alone.

[1] I can’t find the source, but I know the thought isn’t original with me.

PS — “Deep magic” is a The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Narnia) reference.

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18 Responses

  1. I don’t have all the answers here either. One conclusion so far is that Jesus didn’t have to experience the cross (and other temptations) so He would know what we go through. He experienced the cross so we would know he knows what we go through.

  2. Rich,

    I like that a lot.

  3. We are to forgive one another as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven us.

    For God to forgive us demanded the cross.

    For me to forgive you, I must be crucified. I cannot demand that you “make everything right” so that the suffering I endured at your hand is compensated. I take the suffering onto myself, bearing your sin against me in my suffering.

    That is how I can forgive you as Christ has forgiven me.

    Jerry Starling CommittedtoTruth.wordpress.com

  4. It seems the word “crucifixion” can be used with some latitude, to include things that at first glance seem to be far less tortuous than real crucifixion as Jesus experienced it.

    Some one said:
    “I don’t have all the answers here either. One conclusion so far is that Jesus didn’t have to experience the cross (and other temptations) so He would know what we go through. He experienced the cross so we would know he knows what we go through.”

    So we would know he knows what we go through? We go through things like crucifixion? Really? I’ve had some bad days in my life, but nothing like that.

    Someone else said:
    “For me to forgive you, I must be crucified.”

    Isn’t that stretching it just a little?

    It seems to me that for God Incarnate to HAVE TO BE crucified we need a better explanation. Others tell me that N.T. Wright teaches that Jesus death was a substitute for us, but NOT a PENAL substitute. I wish I understood this teaching of his better. Really I do, and if someone would explain it to me I would genuinely appreciate it.

    In the meantime I am still standing here thinking he bore the penalty that I was due, that is, he stood in my place; and through faith his righteousness is imputed to me.

    What am I missing?

    Peace,
    Randall

  5. Jay, I don’t have my copy here to cite it for sure, but I feel pretty sure that your missing footnoe is indeed from Mere Christianity, although I don’t recall it being explicit about the spirit in this role, although that is surely the point.

  6. Just to reiterate a previous question:

    Others tell me that N.T. Wright teaches that Jesus death was a substitute for us, but NOT a PENAL substitute. I wish I understood this teaching of his better. Really I do, and if someone would explain it to me I would genuinely appreciate it.

    Peace,
    Randall

  7. So we would know he knows what we go through? We go through things like crucifixion? Really? I’ve had some bad days in my life, but nothing like that.

    We? Maybe not.

    But Peter did.
    And Paul did.
    And Polycarp did.

    Read through Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Get in touch with someone deeply involved with the house church movement in China over the past decades. Ask someone who’s involved with preaching the gospel in Taliban-controlled territory. Ask them if they have days like that.

    “For me to forgive you, I must be crucified.” Isn’t that stretching it just a little?

    It seems like that in our own wisdom, but it is by the wisdom of God that Paul says:

    I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. (Galatians 2:20-21 ESV)

    and

    But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
    (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV)

    We love to do the little sing-song VBS “Fruit of the Spirit” song in our heads. Verse 24 rings a darker note, but no less essential to the concept. Maybe it doesn’t LOOK LIKE I need to be co-crucified in order to be able to truly forgive. But maybe that’s because I don’t believe that the Cross is what true forgiveness looks like.

    Now, on to your last question. I’ve got two essays for you, where Wright discusses the whole blow-up surrounding himself, a few other writers, and penal substitutionary atonement. Wright does *not* deny PSA – rather, as the title of one of the essays shows pretty clearly, what he denies is several of the caricatures of it that get marched around Reformed and Anglican circles.

    The Cross and the Caricatures

    Jesus, Israel, and the Cross

    Here are some relevant quotes, but I encourage you to brew your favorite beverage, find a comfy desk, and settle in and read the whole of both essays.

