It’s the Gospel Truth! — The Atonement Remixed

Audio Reading (0:31:40):

Ronald L. Roper

Meditation on the Columbine (‘dovelike’) bloodshed of innocents.

In remembrance of Cassie René Bernall and Rachel Joy Scott.

The proclamation of God’s Kingdom is communicated in the historical narratives about Jesus of Nazareth—his conception, birth, baptism, temptation, teaching, deeds, trial, death, resurrection, ascension, sending of Holy Spirit, and promised return to earth in judgment—in accord with a host of ancient prophecies, fulfilled as noted by his disciples in the written testimonies of the New Testament, and further validated by the ensuing course of performance recorded without collusion by a host of leaders and varied witnesses from the early churches scattered across the far-flung Roman Empire for the next few centuries.

These documents establish that Jesus was no ordinary mortal.  His birth was a human impossibility.  His immersion by John the Baptist was accompanied by a dove and voice from the sky.  His teaching was utterly astonishing, such as no human has ever communicated.  His personal claims went beyond audacious.  His deeds were extraordinary and wonderfully beneficial.  Although his behavior aroused intense envy and hatred from the leaders and scholars of his own Jewish race, he remained serene and non-retaliatory amid all opposition, even when this turned predictably lethal.  Yet their plot only advanced God’s plot line.

Jesus was conceived without a human father, claiming God as his Father who had commissioned him to save his own people from their sins.  He taught the way of righteousness by clarifying the meaning of the commandments bequeathed in the Law of Moses and by authoritatively issuing new, more thoroughgoing directives.  He claimed not to demolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them.  Accordingly, he claimed to be without sin.  He declared that the official custodians of those Writings, to the contrary, had corrupted them in violation of God’s desire, had descended to the level of oppressing and destroying people, had become too self important and hardhearted to change their minds, and were therefore in succession to experience his Father’s angry condemnation.  Their response to such public denunciation was that he too must be destroyed, and in sync with God’s secret plan for extreme rescue, he must.

The condemnation of Jesus by Jewish sacred hierarchy and civic establishment, in cooperation with Roman authorities, along with the howling complicity of the general population who had benefited profoundly from his teaching and countless miraculous healings for over three years of public ministry, was a lawless spectacle of jealous, conceited, and cowardly human beings under the inspiration of Satan.  According to plan, God cut their leashes in order to exhibit the extreme sinfulness of sin.  After training a corps of students to replicate his actions and explanations, and eventually act in his stead, Jesus surrendered to arrest by his bullying foes, letting them do as they pleased, yet remained uncorrupted and unvindictive despite all assaults, in accord with the real thrust of Scripture.  This he accomplished solely by the power of the Holy Spirit he received at immersion, even while undergoing the inexpressible agony of betrayal and abandonment by close friends, trumped-up charges, false witnesses, judicial misbehavior, adverse sentencing, unprovoked abuses, and excruciating torture accompanied by tormenting taunts of mocking spectators.  No one on earth stood up for him.

So it went with Joseph, Job, Jeremiah, and more.  But in addition, due to a curse of the Mosaic Law invoked not for any personal sin but for being trussed up onto a piece of timber by his executioners, Jesus even suffered the respectful averting of his dear Father’s eyes, who had entrusted that Law into the hands of angels and humans capable of misappropriating it to such degrading, unviewable ends.

By such unlawful procedures, perpetrated by respectable officials, in the strategic sufferance of God, Jesus was made a sin offering, i.e., what happened at his cross was a heinous sin of fiendish magnitudean official, public atrocity against God alone!  The offering to God of animals, slaughtered via Levitical procedures, had all along been ritually depicting this ominous, future human sacrifice of Jesus by the whole nation of Israel.  Flawless cattle, lambs, doves, etc., most notably in the once-per-year Day of Atonement, were but shadowy representatives, inferior substitutes, for the once-for-all sacrifice of God’s sinless Son.  By shedding and even daring to invoke the blood of this Lamb of God, the people were calling down curse and condemnation upon themselves and their children alike, unless and until they should open their eyes, see who Jesus really was, make an about face in faith, and be saved from God’s mounting wrath against the incorrigible.

