The message of the Cross and the empty tomb of Christ
FROM time immemorial, humanity all over - irrespective of climes and cultures, colour, class or caste - has prostrated itself at the altar of whimsical deities, unknown and mysterious powers. Numerous people still continue to do so by worshipping false and capricious gods trying to appease and propitiate their wrath. According to Greek Mythology, Prince Paris had abducted Princess Helen, wife of Menelaus, to Troy. Greek army had taken ships to rescue her, but was held up half-way due to tempest and very unfavourable weather. Helpless in such a situation, General Agamemnon sacrificed his darling daughter Iphigenia in order to mollify the hostile goddess Artemis. Consequently the favourable West wind blew again and the fleet reached Troy without further difficulty. It speaks of the idea of 'propitiation' of gods in ancient times all over the world when deities needed to be appeased or propitiated by man to avert dangers or make them propitious towards them. People, helpless in the face of natural calamities, took recourse to such so-called super-natural powers for the supposed good or benefit by means of offering or making sacrifices of different kinds including even their own lives and lives of their dear children.
The concept of propitiation (similar or near similar words are expiation or atonement) plays a vitally significant part in Christian Theology. It runs throughout the Holy Bible. However, it takes us right away from the world where man makes their gods. The Bible speaks of the one almighty creator, the only real God, in whom all goodness and truth find their source, and to whom all moral evil is repugnant beyond any question. God is righteous and just and there is no capriciousness or vanity. The "Thrice-holy" God of the Bible is kind and gracious. He abhors sin, but has unconditional love for the sinner, for the good of the latter. It might, therefore, appear that there would be no place for the idea of propitiation in Biblical world-view or faith. But in the Old Testament, it underlies the prescribed rituals of the sin-offering, guilt-offering, and the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 4:1-6:7; 16). In the New Testament, the propitiation appears particularly in the four passages of great significance (Romans 3:21-26; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:1; 1 John 4:8-10). In New Testament Theology it is critically significant. In Christian thought propitiation has a really different meaning, a different perspective. The criticality lies in the fact that it is God Himself, who took the initiative for propitiation for human sin, not man attempting to appease or propitiate or mollify God. God is love and righteously just. Because he is just He must punish sin; because He loves man he himself took the initiative by sending His Son to pay the price for the redemption of man from the bondage of sin, and man is acquitted. God takes sin seriously and as such he paid the price for it. He judged our sins in the person of His sinless Son, Jesus Christ. All sins against man are but sins against God. So it is God, who took the initiative to squarely deal with the sin problem. He made the full, final payment for sin by giving up his sinless Son as the ransom price—the most expensive and most effective substitutionary payment in his vicarious suffering and death for mankind alienated from Holy God. The question of appeasing God or placating His wrath does not arise in Christian thought. It is more than anything else God acting in His eternal love and grace for reconciling man to Himself that man may get His image restored back in himself.
God's free, eternal and unreserved love for sinful mankind made Jesus Christ go to the cross and die that grotesque death on behalf of the sinner. As the Son of God he had the authority, the readiness and willingness to die for mankind. Jesus said, "The reason that 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 on my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord" (John 10:17-18).
All the Old Testament sacrifices find an answer in Jesus' supreme sacrifice. We need to sacrifice or kill our ego, pride and selfishness.
The dark disgrace and the crushing curse of the cross did not end in itself. The divine drama of man's salvation culminated in the glorious resurrection of Christ from the dead. This is how the cross found an entirely uniquely new meaning. The instrument of cruel death became the universal symbol of Christianity. The cross means that we can look back and thank God that He gave His Son for our salvation from the grip of sin. It is the triumph of God's grace for man. The message of the cross, in Jesus own word, is, "It is finished." This means, God's plan of human salvation is accomplished.
The crucified and then glorified Christ speaks to our hearts. He bids us to repent for our wrongdoings and sins. Repentance is one of the few keywords in the entire Bible. The English word repentance is the translation of the New Testament Greek word, metanoia, which implies an entire change of mind, turning around. This means one's positive change in attitude, mind-set from bad to good. Today's world needs more and more people, who will spontaneously feel sorry, people who will repent for their wrong deeds, evil desires, hatred, jealousy and arrogance; people, who will leave their bad old habits and selfish lifestyles and make deliberate decisions for a complete turnaround for a new kind of life. The resurrected and conquering Christ wants to live in our hearts and lives in and through the Holy Spirit that we may have new life: a life of love, peace, patience, justice, self-control, consideration for others, humility which are contrary to the work of the fleshly desires of lust and selfishness, pride and arrogance. This is our resurrection in this life: dying to sin, burying that past, and living in peace with God and with all His creation.
The writer is a Reverand and the Principal of College of Christian Theology Bangladesh.