    The sense which penal substitution
    makes it does not make, in the last analysis, within the narrative of feudal systems of honour and
    shame. It certainly does not make the sense it makes within the world of some arbitrary lawcourt. It
    makes the sense it makes within the biblical world, the Old Testament world, within which the
    creator God, faced with a world in rebellion, chose Israel – Abraham and his family – as the means
    of putting everything right, and, when Israel itself had rebelled, promised to set that right as well
    and so to complete the purpose of putting humans right and thus setting the whole created order
    back the right way up. And the long-promised way by which this purpose would be achieved was, as
    hints and guesses in the Psalms and prophets indicate, that Israel’s representative, the anointed
    king, would be the one through whom this would be accomplished. Like David facing Goliath, he
    would stand alone to do for his people what they could not do for themselves. It is because Jesus, as
    Israel’s representative Messiah, was therefore the representative of the whole human race, that he
    could appropriately become its substitute. That is how Paul’s logic works. ‘One died for all, therefore
    all died,’ he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:14; and thus, seven verses later, ‘God made him to be sin for
    us, who knew no sin,’ he concluded seven verses later, ‘so that in him we might become the
    righteousness of God’ (5:21). And it is within that argument that we find the still deeper truth, which
    is again rooted in the dark hints and guesses of the Old Testament: that the Messiah through whom
    all this would be accomplished would be the very embodiment of YHWH himself. ‘God was in Christ,
    reconciling the world to himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19).

    After all, the climax of my book Jesus and the Victory of God, upon which Steve had relied to quite a considerable extent, is the longest ever
    demonstration, in modern times at least, that Jesus’ self-understanding as he went to the cross was
    rooted in, among other Old Testament passages, Isaiah 53, the clearest and most uncompromising
    statement of penal substitution you could find.

    You see, Wright gave a cover blurb for a book by a friend, which subsequently came under attack for “rejecting substitutionary atonement” because of the following quote.

    The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son
    for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the
    Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith.
    Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement
    that “God is Love”. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards
    humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your
    enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.

    Admittedly, the quote is unclear, but the book wasn’t ABOUT atonement, but about how deeply challenging the real message of Jesus is, and how that challenge has been lost amid a series of trite or awful replacements. About this passage, Wright remarks,

    Now, to be frank, I cannot tell, from this paragraph alone, which of two things Steve means. You
    could take the paragraph to mean (a) on the cross, as an expression of God’s love, Jesus took into
    and upon himself the full force of all the evil around him, in the knowledge that if he bore it we
    would not have to; but this, which amounts to a form of penal substitution, is quite different from
    other forms of penal substitution, such as the mediaeval model of a vengeful father being placated
    by an act of gratuitous violence against his innocent son. In other words, there are many models of
    penal substitution, and the vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story is at best a caricature of the true
    one. Or you could take the paragraph to mean (b) because the cross is an expression of God’s love,
    there can be no idea of penal substitution at all, because if there were it would necessarily mean the
    vengeful-father-and-innocent-son story, and that cannot be right.
    Clearly, Steve’s critics have taken him to mean (b), as I think it is clear Jeffrey John and several
    others intend. I cannot now remember what I thought when I read the book four years ago and
    wrote my commendation, but I think, since I had been following the argument through in the light of
    the arguments I myself have advanced, frequently and at length, about Jesus’ death and his own
    understanding of it, that I must have assumed he meant (a). I have now had a good conversation
    with Steve about the whole subject and clarified that my initial understanding was correct: he does
    indeed mean (a).

    And right in the middle of all that, another book came out (partially in response to the book by Wright’s friend) that seems to have promoted the ugliest form of the caricature mentioned above. So Wright, for multiple reasons (he loves a lively verbal fray as much as anyone), called THAT book “unbiblical” in one place and “subbiblical” in another. You’ll have to read the first essay to get the whole story. But suffice it to say that Wright is a strong proponent of the Isaiah 53/1 Cor 15/Mark 10 theological position of penal substitutionary atonement, rooted in the narrative of Israel’s calling to be the light of the world and to be the means of blessing for the world.

    The second essay is a less polemic piece that lays out more of Wright’s thought about the Cross in light of the story of Israel.

  8. in re-reading The Cross and the Caricatures, I found this passage deeply meaningful in our own RM discussions of worship and justification.

