Meeting Times at 4th United Presbyterian Church

Cafe' Worship: 9:15 a.m. each Sunday in Gathering Hall (activities provided for children; coffee; snacks)
Adult Sunday School: 10 a.m.

Sunday Worship: 11 a.m.

Bible Study: each Thursday at 6 p.m.

Community Forum: last Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. with meal (no community forum in November, 2011)

About the 4th United Presbyterian Bible Blog

Posts on this blog are from me, Rev. George H. Waters, one of the two organizing co-pastors of 4th United Presbyterian Church. Our other organizing pastor was Rev. Sonya McAuley-Allen, who is now pastor of a church in Charlotte, N.C. Since June of 2011, Rev. Elizabeth Peterson has been our parish associate pastor for new church development. The earliest posts are sermon notes from the few I have typed the last two years. Then, there is a series of notes posted on the book of Romans. After that, it varies from week to week, sometimes church news, sometimes reflections on a happening, a passage of scripture, or even some pictures. This blog is meant to open the conversation we have going on in our church to others in our community.

The picture below is of our church's sanctuary, built in 1913.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Meaning of Jesus' Death from a Theocentric Faith

In Romans 3:21-27, Paul makes use of an early interpretation of Jesus death through use of sacrificial imagery. 3:24: "they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation for sin by his blood." Paul very, very rarely uses this sacrificial imagery to interpet/declare the meaning of Jesus' death. In fact, I can only think of anything close to this sacrifical imagery in two other places in Paul's letters: 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 1:4. Pauline scholars think that in these places Paul is using early creedal statements from the Jewish Christian tradition and drawing them into his way of understanding Jesus' death, which is not in legal/sacrificial categories of thought.

Scholar Paul Meyer, who taught at Princeton for a long time, and was a wonderful man too, says of Paul's use of this sacrificial imagery (expiation for sin) in speaking of Jesus' death:

"What God has undertaken, in the formula Paul quotes, is "expiation," a means for dealing with human sin, and not "propitiation," a means for meeting God's wrath by offering something to appease it. In all Paul's references to atonement, Christ was crucified "for us," never for God; always as a gift, never as punishment.

"That leads to a second point. Paul does not play God's graciousness off against his righteousness. Instead, God's gift in the death of Jesus is itself a manifestation of God's righteousness apart from the Mosaic law. . . the righteousness of God is in the first place his saving action in coming to the aid of his people."

Paul Meyer, "Commentary on Romans," in The Word in this World, pp. 169.

Though Paul did not utilize legal/juristic imagery as his central way of understanding and proclaiming the meaning of Jesus' death; the Western Christian tradition completely subsumed all other ways of understanding Jesus' death under the legal/juristic (Jesus dies because God can't forgive our sins because he is righteous and demands perfection, whereas we are sinful and can't give it, except by virtue of clinging to Jesus by faith). This Western interpretation didn't come to full form until sometime after Anselm's classic statement of western atonement theology in the 11th century. Eastern Christianity has always had a more Biblical/Pauline approach to Jesus' death, seeing in it the work of God, who, as Paul says: "was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them." 2 Corinthians 5:19. The Gospel of John also sees the death of Jesus as flowing from the love of God for humanity ("for God so loved the world that he gave his only son" and "the son was sent into the world not to condemn, but to save the world").

The real point which was important to John Calvin, and perhaps was missed somewhat by Luther, was of a "God-centered" understanding of atonement, not a "Christ-centered" understanding. It all starts with God whose will is done by Jesus, who through his complete obedience to God accomplishes God's faithfulness and complete love for humanity. Any understanding of Christ's death that leads people to trust Jesus in any way apart from trusting God is really a type of idolatry and Jews are right to object to that. When one looks at Jesus with the eyes of faith, that one sees through Jesus to God. If you don't see through Jesus to God, you are seeing something besides the Jesus who said "not my will, but thy will be done," whose goal in all of life was not his glory but the glory of God on earth.

This post may not make sense for some of you as I have written it. But, the point I am searching to make is one that feels very critical to me as a follower of Jesus. A God-centered understanding of Jesus opens the heart to all humanity. A Jesus-centered understanding of Jesus closes the heart to those outside of this perspective.

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