I’m almost finished reading N.T. Wright’s new book The Day the Revolution Began. I HIGHLY recommend it. It’s a little lengthy (just over 400 pages) and it will take some mental strength, but it’s worth it. And the chapter on Romans is worth the price alone.
Wright does an excellent job explaining the early Christian understanding of the death of Jesus. Our simple formulas that narrow the cross down to a simple sacrifice or legal exchange so we can “go to heaven” fall short of the gospel writer’s and Paul’s understanding of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. It would take me more blogs than I have time or desire to write to get into this book, but let me share with you three quick take aways that might spur you to grab a copy.
- The story of the cross cannot be taken out of the story of Israel. Our tendency is to pay very little attention to the ancient Israelite story and jump straight ahead to the gospels. When we do this, we rob the cross of its meaning. We need to hear the overtones of exodus, passover, exile, and God’s work to set his people free. The cross and resurrection come in line of this all to important story. (As a side note, this might also inform how we teach the story of Scripture to our children. That is, first and foremost as a STORY.)
- God is not a pagan god who longs to unleash wrath and fury on humanity, but Jesus steps in to take the blow. Sometimes our simple formulas make it sound this way, and God sounds more like an angry pagan deity than a loving and just God who wants to redeem and set right his broken world. The cross is God’s way of dealing with and destroying once and for all the power of sin and evil. God is angry at sin and the brokenness of the world, but he’s not a toddler full of rage destroying everything in his path.
- Rather than creating a false dichotomy of God the Father killing God the Son, we need to see the cross as the full revelation of God. It was sin and evil that took Jesus to the cross, so that he could once and for all defeat it. And this act of dying to destroy evil and save his people was the full revelation of his love. The self-emptying Jesus on the cross is the God of Israel fully revealed. As Wright puts it when discussing the hymn from Philippians 2, “this action was not something Jesus did despite the fact that he was ‘in God’s form’ and ‘equal with God,’ but rather something he that he did because he was those things” (257).
So I could go on and on, and certainly these things need some deep explanation, but you will have to read the book yourself to get that. It is worth it!
And to give you something to walk away with, remember today one of the best things that Wright shares in this book, in my opinion. After we move away from a paganized understanding of the cross, we begin to see that we are not saved FROM creation and simply to “go to heaven” when we die (though that is part of it). Rather, we are saved FOR creation. God defeated the power of sin and death on the cross so that we could get back to the very purpose he created us for; reflecting his image into the world.
Today, remember you are saved FOR the world, not from. And that ought to shape how we treat our neighbors, coworkers, children, spouses, and everyone with whom we interact.