At death, Jesus descended into the wilderness of the unseen, like the ancient ritual scapegoat, bearing the depravity of the many who laid hands on him to put him to death rather than calling legions of angels to avenge his assassination and make them bear the weight of their own crime instead, which, like a millstone, sunk him to Hades.  Yet even there he heralded the news of his imminent conquest of death to spirits in captivity, in order that he should head up and complete the liberation of all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth.

Due to his courageous obedience to his Father’s desire, faithful even to tasting death on a Roman cross, Jesus ever remained in God’s favor and graciousness.  Accordingly, God did not leave his existence in the unseen but justified him in a cosmic coup—an unparalleled overthrow of injustice!—by raising him on the third day, thereby totally reversing his condemnation at the hands of the wicked and in effect condemning the real sin instead.  By this utterly unheard-of judicial action—raising up the murder victim instead of summarily dispatching the murderers for their punishing blows—God could both remain righteous and also show overwhelming graciousness to outright criminals who deserved only termination.  Hence God’s own personal righteousness is most arrestingly and unequivocally revealed from heaven in his resurrecting Jesus from the dead.

Equally significant is the fact that no divine justice whatever, penal or otherwise, was manifest at his cross.  None.  The people of Israel, blind of heart, mistakenly attributed the fate of Jesus to God’s condemnation and his humiliation to God’s anger; this seemed clear to them.  Much rather, his wounds were their offenses; his getting strung up was their doing, their crime.  His lynching was their fault!  In his mortal weakness, he was still learning obedience to his Father by such grueling discipline—suffering wrongful abuse and severe trials from Satan, not from God!—the better to sympathize with human weaknesses, help those similarly tempted, and moderate with the ignorant and straying.  By enduring and passing this divine test of painful discipline he ushers in sustainable peace between a conciliatory heaven and an estranged planet, one offender at a time.

By accepting the burden of the assault, Messiah relieved his assailants of it.  By this superior service to many, Jesus achieved the justification of all who trust him.  For by absorbing the mortal weight of his unjust cross, the One against whom every sin is ultimately committed decisively renounced his Messianic entitlement to condemn them, then and there, but absolved them at the cost of his own life instead—a bittersweet exchange—for he came to save, not to damn.  By not saving himself from their fatal piercings, he prepared the way for his Father to act on appeal, from heaven, in supervening justice instead!  This is the righteousness of God that could only become historically visible by the peerless faithfulness of this Man of Sorrows; this was the heavenly Father’s covenantal response to the deadly plight of his trustworthy earthly partner in covenant—his suffering Servant.  And it spelled RESURRECTION!  This inaugurated the celestial reward of the Just One.  By his titanic labors throughout his entire life, he procured the inheritance of the whole universe and the pre-eminent title, ‘Lord of All’!  This is why we should gain from his reward.  His plight justified our right!

In accord with the divine justice spelled out in the Law, Prophets, and Psalms, the Victim was overcompensated for his suffering of abuse and received the Victor’s wreath—a transcendent reward of glory that far outweighs his anguish.  Thus Jesus became a ransom in exchange for many.  Satan, in his perennial folly, thirsted for the blood of his rival for the kingdoms of earth, and God, in his agelong wisdom, paid him his price.  Accordingly, although by one offense of one person—Adam, who yielded to Satan’s ploy—the whole human race was banned from the Tree of Life and ineluctably dies; yet by the obedience of one person—the Second Adam, who yielded to Satan’s play—the one just award of immortal life is made available to Adam’s descendents in the overflowing gift of the Holy Spirit.  Thus the Father and the Son, in a fair battle (also of wits), outflanked the Adversary and conferred their Kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy on all who trust this message, commencing the steady overturn of Satan’s predatory regime.  The towering enormity of evil that one nation invested to pierce their own King paid massive dividends of good for all nations without discrimination.  What the Jewish hierarchy meant for evil to one man, God meant for good to all mankind.  The imperial plan of the Deity more than routed the imperious plot of the Devil, whose cup of affliction Messiah drank amenably, valiantly, to the dregs.

