There was no other good enough, to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in
Mrs C F Alexander
These lines from the well known much loved children’s hymn “There is a green hill far away…” tell in the simplest straightforward way the historic truth of Christ’s death in a most cruel, utterly unjust way. It says why only Jesus could fully and truly save us; why it was actually necessary, and what it achieved.
Briefly we call these truths of faith The Atonement i.e. making possible at-oneness and reconciliation, with God. Our purpose now is to explore further the meaning of this event of nearly 2,000 years ago on the day Christians have long called Good Friday.
There are several ways of trying to understand this truth of faith which is both appalling and terrible on the one hand, and yet can be described as Good on the other. The worst thing that ever could happen in the terrible death of Jesus has brought about the best things that ever could, bringing about our full eternal salvation.
Atonement doctrines attempt to express with varying emphases, the way the first Christians and others in later years tried to make sense of Christ’s passion, suffering and final death. At the very heart of the Gospel story and preaching were these major events in the last year of the life of Jesus. They take up many pages in each of the four written Gospels. It was also expounded again and again with earnest conviction by Paul and Peter, by the unknown author of the letter to the Hebrews, and many others to the very last book, Revelation.
In these articles I have tried to show that it was necessary for God himself to take the amazing initiative of divine reconciling redemptive Love: to bring forgiveness and healing to our fallen world and all humanity; a world sadly wounded and damaged by human greed, lust and selfishness, terrible hatred, war and intolerance. It meant coming into the very heart of the creation itself. As I quoted earlier from Bishop Augustine in the 5th Century: “The Son of God became the Son of Man so that all the sons and daughters born of man and woman might become the sons and daughters of God”.
It was both a rescue operation and a programme of teaching and re-education. Above all to demonstrate in the clearest possible way, that our Creator God is a God of unconditional, unlimited, generous forgiving Love; not that of a vengeful punishing Father. God’s true and best justice would be shown indeed, but in a way that turns upside down the way we humans see judgment and justice. God would take upon himself the consequences of what sin, evil and wrong can bring about. He would bear our sins and the due punishment himself! The incarnation was a risk of the highest order! It meant that God out of his sheer infinite love for his world, and for each and every single one of us without exception, would take the risk that his Love might well be misunderstood, derided, rejected, or even worse just disregarded by apathy or indifference. All this was the exceedingly costly and high ‘price of sin’. And he was prepared to pay it, and did so to the uttermost.
It was no purpose or pleasure of the Father to see his only beloved Son humiliated, tortured and crucified as a criminal; he the utterly innocent one, whose only desire and aim ever, was to bring healing and forgiveness, generous care wherever needed, and the highest good for all people. This was the price that blinded hearts and minds demanded! And what Christ did then, at a point in time and history, brings forever the same blessings of abundant life now; and with eternal salvation; and to all who will turn to him in trustful accepting faith. Please read some or all of the following: Mark 10:45 & 1 Timothy 2:3-6; John 10:14-16; 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 & Ephesians 2:13-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Hebrews 12:1-3. Truly “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself”. Praise be to him!
To take all this in is far from easy. But one thing is sure, that once we do grasp something of the meaning of this divine Love for each one of us, we cannot help but change. A work of transforming grace follows in our hearts and lives. Amazingly divine Love flows into our souls and being. A profound difference is made. This is atonement taking place.
So what is asked of us who do respond to this truly amazing divine Love? There was after all nothing that we or anyone else could ever have achieved alone, by any purely human effort or means, however good; and that he will supply the ongoing grace until in his very presence in heaven we shall no longer need it.
Try to think of Christ’s dying for us like this. The gift of salvation through his great Sacrifice on the Cross means that we have now a wonderful home in this world, and eventually a far more wonderful home in heaven. For these we have very secure mortgages which we don’t have to pay. We don’t even have to the pay the interest! Jesus has done all that fully and adequately by his incarnate life amongst us; by his holy life-giving Cross; by his Resurrection and Ascension to glory; and by his constant unfailing intercession for us in heaven. As I have said before, all this is made truly real and wonderfully tangible in the Eucharistic Sacrament of Holy Communion. See: 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 & Hebrews 7:25.
With thankful hearts, and the desire to love and serve God and each other more and more, I will close quoting a verse from a much loved hymn of Fanny J. Crosby; and two other well known hymn lines. Make it yours too, as I pray will every son and daughter of our Father God.
Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine;
O what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God;
Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.