Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday

 I'm going to spend this blog writing about some things I don't often write about, but sometimes I feel moved to get certain ideas out of my system. Partly I am prompted to write because, among most Christians around the world, today is celebrated as "Good Friday," the day Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by Roman governor Pontius Pilate in order to keep the peace in the troubled nation of Judea. And of course, Good Friday is the prelude to Easter, the following Sunday when the grave, sealed with a huge stone, was found empty and the followers of Jesus saw Him in person, very much alive. Nearly all of his apostles went to their deaths proclaiming this to be true.

 But if you're reading you probably already know all this. But the thing that we often seem to forget is that while we all grew up thinking of the Easter bunny and eggs and baskets and chocolate and marshmallows, there is nothing cute about crucifixion. There is nothing happy about a mob calling for the death of an innocent man. There is nothing cuddly about betrayal, or cowardice, or fear, all of which were on display by the men who were Jesus's closest friends. There is nothing pleasant about sin, which is what this is really all about.

 It is normal for people in the church to talk about how Jesus died for our sins, or was crucified for our sins, or something to that effect. What we really need to think about is why. After all, the Son of God was not executed for the purpose of atonement, in a legal sense. The Sanhedrin accused Him of blasphemy, but Roman governors, as a matter of course, did not execute violators of the Torah. No, if Jesus is who He claimed to be, He let Himself be crucified. Beating, scourging, public shame, followed by about six hours of death-by-torture. That is how important sin is.

 Sin can be defined as "missing the mark." I suppose this is what Paul meant when he wrote "...all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23) A fatal flaw, the one thing--the one little thing--that keeps a person from that perfect score. Except that we all know it's never one thing. Usually it's several things, and often the same several things multiple times. How bad is sin? The only payment for it is death. Under the law of Moses, it was animal sacrifices. Jesus made Himself a sacrifice--the perfect, final one. The perfect innocent willingly going through all that because you (and everyone you've ever met) missed the mark. Serious stuff.

 What got me thinking about it is this trend in modern churches--not just those other churches, but yours too--to teach that sin really is not that big a deal. Everyone does it, everyone has it, so no harm, no foul. And if it's no big deal, then why bother actually doing something about it? Forget those lists of all the bad things you aren't supposed to do--we don't want to be judgmental. Just pray, and sing some repetitive simple songs, and hold hands and feel good about talking to Jesus, because we're all messed up and He loves us all so there is no point in actually having standards. We don't bother talking about Hell, we just talk about how we've been saved...from....well, something.

 But what about that part where we are supposed to die to sin? Yes, we're supposed to love everyone--that means, figuratively, that you tell them when they're missing the mark. Love isn't about making people happy; it's about telling the truth. I expect people who are not Christians to misinterpret, twist, misunderstand, and generally screw up what the scriptures say to make whatever points they want to make, but when people who claim to be Christians do it I really question what churches have been doing the past twenty years. Modern social media has been great for opening lines of communication; sadly, it has also made it all-too-clear that years of attendance at churches, camps, retreats, and Christian schools has been virtually useless for thousands of people who can't defend, explain, or justify a thing they claim to believe, to say nothing of all the folks who have turned away from the faith.

 Jesus did not die to make everyone happy. He did not die to justify us getting what we want. He didn't die to make sin OK; He died to make us OK. Jesus did not die because it was the best solution or the most convenient solution; He died because it was the only solution. The fact is that Jesus died to absolve you of every sin you could ever commit--this speaks to how great His forgiveness is, but it also speaks to how awful every sin is that you could ever commit. You'll never meet a person for whom Jesus did not die. You'll also never meet a person who has any hope without Him.

 Pilate famously asked Jesus, "What is truth?" The truth is that sin is real, and it is destructive, and it touches every life. The truth is that if there were any other way besides the crucifixion, Jesus would have done that instead. The good news--our Good Friday--is that in spite of how awful sin is, He wants us anyway, and He died--and lived--to make that possible.

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