By the Lord strategizing the lifting of his Shepherd Boy on a cross—indirectly, benignly striking him a coup de grâce that scattered his flock; and by his innocent Servant lifting the load imposed by the many who committed the felony of taking his life; and, further, by God coming to his rescue via the supreme justice of lifting him in turn from among the dead, all humanity is now being drawn back to God through Jesus, the Messiah of Israel now become Lord of All!  This weighty story is itself invested with the gravitational force to draw people back to God in love and loyalty.  Its inherent light and power are not, however, coercive.  Those whose activities are vicious may resist this Sun by their own inherent power as satellites reflecting God’s image, exerting their residual gravity to deflect his inviting rays and court disastrous collision and outer darkness.  The energizing explanation about Christ’s resurrection from death-by-crucifixion is necessary but not sufficient to benefit us, for it must first be blended with our faith in order to operate redemptively, in accord with the wisdom of God’s benign desire that everyone be salvaged and realize the truth, but without being overpowered.

That is why God regards faith as righteousness and why it is flatly impossible to please him without it, for we must believe that he becomes a rewarder of those seeking him out, as this history verifies in spades.  He alone is the knower of hearts, so he exclusively is qualified to attribute righteousness publicly to those with faithful hearts.  Yet this trust is not a human action but a product of hearing the credible testimony the Holy Spirit gathered into Holy Scripture, exhaled from heaven into terrestrial substance.  This explanation is God’s dynamo of salvation because it generates a trust that pays him high honor for who he is, what he says, and what he did at inconceivable personal cost.  God chose the humble switch of faith to actuate the relaying of his gift of Holy Spirit into his denatured creation, for that alone pays him due credit.  No activity of any sinner has the capability of evoking such favor from God.  In the wisdom of love, he selected a non-act—the spark of faith induced by the magnetic ‘Crossurrection’ event—to precipitate his downpour of undeserved graciousness, the just deserts of the heroic labors of Christ alone.  Thus we partake in our Champion’s triumph!

That nuclear moment contained the potency to conciliate the whole world to God, for it proved dramatically that, when push came to shove, God laid aside his sole, supreme right to account their sins to the many who conspired to nail up his precious Son.  That is why we can officially urge every person to be conciliated to God!  The attested fact that Jesus—who was demonstrated to be God’s chosen Messiah by his authoritative teaching, extraordinary powers, innocent conduct under appalling affliction, and ultimately rising up from the grave itself—in spite of affronts and insults, still refused to avenge himself and destroy those who were thereby proved to be in the wrong all along, poignantly reveals that God had never nurtured hostility toward the wayward, but was ever ready, in fact eager, to pardon and accept his alienated creatures back into irenic, loving relationship.  However, by the logic of traditional justice under the sun, the conspirators of their Messiah’s crucifixion had nothing better to expect than their own frightful execution for treachery and treason.  They were not clement; could God be?

Yet against all odds, flying in the face of vengeful traditions, this history of a cross in indissoluble connection with a resurrection depicts graphically the authentic path for seeking peace, for it unveils what it took God to win back a race whose perceptions of him were debased in gross, seemingly irremediable ignorance.  Astonishingly, God in effect appeased, placated, and pacified our belligerent species, movingly showing he was more than willing—passionate!—to sacrifice his own due honor and sovereign prerogatives as the Lawmaker, holding nothing back, even to the extent of covering strings of sins for multiplied generations, if it meant drawing his deluded yet beloved creatures out of the webs of Satan—a liar, thief, defiler, and murderer from the start, bent only on devouring them and defaming their Maker’s reputation—and so demonstrating himself to be far more:  the Lifemaker!  This cross was God’s olive branch; he buried the hatchet.

