why do they say jesus died for our sins
I have no idea why a teenage existentialist would ever end up in a Christian coffeehouse. Still, there I was, listening to an acquaintance share her faith in Jesus. As she gushed on about her Savior, I kept stumbling over her favorite phrase:
Jesus died for our sins. I got the Jesus died part. But what was this for our sins? Her specific response is lost to memory, but I vividly recall that it did nothing for me. This, I'm beginning to think, is where Christians and others stand today: on either side of a yawning language gap--where the sides are separated by millennia and geography and culture and the way they view the world. Consider this one phrase: Jesus died for our sins. Hebrew Christians of the first century C. E. could grasp it with relative ease. They knew about the ancient system of animal sacrifice designed, among other things, to atone for the sins of the nation of Israel. They also knew the story of Abraham and the near sacrifice of his son Isaac, so the notion of human sacrifice, while highly unusual, was still within their universe. In 2015, however, how many Americans offer goats on altars to appease a God furious about disobedience? No wonder Jesus died for our sins draws so many blank stares when Christians use it outside their own circles. Often, given the implied violence and vengeance in the backstory, those blank stares turn to looks of disgust. So, in this Christian Holy Week, let's try translating Jesus died for our sins without losing the original wisdom therein. Maybe it goes like this: We humans are a mixed bag. There is a lot of goodness in us. There is a lot of brokenness in us. It would be marvelous if we could have the goodness without the brokenness. Much of humanity has dreamed of this for many, many years. Over the centuries, we developed--or rather, assuming the Divine for a moment, we were given --a variety of ways to achieve this. The Law of Moses is one way. So is (in one sense) the of Buddhism. So is the Golden Rule. These moved the needle toward goodness and away from brokenness. They certainly helped us to be good to one another rather than break one another. In the Christian story, God decided that yet another way was needed. To create that way, God needed to find out what it was really like to be human.
So God went all in on the experiment, experiencing humanness with all its brokenness: birth, conflict with parents, an itinerant life, opposition from authorities and neighbors, the press of crowds, misunderstanding, violence, death. As Jesus experienced all this brokenness, he talked incessantly about a vision for eradicating it. He called it "the kingdom of God. " It involved loving one's enemies, taking the attitude of a servant, befriending the disreputables, helping everyone in distress, standing up for justice, transforming the world. Most important, it involved a personal transformation from the inside out, so we could pursue the good and leave the brokenness behind. The proclamation of this message, eventually, got him killed. He offered a way out of our brokenness--our sins, to go back to ancient language--and was executed for it. In other words, Jesus died for our sins. That's one story. There are so many others. I wonder if this is one of Christianity's grand challenges in its third millennium: to overhaul the way we tell the stories of our faith so that everyone--especially those unfamiliar with the ancient language--can access the wisdom contained in our faith. That wisdom, like the wisdom in so many other traditions, is too priceless to lose to a language barrier. Let's see what happens when we start translating. An invitation. If you are among the billions of folks with little or no knowledge of Christian language, symbols, and stories, I'd love to hear what you think of my "translation" of Jesus died for our sins. Did it make more sense? Is it still irrelevant to our lives here and now? Or does it better communicate the wisdom that the story contains? Because, truth be told, this is not something Christians can do on their own. It's something they must do with you--because only you know whether it makes sense to you. Let me know your thoughts. For Jesus to have gone voluntarily, even willingly, to his death, he must have been aware of an overwhelming benefit, which later theology tells us is the forgiveness of sins. In this regard, Rhoads, Dewey and Michie, in, page 113, caution the modern reader not to read into Mark [the first New Testament gospel to be written] theological meanings that later came to be associated with Jesus' death.
They say that Mark does not portray Jesus' death as a sacrifice for sin. Along similar lines, Thomas Kazen (Stockholm School of Theology) says in his paper entitled ' ', page 4, In Mark the Son of Man has come to Бgive his life a ransom for manyБ (10:45), but much more than this is not to be found. At the last supper the Markan Jesus says: БThis is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for manyБ (14:24). The saying alludes to the covenant sacrifice at Sinai (Exod 24:4-8) which is neither about sin, nor about atonement, but rather like a vassal treaty confirmed by sacrifice. The Lukan writings in fact never relate the forgiveness of sins to the death of Jesus, in spite of the fact that both themes are important by themselves. Faith in Jesus is sufficient for forgiveness. JesusБ death was predicted and provides a background for his resurrection. Matthew, in contrast, adds Бfor the forgiveness of sinsБ after the phrase about the blood of the covenant (Matt 26:28), which fits well into his general tendency. (For example, he downplays forgiveness of sins in his narrative of JohnБs baptism, since he associates forgiveness with the death of Jesus. ) Matthew probably did not consider JesusБ death only in view of the covenant sacrifice, but also in view of the chattat offering, although this is never stated explicitly. So, among the synoptic gospels, it is only Matthew that suggests the crucifixion was a sacrifice for sins, giving Jesus a strong reason to go voluntarily to his death, although Matthew follows Mark in having Jesus beg God that if it be possible, to let this cup pass from him. The following section looks more closely at the gospel accounts. Mark's Gospel does not tell us how Jesus made any preparations for the forgiveness of sins after his departure from earth. There is no suggestion of his crucifixion being a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. In Luke 24:47, Jesus talks of remission of sins coming from repentance, not from his sacrifice: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Similarly, in John's Gospel, Jesus told the disciples that in receiving the Holy Spirit, they would be empowered to forgive sins.
This was subsequent to the crucifixion and the resurrection, but there is no suggestion that Jesus believed his death was a sacrifice without which the disciples would be unable to forgive sins: : And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. Matthew 26:28 does give us something to show that Jesus knew his death was indeed a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins (although we should not read from this that Jesus would shed his blood voluntarily, in the light of, which is explained below): For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. As to whether Jesus went to his death voluntarily: In the synoptic gospels, Jesus' own words show that he was resigned to his fate, if that was the wish of his father, but nevertheless he did not go voluntarily to his crucifixion, for example Matthew 26:38-39, Mark 14:34-36 and Luke 22:42: : Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me : nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. On the other hand, Jesus went triumphantly to his crucifixion in John's Gospel. Instead of going a little way from the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemene, Jesus spoke to them then lifted his eyes to heaven and prayed in words that can only mean he was going voluntarily to his death: : These words spake Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son also may glorify thee: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now, O Father, glorify thou me with thine own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was.
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