I think this will be one of those blog posts that is seemingly obvious and perhaps overly nit-picky, but I want to share a detail that deepened my theology anyway.
My favorite professor at DTS was adamant that Jesus’s death was meaningless without his resurrection. This is not a new idea, since Paul says as much in 1 Corinthians 15:16-17: “For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” So far, so obvious. But ever since it was pointed out to me, I’ve noticed how often faith is shared that focuses entirely on Jesus’s death. It’s present in the songs we sing (from hymns like “The Old Rugged Cross” to praise songs like “At the Cross”) where our joy and salvation is supposedly found at the foot of an execution instrument. And it’s present in sermons and small group conversations where Jesus’s death is used as a shorthand to encompass his entire act of salvation.
Recently, a thought experiment dropped into my head. Let’s say I am in a firing line about to be executed for my crimes. A gun is pointed at me, and I’m crying and begging to be spared. When the shot rings out, I am shocked to find that someone else has leapt in front of me to take the bullet in my place (in this scenario there is only one bullet in the whole world and therefore the punishment is over). What is my honest reaction to this? Yes, I would be momentarily grateful to still be alive. But I would also feel grief that someone else took my place, rage at the incompetent executioner, and most importantly of all, GUILT. I would forever feel guilty, knowing that my life had cost someone else theirs.
Now imagine that as soon as someone else takes the bullet for me and I fall over their body crying in shock and disbelief, they pop up, alive again. “I’m alright,” they say. “I took your punishment and an execution is recorded, but I’m alive again.” What’s the prevailing emotion now? JOY. Now that gratitude goes on and on, and of course I’m going to want to follow that person around because of 1) their sacrifice and 2) their power. But there’s no longer guilt, just joy.
I suppose that’s the subtle difference that makes how we speak of Jesus’s salvation so important. When we disproportionately focus on Jesus’s death, we are emotionally cued to experience guilt. But when his death is followed by resurrection, there is joy and freedom and grace. It is very easy to start practicing this; just take an extra second to say “Jesus’s death and resurrection” every single time you talk about Jesus’s work of salvation. It can drastically shape our view of God and our view of ourselves. It did for me, anyway.
Tricia, you are missing your calling; you would make a great theologian. You can cut through the junk and clutter and see the real point and the significance of it. Jesus death was horrible, and He did it for us, but His resurrection is the “wow” factor. We keep forgetting that after taking our bullet He came alive again. I wonder why we linger on the death part all the time and the resurrection part pretty much at Easter?
I really liked your analogy of the last bullet! Gave me a new perspective.
Thanks, Tommy. As my favorite professor also used to say, we are all theologians! But I’m happy to be a professional one if you’d like to pay me. 😄
PS: I think your blog is still on Greek time…it shows me posting 8 hours later than I did based on Central time.
I love this word picture! Thank you for sharing it!