There is an olive grove in Gethsemane with ancient, gnarled, olive trees. There is one that particularly catches the eye. It is near a flat space—right where someone might have gone to earnestly pray. The tree is old. Old enough to have witnessed the passionate prayer of Jesus crying out, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
Had there been another way, surely He would have taken it. Had it not been necessary, surely He would not have given up His life. But surrender His life He did.
There is an old Gospel song by Ray Overholt that says:
He could have called ten thousand angels
To destroy the world and set Him free.
He could have called ten thousand angels,
But He died alone, for you and me.
This was not just a prophet or a good man. This was God Incarnate, born of a Virgin, yet fully man and fully God; guiltless, pure, and sinless. He was totally and utterly submitted to the will of God the Father; and that meant suffering and dying.
In “enlightened” religious circles these days it is popular to say, “thinking that Jesus is the only means of salvation puts God is an awfully small box.” The problem is what Jesus knew, what the Bible reveals, and what the Church has always taught, that we needed to be reconciled to God. The Atonement is not an optional extra; it is the only way that we can be restored to intimacy with God. Presuming to declare His favor over proscribed behaviors and beliefs does not make it so. Perhaps the fantasy god of the creation of imagination behaves that way, but not the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob - Jesus, who has revealed Himself.
As Jesus went to the Cross-, it was not, as the “enlightened” ones say, “cosmic child abuse.” To understand the doctrine of the Trinity is to understand that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are One. That means that the Father did not dispassionately send someone else off to do the dirty work of redemption. When the body of Jesus was crucified, the heart of the Father was as well.
Easter, however, is not just about dying. It is about blood being shed to accomplish His Atoning work, but it is also about more. It is about boundless love that lets my sin, no matter how abundant, disappear into the death of God on the Cross where it can be swallowed up. Rather than denying or re-defining sin, the gaping death of Jesus encourages and beckons me to ‘fess up, admit who I have been and what I have done and pour the shortfall into the blackness of His forgiveness. Because of His death, it is not only forgiven, it is forgotten.
It does not even stop there. In the completion of history’s greatest event, the displaced gravestone of Jesus caused a seismic shift in who we are. When it moved and He rose victorious, He shared that victory with us. He overwhelmed the awful imprisoning words, “I can’t change.” They fall away like broken shackles as the truth is born that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
It should not be surprising that the battle for the soul of the church is a fierce one. It is fierce because it is the central struggle of humankind—being forgiven and cleansed from sin and having intimacy with God restored.
Neither is it surprising that leaders who have lost their way would provide such horrific leadership. Having abandoned the message of transformation through the blood of Christ, they are like navigators who steer with pictures of compasses rather than the real thing. Just as a real compass points north, real leaders point to the Cross. Failure to do so dooms their craft to perils they cannot steer around. They may viciously exert command of the vessels they occupy, but they cannot travel where people actually need to go.
The House of Bishops blusters. Institutional conflicts rage. Our principle calling, however, is to simply, clearly, and plainly point to the Cross and tell people that He who reconciles is risen!