[This article was edited to remove offensive and obstructive language.]
At the heart of the Christian doctrine of Justification is a trustworthy God (worthy is where we get the word worship from). The two places where the Apostle Paul anchors this doctrine are clear enough. In Galatians we are told that God justifies those who have faith in Jesus by means of the faithfulness of Jesus. In other words, those who have faith in Jesus are declared members of God’s one family because of what Jesus did for them in his obedience to the Father on the cross. In Romans this point is developed and made patently clear straight from the get-go.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes… For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”
The gospel is the ‘power of God’, it is the means that allows or enables God to save people, in particular those who believe. The gospel, the good news, Paul writes elsewhere, is that Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised from the dead and ascended to the lofty throne of God.
And Paul said – back to Romans where we just were – that this narrative, the story of Jesus – from his mission climaxing in the bloody crucifixion all the way to his final exaltation – is the ‘righteousness of God’. The gospel is how God has proved himself to be righteous, just, faithful.
Remember back in Genesis God made a promise to the age-old Abram:
“Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessings. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and by you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
“Leave your family and everything you know,” God tells Abram, “and I will bless your family and everything there is.” Leave your world that I may bless the world. Blessing is a covenant term. It means to make things right by putting creation back together in the way it was meant to be. God and creation reconciled.
And God is a person of his Word, pun intended.
The only question that remained unclear was precisely how he was to accomplish this imposing goal. It seemed clear enough that God would begin by creating a new family – Abram’s family (keeping in mind that Sarai was barren, Abram’s family with Sarai was literally a creative miraculous work of God). And that God’s family would martyr themselves to the world in hopes that the rest would join in.
But the precise opposite happened. Rather than martyr themselves to the world, they laid down before it. They rode the beast without a concern in the world for the world. And no matter how often or how loud YHWH called them back to himself, no matter what the consequences were, they continued to prostitute themselves to every local cult and pagan deity that came down the pike.
It appeared that YWHW’s plan had crashed and burned. The plan all along was to restore the universal order of things. And the chief players are the Lord who made all things, and humans who were made responsible to all things under God. So the plan was to restore that relationship – God and humans – by making all of humanity into one universal family with God. But the place where that family was to begin and grow out of – Abram’s family – was not going so well.
To make matters worse, it wasn’t as though God could just brush things off as another failed project – as he did in the flood, for example – and start again. This time, this covenant was different. This time God made the fateful move of staking his own life on the line.
In Genesis 15 God instructs Abram to create a covenantal ditch filled with the blood of animals that have been diced in two and placed on either side of the hill for their blood to drain down; a custom not uncommon in the Ancient Near East. Normally two chieftain’s would walk the ditch ankle high in blood to ratify an agreement. The act symbolized a pledge to the death. Both parties were essentially saying to each other, “if what I promise does not come to pass, then may what happened to these animals happen to me.”
But God does something radically, dreadfully, and infinitely gracefully unexpected. He makes his promise to Abram and then He – God alone! – passes between the dead animals. God himself places his own life on the line. So you see, he can’t just shrug off Israel’s unfaithfulness and start again.
So then, the ultimate dilemma emerges. By definition God cannot keep his promise unilaterally. He cannot. That is because God’s promise involved a partner. “Through you” God promises Abram, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
So when God passes through the bloody ditch, in effecting saying, “if what I promise does not come to pass, may what happen to these animals happen to me,” we find later in the scriptures that that is exactly what happened, “like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” records the prophet.
All of the threads that we’ve talked about so far, and many more still, converge upon the cross as the climax of God’s covenant. That God himself would be born into the human race and more specifically, into the family of good ol’ Abraham. That he, Jesus – which means savior, would succeed where everyone else failed. That he, the second Adam, would be faithful to God where the first Adam and all of his descendants remained unfaithful. And then he, ‘my God and my King’ as one faithful disciple testified, would die the bloody death of those sliced and diced carcasses back in Genesis 15.
And there was Silence.
Three long and breathless Jewish days of silence.
Did the plan fail?
Silence. (Day 1)
Did God fail?
Silence. (Day 2)
Was God, as fear grips us and tears stream down our face, was God unfaithful?
“But Christ HAS in fact been raised from the dead,” declares the Apostle, “the firstfruits of a new creation.” A new creation. WOW! The plan accomplished. The evidence, the cross. The meaning: God is righteous!
It is also no mistake – if I may oscillate back to Corinth for a moment – that when Paul defines the gospel for us, he does so in the context of laying the groundwork for an exposition of the resurrection.
“If the resurrection of Jesus – the physical body, not some ghostly ‘spirituality’ nor some type of metaphorical mysticism, but the actual physical body – did not occur, then Christianity is an absurdity. We are of all people, Paul writes, most to be pitied.
“But in fact” Paul goes on to assure us with the confidence of his own witness, “Christ has been raised from the dead.” And with that it means that we can expect to be raised too, he goes on to explain.
Bursting forth on day three the power of God was made known. The faithful Human, the faithful Son of David – an Israelite! – was vindicated. And he was raised, not just from the dead but all the way up to the right hand of the Father in a marvelous act of Kingship, and from that throne he sits, and governs, and makes war until the all of the enemies have been defeated, the last of which being death itself…
… which, by the way, has already lost it’s sting.