Posted by: rogermitchell | February 28, 2022

more about the cross

As I promised in the previous post, here I explore some of the apostle Paul’s thinking in his letter to the Romans in the light of his original encounter with Jesus. This will be challenging for some of us because many of our traditions have tended to interpret Jesus in the light of Paul, rather than interpret Paul in the light of Jesus. Nevertheless, Paul’s introduction to his letter encourages us to do exactly that. The first seventeen verses of chapter one are focused almost entirely on Jesus, and it is to strengthen the Roman believers’ understanding of this that he longs to see them face to face and is now writing to them (vv8-15). Paul introduces himself as “a bond servant of Jesus Christ,” (v1), “set apart for the gospel of God concerning his Son,” (v3), “who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness, Jesus Christ our Lord, among whom you are also the called of Jesus Christ” (v4). Paul is not ashamed of this Jesus gospel because in it “the righteousness of God is revealed” for us to continually put our faith in (v17), an emphasis that he returns to whenever his discussions could be thought to point in any other direction! (See Ch 3:22ff; Ch 4:5ff; Ch 5:1,2; Ch 9:32; Ch10:6 etc).

So when Paul declares that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all the unrighteousness of those who suppress the truth (v18), it is vital to beware of tripping over the word wrath and shifting away from the emphasis on Jesus in our attempt to understand what Paul is saying. For despite the prevalence of the word wrath in most translations, the primary sense of the word orgē in the Greek is ‘desire’ or ‘passion’. And Paul has just been emphasising the revelation of Jesus, in whom the desire and passion of God is revealed. So we need to remember that the passion of God against “all unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth” (v19), is revealed in Jesus who said “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” In his life and teaching this passion manifests as identification with, and salvation for, the victims of unrighteous suppression and not first of all as judgement against the perpetrators. Which passion, surprise, surprise, is exemplified in the seven core expressions of the incarnation which sum up the good news of the kingdom of God, or kenarchy. So God’s desire, God’s passion, in the face of the suppression of women, children, the poor, the stranger, the creation, the prisoner and the sick, is to bring justice and peace to them. This was of course what got him crucified, as it was the complete opposite of the unrighteousness of Rome and its puppet rulers in Israel.

It is important to remember that this was originally Paul’s own difficulty as Saul of Tarsus. He was both a Jewish Pharisee and a Roman citizen for whom Jesus’ reversal of the inequalities undergirded by the hypocritical use of law by Jewish and Roman authorities alike made him the goad that Paul kicked against to the extent of persecuting and at times even murdering his followers from city to city (Acts 26:14). So it’s hardly surprising that the relationship between the gospel of love, and law, is such a central theme in his letter to both Jew and Gentile believers in Rome. As he makes clear in chapter two, everybody suppresses the truth in one way or another, so should not judge anyone else. And what a relief to be reminded that according to Paul’s gospel, everyone’s secrets will be judged through Jesus (Ch 2:16) who did not come to punish the world but to save it!! We will look further at how Paul expands on all this in a subsequent post.

For now it is important to emphasise that the cross was Rome’s instrument of punishment, not God’s, and the place where the unrighteous suppression of the truth came to a head. At the cross Jesus was not being punished by God, but by the Romans, their Jewish puppet leaders and their oppressive domination system. God, in Jesus, turned it into the greatest transcendent meeting place of all time where God’s love and mercy soaked up with his own blood all the oppression meted out by the enemies of love and justice even though it killed him. He then demonstrated the power of love and mercy by rising again from the dead. That’s the gospel. That’s what, as I understand it, happened at the cross. It was the crunch point, the fulness and fulcrum of the incarnation and the consummation of Jesus’ messianic life-giving kenarchy. The ultimate tipping point of God’s indestructible kingdom of love and mercy. This is what we are invited to receive and live by faith!

There is nothing theoretical about this. It is why we can say with confidence that the kind of violent oppression being meted out by Putin’s cronies and armies against the Ukrainian people at this time cannot ultimately succeed. It is also why the “holier than thou” judgements of Western nation state leaders presiding over injustices other than outright war on their neighbours’ cities, tend to suppress the truth about their own regimes. Regimes which, as ever, use law to mask the deeper underlying commitment to power and money that our Western liberal democracies remain mainly about. In the face of it all, nevertheless, transcendent love and mercy remain for us to encounter and be transformed by!


Responses

  1. So good to read these posts. So many helpful pointers. For those (like me) from an evangelical background there is so much internal pressure to work it all out, and when I am not sure we have the same sources of thought as we find in the New Testament seems we (OK ‘I’) want to squeeze everything in a direction that fits, and probably does not ‘fit’ with the NT. So thanks. ‘Penal’ is certainly not one I am happy with and even the use of ‘substitionary’ carries a challenge. I noted that in 2 Cor 5:15 that Jesus died ‘for us’ (could be argued substitutionary… he dies so we will not die), but Paul also says in that verse he was raised ‘for’ us… Substitutionary??? He was raised so as we have no future hope! OUCH! Thanks for the windows of insight your posts bring.

  2. Thank you for this. It is helpful when talking about the present crisis in Ukraine to remember Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the Lord’s armies near Jericho. When Joshua asked him whose side he was on he replied “Neither but as commander of the army of the Lord”. Joshua 5v14.). It is time to present our political persuasions and preferences at the cross and seek His kingdom and purposes. Yes the kingdom is for justice etc but as you pointed out we have our own agendas that are not necessarily the Lords. We fight not flesh and blood but while we work to our own agendas we are fighting in the flesh. Let’s s seek His kingdom and perspective and pray in line with that .

  3. Roger, this is so clear and so good. Thank you!

  4. Reblogged this on Mismeret and commented:
    This is so clear and concise and filled with hope!


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