Is it true, as Lesslie Newbigin asserts, that, “He who alone was sinless alone could take upon Himself the whole burden of our sin and suffer for it, accepting that suffering as God’s just judgment upon sin” (Sin and Salvation, p. 78, all emphases added)? The Bible never says so. Should we believe it on Newbigin’s say so alone? Did I say “alone”? But he is not alone. Legions of orthodox teachers are fellow travelers down this well-worn rut. Maybe we should rephrase the question: “Should we disbelieve it on God’s Say So alone?” That is what it comes down to in the final analysis. The answer is not blowing in the wind.
The apostle Peter, a chief witness of all the suffering of abuse of him who called him to be an apostle, declared, “Yet if you may be suffering abuse also because of righteousness, happy are you” (1 Peter 3:14), echoing his Master, who similarly declared, “Happy are those persecuted on account of righteousness…” (Matthew 5:10). These authentic testimonies to Divine truth force us to reconsider the nature of Messiah’s work on that miserable cross. He did not accept that abuse “as God’s just judgment upon sin”; he accepted that suffering of abuse as MAN’S UNJUST JUDGMENT UPON RIGHTEOUSNESS! He “despised the shame” of it! He very well knew their cruel hatred was not of God, yet he suffered the abuse of it without either reviling or threatening in return, because he came to earth to live down his name—JE-SUS. HE WAS UTTERLY CONFIDENT THAT GOD’S JUDGMENT WOULD EVENTUALLY COME—SWIFT AND DECISIVE!…BUT THAT THIS WAS NOT THAT!
No wonder Newbigin begins his next sentence, “It is a paradox….” The resorting to paradox by theologians is a bad habit that breeds only mystagogues instead of clear thinkers. And it bewilders not only the saints but also the would-be saints. The eager wannabees who must often turn away in sadness and distress at the toot of our “unclear sound,” which of itself can rally little of enduring good fruit. If one’s son requests a pair o’ socks, shall we hand him a paradox?
Astonishingly, even a thief on a nearby cross, whom Newbigin quotes (for Heaven’s sake!), sees more clearly than the theologian: “We receive the due reward of our deeds, but this man hath done nothing amiss” (emphases added), HE IS SUFFERING UNJUST ABUSE FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS’ SAKE! Yet Newbigin makes out that this “penitent thief began to understand that GOD’S JUDGMENT WAS JUST” because “we only understand God’s judgment upon sin when we see it in the sinless one” (p. 78, emphases added)! Forsooth! If ‘Newbigin’ must have it both ways, he will perforce have a lukewarm gospel. Rather, we need a ‘New beginning’.
Yet Newbigin will not relent. He goes on, “when we see what happened on Calvary”—which one would think the penitent thief, as a captive eyewitness, might just be in a better position to interpret than our contemporary theologian—“where in humble obedience He—the sinless One—accepted in His own soul the just judgment of God upon human sin, there repentance is made possible to us, as to the dying thief” (p. 79, emphases added). We have seen that the Bible never says so, which may help explain why Newbigin is repeating himself instead of quoting the many explanations of Christ’s work found in apostolic Scripture, and in their own words. Yet even if we let that pass, what shall we make of the appended words about repentance? We must take them in conjunction with his later words in the same long paragraph where, in noting the fruit of understanding all that occurred at the Cross, he deduces, “there is real repentance; we have to accept the judgment which Jesus has accepted for us” (p. 79, emphases added). So how exactly does this substitutionary judgment (for so it is, and Newbigin would surely have used the word but for the fact that that his intended audience was “mostly village teachers of elementary grade…without theological training,” p. 7) make “real” repentance “possible”?
There is certainly no evidence in Scripture that the penitent thief saw an ounce of divine judgment in Jesus’ crucifixion. What he actually saw—and amazingly so from their perspective as victims of an irreversibly lethal execution method—was ONE WHO “COMMITS NOTHING AMISS” AND THEREFORE WILL CERTAINLY “BE COMING IN [HIS] KINGDOM” (Luke 23:41-42)! INCREDIBLE INSIGHT!!! This, at least, is what brought that former robber to repent and enter by the Door of the sheepfold and be saved (John 10:7-9). HE SAW THE INVISIBLE, BY FAITH, IN VISIONARY EXPECTANCY! WOW! HE DIDN’T SEE ANY JUSTICE THAT DAY…FOR THE MESSIAH GETTING CRUCIFIED BESIDE HIM. HE ONLY KNEW THAT THIS JUDGMENT WAS…NOT RIGHT AND THAT JESUS WAS MOST CERTAINLY NOT “GETTING BACK THE DESERTS [axia]” OF WHAT HE “PRACTICED [–pra–],” ALTHOUGH THEY, “INDEED, JUSTLY [dikaion]” WERE, FOR HE PRACTICED NOTHING “AMISS [atopon],” “OUT OF PLACE,” i.e., “OUT OF ORDER.” SO THIS WAYWARD MALEFACTOR KNEW FOR A CERTAINTY THAT THIS JUDGMENT WAS PHONY! AND THAT GOD HAD TO REVERSE IT WITH TRUE JUSTICE AND ALL THE TRIMMINGS! So he boldly dared to plead to be remembered by the Lord “whenever(hotan)” that Grand Reversal might happen to be (Luke 23:42).