To this end, the invisible One, out of love, sent his own Son—whom he reproduced after his own kind before the ages of time, and through whom he created the visible universe—to be born of human flesh and bone and to learn, through suffering abuse from the very creatures he was commissioned to save, how to faithfully obey his Father’s voice and yearning heart.  Jesus was the visible image and likeness of his Father in heaven and his audible explanation on earth—the ideal characterization of what we should assume as the persona of the one true God in order to serve and worship him devoutly in spirit and truth.  The Lord masterfully modeled what the Father desires all his offspring to imitate.

These empirical cross and resurrection events, based on the surviving apostolic testimony, show unambiguously that Father and Son were operating in tandem from identical motives—the visible Son rendering a sterling portrayal of the core character of his imperceptible Father.  Teamwork to perfection!  We see awe-inspiring solidarity between the Son’s graciousness toward his many assailants and the Father’s graciousness both in reprieving the offenders and in repaying the Son for his faithful representation, holding nothing back, even to the supreme sacrifice.  Only the magnitude was different.  In return for the strenuous labors of his withering soul, Jesus reaped a gigantic overcompensation that beggars description.  As spoils of his victory he received vastly in excess even of his own investment as the only-born Son of Deity.  Indeed, he had emptied his very self, the full contents of his identity—love, graciousness, truth—out of his native divine form and was deposited essentially into the form of a virtual slave, in human fashion, the firstborn son of a virgin of David’s royal lineage.  Yet his reward can scarcely be regarded as earnings or payment for all that; it can be described fairly only as booty, winnings, an incomparable prize!  For here we must factor the quantum of the Father’s own magnanimity in the formula of salvation:  E=MC² where Saving Energy is the product of Messiah and Crucifixion taken to the next Higher Power—the universal ‘Messiah-Energy equation’ for human conversion!

We are converted by hearing of the Father’s public restorative justice that raised his Son from the humiliated estate decreed by vicious men who, happily, were not given the last word.  The authentic judicial decree of Heaven’s supreme court in answer to this malfeasance was graciousness and peace, not wrath and war.  Satan squandered his energies on torturing his rival to a bloody pulp, flaunting shamelessly his imagined triumph. In starkest possible contrast, the prodigal Son, in consummate emulation of his Father, spent his all with lavish munificence on turning enemies into friends.  That blood red cross was God’s white flag and peace offering to draw us near his awesomely wholesome self, without reprisal.

To be sure, it was God himself who had purposed Messiah Jesus to be a protective shelter around the sins of the whole world through the faithfulness of his upright existence, figured in his blood.  In fact, it was precisely this superlative innocence of impassioned obedience that rendered his Son’s outrageously shed blood so precious in his Father’s sight that it moved him to erupt in utterly unprecedented public justice, not only to raise him up again from the dead, now immortal, but also to raise him higher yet, even to his own right hand of sovereignty, authority, honor, glory, might, and more!  Such an act has no equal in history or in heaven, before or since.  His blood spoke better than that of upright Abel; he pled forgiveness for the Romans who stripped him naked, crucified him, and cast lots for his garments.  Our protection from God’s emergent anger comes via our emancipation from its cause, sin; this is participatory atonement.

Most momentous for our present experience, the Holy Spirit is the divine active agent that tears down our string of sins.  The wrongful pouring out of the blood of the Anointed One was more than atoned for by the rightful outpouring of God’s anointing Spirit in extravagant repayment.  When Jesus as Chief Priest sat down on the throne of his Father in heaven, his affectionate protective covering of our spiraling strings of sin was complete, the circuit of God’s rectifying plan was closed, and fresh power started surging directly back into his ailing creation to graciously transmit revitalizing healing and wholesomeness to a failing humanity.  The blood loss of God’s Son was the inestimable gain of Adam’s children, not because it was right in any sense, but precisely because it was dead wrong!  This is the lasting legacy of Messiah’s ordeal of abuse for us, dying for our sins and getting requited superabundantly by a superior justice that reversed his voluntarily accepted doom.  Thanks be to God for this indescribable gift of Spirit he promised!  The inner spirit of the Law was graciousness and truth.  This, justice demands; this alone satisfies God.  This, only Jesus offered, even to the dread cross; by this sign he conquered!  The obedient Boy must be killed or the Father’s transcendent resurrectionary justice must lay dormant forever, along with all its overcompensating redemption for the cosmos.  The secret is out!

