Friday, April 19, 2019

The Plan

Did Jesus have to die? Was the Christ intended to be crucified?

We have been taught that this was God's plan all along. Well, it was His plan B all along - after we spoiled plan A with what turned out to be rotten fruit. From that moment on, God planned on the atoning sacrifice of His one and only Son. 

But Paul's preaching on the matter makes things a bit more difficult. Multiple times as he makes his way around the provinces, Paul speaks to the Jews about their unfaithfulness. When he does, he brings up the fact that God sent them the very prophet/king/Messiah they were waiting on, but they killed Him. 

But they killed Him.

It's meant, it seems, to induce guilt and remorse among the Jews. It's meant to open their eyes to what they had in Jesus, the fulfillment of God's every promise to them. It's meant to awaken them to what they missed when they got caught up in the politics of religion and the social pressures of the leading priests, who controlled their Temple life. 

But they killed Him.

You would think that if Jesus was intended to die, if He had to die, if that was God's plan all along, Paul ought to be thanking the Jews for killing Him. If this was God's plan, then the Jews leading Jesus to the slaughter was part of God's divine plan, and shouldn't we be praised for doing what God desires of us to do? Shouldn't we be applauded for following the plan? 

After all, if Jesus was destined to die and the Jews didn't kill Him, then God could not have done through Him all that He intended to do through Him. So why the guilt? Why the heavy burden? Why does Paul take every opportunity to remind the Jews of this "horrible" thing they have done, killing God's very promise...if, indeed, God's Promise had to die to be sealed?

It's complicated. There's no easy answer here. On the one hand, we could say that Jesus's death was foretold long before He ever lived, which seems to lend credibility to the fact that sure, God always intended Jesus to die. But God's knowing something and God's ordaining something are two very different things. God can know what is going to happen, what His people are going to do, and not desire them to do it. That's what free will is all about.

And if you look at the passages that we often cite as foretelling Jesus, there's not really any "must" language. There's not an indication that God is sending a Servant who "must" die; just that His Servant "will" suffer. God talks frequently about what will happen, but less frequently about what must happen. So God's foreknowledge of how His Servant suffers does not necessarily indicate a divine "plan" for the suffering to happen. 

At the same time, we follow Jesus to the Garden this week and hear Him praying before His betrayal, and He prays rather clearly about the cup from which He is about to drink. He knows what's coming. He knows how this ends. He longs for any other way, but submits Himself to God's will on the matter - which seems to be crucifixion. If Jesus Himself knows that His death is God's will, doesn't that mean that it really was the plan?

But again, if it really was the plan, why the guilt?

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. This much, we know. And because of His death, we have convinced ourselves that the life that Jesus promised is coming "one day." Not today. But think all the way back to the beginning, to the Plan A. Plan A was that we would live forever with God, routinely feasting off of the Tree of Life, walking with Him in the Garden in the cool of the day. If we hadn't killed Jesus, might Plan B have been Plan A revisited? Might He have simply lived among us, forever, showing us how to live and letting us feast off of the Tree of Life? 

Might the Cross have been Plan C?

Like I said, it's complicated. But we cannot ignore what Paul says to the churches in the provinces. We can't just dismiss the fact that he places a large burden on the Jews for having killed Jesus, the very essence of their promise. Not once does he ever thank them, not once does he credit them with the eternal salvation of all mankind by their gracious act of having crucified the Christ. Not once.

Rather, he says, the Promise was among you, fulfilled to the fullness of all that God ever promised you, but you killed Him.

This weekend, we celebrate the crucified and resurrected Lord. But a question kind of lingers, doesn't it? At least a little?

Did Jesus have to die?

Could we have lived if He hadn't?

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