    Large scale: when the authors set out their systematic (and would-be biblical!) theology, in chapter
    3, they offer a clear, unambiguous example of a problem which has lain deep within some strands of
    western theology, both Catholic and Protestant, for many generations. They ignore the story of
    Israel. Yes, they draw on the Old Testament here and there: the Passover lamb and other sacrificial
    types. They make plenty of use of Old Testament passages and themes. But there is no sense that
    the basic biblical answer to the problem we encounter in Genesis 3-11 (the problem, in other words,
    of human sin and its consequences) begins with Genesis 12, with the call of Abraham; that the
    entire Old Testament narrative demands to be seen within this framework; and that the very
    passages they appeal to in the New Testament demand to be read in the same way. Their grand
    narrative goes from creation, fall, sin and judgment to the internal relationships within the Trinity
    and thence to penal substitution. But the fully biblical meaning of the cross, as presented by the four
    evangelists, is that the cross means what it means as the climax of the entire story of Jesus – and
    that the story of Jesus means what it means as the climax of the entire narrative to which the
    gospels offer themselves as the climactic and decisive moment, namely, the story of Israel from
    Abraham to Jesus (just read Matthew 1), and thus the story of Israel seen as the divine answer to
    the problem of Adam.
    This is a point which the authors have scarcely begun to grasp, foundational
    though it is to all second-Temple Jewish and New Testament thinking (see, eg, 94 note 153, where
    the centrality of Adam in the argument of Romans 3-8, which is precisely the point I am making, is
    advanced as a reason why it might be difficult to see the passage as a retelling of the Jewish story;
    for a moment, on p95, they suggest that Abraham’s family should have been the means of blessing
    for all, but they never see that this is a major key to the entire biblical worldview). I have explored
    the biblical narrative from this point of view in several places, not least the central chapter of my
    recent book Evil and the Justice of God, and I have watched with frustration as those who profess to
    be ‘biblical’ in their orientation shy away from listening to what the text actually says.

    Emphasis mine

  9. Where can I get information on how to create these block quotes and bold and italic text?

  10. Here’s a chart with lots of the HTML codes, but it isn’t very explanatory.

    This is the best tutorial site I’m finding on the spur of the moment. I just learned a bunch from it while skimming it for you! LOL

  11. Please excuse the length of this reply.

    Nick,
    First of all, thank you. I spend some time on blogs and you are the first to provide a truly substantial answer to my question – and I have not yet gone to the links that you provided. So again, I say thank you. I will follow up with the links.

    Please understand that I am not completely ignorant of church history. I have taken a half dozen courses including Lemoine Lewis’ two semester course at ACC; and read more than a little in addition to those courses. What his course did was point me to an entire world of theological thought that had hardly been alluded to in in my previous 20 years. I truly enjoy the study of church history and the development of Christian doctrine. I intend to continue the study.

    I am aware of the martyrdom of Polycarp and others written about by Foxe and Eusebius as I have read them myself. And I am no Peter, Paul or Polycarp. Yes, there have been many other martyrs and it is still ongoing, but I can’t put myself in the same class with many of them. I have actually seen the Christian ghetto in Islamabad, visited the tribal areas in the border region and spent some time in Afghanistan as well as the sub continent along with Indonesia and China. I have worshiped with and become close to a number form India and I am well aware of the persecution there. And I can’t place myself among the number that have experienced that type of persecution. So please forgive me if I read of some that may have never left the USA or experienced harsh physical persecution speaking of their crucifixion in the sense in which Jesus was crucified. Perhaps I think they are overstating their experience, at least some (if not much) of the time.

    I do count myself among the Reformed (generally speaking) in my theology. I think Calvin made significant contributions to our understanding of theology. That does not mean that I think he was the be all end all of theology. I do understand that his background as a lawyer likely influenced his understanding and teaching as evidenced by his forensic terminology. I do not think that most reformed theologians today have a medieval understanding of penal substitution atonement. I think the accusation of cosmic child abuse is hyperbole at best. Much of the Protestant world accepts the idea that Christ bore the punishment we were due b/c of our wickedness and rebellion and that his righteousness is imputed to us through faith. This is the difficulty I have had when I hear from his supporters that Wright had rejected PSA but maintained a understanding of atonement that was substitutionary but not penal. I hope you can understand that this is what has been behind my question and consternation.

    I do not understand PSA “within the narrative of feudal systems of honour and shame” nor attempt to “make the sense it makes within the world of some arbitrary lawcourt.” I wonder if Wright really thinks that well known speakers such as Chuck Swindoll, Alistair Begg, and R.C Sproul have this understanding or if he is reacting against things that were written during the 17th century. It is my understanding the above named folks, and many others, understand PSA within the framework of the very scriptures you mentioned plus Romans 5.

