Saturday, March 27, 2010

Because Jesus' death was "For us, and for our salvation" ...

Especially during Lent and in the commemoration of Jesus' death, it is common to hear charges of anti-Semitism leveled against Christians. The general assumption is that the Christians blame the Jews for Jesus' death.

My own experience goes against this -- I've never once, in my decades of being a Christian, heard a Christian suggest that Jesus' death was the fault of the Jews. But there's more than only my experience to go by, and Christians know and may want to reassure people by proclaiming: someone blaming the Jews for Jesus' death could only be a lone person or an outlandish fringe group not part of mainstream Christianity.

Why could only a fringe group say that? Because Jesus' death was "For us, and for our salvation," as proclaimed by the ancient creeds of the Christian church that have been proclaimed since the 300's A.D. and are still proclaimed in our worship services to this day. There's one thing we know for sure: that if someone proclaimed that Jesus' death was for something other than us and our salvation, that person is heretical by the historical mainstream standards of the Christian church. It is impossible for someone to own the standard Christian confession of faith, that Jesus' death was for us and for our salvation, and still have any blame left for anyone but ourselves. And we have seen that when we looked at devotions written across many lands and across the centuries -- that the standard of Christian devotion is to consider our own sins as the cause of Jesus' death.

Again, only a group which cared very little for Jesus could possibly lay the blame for Jesus' death on the Jews or even on the Romans. A well known and well-loved saying of Jesus during the process of his execution is:
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." (Luke 23:34)
Those who take account of Jesus' words cannot hold onto blame when Jesus has called for pardon. This is in keeping what what the apostles taught, "If they had known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory." (I Cor 2:8). Jesus made a plea for the forgiveness of those involved, and those who call him Lord cannot go against his words. As surely as he pleads for the forgiveness of those involved in his execution, he also pleads for our forgiveness there for all our sins.

The words of Jesus from the canonical gospels make plain time and again that his death was not rightly understood as merely a violent act of religious or political partisanship and oppression (regardless of what those who wanted his death might have thought), but rightly understood as God making peace with the world. The New Testament, time and again, cites the prophecy of Isaiah about the suffering servant, the prophecy that promises that he was wounded for our transgressions, with his stripes we are healed, and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Again, the ancient practice of celebrating the Lord's Supper takes Jesus' words from the Last Supper and proclaims that his blood was shed for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 26:28). This has been the way in which Christians have proclaimed Jesus' death until he comes throughout the ages because it is the way in which Jesus said we should remember him and think of him. Again, for those who take account of Jesus' words, there is not an option for understanding the reasons for Christ's death other than recognizing our own sins and God's graciousness.

So we can proclaim Jesus' death until he comes boldly. If someone accuses us of anti-Semitism, we can answer plainly in the words that every confessing Christian has spoken for centuries on end: Jesus died for us, and for our salvation.

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