Today is Good Friday – the day that we remember Jesus being tortured and executed on a cross. Seems like an awful day to call “Good” — but it is such because of what that brutal death and his subsequent resurrection means for us today.
But what exactly does it mean?
I’ve seen in a couple places now the idea that the bottom line for the resurrection is that we can now go to heaven when we die. In fact, some people say unless you believe Jesus was raised from the dead you can’t go to heaven at all. To prove this, they quote Romans 10:9…
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
But I have a potentially uncomfortable question. This sentence that Paul wrote says if you confess and believe in the resurrection, you will be saved — he does not say the only way to be saved is to confess and believe in the resurrection.
Or, put another way, he does not say if you don’t believe in the resurrection you will go to Hell.
And besides, how can we be sure we believe something “in our heart” anyways? How can I know that I’m not just believing it with my head? What if we have a flicker of doubt in our heart — does that mean if we died in that moment of disbelief we would end up in eternal torment?
More importantly, though, what about all the other ways to be “saved” that are presented in the Bible?
For example, Peter says that to be saved we have to repent and be baptized. Nothing about believing in the resurrection there…
Jesus told a woman once that her faith would save her…
Peter once quoted the prophet Joel, who said that anyone who called on the name of the Lord would be saved…
Paul and Silas told a jailer once that all he had to do to be saved was “believe in Jesus” — nothing specifically about Jesus or what happened to him…
Jesus told a Jewish leader once that in order to be saved he had to be “born again”…
And he told a rich guy once that in order to be saved he had to sell everything he had give it all to the poor…
So which one is it? How do we achieve this “salvation” and get into Heaven? By being baptized? By calling the name Jesus? By believing he was killed and resurrected? By placing our faith in him? By being born again? By selling everything we have? By just believing “in Jesus” (whatever that entails)?
All of the above? Pieces of all of the above? If we do some of the above but not others, are we damned?
How in the world do we cobble together any sort of coherent understanding of salvation from that mess?
All of this leads me to wonder… If God’s purpose in inspiring the Bible was to help us get to Heaven after we died, it seems to me that He’s done a horribly lousy job of it.
It couldn’t be more confusing and contradictory if you tried to make it so. One person says repent and be baptized. Another makes no mention of repentance or baptism, but says to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. And then another says nothing about repentance, baptism, or belief in the resurrection, but simply says if you call on Jesus you will be saved.
Holy muddled messages, Batman.
But what if…
What if the specific purpose of the Bible isn’t to just get us into Heaven when we shuffle off this mortal coil?
What if Jesus accomplished something so much richer and deeper on that cross on the first Good Friday?
What if by willingly giving up his life, Jesus was embodying the penultimate act of sacrificial love — the value on which his Kingdom exists and operates? What if sacrificial love is the most powerful force in the universe? And what if by the consummate power of this sacrifice, the curse — which the entirety of creation had been under since Adam and Eve flubbed things up in the garden — was finally and irrevocably broken?
And what if, in breaking the curse, Jesus’ death initiated the redemption of creation… the putting back together of the world, the way it was intended to be?
What if Jesus’ blood shed on the Good Friday cross began the process of restoration — for all creation, including humans? And what if it was Jesus’ final example to us of how to live in his Kingdom after he was gone?
The death and sin which Jesus conquered during his last days here on earth were symptoms of a larger issue: the curse. This Easter, I hope to focus on Jesus’ message of sacrificial love, revel in the redemption it brings forth, and pray about how to live that kind of love out to the people around me.
What will you focus on this Easter? What does Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection mean to you this year?