But that’s not all.  God’s holiness, that is, his lifemaking wholesomeness that stems the tide of death-dealing decadence, was also defined in that resplendent event of restored fortunes.  That’s because Christ’s rightful award entailed this gift of the Holy Spirit.  This vivifying power from on high was poured out on the day of Pentecost as a security deposit to confirm our own inheritance of allotments on the future new earth.  We have a right to become children of God only because his Son had a right to have seed royal; so when he was cut off peremptorily from the land of the living, God overcompensated him…royally!  It’s all about him!  All who join his body by faith are born above as naturalized citizens of the New Jerusalem (‘inherit-shalom’) being readied for those who love him.  Even now, his Spirit of wholesomeness brings miraculous creation-restoring power and other benefits of sonhood in the wake of Christ’s self-sacrifice, therein substantively defining holiness by its manifold expressions through us.  However, the ultimate measure of a salvation of such proportions is our getting to become participants of the divine nature, partaking of God’s own virtues and destiny—heirs with Christ forever to freely enjoy the vernal aurora of a repristinated world!

To reiterate this gripping Logic of how sin gets vanquished:  Jesus, the Messiah of one small nation, literally took on the burden of its many crimes against him.  Yet God’s Son was also unimpeachably sinless, so when they literally took him down in disgrace, God himself literally took him up in grace from the grave again and decisively acquitted him, awarding him rightful damages.  Yet astoundingly, he was vindicated without vindictiveness or damage to that guilty assault team!  Rather, by means of breaking open the treasuries of the celestial order—even God’s own uncreated nature!—he put unheard-of graciousness on public display by way of open-hearted invitation to all comers.  This modus operandi—amazing grace!—achieved the breakthrough that succeeded in conciliating not merely the nation of Israel, for that would have represented far too small a return on Christ’s career investment in the form of a humble, humiliated slave.  All nations—in fact the whole inhabited world, its human culture, plus the marred creation order itself!—were lovingly swept up when God threw his arms around his mangled Child in regenerating embrace.  Jesus’ faithful obedience—the force; his cross—the Archimedean point; God’s public justice—the lever; Messiah’s death—the trigger; his resurrection—the outburst of vindication that exalted him to the highest heavens; Pentecost—the celestial rebound of the Spirit of sonship, lifting the earth in a rising tide of liberation out of the entwining bonds of slavery.

Still, that’s not the whole story.  The indignation of God’s avenging judgment was mercifully delayed till the very last moment for that callous generation of Jews to whom God kindly decreed this Proclamation be heralded first, as a top priority.  For forty crucial years—30 to 70 A.D.—God’s preferential favor to the sons of Jacob was liberally extended.  A diverse multitude did change their minds about God and became loyal to their real Messiah whom they had horribly mistreated in a sin offering to end all sin offerings—a sin to end all sins!  Yet not everyone fell for this divinely happy solution to Adam’s fall.  Some held out in gross violence against these non-retaliating, peacemaking followers of the despised Nazarene and kept imputing sin and failure to their Lord and Savior.  Their comeuppance was the ghastly internecine warfare of Jewish sects which gruesomely savaged one another in the horror of desolation that tragically cleansed Jerusalem of its self-accursed population before the Roman legions could even manage to breach the inner gates.  This apocalypse was the paradigm and warning preview of God’s Bowles of Judgment on all nations to whom this announcement of his Kingdom of justice, graciousness, mercy, peace, and joy would be heralded.