    One quote you included follows:
    “The fact is that the cross isn’t a form of cosmic child abuse – a vengeful Father, punishing his Son for an offence he has not even committed. Understandably, both people inside and outside of the Church have found this twisted version of events morally dubious and a huge barrier to faith. Deeper than that, however, is that such a concept stands in total contradiction to the statement that “God is Love”. If the cross is a personal act of violence perpetrated by God towards humankind but borne by his Son, then it makes a mockery of Jesus’ own teaching to love your enemies and to refuse to repay evil with evil.”

    Interesting the way Wright frames the argument. Of course I agree that God is love, but it is not his only attribute. I think we agree he has many attributes. I do not want to be inflammatory, but scripture also speaks of God’s wrath against evil doers. Even Jesus spoke of judgment and torment against them. Indeed God went to great lengths to save sinful men, but Hebrews suggests he passed by angels to save us. It would appear that Satan and the fallen angels (also created beings) are destined for either never ending torment or annihilation at the hands of God. I guess I will have to read Wright to see how he understands God’s love for them and unredeemed mankind. Sorry, I tend to digress 😉

    I am glad you pointed out Wright does not reject PSA, but has a different take on it. I look forward to reading more of what he has to say so I’ll know if he is reacting against medieval theology or a more contemporary understanding of PSA.

    Thanks for your substantial reply and the links. I do appreciate the effort you went to.
    Peace,
    Randall

  12. Thanks Nick

  13. Randall,

    My understanding is that Wright rejects “imputed righteousness” — that we are credited with Jesus’ perfect life — but not substitutionary atonement. http://oneinjesus.info/index-under-construction/theology-general/the-new-perspective/

  14. Nick,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Now I don’t have to write the very same thing. I couldn’t have said it better (or as well) myself.

  15. Sorry if I’m a little out of it on discussion. Ran a MS update 2 weeks ago and if crashed Windows.
    Two thoughts, Revelation has regular image of “those that washed their robes in the blood.” Apologies to Wright but that sounds exactly like sub atonement.
    God’s nature demands justice and mercy (many OT quotes), Jesus’ death is both, mercy to us, and justice to sin atonement.

  16. You’re welcome, Jay! I’m just sorry that the formatting from the .pdf that I cut-and-pasted from came through so annoyingly.

  17. Nick,
    I have been very busy as we have begun packing to move several states away. I have read the first of the two links you provided: The Cross and the Caricatures

    In this link N.T. Wright clearly affirms not only substitution, but even penal substitution. I don’t understand why he has been accused of rejecting the doctrine.

    As he explains it:
    “Two final notes. First, the notion of ‘sacrifice’ is a highly contested and problematic concept within all contemporary discussion. I have no problem whatever with saying (a) that the Passover lamb clearly had something to do with warding off God’s judgment; (b) the New Testament writers identify Jesus as the true Passover lamb; therefore (c) the NT is aligning Jesus with this type of sacrifice and this
    type of atoning significance. Nor do I have any quarrel with seeing the NT adopting ‘Day of Atonement’ ideas in its interpretation of Jesus’ death, and seeing that there, too, there is a clear sense of the sacrificial animals bearing the sins of the people in a substitutionary way.”

    Wright makes a very straight forward affirmation of PSA, but not what he refers to as caricatures of PSA. I do not see the difference between his understanding of PSA and the doctrine I understand as PSA.

    I wonder if some of the stuff behind the controversy is the (IMO) provocative language that has been used such as “cosmic child abuse” and “medieval feudal system of honor and shame” and the like. I suppose with time and additional reading I’ll come to understand this a little better. I must admit I am not at all familiar with most of the people he has cited in the first link. While some of it has come from Americans it seems that much of has come from Europeans – perhaps mostly Brits – and that may explain my ignorance of them. I hardly have time to read about what is happening in my own back yard.

    Thanks for the link. I’ll get to the second one as soon as I can.
    Peace,
    Randall

  18. Randall,

    I’m happy to hear that the material I shared has blessed you. I totally understand how hard it is to keep up with the stuff going on in our own circles.

    If anyone is interested, I’m giving away a Tom Wright book, Luke for Everyone over at Fumbling Towards Eternity. I haven’t looked in the Final Week section to see how he covers atonement there, but it is a great read or a gift for Christians of all ages and maturity levels.

    Jay, if this is an inappropriate comment, please feel free to delete it!

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