I think it’s time for one of us pastors to be frank: the story of Jesus dying on the cross somehow making us immortal is a bit weird.
Oops, I made a lot of people mad right there. Sorry about that.
I had a rare moment the other day when I was able to see the story of the gospel from a normal person’s perspective, and it occurred to me that things I say and think are sound, logical explanations of reality seem pretty foolish to normal people, 1 Corinthians 1:18.
I think I have often made a mistake in trying to explain the process of salvation, as if it were a formula that produced eternal life mechanically.
It’s really not an “A + B equals C” kind of thing at all. The cross doesn’t explain the question of how it works at all.
The only question it answers is why God would want to make it work. After that, it’s a matter of God actually doing it. He never did explain the nuts-and-bolts spiritual process of how someone could live eternally and in fact, when an investigative mind asked him pointedly about this, he actually refused to explain the process, John 3:12.
So for us, it is a question of the will and motivation. Does God want to give you eternal life? Not so much, how does he do it?
God has an ability to make us enough like he is that we would be able to live forever with him; to create for us new bodies that would live in a new place where he would live with us forever.
I believe this, but I don’t pretend to be able to explain exactly how it happens. What I do understand is the part Jesus told us about how the God I have not pleased and have actually offended with my disappointing life, would come to decide he is pleased with me enough to include me in a place like Heaven, and decide to invite me to be there with him.
The cross does a lot of explaining; it explains how God can change his mind about me. Jesus went to the cross to argue my case.
Jesus didn’t figure out a clever defense for my case that would require expert coaching and perfect recitation by me. He disarmed the powers and principalities who brought a water tight case against me by receiving the blows of punishment upon himself.
It wasn’t an impressive day in court, he disappointed everyone who wanted a good show. Jesus just sat there and didn’t say a thing.
He had different plans, you see, plans that included blunting the tip of the executioner’s spear with his own heart, extinguishing the fire of the wrath of God with his own blood. There was no clever defense to be made. I was guilty. As an expert attorney Jesus knew there was no defense to be made, there was only a plea bargain to make.
So there was no trickery in the cross, no clever mechanism that brought me salvation. Nothing but the brute force of God saving me by clothing himself with the guilt of my sin, and standing up to take the gruesome punishment it deserved upon himself.
He saved me in the way he chose, because that’s the way he wanted to do it. I don’t critique his methods because I have discovered he’s the only one in line to apply for the job. So I stopped trying to reverse-engineer the cross.
Think about it, the only reason to figure out how exactly to be given eternal life would be to do it yourself.
You don’t need the recipe to eat doughnuts, you need a recipe to make them.
Salvation is personal to God, I can’t replicate it, replace it, or improve on it. It’s only going to happen once and it worked because it was done right the first time.
The cross didn’t turn a switch somewhere that started a clever mechanism of gears and chemical reactions that somehow produced eternal life. The cross purchased the friendship of a God who just simply can do what he wants, and what he wants most is be with us where he is in heaven with his father, John 17:20-26.
Me? My part is simply to accept it, even though honestly it’s a bit strange.
How do we know the cross did what it needed to do? Jesus rose from the dead and told us about it. The rising from the dead thing was so we would know if it worked on him it will work for us.
And for us who don’t have the opportunity to see that happen with our own eyes, Jesus said that because of what he did, we now have peace with God, Romans 3:21-26, and his spirit is pleased to live in us, and he let us know that if he is willing to be with us in our heart, we can be confident that we will be welcomed into his presence as well, Ephesians 1:13.
I don’t really need to know how the cross works, it’s enough for me to know why the cross works for me. It made God a friend when I had been his enemy, and once I have Almighty God as a friend, there are a lot of things he can do.
You can ask him how he does it, but he only has to tell you if he wants to. He’s God, after all, and I think he likes to keep things interesting.
The Rev. James “Tom” Rush is pastor of Calvary Fellowship Walla Walla. Contact him at 509-876-1088 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The church’s webstie is www.calvaryfellowshipww.com. Pastors in the U-B circulation area who want to write a column should contact Catherine Hicks at 509-526-8312, or by email at email@example.com.