Therefore what this dear penitent “saw” in “the Sinless One” was ANYTHING BUT GOD’S JUDGMENT! WHAT HE SAW EVER SO CLEARLY FROM A FRONT ROW CROSS WAS A MELTINGLY INNOCENT KING OF ALL THE JEWS, HIMSELF INCLUDED, WHO WAS STILL HARMLESSLY AND, THOUGH NOW IN GREAT PAIN AND MENTAL ANGUISH, RESOLUTELY WAITING FOR HIS FATHER TO GIVE HIM HIS RIGHTFUL KINGDOM. GOD ALMIGHTY! THAT’S WHO PERCEIVED FROM HIS HIGHEST HEAVEN EVERY WORD AND DEED ON THAT BLACK DAY OF INFAMY. THAT WAS NO DAY OF HIS JUDGMENT UPON SIN; THAT WAS THE DAY SIN UNLEASHED AND EXHAUSTED ITS DREAD ORDNANCE UPON THE SON!
Everything in due time. The Son of God was center stage that high noon of this fallen planet. With arms outstretched, pinned open in cosmic blessing, the Son of Mankind sustained a merciless bombardment of temptations to “save yourself” if you are truly “the chosen of God” (Luke 23:35-39, Matthew 27: 39-44, Mark 15:29-32). Such taunts were unmitigated torment, well calculated to play on his divinely, designedly saving impulses as appointed, anointed, and now grotesquely disjointed Savior, commissioned by Jehovah with the name “Jesus” to rescue the world from sin and Satan, not himself from abuse.
AND HE CONQUERED! We know this because if he had ever caved in to the ultimate temptation to save himself, “the place of the skull” would have become ground zero for a detonation of angelic devastation that would have made the Abomination of Desolation seem like the aftermath of a Boy Scout Jamboree. And that would have been the end of us, forever.
But instead—what a gloriously joyful word at this juncture!—he preceded that unnamed robber into Paradise that very day and, as promised, welcomed him by name as a true son of Abraham into the Bosom of the faithful (Luke 23:43). What a hilarious denouement to a confirmed tragedy! But, as we all know, that was only the beginning.
This, then, is the ‘New Beginning’ I would contrast with ‘Newbigin’ regarding the supposed “judgment of God” at the Cross. His genuine judgment, I declare, came to light before the dawn of the Third Day: “He was raised from the dead” (Matthew 28:7)! With that powerful act God himself finally spoke volumes concerning justice! A single resurrection is worth a thousand words, for starters.
And while I’m on the subject of God’s justice or righteousness as the resurrection of Jesus in vindication and acquittal, this seems the moment to make the point that this “judgment of God,” like the fictional one it replaces, is “for us”! The Master both died and was raised for our sakes (2 Corinthians 5:15)! No halfway measures here!
But, you may still ask, how about those rascals who strung him up? Well, what about ‘em? Their deed was rendered gloriously harmless by the sequel. Why should Justice need to “take it out on” them? Yes, even they get an invitation to enter the Kingdom of God…provided they admit they were terribly wrong and submit to Jesus as King. In historic fact, “a vast throng of the priests obeyed the faith” (Acts 6:7). For “there is to be heralded on/at his name a change of mind for pardon of sins, to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47), where he was slain! But, granted, for those who hardened up under the fresh Sonshine of God’s newly ignited graciousness, Jesus prophesied frightful woes upon Jerusalem, exacted in the last days of that generation—70 A.D. God is not mocked. It therefore appears that God’s own authentic judgment appeared historically in two parts as regards Israel’s response to his sending His Son for salvation. In Jesus’ resurrection God manifested His saving, rescuing, rewarding righteousness, announced so clearly (!) and repeatedly (!) in the Psalms and the Prophets. And in Jerusalem’s destruction God manifested His condemning, avenging, punishing righteousness. But first came the graciousness for all who believed in him, plus mercy, patience, kindness, and forbearance toward the stubborn…but that stuff runs out after a good while. Here we behold the gentle and necessarily severe ways of “the King of the ages, the incorruptible, invisible, sole, and wise God,” to Whom be “honor and credit for the ages of the ages! Amen.” (1 Timothy 1:17) [11/10/06]