This headline caught my eye this morning. If I might précis the article published in The Witness of today, April 5, 2007, basically the Very Reverend Jeffrey John, Dean of St. Albans in southern England, dismisses the doctrine of Salvation through the death of Jesus. The dean aired his opinions on a BBC radio programme. In his opinion, the doctrine makes God sound like a psychopath. He made the point that he has held this opinion since he was a 10 year old boy. The concluding paragraph of the report notes that although he was nominated for the post of Bishop of Reading but rejected the post amid controversy over his homosexuality.
The doctrine he is referring to is, the central doctrine of Christianity, if there is a central doctrine, that is. The Scriptures teach that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, and second person of the Trinity, set aside His exalted position in the Heavenlies, became incarnate and lived on earth for a period of 33 years. His death, by the cruel Roman method of execution, crucifixion, devastated his followers, but it was not an accident, or a mistake. It was very much intended. Jesus own words can testify to this.
The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Mt. 20:28, Mk 10:45)
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. (John 10:14-18)
“I will not eat it (The Passover) again until it finds its fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.” … And he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper, he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22: 16, 19-20)
These are just a few verses, in the Bible that can show us, that Jesus willingly
gave His life, in His words, as a ransom for us. Brutal, cruel, illogical, insane, monstrous, psychopathic, repulsive - these are the adjectives that the Very Rev. John would ascribe to the God’s greatest act of love. I’d sooner believe God. The most well known and widely quoted verse in the Bible says “For God so loved the world, He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him, shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The fact is, if having been killed, Jesus remained dead, maybe the Very Rev. John could be right, but the crucifixion, which was brutal, was not the end of the story. Easter Sunday, celebrates the fact that Jesus did not remain dead, but on the third day, early in the morning, he set aside the shroud in which he had been buried and rose from the dead. I’d like to conclude by quoting the Apostle Paul from two texts, that I think put this doctrine in a nutshell, if such a thing is possible.
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as one abnormally born. … When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: Death has been swallowed up in victory.
“Where O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin and the power of death is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 15:3-8, 54-57)
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him a name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
As it was prophesied by Isaiah, “but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” “The wages of sin is death”. We deserve those wages, but God, in the person of Jesus Christ, took those wages for us, and so the remained of the verse says, “but the gift of God is eternal life.” Rom 3:23
How a person who can describe the most beautiful doctrine of Salvation as “repulsive” can be ordained as minister in a Christian church, let alone rise to the significant position of dean, and even be nominated to become a bishop, eludes me. Surely he cannot call himself a Christian, if he believes that what is clearly taught in Scripture is reprehensible.