To summarize the pattern:  1) initial communication of this divine Proclamation, 2) oppression and persecution by its vicious as well as merely ignorant enemies, 3) explosive publicity, sympathy, and broader acceptance, even by bitter foes,   4) the Lord’s presence in wholesome anger to cleanse the land of all who still reject his terms of peace and personal purification but pollute the earth with terror and corruption.  So with eyes opened to the true meaning of the Messianic climax, we can now retrofit the paradigm of overcompensating restorative justice to the old covenant Scriptures and, lo!  They reveal Jesus throughout!  In retrospect, this is why the truth had to remain a secret, hidden for an age, until God himself should turn the key, open the door, switch on the power, and light up the transforming vision of integral, full-orbed redemption, in communion with the Holy Spirit—capable of counteracting the unscrupulous, perverted, horrifying, brutal outrages of Satan’s tyrannical empire.  Things are not the way they seem.

Not surprisingly, even the complex spectrum of the one God’s own plural nature, which he kept strategically veiled to effect Satan’s unmasking and overthrow and mankind’s restoration, is most vividly refracted through this tri-faceted historical prism of Cross-Resurrection-Pentecost, casting unique glory, by turns, on the respective roles of the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit, within a wholesome love triangle of gracious, lifesaving exchanges that unleashed a shock wave of miraculous empowering to renew the disfigured face of the earth by propagating a chain reaction of compassion, kindness, conciliation, and cleansing revival.  This Messianic denouement remains the surpassingly definitive exposition of the name of Jehovah, the one true God, to whom be credit for the ages of the ages!

Furthermore, this bedrock historic-narration-plus-explanation of the monolithic disposition and behavior of Jehovah—Son and Father alike—toward one another as well as toward us, compounded by the refreshing supply of their Spirit, makes crystal clear the distinctive normative tenor for our own interdependent response as good stewards.  We are to actualize God’s desire and Kingdom from heaven in every sphere of culture on earth, where it belongs, to accredit his Proclamation and his reputation.   By these effectual means, God equips us together with one another to become a light of nations for salvation as far as the limits of the earth!

In conclusion, we find but two ultimate destinies:  either divine adoption with all the blessings of fatherly graciousness appertaining thereto, enjoyed forever in a virgin creation, primal as a thornless rose; or final extermination under God’s indignation in a lake of consuming fire, following the inconceivable torment of coming to realize too late what actually might have been.  It’s not a hard choice; if you haven’t already, you can make peace with the Lifemaker now, this very moment.  Just say yes.  Then live for Jesus whatever it takes, whatever the cost.

Welcome back to the apostolic start!  Welcome you tired, poor, oppressed, sick, abused, betrayed, defamed!  You, without hope, welcome home! Let the thirsty come!  Let whoever wants take the water of life freely!  Cheer up and welcome The Gospel Truth—He rose!  Welcome Wholesome Spirit!  Then hold on tight.

 

Audio Reading (0:01:11):

 ODE TO THE VICTOR

Together we stand or fall,

God is our all in all,

We have no other help beside.

Whether we win or lose,

You’ll not our hope confuse;

Jesus, our Victor, You abide!

You reign o’er heav’n and earth,

Over their depth and girth;

Nothing redemption’s pow’r can stay.

The new humanity

We shall forever be

And o’er creation’s wealth hold sway.

We who by staunch belief

Will heav’n and earth receive,

Henceforth no condemnation know,

For by Your own shed blood

We have the Spirit’s flood

To will and work until we go.

Your reign will never cease

Till all Your enemies,

And death, under Your feet be placed.

God will be all in all;

At last, since mankind’s fall,

Sin’s curse shall finally be erased!

Berkeley, 1972

Composed for the 9th Anniversary of the Columbine massacre, April 20, 2008.

© 2008 by Ronald Lee Roper.  Revised 7/10/11.

Also published in Clarion:  Journal of Spirituality and Justice:

http://www.clarion-journal.com/clarion_journal_of_spirit/2008/04/its-the-gospel.html

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